20 September 2010

True Devotion to Mary (Part II)

Solemnity of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Patroness of Bicol (25th Sunday in Ordinary Time – C ) – 19 September 2010

Readings: Gen.3,9-15. Ps 98,1-4. Rev 11,9;12,1-6. Lk 2,27-35.

This Sunday, Bicol region has a different liturgy from the rest of the Catholic world for today we celebrate the Solemnity of Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia. This year is all the more special since this is the Tercentenary of the Devotion to our Ina, Patroness of Bicol.

Last year, on the same feast, I gave a reflection on what constitutes true devotion to Mary. Here is a short recap: true devotion to Mary...
1. is faithful to the Bible, the witness of Scriptures;
2. leads to Jesus; and
3. to personal conversion and renewal.

I would like to continue the reflection on the same theme, and add three more descriptions.

4. True devotion to Mary acknowledges her role in our salvation.

Foremost among Mary’s title is her being the Mother of Christ, the Mother of God. She carried Jesus in her womb, nursed Him in infancy and raised Him in “wisdom and grace”. She is the instrument through which the Son of God came into this world. And she continues to share the gift of her Son to the world.

In Jn 2,5, in the story of the wedding at Cana, Mary tells the waiters: “Do whatever he tells you”. This statement captures in summary her role in our salvation.

St. Paul writes in 1 Tim 2,5: “There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus”. Jesus, fully human and fully God, is the one mediator between God and humanity. Through Him, with Him and in Him, we receive the grace of God. Where is Mary’s place in this scheme of things, or to use technical language, in the economy of salvation? She is part of the communion of saints, who prays and intercedes for us. But being the Mother of Christ, she holds a special role.

Pope John Paul II writes in the encyclical Redemptoris Mater (n.38): “Mary's mediation is intimately linked with her motherhood. It possesses a specifically maternal character, which distinguishes it from the mediation of the other creatures.” And in one of His catechesis he also clarifies, echoing the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium: “Mary's maternal mediation does not obscure the unique and perfect mediation of Christ.”

Our devotion to Mary should not diminish, obscure or confuse our right understanding of the salvation brought to us by Jesus Christ. It is in this context that the titles of Mary as “Mediatrix” and “Co-Redemptrix” should be carefully understood. It is also in this context, that we appreciate the many miracles attributed to Mary, particularly in her title as Nstra. Sra. de Peñafrancia.

The latest celebrated miracle happened to no less than the Archbishop of Caceres himself, Most Rev. Leonardo Z. Legaspi. About two years ago, he was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. After undergoing some rounds of chemotherapy, which brought him great pain and discomfort, he decided to discontinue the aggressive treatment. His doctor advised that he might survive for only three more years should he proceed with his plan. The archbishop shared to some bishops and priests that he has accepted the situation and just asked Ina to grant that he live long enough for the tercentenary celebration this September. A few months ago, during one of his medical check-ups, he got the surprise of his life when not a trace of the tumor was found on his lungs. The archbishop considered it a miracle and attributed it to Ina’s intercession.

5. True devotion to Mary leads to greater participation in the Church.

Jn 19,26-27 symbolically starts the intimate relationship between Mary and the Church. While hanging on the cross, “Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son’. Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother’. And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” John, the beloved disciple, represents the community of believers. Mary is not only the Mother of Christ, she is also the Mother of the Church: she is mother to us all.

The devotion to Ina in this region began when the "cimarrones" asked Fr. Miguel Robles de Covarrubias to build a small chapel for them by the banks of the Bicol River. The "cimarrones" were natives, most of them baptized Christians, who chose not to fall under Spanish rule. Instead of living in the poblacion, they opted to live mainly on Mount Isarog. They were looked down by society because of their "uncivilized" ways and suspected of being thieves and robbers. For some of them, the reputation was not altogether unjustified. But they also felt a deep spiritual hunger and the need to belong to the Church, hence the request for a chapel of their own where they could worship and gather. The chapel was built and dedicated to Nstra. Sra. de Peñafrancia.

Then and now, Ina appeals to the huddled masses, those at the margins of society, those who felt left out by the community, the “unchurched”. She draws them to herself, leads them to her Son, and gathers them into the fold of the Church. The tens of thousands of pilgrims who flock to Naga during the celebration make it a point to visit Ina and attend Masses. Every one of the Masses at the Cathedral scheduled several times daily overflows with pilgrims: rich and poor, young and old, educated and barely literate. Everyone is welcome.

The tercentenary of the devotion to Ina is also a celebration of our being Church!

6. True devotion to Mary brings about social transformation.

In Lk 1,51-53, Mary sings in the Magnificat that the Lord “has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.”

The Church continues these prophetic words of Mary in its mission of evangelization and cooperation with God in establishing His Kingdom. The Church, both as an institution and as a people, involves in the common aspiration to build a better and just society. Who could forget the pictures of nuns and lay people carrying the image of Mary during the first EDSA revolution? They brought their faith to the streets, or better yet, they saw their political involvement as naturally flowing from the practice of their faith and the demands of the Gospel. And Mary was their protector and inspiration.

We Christians can contribute best to social transformation only if we live our faith. When we let the ways of the world compromise our following Christ, we become less effective in bringing about positive change.

The “tercentenary prayer” acknowledges that we are “inheritors of a glorious past, protagonists of the present, and fashioners of the future”. In acknowledging the gift of devotion, the Archdiocese of Caceres engages in a long-drawn battle to insist on the primarily sacred nature of the Peñafrancia celebration and position Naga as a “Pilgrim City’.

So far, the Church has made some significant gains. Activities that have nothing to do with the devotion but just ride on its popularity were no longer held, at least, from the start of the novena days to the feast itself. The rowdiness of the mostly male participants called voyadores were greatly tempered when all organizations and movements who assist in and secure the major events were organized into the Cofradia de San Jose (San Jose after all is the husband and protector of Ina) and given mandatory formation sessions before they can participate. Commercialization of the celebration was minimized. However, the forces of secularism are constantly creeping in. Thus, faithfulness and vigilance go hand in hand to meet them.


This Sunday, the four-year celebrations culminate. What happens next when we go back to our normal schedule and ordinary lives? After the celebration, how we live our lives will be a testament to the reality and strength of our devotion. By this the world will know that we are truly devotees of Ina.

Viva la Virgen! Viva an satong mahal na Ina!

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