“God’s Mission and the Call to Missionary Discipleship” by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

Every Christian, by virtue of baptism, is a missionary or is called to be a missionary.

Today’s Gospel periscope contains some of the principles of missiology and the demands of missionary discipleship. From the beginning, it is very clear that Jesus’ mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God is intended for all peoples and for all places.

In the Book of Genesis, according to the Greek version (Septuagint), seventy-two is the number of people in the whole world (Gen 10). Therefore, the appointment of the seventy-two other disciples in the Gospel passage is symbolic.

Christ’s mission, which is God’s mission (“Missio Dei”), is as wide as the world. There will always be a need for more workers in this huge field of the mission. In fact, even for the produce that is already ripe for harvest, there are not enough workers.

The injunction to pray for more laborers is a summons to the reality that the mission is God’s. It is also a reminder that prayer is the first posture of the missionary. It is God who directs the mission and sends workers for the mission. The “abundance” or the “scarcity” of missionary laborers is linked to the disciples’ prayerful supplication before the Master of the harvest.

Although mission involves different forms of missionary activities and endeavors, prayer is the first missionary disposition. Mission is a divine-human cooperation and this is shown particularly in the missionary’s life and ministry grounded in God in prayer. Indeed, prayer is a necessary component of mission.

The shift in the metaphor from harvesters or laborers to “lambs among wolves” highlights the difficulties and dangers the disciples are expected to encounter along the missionary way. The disciples must expect what the Lord Jesus himself had experienced.

The Gospel also focuses on how the disciples must behave as they participate in God’s mission. They are to travel light and without attachments in any forms that can bog them down in their primary missionary pursuit. They must have a sense of urgency and should not allow any distractions by other concerns, including familial and social amenities. They must be heralds of God’s peace. They must accept with gratitude and joy any hospitality and acceptance accorded them. However, they must also be ready for any forms of rejection and be prepared to move to another place where the message of the God’s Kingdom may be welcomed.

The primary message of the missionary disciple is the Lord’s own message: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” God’s Kingdom can be described as “the reign of God dynamically active in human history through Jesus Christ, the purpose of which is the redemption of His people from sin and from demonic powers, and the final establishment of the new heavens and the new earth” (Anthony Hoekema). This missionary message has to be proclaimed whether it is accepted or rejected.

Every Christian, by virtue of baptism, is a missionary or is called to be a missionary. In whatever forms of mission we find ourselves engaged in, it is important to keep in mind the above basic principles of doing mission and of missionary discipleship.

as published on July 7, 2013, Parish Bulletin
About Fr. Robert and his reflections


“The Power of the Resurrection”, Easter Sunday, Year C by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

On this Easter Sunday allow me to focus our reflections on the themes of transformation and liberation and freedom from sin, suffering, darkness, death and decay as brought about by the power of the resurrection of Jesus. We begin with a story.

The Jesuit Fr, Mark Link shares a beautiful story narrated by Ernest Gordon in his book Through the Valley of the Kwai. Gordon’s book documents his personal experiences and the transformation that took place in the lives of prisoners in a Japanese prison camp along the Kwai River during World War II.

According to Gordon, he and the other prisoners were forced bareheaded and barefooted to build a railroad from dirt and stone and under the heat of the sun that sometimes reached 120 degrees. They wore rags for their clothes. The bare ground became their only bed.

But their worst enemy was not the Japanese or their hard life; it was themselves. The law of the jungle governed their lives. They stole from one another. They were suspicious of one another. They betrayed one another. In short, they were destroying one another. It was a hell of a life.

Then something incredible and beautiful happened. Two prisoners organized the others into Bible study and prayer groups.

Through their study and praying of the Bible, the prisoners gradually discovered that Jesus was in their midst as a living person. They came to discover that Jesus also embraced their situation. Jesus too had no place to lay his head at night. He too became hungry and tired. He too was betrayed. He too suffered a lot. He died unjustly on the cross like any other criminal of his time – all for the love of us and for our salvation..

Link, on the basis of Gordon’s testimony, says, “Everything about Jesus – what he was, what he said, what he did – began to make sense and come alive.”

The prisoners started to stop thinking of themselves as victims of some cruel tragedy. They stopped destroying one another. They began to pray not so much for themselves but for one another and to release the new power that they found within themselves for accepting Jesus in their lives and in their midst. Slowly, the camp went through a transformation that amazed not only the Japanese but also the prisoners themselves.

