I COULD NOT take my eyes off the face mask of Fr. Dominic Lim, OFM Conv., Recollection Master. It said: Leave no neighbor behind. Evidently a fitting battle cry to promote solidarity in these trying times. The unspoken slogan aptly prefaced the theme of his talk, “Preparing the Coming of the Messiah with Mary,” a subject hard to ignore, or miss, because it was printed on the name tags of all the attendees to the AMQAH-initiated assembly of Montfortian clergy, lay associates, and their friends and guests. Shortly, Fr. Dominic would reinforce the subtle message of his protective equipment with a vocal bombshell. But let me start by thanking the instrument of his presence.
Ate Marivic warmly welcomed everybody and, after Kuya Ham’s opening prayer, called on Sis Becky to introduce the guest speaker. From her handwritten note, she narrated how she met Fr. Dominic during her haircutting apostolate with the seminarians at Marytown, Greenfields I Subdivision in Novaliches. Long story short, after his temporary vows in 1994, solemn ones in 1993, and presbyterate ordination in 2000, he studied Mariology in Rome, became a Maria Immaculata Director in Chicago, Illinois, is now a Rector at St. Maximilian Seminary in Parañaque, and a Professor of Mariology at Don Bosco School of Theology. Even her original, longer, verbalized notes did not take my breath away. What did was her introducee’s calm, simple, unassuming “dissertation” of my favorite topic of a person. His opening salvo, next to “Magandang umaga” was his joy when parishioners ask him when Advent starts. His ready answer was when preparations begin, and we pray and discern the reason why Mary is in the New Testament, which speaks of the priority of doing the will of God. Gabriel visited her, and told her about Elizabeth being pregnant in old age, to address her wonder at the prospect of pregnancy herself. Worried for her cousin later, she hastened to her, even if she was already heavy with child. The Gospel precisely highlights the word hasten as meaning to do the will of God. Mary, all her life, was a listening woman. Holiness is hitting the bull’s eye, hammered Fr. Dominic. If you don’t listen to God, you miss getting the point. Which is why we have two ears and one mouth, to listen twice before talking (even) once. I recalled here the argument between my American (Chuck) and Sri Lankan (Marikar) friends where the latter was seemingly being outtalked by the former and said, “You know, Chuck, you will learn more by listening.” And it slowed the other down and they sounded like they were communicating again. Fr. Dominic noticed, he continued, that in his assignments both here and abroad, people tend to talk, not listen. And he made us imagine what would happen if we had one ear and two mouths (and tongues like a snake’s). It hit home the message that recollection is a time to listen (the work of the heart) and not hear (the ear’s province). Mary knew the art of listening is why she was able to magnify (Magnificat) Him. The life of Mary shows who God is in many lights that is why she has a lot of titles. And he quickly punctuated it with the boxing match between Pacquiao and Morales where the former prayed for help to Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the latter to the Guadalupe patroness.
Like God has many attributes, Mary magnifies Him through her many titles, or icons, which are windows to heaven in the East, as sculptures are in the West. Icons are not only meant to be looked at but also to be read, as in the case of the Mother of Perpetual Help which art incorporates the first two (out of four) dogmas about Mary, her being Mother of God and her perpetual virginity. The icon also illustrates three stars on Mary’s head and shoulders signifying her majesty and, again, eternal virginity. She is looking at us with her hands cradling and pointing at Jesus. Some of the icons are said to be painted by Luke, like the Lady of Cambrai, which is linked to the story about St. Bernadette Subirous. The Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette a total of 18 times. After which Bernadette entered the convent at Nevers. There she received many pictures and statues of Our Lady, which did not display but threw in the closet so she wouldn’t have to look at them. The Mother Superior was a little perturbed why Bernadette would do this. Bernadette replied that none of those images looked like the Blessed Virgin Mary and she could not abide to meditate on images that were not true.
The Mother Superior wrote to the bishop and went to the convent loaded with books filled with well-known images of our blessed mother. He showed Bernadette paintings by famous artists but none of them were met with approval by Bernadette.
After flipping through the books, they randomly came to an image of Our Lady of Cambrai. Bernadette fell to her knees and exclaimed to the bishop that the face she saw in that icon looked just like the face she had seen in the grotto so many times before.
Mary was with the Israelites preparing for Jesus’ coming. If Kairos is the time of Jesus before Adam, Kronos is the time of Adam before Jesus, the first form before creation. Like Jacob’s dream of stars in heaven is interpreted as identifying Jacob with the obligations and inheritance of the people chosen by God. His dream of the ladder reaching up to heaven is taken to mean everything that comes from God returns to Him.
Mary prepares for the Messiah’s coming differently. She continues to open her heart and, being a listening woman, listens to God.
