Homily Delivered by the Most Reverend Honesto F. Ongtioco, D.D., on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

December 8th, 2017
in the Year Of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons 

Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Cubao, Quezo City 
10:30 in the morning

 

“I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul: for he has clothed me in a robe of salvation...” Isaiah 61:10 

I cannot help but raise my mind and heart to the Lord with these words as I celebrate today the 45th anniversary of my ordination as priest. This anniversary becomes even more significant because it is celebrated at the threshold of the Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons. I am humbled by the fact that in spite of my unworthiness, the Lord has chosen me to serve Him as a priest. I praise the Father “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before Him”(Eph 1:3-4). These words of St. Paul to the Ephesians both humble me and fill my heart with immense joy and gratitude. For who am I that He should choose me to stand before His altar and serve Him? I am a sinner and yet He chose me to be holy. In my imperfections, He chose me to be without blemish before Him. There can only be one answer to this: He chose me, in spite of who I am, because He loved me. He chose us, in spite of what we are, because He loved us: “In love, He destined us for adoption in Himself through Christ Jesus.” (Eph 1:5) He chose us in love. You see my brothers and sisters, it is love that sees beyond human weakness. It is love that accepts limitations. It is love which chooses despite unworthiness.

I suppose that this is what the angel meant when he greeted Mary at the annunciation: “Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you!” He declared Mary was full of grace. She was filled with God. The Lord was with her. It can only mean one thing: that Mary was truly loved by God. Mary was deeply troubled by the words of the angel. After all, how could this great and mighty God pay attention to a little creature like herself? And yet, the angel assured her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” God does not need to have reasons in order to show His favor on a particular person. He looks with favor upon a lowly handmaid because He wishes to do so. No questions asked. That is why it is called “grace.” Whatever spiritual gift it is, it simply comes from the graciousness of God’s love.    

This favor given by the Lord to Mary, He has, in a way given to priests. For God almighty chose Mary to be the bearer of His Son. He entrusted His Son to Mary. 

This, in a sacramental way, is also given to priests. He also chose priests to be bearers of divine mysteries in fragile jars of clay. As Mary was destined to bring Christ into the world, so is every priest chosen to bring Christ into the world through the sacraments no matter how fragile and imperfect he is. The Holy Spirit came down upon Mary and the Power of the Most High overshadowed her. Thus, He fructified the womb of Mary. On the day of the priestly ordination, the Holy Spirit also came down upon the chosen men through the laying of hands. In doing so, He anointed the priest so that he may offer the sacraments. Through the ministry of priests, bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. The mystery of the Incarnation continues in the Eucharist through the ministry of priests. And can never be thankful enough because we priests are sinful and fragile, even unworthy to bear the holy. And yet He chose us – earthen vessels that carry a priceless treasure.

Aware of our weaknesses, we look up to our Lady and aspire that we may bear worthily Jesus as she did. We aspire for that holiness, for that Blamelessness. We desire to emulate her detachment from worldliness. We desire to imitate her in her chastity. We desire to be obedient as she was. She said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.” How we wish that we could say and truly be servants of the Lord. How we wish we could have that docility of heart, that availability which is capable of declaring: “Be it done to me according to your word.” Saint John Vianney said: “Let us live as the Blessed Virgin lived: loving God only, desiring God only, trying to please God only in all that we do.”

We were chosen in love. Let us remain in that love. “As the Father loved me, so I love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love.” (John 12:9-10). Let us remain in that love and be holy and blameless in His sight all the days of our life. Amen.