One night, Gordon, according to Link, was returning to his cell after a meeting with his study and prayer group. As he walked along in the darkness, he heard the sound of men singing. This sound highlighted the transformation that had taken in the prison camp. It was an experience from death to resurrection.

The amazing story of transformation that took place in that Japanese camp is a beautiful illustration of what Easter is all about. It is an example of countless people and communities that are never the same again after encountering the Risen Lord. Easter is all about encountering the Risen Jesus and experiencing the transformation that the Risen Lord brings to us.

The gospel passage for Easter Sunday is from the Gospel according to John. Raymond Brown tells us that that the Gospel of John is a gospel of encounters. In John, we see, for example, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the cripple at Bethesda, the man born blind and Mary and Martha encountering the Lord. And anyone who encounters Jesus encounters the light that came into the world. One is judged on whether or not he or she continues to come to the light or to turn away and prefer darkness.

This is the very meaning of the description that we find in the opening of the gospel passage today: “On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark.”

In the Gospel of John light and darkness are a very important motif. The glorious light of the Risen Lord has overcome the darkness of suffering, sin, death and decay. On this first day of the week, on this first Easter Sunday, a new beginning dawned. The world and human history would never be the same again.

For the evangelist John, people can no longer live in darkness because of the Risen Lord. Lack of faith in the risen Jesus is a life in darkness. Darkness lasts until we believe in the Risen Jesus. We continue to be in the dark until we allow the power of the Resurrection of Jesus to truly transform us.

The resurrection stories in John begin with a report of Mary Magdalene’s visit to the tomb early in the morning. It was the custom in Palestine to visit the tomb of a loved one for three days after the body had been buried. It was believed that for three days the spirit of the dead person hovered round the tomb; then it departed because the body started to become unrecognizable through decay. The people believed that after three days, the body of the dead would start to decompose.

It was on the third day after the cruel death of his Son that the Heavenly Father of Jesus snatched him not only from decay but from death itself. God did not allow Jesus to remain dead and his body to decompose.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in one of his three books on Jesus of Nazareth, says: “Not to see corruption is virtually a definition of resurrection. Only with corruption was death regarded as definitive. Once the body had decomposed, once it had broken down into its elements – marking man’s dissolution and return to dust – then death had conquered. From now on this man no longer exists as a man – only a shadow may remain in the underworld. From this point of view, it was fundamental for the early Church that Jesus’ body did not decompose. Only then could it be maintained that he did not remain in death, that in him life truly conquered death.”

Suffering, darkness, death and decay are consequences of sin. God did not only overcome sin; He also overcame suffering, darkness, death and decay.

When we reflect on the Resurrection of Jesus, it is important that we reflect not only on its theological meaning but also on its practical meaning especially for us as we continue living our lives as Easter people.

The good news of Easter is not only the triumph of Jesus over sin, suffering, darkness, death and decay. The good news of Easter is that we do not have to wait until we die to share in the power of the resurrection of Jesus. We can begin to truly share in the power of the resurrection of Jesus right now. Just as the prisoners in the Japanese prison camp shared in the transforming power of the resurrection of Jesus, we too can experience the same.

Is there some kind of death or decay that we are experiencing right now? Is there some kind of sin that we find ourselves being slaves of? Are we living in some kind of darkness or gloom because of life’s difficulties? What is it that is destroying us like the prisoners in the Japanese camp in Kwai many years ago? What is it that is making us to be too focused on ourselves and failing to recognize the needs of others, especially the poor and the suffering? What is it that is preventing us from becoming truly Easter people, people who proclaim in words and in deeds that Jesus is alive and that we can all live in hope, faith and love? What is it that is preventing us to really allow Jesus to be alive in our lives, in our families and in our communities?

It is not only important that we recognize sin, suffering, darkness, death and decay in our lives and their instrumentalities and causes. It is also very important that we truly welcome, believe in and embrace the Risen Jesus and the power of his resurrection in our lives and the transformation that Jesus is giving us. We need to allow God our Father to snatch us through his Risen Son Jesus from the valley of sin, suffering, darkness, death and decay and bring us new life in Jesus.

As Easter people, we are a people of hope. Hope, says St. Catherine of Siena, is the “radical refusal to put limits to what God can do”. God can do the unexpected, the impossible, the miraculous if we only trust and allow Him.

