Bishop Ness homily for the 35th National Migrants Sunday

Good morning! Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat! First of all, allow me to welcome and thank all of you who are joining us for Mass this morning – both those who are here at our beautiful cathedral, as well as those watching us via Livestream.

What a joy it is to come together as a community of believers and celebrate the 35th National Migrants’ Sunday, 26th National Seafarers Sunday, and the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees! It is a day to show our solidarity with migrants the world over, with refugees, seafarers, as well as the millions of unsung heroes of our nation, our OFW’s.

But it is also a day to join our voices as one and ask the Lord to bless them – and ourselves – as we seek to become a true community of brothers and sisters, united in love and care for each other, most especially during this most difficult time for the whole world.

And this is why – I believe – that the theme of this year’s celebration is most fitting: “Towards an Ever-wider ‘We’.”

Let me repeat that: “Towards an Ever-wider ‘We’.” But what exactly does an “ever-wider ‘we’” mean? I know it might sound abstract at first, but let’s make it concrete.

Let me tell you a true story. There was once a foreigner who visited a small community in Africa. She came carrying a big basket of fruit. Now as she walked through the village, children began following her, giggling, cheering, just kids being kids. And so she decided to come up with a fun contest to entertain them.

She found an open space and placed the basket of fruit in one spot and had the children assemble on a spot that was a little far and opposite the basket. Then she gave them a simple instruction: the first one to get to the basket, wins the fruit. It was basically a race. And the fastest one gets the prize.

When everyone was lined up and ready, she gave the signal. “Go!”, she shouted, expecting the children to try and beat one another to the prize.

To her amazement though, instead of rushing to the fruit individually, the children instead held hands and raising their hands together began shouting: “Ubuntu!” “Ubuntu!” “Ubuntu!”, as they all ran together towards the fruit.

Surprised at what she saw, this lady looked around and asked one of the bystanders: “What are they saying? What does “ubuntu” mean?”

“Ubuntu”, she was told, meant “happy together”, it meant “I can’t be happy all by myself. I can only be truly happy when we are happy, together. I can’t be truly successful when I’m alone by myself. I can only be truly successful when we succeed, together.”

It is an extremely fascinating word. And it captures what our celebration today is really all about.

In 2006, Nelson Mandela was asked how he understood and defined the word “ubuntu”. “It doesn’t mean,” he said, “that a person will not seek his own good. Rather, it means he will seek his own good so that everyone’s good is also achieved.”

It is the community, it is solidarity, it is a brotherhood, it is rising and succeeding together. It’s like the rising tide that lifts all boats together, with none left behind.

It’s an amazing perspective of the “world” we live in – one that regards humanity as one big family – where every member assists the other so as to achieve a common goal, a common aim, a common good. It is the vision of a world in which care, compassion, generosity, and love aren’t just beautiful words but meaningful concrete acts. It is the embodiment of the idea of sharing our time, talent, and treasure – so that we all, together, may rise.

It is this “We”, and its expansion, that our celebration today puts before us as a goal that’s worth realizing, especially since the alternative is too tragic to contemplate. To forget this “we”, to forget of our common humanity is to lose sight of the fact that we are “neighbors” rather than competitors, that we are sisters and brothers rather than adversaries, that we are called to be friends instead of rivals.

To reject this “We” is to set our very civilization on a very dangerous path: a path that leads to disunity, disorder, division, and eventually, destruction.

Our readings for Mass today, in fact, challenge us to see our relationships with each other as relationships of collaboration rather than competition. The very Kingdom of God is built on the coming together of people like ourselves – working together to realize and incarnate the Kingdom, here and now.

There’s a common thread that runs through both the First Reading and the Gospel. In both instances, someone is found to be doing good but isn’t part of the “inner circle” – Joshua’s group in the First Reading, and Jesus’ band of disciples in the Gospel. In both instances, there’s a suspiciousness, perhaps even jealousy of those who aren’t part of the “We”.

And yet in both readings as well, a correction is made – by Moses, and then by Jesus. “Leave them be”, says both of them. “They’re both doing good. They’re both contributing to the work we do. That makes them sharers in our mission. They aren’t “they”. They are “We”!

There’s an undeniable clarity to the message of both episodes. Whoever does good, regardless of whether or not they belong to our circle, is endowed with God’s Spirit and is a disciple of Jesus. As Jesus put it, “whoever is not against us is for us.”

Sometimes, when I read this particular passage in the New Testament, I could almost imagine Jesus smiling as He gently reprimands His disciples – and He’s had to do that many times, because of their slow understanding. I imagine Jesus saying to His disciples: “Leave him alone! He’s doing great! He’s contributing to our work! What’s your problem? Can’t you see he’s making your work a lot easier! He’s one of us. He’s part of the ‘WE’!”

You see, ultimately, what matters is that the work of God’s Kingdom is done. Who does it, is secondary – because in the end, we are just instruments. It is God who does the work – through us, through each one of us, together.

Discipleship, membership in the Kingdom is not a matter of cultural roots, religious origins, social or economic backgrounds, even political loyalties. Rather, it is a matter of seeking and doing God’s will and putting the ideals of God’s Kingdom into practice.

“Let justice roll like a river,” says the prophet Amos, “and let righteous gush forth like an ever-flowing stream.

To do the work of justice, of love, and of peace – that is the mark of true discipleship; that is the sign of true membership in that common and ever-expanding “WE”.

On this National Migrants Sunday and World Day of Migrants and Refugees – like those little village children in our story – let us join hands. Priests, religious, lay people, Christians and non-Christians alike – let us bind ourselves together in the common task of serving our sisters and brothers who are migrants, OFWs, seafarers, refugees, and all those who need our support as they seek to better their lives and the lives of those around them.

Let us bless and thank them for their many sacrifices, not only for their families but even for our nation which has relied on them, for many years now, to support our economy and our way of life.

Unsung heroes of our time, these men and women, our brothers and sisters, endure separation from family and friends, suffer loneliness, anxiety, and fear; they bear the physical and emotional shock of living and working in unfamiliar and, at times, even dangerous environments if only to contribute to the betterment of lives other than their own.

You want to find an embodiment of that “wider – We”? Look no farther than in the lives of our migrant brothers and sisters.

And so today, we pray for them. We thank them. We thank God for them. We bless them. And we pledge ourselves to honor them by doing what they do – stepping out of ourselves and contributing our own share to “widen”, as far as we can, our common bond, our solidarity with one another, our common “We”.


God bless you all. And God bless our OFW’s, our seafarers, our migrant sisters and brothers, and all who are refugees.

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