The young Auxiliary Bishop, Julito Cortes, very happily came for the first time to Amsterdam and brought with him a heartfelt letter from Cardinal Vidal to the Lady of All Nations for the pilgrims gathered there. Upon returning to the Philippines, he wrote in two e-mails sent for Easter, “I was just thinking of… my whole experience of the Seventh International Day of Prayer for Our Lady of All Nations. …[It] was a providential, grace-filled experience for me too. …It was so touching to be affirmed in faith by the testimonies of believers from different continents of the world. …I’m now back in my Parish, sharing many memorable experiences of the International Day of Prayer with our people.” Bishop Cortes considered it an express privilege and grace to hold the homily on this feast.
How blessed we are to be here! I, from Cebu, Philippines, feel humbled to stand before you and feel privileged to hear the many stories of faith affirming that God indeed is alive, that faith in God, in deed, is alive in the hearts of many nations. I believe that Our Blessed Mother has called us her children, from many different nations, to be blessed in this gathering, that we too may be instruments of blessings when we go back to our homes in different countries.
Our liturgy today reminds us how we can be more blessed each day and be blessings to others by following the path of Jesus and Mary, the path of self-giving in love. In the gospel of Luke just read, we heard Our Lord Jesus say, my mother and my brother are those who hear the word of God and live it. At first glance, these words seem to put down Mary who was referred to earlier in the text as the mother who was looking for Jesus. Yet, on further reflection, these words actually affirm what was truly great about Mary. She heard the word of God and lived it. She heard the word of God and acted on it. More than blood relations, what is vital in our relationship with Christ is the faith by which we hold him firmly in our hearts.
It is by this faith that Mary said her fiat to the angel’s message. It was this faith which made her keep all things in her heart even though she could not as yet understand the meaning of those events. It was this faith which moved her to approach her son at Cana and tell him that the wedding banquet had run out of wine. It was this faith which made her say to the servants, do whatever he tells you. Blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it in their lives. It is by faith manifested fully and primarily in the fiat of Mary that we are all children of God.
No matter what nation we come from, we are all children of God by the Lord’s salvific offering of himself. No matter what race we belong to, we are children of Mary by her unique cooperation in God’s work of redemption. We can only appreciate Mary’s unique cooperation in our redemption by going back to the central event of the Lord’s salvific act, the cross. There at the foot of the cross, Mary stood by her Son. In the image of the Lady of All Nations, the cross figures prominently. To teach us of that reality, Mary shared in the suffering of her son as only a mother can.
Please allow me to share with you a story we got from Korea. There was a young Korean man who discovered that the parents who had raised him were not his real father or real mother. As is usually the case in situations of adoption, the young man found it hard to accept that he was only an adopted son. As an adverse reaction, he began to rebel against his adoptive parents. He became unruly in the school; he went with bad company. He tried alcohol and drugs. His parents tried to plead with him, told him how much they loved him, but it seems that no love could fill up the feeling of rejection he had in his heart for having been given away by his real parents.
After one particularly violent incident in the home, his adoptive mother took out a shoebox from the closet and asked him to open it. The young man, puzzled, pulled out from the shoebox a worn out and blooded dress of a woman. Then the adoptive mother told the young man the story of how he came into their lives.
It was at the height of the Korean war, in a particularly bitter Korean winter. A woman was running for cover and desperately holding on to her child, holding on to her baby, but there was no place to hide from the bombs and the bullets, nowhere to take shelter from the cold. She walked and walked, looking for a place to escape until she could no longer walk. Then the woman took off her blooded clothes, wrapped her child with the clothes, and embraced the child tightly. Later, when people came, when help came, they discovered this naked woman frozen in the middle of the street, holding a bundle of clothes. When they pried open the clothes from her arms, they heard the wail of a child. The child was saved from the cold by the sacrifice of his mother. Is that not love to the extreme?
Now the child had grown into a young man, someone who thought his parents had merely given him up. And when that young man heard the story of his life, he asked to be brought to the place where they found him and his mother. The parents brought him to a tree by the roadside and indicated to him the exact place where they found his mother holding him close to her heart. And the young man knelt and kissed the ground, weeping bitterly, asking to be forgiven.
Dear brothers and sisters, fellow citizens of the world, and fellow Christians and fellow believers in God. In our materialistic and secular world, we too often forget the story of our lives. We too often forget the story of how we have been saved. We often forget the story of how much of what we enjoy today—a relative peace, a relative prosperity, a relative freedom—we owe to the people who suffered and labored before us.