The good news of Easter is not only about the Risen Jesus. It is also about us rising with the Risen Jesus. It is about sharing in the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

When we let Jesus to help us overcome sin and weakness, we experience the power of His resurrection.

When we let Jesus help us trust, hope, and love once again, after we’ve had our trust, hope and love betrayed, rejected and dashed, we experience the power of His resurrection.

When we let Jesus help us pick up the broken pieces and start over again after we were ready to give up, we experience the power of His resurrection.

When we let Jesus reach out to others, especially the poor, the needy and the suffering, through us and through our humble and loving service and sharing, we experience the power of His resurrection.

Our new Holy Father, Pope Francis I, has been making Jesus to be truly alive in our midst by his love for Jesus and for the Church, by his example of humility, simplicity, love and concern for the poor and for creation. Indeed, Christ is alive, but we must also make Him truly alive by the way we live authentic Christ-like lives.

About Fr. Robert and his reflections

“Transforming Mountaintop Experience”, by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

The psychologist Abraham Maslow described peak experiences “as especially significant moments in life, involving feelings of intense happiness and well-being, wonder and awe, and possibly awareness of transcendental unity or knowledge of higher truth often from vastly profound and awe-inspiring perspective.” Peak experiences also “tend to be uplifting and ego-transcending, releasing creative energies and affirming the meaning and value of existence. Peak experiences give a sense of purpose to the individual and a feeling of integration and they leave a permanent mark on the individual, evidently changing them for the better.” Those who have peak experiences can never be the same again.

According to Mark Link, SJ, the British Bede Griffiths, in his book entitled The Golden String, describes such a remarkable peak experience that took place in his life when he was a schoolboy.

One summer evening, as he was walking outside he became aware of how beautiful the birds were singing. He wondered why he had never heard them sing like this before.

As he continued walking, he saw hawthorn trees in bloom. The trees looked so lovely and their fragrance filled the air. Bede wondered how he had never noticed their beauty or fragrance before.

Finally, Bede reached a playing field. Everything in the field was quiet and still. As he stood there, watching the sun slowly fading into the horizon, he found himself kneeling on the ground. He felt as though God were present there in a most tangible way.

Bede Griffiths writes in his book, “Now that I look back on it, it seems to me it was one of the decisive events of my life.”

Bede Griffith’s experience, Mark Link, SJ believes, gives us a glimpse into what Peter, James and John experienced more than 2,000 years ago when Jesus was transfigured before their eyes.

The transfiguration of Jesus before their eyes was a decisive and pivotal moment in their lives. They began to see him in a totally new perspective.

Peter could never forget the transfiguration of Jesus. He recounts the experience in the following words:

“With our eyes we saw his greatness. We were there when he was given honor and glory by God the Father, when the voice came to him from the Supreme Glory, saying, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased! We ourselves heard this voice coming from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

In the transfiguration event, the true divine identity of Jesus was revealed. Jesus was seen as he really is – in his divine glory and splendor as the Son of God. He was shown as the anticipated and messianic fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, as represented by the two great figures of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah with whom Jesus was seen in conversation.

The transfiguration event of Jesus was also a much-needed spiritual shot to encourage and strengthen Jesus as he was on his way to Jerusalem to face his passion and death. The words that Jesus heard at his baptism, of his divine identity as the beloved Son of God, which was attacked by the Devil at the temptation of Jesus on the desert, were the same words heard at the transfiguration: “This is beloved Son in whom I am well please. Listen too him.” Jesus, as it were, needed to be reassured again of his divine identity. He needed to hear the intimate words of his Father before he faced suffering and death in obedience to His will.

On this Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus, it is very important to reflect not only on the incident and its significance in the life of Jesus. We need to reflect, among others, how we too can experience transfiguration or transformation in God.

The Gospel of Luke, which is considered a gospel of prayer because of its emphasis on the importance of prayer, makes it very clear from the beginning of the gospel passage that Jesus and the three disciples went to the mountain to pray and it was while Jesus was at prayer that he was transfigured. There is a very important clue here for our transformation in God.

In the Bible the mountain is a place of encounter with God. And in this context of Luke, a mountaintop experience is a moment of transforming encounter with God in prayer.