There were two annunciations. The angel Gabriel first came to Zechariah to proclaim the pregnancy of Elizabeth. Later, he appeared to Mary announcing that she will be the mother of God. Both have the same structure for a vocation story, one preparing for the other, similarly miraculous birth. The first happened in the Temple, the second in the home of Mary in Nazareth. While Zecahariah was happy his future son will start a long line of holy men, he was punished because, in spite of his being a holy man, he did not believe God capable of making Elizabeth conceive in her old age. He spoke but did not listen, ergo, lost his speech. Whereas Mary’s naive wonder, in contrast, was only caused by the honest absence of man in her life, making her heart the holiest Temple. She asked, yes, but in order to understand. And when she did, obeyed. Gabriel’s salutation, therefore, hail, ave, or salve, is in recognition of her being full of grace, no more no less.
Exactly like what happened to Bernadette, when she was unable to recall the name of the Lady who appeared to her 18 times except the telling phrase Immaculate Conception to describe her.
Then Fr. Dominic came to a point where I was hit hard for he hit home. Mary’s labor pain was parallel to Jesus’ suffering because they both emitted blood and water. His long ago birth peculiarly happening at the foot of the Cross, from an open heart of God, not a woman’s womb anymore. I let the moment sink in and my eye corners moisten. What an exquisite dawning.
This is why she became mother of Christ and the Church. The Cross nailed it.
Which is also why, in Genesis, God put Adam into a deep sleep (death on the Cross) before He pulled Eve out of his ribs. Fr. Dominic seemed apologetic that he was making Advent sound like Lent.
Then resumed that if Parousia is preparing for His Second Coming, at the end times, or the future, the Eucharist is the present, therefore, the instrument we employ for what’s ahead. The host symbolizes the circle of perfection and, when broken, unites Christ with our brokenness. The womb-tomb analogy of our faith and link to Mother Earth.
Which is why aurora is dawn, where we celebrate nine days of the Eucharist, with the solemn violet of Advent, turning Gaudete pink, in joyful expectation. The Simbang Gabi highlights Mary’s role, the 9 novena days (or nights) equivalent to Christ in her womb for 9 months.
Turning solemn, he proclaimed that confession is not a litany of sins but owning them by telling God that we love Him. It is God making us confidently (sinlessly?) beautiful both in katawang lupa and kaluluwa.
Fr. Dominic did not need to tell us how to listen to Mary. We were ready to do whatever He tells us.
During the open forum, I took note of the following:
That from UtoLiza’s question about the Lady of Guadalupe, he said that her icon is true.
Ate Car’s concern was Jesus addressing Mary twice as “woman” at the wedding in Cana and the foot of the cross.
His solemn take: When Jesus addressed His mother at Cana, He wanted to show that His mission on earth was not aimed at performing miracles for His family members, but for the salvation of the whole world (cf. John 2). In this way, Jesus did not respond to His mother’s request because of familial ties, but that it was in accord with the will of God.
At the foot of the Cross, Jesus used the term ‘Woman’ in a loving manner, placing Mary, and her vocation, in the care of one of His Apostles.
Ate Relly had an insight, not a question. She thanked Fr. Dominic for the bull’s eye rhetoric and appreciated that it underscored for her the virtue of being silent and still in order to hit the target: obedience.
Utol returned with a concern about Protestants not recognizing Mary, why is that, and what do we do.
Fr. Dominic quoted Maximilian Kolbe for the answer. Only love creates. Then segued into Satan fuming why he should serve man (especially a woman wrapped in silence) when he is an angel, spawning the dictum “Non serviam” as opposed to Mary’s “Serviam.” Tough luck for him, God created Mary to trample him exactly. From the foot of the tree, to the foot of the Cross.
His parting shot was a wish for our meaningful Advent and Christmas before he returned to concelebrate Mass with our very own Fr. Fed.
Thanks to Fr. Dominic, what I found irrelevant (and unapologetically insensitive) in the comment to my rendition of a Tagalog translation of the Gospel song “Mary, Did You Know” as Protestant is now an ignored, misguided insight. I foreworded my a capella that I liked the song instantly when Fr. Benjie played it to intoduce his briefing on Montfort (my inspiring worm) at the Montfort Center of Spirituality several summers ago. Looking back, I said, the lyrics was in question form, however reverently asked (though critics blasted it as downplaying Mary’s relation to Jesus) so I thought I’d do one in prayer form. And “Mary, Make me Meek” was (re)born. I’ve sung it twice at a Legion function. For the purpose of the Mother of God Curia’s Annual Grand Reunion, I volunteered to render a yet unheard Tagalog version. And dedicated it to two dear Legionary friends, Kuya John in heaven and Kuya Ed in Canada, and every Legionary who was there.
In retrospect, I realize that the only Protestant in that gathering was the one who apparently didn’t like what I said or sang. No matter, I was created by a God of love, and because love creates, I will not bother with what destroys.
God, besides, sees what’s in our hearts. May the good heart shine.