Just the other day, last May 5, Holland celebrated its liberation day to remind its people, especially its young, the price their forefathers paid for their peace today. On a more personally level, did not our mothers take the risk of childbirth, no matter how painful, no matter how difficult because they were determined to bring us into this world. On the deepest level, how often humanity forgets the story of how so much of what we enjoy today, all the things that make life meaningful and beautiful, are fruits of the redemption wrought for us by Jesus Christ. Like the young man in our story, we often forget that the human dignity we so often ascert has been purchased at the steep price by one who was denied his own dignity, who suffered and died so that we might recover the image of God in our souls. And don’t we often forget that the one who suffered bitterly on the Cross had a mother too, who shared in the suffering of her son as only a mother can?
Please allow me to share with you another mother’s story which took place in Mindenau, the southern part of my country, the Philippines. You know that until today, we suffer from armed conflicts between the military and the Communist guerillas called the New People’s Army. This story was just recently narrated by a bishop coming from that place in Mindenau. The story was that a Communist guerilla leader was slain in an encounter with the military in one of the barrios of that diocese. As the funeral day was approaching, the people in that barrio were very nervous and concerned because, surely, MPA leaders would be coming to attend the funeral, the burial. The place would surely be heavily surrounded by the military. The people did not know what to do to prevent even more bloodshed. This was until the mother of the slain guerilla leader bravely went to the military commander of the area.
This mother went to the military commander and begged for a day, even just for a day of cease-fire, so that she could give her son a decent burial, that she could bury her son in peace. The military commander, being an honorable man, honored the mother’s request and allowed her to grieve in peace and to give her son a decent burial. That military commander knew what pain there is in every mothers’ heart when a son is lost, for he too has a mother.
If we recall the pain our mothers took to give life to us, is it so difficult to recall the pain which the Blessed Virgin Mary took for us so that we might come to faith in her own beloved son? The pain of the Cross is integral to our Christian identity. And if life today seems to have conquered many pains and sufferings, it is only because Jesus has absorbed it into his own body. And sorrow, like a dagger, has pierced the heart of his mother Mary. We people today no longer know the meaning of sacrifice because we have forgotten the persons who have taken the pain for us. People today are afraid to suffer for the sake of others because they have forgotten that the only reason that they are enjoying a relatively painless life today is because someone in the past has taken the pain for them. But as surely as we try to avoid pain today, so will it rear its ugly head sometime in our future. For pain can only be overcome if we absorb it in our own body today and not pass it on for someone else to suffer.
Dear brothers and sisters, this is what makes the Eucharistic celebration so beautiful. The Eucharist which we now celebrate is such a bittersweet sacrament because we partake of the body and blood, beaten and poured out in pain for our sakes. The body of Jesus absorbed the evil of the world and when we partake of that same body, it tastes sweet in the mouth, but bitter in the stomach. For it is a reminder of the good that we have failed to do, the evil that we have not acted to prevent, the suffering which we have caused others to bear. The Eucharist which we now celebrate allows us to participate in the paschal mystery of Christ. But the paschal mystery is not just a scene from a movie, which moves us to tears or vicariously plays out our sufferings and purges us of all our bad feelings. The paschal mystery is a salvific act of God to which we are all called to actively participate so that we might continue the saving work of the Lord in our midst, where we are, back in our own homes and countries.
Brothers and sisters, this, I believe, is the challenge for us. We must continue the saving work of the Lord. We must carry each other’s burdens as St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Galatians 6:2. That is how to keep the law of Christ according to St. Paul. We must carry each other’s burdens. That is how to hear the word of God and keep it in our lives. Mary took the burden on herself when she said her fiat to God when she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant in her old age, when she intervened at Cana and asked her son to help the newlyweds. Mary took the burden on herself when she stood at the foot of the cross. We must carry each other’s burdens just as the Lord asked us to wash each other’s feet, to forgive each other not only seven time, but seventy times seven times. We must carry each other’s burdens, just as Jesus calls us to himself when we are overly laden, for his yoke is easy and his burden light.
In a world full of illusions and false hopes, Our Lady of All Nations comes to make us see that suffering is part of our lives. Our Lady of All Nations comes to make us see that sacrifice is the very stuff of joy. Our Lady of All Nations comes to make us see that self-giving in love is the true conqueror of pain.
Through our lives may Jesus Christ be praised!