The Gospel clearly suggests that just as Jesus was transfigured while at pray, we too can experience transformation if only we give ourselves to a sincere life of prayer. Soren Kierkegaard said, “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.” 

On a daily basis, we need a mountaintop experience – an intimate union with God in prayer. We do not need to a real and physical mountain to pray. One’s room can be a mountaintop when we put aside everything to spend time with the Lord in prayer.

In prayer our identity as children of God is revealed. We too hear in the depths of our hearts the voice of the Father telling us that we are His beloved children. We too get a spiritual shot in the arm when we absorb ourselves in prayer, enabling us to face the trials and challenges of life.

The voice of the Father also says, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” If we really desire to be transformed in God, we need to truly listen to Jesus. What is implied here is the challenge of discipleship. A disciple in the Bible is one who listens to the Word of God and does it in his life. Following Jesus in discipleship is the path to transformation in God.

The need to focus on Jesus and to the following of Him is reinforced by Jesus becoming alone. Moses and Elijah appeared talking with him. Magnificent things happened to Jesus. He appeared in glory. But in the end, the heavenly Father wants us to focus not so much on the secondary figures like Moses and Elijah and even on the glorious things that accompanied the event but solely on Jesus. The Father does not want us to be distracted from the sole attention to Jesus and to the following of Him in obedience.

Pope Benedict XVI, who is about to retire, has been called the Pope of the basics. One of the things that he has tried to do is to challenge us to go back to Jesus. One of his legacies as a pope is the completion of his three-volume work of Jesus of Nazareth. Return to Jesus. Go back to Jesus. Know Jesus. Be in love with Jesus. Follow Jesus. Indeed, we cannot but do this as Christians for Jesus is the very reason of our Christian faith. Jesus is the very center of our Christian Faith.

We end with one of my favorite quotations of Pope Benedict on Jesus: “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.”

About Fr. Robert and his reflections

“What should we do?” by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

This personal and self-implicating question needs to be answered during this season of prayer, reflection and self-examination.

The Third Sunday of Advent has been called Gaudete Sunday, after the Latin gaudete, “to rejoice.” The mood of joyful expectation is what characterizes the readings for this Sunday. The First Reading from the Book Of Zephaniah (Zep 3:14-18a) addresses four imperative verbs to Jerusalem in calling her to rejoice: “Shout for joy! Sing joyfully! Be glad and exult with all your heart!” The Lord is “in your midst” bringing about salvation, and this calls for rejoicing.

In the Second Reading Paul exhorts the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again. Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4-7). “Rejoice in the Lord” is a common Pauline phrase that implies union with Christ as the very source of joy. In the face of tribulations and trials, joy is experienced as an interior peace in the Lord that “guards our minds and hearts.”

But before we can truly celebrate the joy of God’s presence and salvation, we must first allow ourselves to be confronted by John the Baptist. John reminds us that repentance is the only Advent route as we continue to prepare
for the Lord’s coming.

The Gospel periscope today (Lk 3: 10-18) consists of an exchange between John and the crowd, the tax collectors and the soldiers on the question, “What should we do?” and of John’s response to the question of his identity vis-a-vis the Christ.

“What should we do?” is the same question that the crowds ask at Pentecost in response to Peter’s preaching (Acts 2:37). John’s answers to the said groups of seekers confront the issues of inequalities and injustices prevalent in the society. Those who have clothes and food must share with those who have none. Tax collectors must stop imposing exorbitant taxes that oppress people. Soldiers must cease victimizing citizens with extortion, threat and blackmail. In short, people must change their ways and dealings with others.

The answers of John the Baptist to the seekers are to be pursued in response to the need to “straighten the paths” and “smoothen the ways”of one’s life for the coming of the Lord and His offer of salvation. The advent of the Lord demands personal conversion, communal renewal and social and structural transformation.

Each one of us is challenged to grapple with the same question, “What should we do?” as we continue our Advent journey. This personal and self-implicating question needs to be answered during this season of prayer, reflection and self-examination. Joy springs out of the experience of renewed conversion to the Lord and to His ways and of turning away from sinful, immoral and unethical practices.

Like John the Baptist, we must also know who we are before the Messiah. Pope Benedict XVI said, “John plays
a great role, but always in relation to Christ.” John, without any pretense and usurpation of the Lord’s identity,
declares that he is only the unworthy herald of the mighty Messiah. The Messiah’s baptism is a baptism of the
Holy Spirit and of fire; his is only a baptism of water, of repentance and of forgiveness.

