Monsignor Jerry and my brothers in the priesthood. Our leaders in government and my dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
Yesterday, Makati celebrated the feast of two beloved apostles – Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Yesterday, Makati also celebrated the birthday of Monsignor Jerry. Today, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Virgin of the Apostles. And here in Makati, she is called by name – Birhen de la Rosa (Virgen de la Rosa).
Rosa is “rose”. The rose is the flower of all flowers as it is the most fragrant. It is the most beautiful. And it has the softest petals. The orchid is beautiful but it has no fragrance. The lily is beautiful but it is hard to the touch. The rose is most fragrant, with soft petals and the most beautiful indeed.
Because when we remember anything that is beautiful, we utter the words, “Thanks be to God!”. When you see yourself as beautiful and you tell yourself “I’m so beautiful!”, that is not true beauty. Because true beauty is one that acknowledges that beauty comes from the Lord. Roses are fragrant that is why it is used as a fragrance. The rose oil is one of the most expensive fragrances there is. And most of all, rose petals are as soft as silk. Silk comes from cocoons but is made by man. The softness of rose petals can be compared to the softness of cheeks or softness of skin because when it is said that something is as soft as rose petals, it means it is beautiful, fragrant and soft to the touch.
But there is also danger in honoring the Birhen de la Rosa (Virgen de la Rosa). There is the temptation pointing at us while honoring the Birhen de la Rosa (Virgen de la Rosa). Why?
When we see something that is beautiful, we remember the Lord. But when we something that is ugly, we must still remember the Lord. Because not everything that is beautiful brings us to the Lord. And not everything that is ugly drives us away from the Lord.
There are people who are blessed with a beautiful face. There are events that are beautiful to witness. We have triumphs but not all triumphs bring us to heaven. Because if your beauty causes you to become arrogant, it will bring you somewhere else. If your beauty causes you to become judgmental, it will bring you somewhere else. If you use your beauty to insult others or laugh at others or bully those who were not as blessed with a beautiful face, such are not heavenly virtues.
As we honor our beautiful Virgin, let us remember that our good Lord is also for the ugly. As a matter of fact, in Calvary, the prophet Isaiah said – He (the Lord) looked like a worm, he no longer looks like a man. He looked like a worm. He did not look like a man anymore. But in the ugliness of the cross, we are able to see the power, the beauty of God.
Tomorrow, the feast ends and we shall no longer look upon that which is beautiful. Tomorrow, let us honor the Virgen de la Rosa by searching for the ugly in our society…in searching for that ugly face or that ugly situation. And if you hold a faith that is strong, you will see the face of God in the midst of the ugliness. Because in the face of such ugliness, you are able to see that God saves the ugly. Because anything and everything ugly that God touches, changes form.
The rose is fragrant and we are most thankful. When there is fragrance, we remember God. But let us not avoid that which smells rotten. Does it smell good in the prisons? Do you like the smell inside hospitals? Are you aware of the smell from the sewer when it blends with the blood of a former drug addict gunned down at the side of the road? The blood of a human being mixed with sewage. The stench. But the Lord is there.
It does not smell good inside the hospital because many have wounds. And there abound germs and viruses but the Holy Virgin is there. Is there a garbage dump that smells good? Is there a garbage man/child who smells good or looks clean? But that is Jesus Himself. That child digging in the landfills. That child selling plastic from the garbage we’ve discarded. That victim of EJK (Extra-judicial killings), our brother, the Lord Jesus is there.
Let us be thankful for all the fragrant happenings in our lives. May God strengthen our faith…as we face that unpleasant, stinky part of who we are, we are able to remember that the Lord is there to save us. This is the stench of our sins that the Lord wants to wash away. And we cannot continue to avoid or ignore the stench and the ugliness. Because Jesus came not for those who are beautiful and not for those who are fragrant. Jesus came for those bad-smelling, ugly sinners, all of whom are ignored by society.
The rose is soft to the touch. Probably as soft as the bed you lay in at home but the cross is not soft. It is painfully hard. The Lord saved us by not lying on a soft bed, by not giving us a ‘soft’ life. Our Lord saved us by carrying a hard, heavy and rough cross.
Let us give thanks for that which is ‘soft’ but let us be thankful just the same for the problems that are so hard, so tough to melt away. As we find ourselves thrust into circumstances that are very difficult, very heavy to bear. And it brings us to doubt and say – Am I still loved by God? May we still search for the face of God, not just in the softness of cheeks or in those soft rose petals. May we be able to witness God’s love through the difficult problems that won’t leave us. May we see God’s love in the heavy cross that seems to stay with us. May we see God’s love by the strength of our faith. In softness, let us give thanks to the Lord. In the hardness and heaviness, let us still give thanks to the Lord.
The Virgen de la Rosa…the call is for us to remember the Lord in our encounters with beautiful things. As we are given fragrant blessings, let us remember the fragrance of the Lord. When we are blessed with comfort and softness, let us give thanks. But let us not yield to temptation. When that time comes that we are faced with ugliness, let us remain faithful to Jesus and to the Holy Mother. When the time comes that only the stench remains, my conscience will be stirred and I will be compelled accordingly in order to face the stench of sin…the stench of violence…the stench of vulgarity…the stench of resentment…the stench of retribution, with God’s courage. If you had been blessed with a soft and comfortable life, do not forget about those who lay on the hard, cold ground. Let us not forget those who carry a heavy burden. Because those who carry a heavy burden, those who lie on the hard ground, they are Jesus Himself. And they are also the children of the Virgen de la Rosa.
Tomorrow marks the end of the feast. Let us look for the Virgen de la Rosa in those who are ugly, bad-smelling…in those who refuse to change…in the heavy burdens that we must bear. And in the same way that we have found the Virgen de la Rosa, may we also see the face of Jesus in those who are hard, heavy, bad-smelling and ugly. Because it is for them that the Lord came.