We are gathered here today to celebrate the 18th Anniversary of the establishment of our beloved diocese of Cubao, the Diocese of Cubao.
We remember the past with gratitude, celebrate the present with joy despite the raging pandemic; and look to the future with a profound sense of hope.
Eighteen years; that is quite a milestone! Eighteen years!
Now, the number 18 is a rather fascinating number. It’s usually associated with strength, with the ability to find courage in places and things when it’s tough to find, and to discover reasons to keep going when others can’t.
In Scriptures, the number “eighteen” signifies bondage. After taking possession of the Promised Land, the children of Israel found themselves in bondage to a number of peoples before Saul was made their king. Two of their enemies, Eglon the Moabite king and the Philistines oppressed them for 18 years (Judges 3:12,14,10:7-8). After their physical bondage, God commanded the children of Israel not to worship other gods (Ex 20:2-3) for to do so would then place them in spiritual bondage.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel says that God will always be the shepherd of His people, liberating them, gathering them together and leading them back to their homeland so that He may pasture them. In Him, thus, there is always hope for He seeks out those who are lost. And He heals those who are sick. In the New Testament, Jesus also liberated people from spiritual bondage. He healed many who were ill or possessed – including a woman that had a “spirit of infirmity” that bent her over for 18 long years!
Since the lockdown began in March last year, we all have been praying. We all have been asking the Lord to free us from the bondage of Covid-19. These have been, for all of us, exceedingly difficult and trying times. How often have we felt, or seen other’s feel, like giving up? And yet we must keep our gaze always on the Lord. For we know that He will never abandon or leave us to ourselves. And we know that He alone can liberate us from our present bondage to the invisible enemy that has ravaged and destroyed the lives of so many. St. Paul tells us that God has chosen us in Jesus even before the foundation of the world, in Him we have been blessed abundantly.
And so today we gather to remember the past with gratitude. God has done marvelous things since the birth of our diocese – far too many to count!
In the gospel of John, after the apostle Philip met Jesus, he shared the Good news to Nathaniel who then exclaimed: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Still, Philip insisted that Nathaniel come with him, see Jesus for himself, and meet Him personally. And when he did, everything changed.
Incredulity turned into amazement, hesitation turned into faith. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel”, Nathaniel proclaimed.
Like the disciples we too are invited to follow Jesus, “to come and see!” And so we continue to seek and follow – in a ceaseless process that involves a seeking, followed by a finding, followed by seeking yet again.
Where does such seeking and finding take place? It happens when we encounter Jesus in the Mass. It happens in the sacraments of the Church. It happens in our love for the poor, in our care for the young and the old, in our concern towards both the “churched” and “unchurched.”
Throughout the past 18 years, it was truly the Lord who has guided us, allowing us to draw up amazing pastoral plans and programs “to form a community of Christ-like disciples empowered and sent through effective servant leadership moving towards becoming a church of the poor.”
Through the concerted effort of the Santatlo – the priests, religious and consecrated and the laity – the Lord has truly accomplished great things; He has made the Diocese of Cubao, a vibrant, relevant community that is genuinely close to people.
And so today, despite the pandemic, we are able to celebrate the present with joy. Though the storm still rages, and the times remain dark, we are able to see light. In fact, we can see a bright side even to the pandemic itself, just as we are able to see blessings amidst trial and difficulty.
For one, it has enabled us to distinguish that which is essential in life and that which is not. It has brought many people and even nations together, helping one another and realizing that we all need each other, not simply to survive, but to be happy and to thrive.
[Isn’t it fascinating that despite our isolation from each other (due to the GCQ’s, MECQ’s and ECQ’s), many of us have never felt closer to one another, more connected, more concerned, more compassionate, more eager to be together again?]
Consider too that in spite of many who have suffered and lost loved ones, we find ourselves able to celebrate – not the loss we’ve all sustained, but the heroes and heroines we’ve gained. These are men and women who chose to go out of themselves in order to care for others; “frontliners” we call them. We have been blessed by their witness, as they have made us realize the truth which the Gospel proclaims – that we are called to be “the salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”.
Just as salt enhances the taste of food, our care and concern for those in need enhances our daily life. When we reach out to people with a kind and generous heart, we become the “light of the world”, giving it hope, strengthening it and sustaining its joy despite suffering and pain.
It is perhaps one of the great paradoxes of our age that it has taken such sad days for many to discover the profound joy there is in giving and sharing. It has taken such dark times for many to see a new perspective, a clearer vision of life. What a profound blessing it is, then, to know that even with such challenging circumstances, we as a community have been made faithful to our vision as a Church, “to be a city on a hill,” to make the Kingdom of God visible for everyone to see.
And so today, we look to the future with hope. Although we do not know when this pandemic will end, with God we move forward. We live forward. We move forward with joy because He walks with us – “a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.” And we will never walk alone. We have only to remember the words of that beautiful song: ”He works in ways we do not see. He will find a way.” God always finds a way!
In the midst of this pandemic, thus, we’ve encountered the Lord in people who have lost loved ones. We’ve encountered Him in the suffering. We’ve encountered Him in the confused, in those who are sad, those close to despair, and even in those who feel like losing hope. And by reaching out to them, we’ve made Jesus real, we’ve made Him present, and we continue to allow Him to rule our hearts, our minds, and the work of our hands.
There is profound joy even amidst sorrow and loss; there is a bright light even amidst dark and trying times. This may not feel like a statement of fact, but it is a statement of faith – one that is rooted in an indestructible hope.
On this special day, therefore, we give thanks to God for the Santatlo: the good priests, religious and consecrated people, and dedicated laity in the diocese. We have truly become a local Church that walks as a people with a mission and vision crafted through pastoral planning – to spread the Good News and make Jesus truly present.
Through hard work, we have made, and continue to make things happen. And we’ve done it together: we, who continue to labor in the Lord’s vineyard, and those who have gone before us, the good and faithful priests whom we’ve lost throughout the past years 18 years: Fr. Rene, Msgr. Dan, Msgr. Morty, Msgr. Ben, Msgr. Mora, Fr. Manny, Fr. Aloy, Fr. Frank, and Fr. Ben Villote.
Though our hearts may be sad because they’re no longer with us, we remain grateful for their work, inspired by their ministry, and joyful at having been able to share their lives.
A diocese though is far larger than its individual members, including its bishop- just as a whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Such is true of the Church, it is true of any diocese. It is the people of God – all of us, together – that always seek Jesus and, finding Him, shares Him with others. We are the Body of Christ, continuing His work, right here and right now.
Our work thus continues, especially in the midst of this pandemic. Seeing and tending to the suffering in our midst must always be our business. Because it is. The Lord would have it no other way. The power of our potential as Church is enormous and we have seen it in the way we have responded and continue to respond to the present crisis.
Thank you for your dedication, for your sacrifice and effort to answer the needs the faithful – whether material or spiritual. We rebuild the lives of many when we assist them. And we give hope and peace to those who feel helpless, lonely, lost and confused. This is the joy that comes, not just from reading the Gospel, but from living it. This must always be our business – “in good times and in bad, in season and out of season,” in the age of Covid, and in any other age.
For the future, our hope as a Church, and my hope as your bishop, is that the Lord will continue “to show us” the way. My prayer today thus, for all of us, is one of hope. May those who seek Jesus find Him always in our Church, in our community and in our very ourselves. Amen.
St. Augustine, pray for us.