St. Francis of Assisi prayed, “Who are you, Lord my God, and who am I?” These two questions are fundamental
not only to the Christian life but also to the Advent journey. The question, “What should we do?” can only be
properly faced by asking and answering first, “Who are you, Lord my God, and who am I ?”

Our Lord Jesus, by embracing with great humility and generosity the mystery of the Incarnation and the Passion of the Cross, has shown us the human face of God. He is our Messiah who has revealed to us God’s unconditional, boundless and forgiving love. In response, we can try to be the very best that we can be in relation to God, to others and to ourselves. Then, we begin to authentically experience the joy of living in the Lord who is Emmanuel, God-with-us.

as published on December 16, 2012, Parish Bulletin
About Fr. Robert and his reflections

“Called to be Prophets”, by Fr. Robert

A story is told about a man who was on his way home after a Sunday Mass. The man was asked, “Is the homily done?” The man replied, “The Word of God has been proclaimed and preached, but it remains to be done.”

A similar message was given by St. Francis de Sales. The saint said, “The test of a preacher is that the congregation goes away saying not ‘What a lovely sermon!’ but ‘I will do something.”

Last Sunday, in celebration of the National Bible Sunday, I quoted the words of St. Giles of Assisi. He stated, “The Word of God is not in the one who preaches it or the one who listens to it, but in the one who lives it.” Indeed, the Christian challenge is to be readers, hearers, doers and sharers of the Word of God.

The Gospel passage today is a continuation of the Gospel passage last Sunday. It begins with the ending of that Gospel passage wherein Jesus says: ‘Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus refers to the biblical passage from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah that speaks about God’s work of total liberation and salvation for His people. This work of God is now being fulfilled in the person, preaching and ministry of Jesus Who has been anointed by the Holy Spirit.

These words do not apply to Jesus alone, but to His listeners as well. In fact, they
also apply to us who hear these same words in our time. It is not only Jesus Who is fulfilling God’s Word. Hearing or reading the Word of God challenges us to act on it. His Word must be done, lived and fulfilled in and through us.

In today’s liturgy, the first reading and the Gospel passage speak of prophecy. The second reading gives love as the very reason for the exercise of the prophetic gift.

The word prophet comes from the Greek word “prophetes” which means, “to speak on behalf of someone.” The word prophet is commonly misunderstood as someone who predicts the future. This is incidental to the role of a prophet. His real role is to speak on behalf of God, to be God’s messenger. A prophet discerns what is happening so that he may alert us to what God is saying in these events. A prophet denounces what is not of God and announces what is of God or according to God’s will.

When we were anointed with chrism oil during our Baptism, the priest prayed in part: “As Christ was anointed priest, prophet, king, so may you live always as members of His Body, sharing everlasting life.”

To be a prophet is the calling of every Christian. By virtue of baptism, we share in the threefold mission of Christ – the priestly, prophetic and kingly missions. Focusing just on the prophetic mission, we are called to receive and to proclaim God’s Word of love, peace, justice and reconciliation in the world. We are called to be receivers, hearers, readers, doers, sharers and proclaimers of God’s Word and of God’s will in the world. Our baptism makes it very clear that this is not just the duty of the priests and other ordained ministers; it is the duty of every baptized Christian.

In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah uses very specific and personal terms to describe the prophetic mission entrusted to him by the Lord: “I formed you, I knew you, I dedicated you.” Jeremiah declares that his prophetic mission is from God Himself and it is going to be his very life. This prophetic mission also brings difficulties and sufferings. Thus, he needs “to gird his loins” or to be ready for anything to be a faithful messenger of God. One thing is sure though, in all that God’s messenger will experience, the Lord will be there on his side.

The most often-quoted second reading is considered a hymn to love. It was originally addressed by St. Paul to the people of Corinth who were experiencing some divisions and conflicts in the exercise of different gifts from God. St. Paul reminded the Corinthians that the motivating factor behind every gift or charism and every community should be love.

Applying this to the over-all theme of prophecy – the gift of prophecy is nothing when it is not motivated by and done out of love. We proclaim God’s Word because we love the Lord and His Word. We love God’s people and want the best for them according to God’s design and vision. In fact, prophecy is one of the signs of God’s love for His people. And it is this love that can make us withstand whatever may come our way, including rejection and even persecution, as we proclaim God’s Word. Jesus Himself experienced rejection and persecution. In fact, like all the other prophets, He was put to death because of His fidelity to the will and vision of His Father.

The gospel passage tells us that initially the people were actually amazed at the gracious words that came from the mouth of Jesus. The people were okay and happy as long as Jesus was telling them what they wanted to hear.

But then, Jesus challenged them and reminded them of their lack of faith in contrast to the foreign widow of Zarephath and the Syrian Naaman. These two personalities manifested greater faith than the Jewish people and, as a result, became recipients of the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The moment Jesus said this, the people got angry at Jesus. They drove Him out of the town and wanted to hurl Him down the hill.

Such is the nature of the prophetic Word of God. It consoles those who are afflicted and disturbs those who are complacent and need to be disturbed. The Word of God is paradoxical. It can affirm and it can and must also disturb. All for the love of us! Sometimes we need tough love even from, or especially from, God.

Thus, the readings today remind us that we must not only listen to what we want to hear, to what is convenient, comfortable and easy for us to hear. Sometimes what we do not want to hear might be what we actually need to hear and what is best for us.

In this regard, the Christian who exercises God’s prophetic mission is also reminded to be always faithful to God and to His Word even in the face of difficulties. A true prophet will never compromise God’s Word just for the sake of pleasing other people. A prophet must always be loving and humble but firm when it comes to God’s will and message. While there are always different ways of relaying God’s message, our primary loyalty is above all to God.

At the height of the debates on the RH Bill issue in the country, one of my students asked me: “Will the Church change her stance on the RH bill and divorce when it becomes clear that these are what the majority want?” I replied, “No. This is not a popularity game. While the Church needs to and must listen to the voice of the people, she must primarily listen to the voice of God. The voice of God is discerned not only in the clamor of the people but also in the Scriptures, in the long-standing and time-tested tradition of the Church and in the discerning and teaching responsibility of the Church.”

The Bishops of our country met on January 26-28 for their 106th Catholic Bishops’ Conference. At the end of the said conference, they issued a pastoral statement using the words of St. Paul to Timothy as its title: “Proclaim the message, in Season and Out of Season.”

The Bishops reminded us, among others, that “what is popular is not necessarily what is right. What is legal is not necessarily moral.”

The Bishops also quoted the following words of St. Paul to Timonthy, and may we end with these words:

“Proclaim the message: be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully” (2Tim 4:2-5).

“Facing the New Year 2013 with the Blessed Mother Mary” by Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM

On May 27, 2002, Robert E. Serafin, an American soldier during the Second World War, was interviewed by the writer David Venditta of The Morning Call. In that interview he narrated how wounded and dying soldiers would cry out for morphine and for their mothers to be relieved from their pain. He shared how one guy in complete body cast from the neck down was crying for his mother. A nurse said, “We can only give him morphine. Other than that there’s nothing we can do for him.” His mother could not there for him as he was in great pain.

Serafin further added, “I found out in Vietnam, too, that as soon as a guy would be in bad shape, he’d always ask for his mother.”
Dr. James Murphy, special correspondent on the Italian Front, also testifies to this longing for the mother in time of great need. Dr. Murphy writes: “I suppose it is true that the men of every nation become children in the most critical moments of their lives, but I think this is truer in Italy than elsewhere. Wounded soldiers crying out in their agonies generally call for their mothers; they sometimes call on their God, and sometimes they curse their fate. In Italy I have scarcely ever heard any cry from the lips of an agonizing soldier except ‘Mamma mia! Mamma mia!’ You hear it when they are being brought in on the stretchers. Home and mother seem to be the one idea running through the distraught brain.”
This longing for the mother must be across cultures. The Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Men and Women in the World’s Cultures says that “for young men in combat, their mothers can symbolize a nurturing feminine sphere that contrast with war. It is their mothers that dying soldiers most often call out for on the battlefield.”
We know the longing and even the preoccupation for the mother is shown particularly at a younger age. There is a story about a teacher who gave primary grade class a science lesson on magnets. In the follow-up test, one question read: “My name starts with M and has six letters, and I pick up things. What am I?”

The students were supposed to answer magnet. Half of the class answered the question with the word: mother.

People need especially their mothers in times of need, of uncertainty, of insecurities. We need our mothers to pick us up, perhaps for those who are already old – no longer physically but emotionally and spiritually. As we begin another year with all the uncertainties that it may bring us, the Church is telling us that we need our Blessed Mother Mary.
Filled with gratitude to the Lord for the year 2012, with all its joys and sorrows, achievements and failures, we begin the new year not only confident of God’s abiding love and presence as Emmanuel, God with us, but also of Mary’s maternal care and example. We welcome the new year with the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God and our mother as well, imploring Mary as the Theotokos, God’s Bearer, she who received and carried Jesus in her heart and in her womb, to also carry us through another year. We look up to her as our model of faith and discipleship, prayer and contemplation, and fidelity in our on-going journey through life in this world.
How do we begin another year with our Blessed Mother Mary? First, we begin with Mary by imploring God’s blessings upon us, upon our families and upon the world. The blessing uttered in our First Reading from the Book of Numbers is used by priests in imparting God’s blessings upon the people at the end of the prayer assembly.
The blessing formula, “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give your peace!” is actually a triple statement imploring God’s favor upon us. It is a triple prayer for God’s prosperity, presence and peace expressing our hope in God who alone can make our new year happy, blessed, grace-filled and peaceful.
We pray that as we begin another new year, we may be blessed by the Lord as Mary was blessed. We remember Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary, “Blessed are you among women.” In the language of our day, the word that we use is benediction and this word expresses primarily an act of consecration to the Lord and the experience of being filled by God’s divine presence. With Mary, we pray that God may ever fill us with his divine presence and action in the year 2013 and that we may be truly consecrated or reconsecrated to Him and to His ways.
Secondly, with Mary we face the new year with the assurance of the loving presence of the Father. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians in the Second Reading, tells us that because of Jesus and His Spirit, we have become children of God, intimate enough to call him “Abba” or “Daddy”. By his incarnation and solidarity with our human situation, Jesus has made us adopted children of His Father.
To be reminded of our being children of God on the eve or the beginning of another new year is extremely important. We cannot foresee what the new year will hold for us. Thus, we need to be assured of that certitude of our being beloved children of God in facing whatever await us with great confidence and trust in God who will always hold us in his loving heart and hands. In life, things may not always be good and rosy, but the assurance of God’s loving fidelity helps us to go through life with courageous and childlike spirit.
During the Second World War, Cardinal Desire Mercier, Archbishop of Malines, Belgium, wrote a Pastoral Letter asking the people to pause everyday for some time to be in touch with God as they faced the trials of war. He asked them to be assured, especially in deep connection to God in prayer in the depths of their hearts, that God their Father was with them and would continue to be with them, especially in that time of great difficulty. This assurance helped the people to be strong and focused in the face of great adversities. The Second Reading wants us to do this as we begin another year.
Finally, with Mary we face the New Year carrying the name of Jesus. In the Gospel we come to Mary who together with her husband Joseph names the baby born through her Jesus and who keeps all these divine happenings in her heart. The gospel passage says, “When the eight day arrived for his circumcision, the name Jesus was given the child, the name the angel had given before he was conceived.”
Mary and Joseph, by naming the child Jesus, remind us who the child is, what his mission will be and that his power is the power of salvation. We know that the disciples of Jesus later on expel demons and work miracles in the name of Jesus. The power of the name of Jesus is made ever more clear after the resurrection and the name of Jesus must never be used with impunity and disrespect.
To invoke and to pronounce the name of Jesus is to appeal humbly to the one whom we recognize as Lord and in whom we place our faith. It is to receive Jesus who frees us from evil and to be open to salvation, like the man besides Jesus at the Crucifixion who asks, “Jesus, remember me when you enter upon your reign,” and to whom Jesus responds, “I assure you: this day you will be with me in paradise.”
Mary and Joseph are the first ones to receive the name of Jesus through the angel Angel Gabriel. In the Bible the name stands for the very presence of the person himself.
This is how we are to begin another year – in the name of Jesus our Savior and Lord. We face the new year carrying and contemplating the name of Jesus, his presence and his action in our hearts, in our lives, in this world. And if God is with us and for us, nobody and nothing can be against us? We can face another new year and the years after with confidence and courage because this Jesus is our Savior and He is Emmanuel, God with us, who has promised to be with us until the end of time.

About Fr. Robert and his reflections