My reflection this morning will take its inspiration from that concluding homily Pope Francis delivered at the closing of the first session of the Synod on Synodality last October 29, 2023, at the Basilica of St Peter.
The Holy Father called attention to what he considered as two signs or indicators that we have really encountered the God who is love: first, adoration, and second, service. They are actually his way of presenting Jesus’ summary of all the commandments: to love God above all (adoration), and to love neighbor as oneself (service).
Let us begin with ADORATION. To adore God is to love God above all and never to fall into idolatry. In French, “I adore you” is another way of saying “I love you.” You know that this convent is called a PERPETUAL ADORATION CONVENT because in this chapel our dear Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—in short, perpetually. And so I dare say this convent is full of lovers. The sisters are not here because they have renounced love. They have totally committed themselves to love because God is Love.
That should make you understand why this convent is attracting so many people. Does it mean you are attracted to the Sisters? Yes, but only because their whole life’s gaze is turned to God. You enter an Adoration chapel and you see a Sister in pink. You do not even know who she is because you do not see her face; her face is turned to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, absorbed in adoration. She does not call attention to herself; she calls attention only to the God whom she adores, the God who is love, and who gives himself to the world as a “Body Broken for Broken People.”
The opposite of adoration is idolatry, according to Pope Francis. And the worst form of idolatry is narcissism, the worship of oneself. It is what Jesus is denouncing today in our Gospel reading about the Scribes and Pharisees. Because they sat in the Chair of Moses, they developed a kind of self-importance that made them presume that they were entitled to people’s respect and obedience. They so adored themselves that they overdecorated their bodies with phylacteries and long tassels so that they could get people’s attention. They forgot that the word they preached was God’s Word, not their own, that the only attention they should get was supposed to be for God, not for themselves—if they were to be true to their vocation.
I am reminded of that famous parable of the ass or donkey that carried Jesus during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The donkey was so amazed that everyone seemed to adore him; he felt elated that they were laying their coats on his path, waving their palm branches at him and singing him Hossana. He got so filled with self-importance that he thought he was the Messiah, not realizing that it was the one sitting on his back whom they were adoring.
That is a good description of what the devil loves to do to people like us—bishops and priests. He tries to massage our egos, fills us with delusions of grandeur, makes us enjoy honorific titles—“Excellency, Reverend, Very Reverend, Most Reverend, Your Grace, My Lord…”, along with all the attention and special privileges. Satan has an easy way of destroying the Church: by tempting priests and religious to abuse authority because it is the easiest way to strip us of credibility.
Satan had actually done the same thing with the Scribes and Pharisees, in order to strip their words of the power to convert and the power to proclaim good news. Did not St. Paul say, “Even if I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, if I have no love, I am but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”? And yet, look at Jesus, how the Gospel writer describes him as “one who spoke with authority.” Why? Because his gaze was focused on his Father’s face—in love and adoration. The Book of Exodus says Moses adored God at Mount Sinai and, whenever he came down, his face was transfigured. He was glowing with joy, peace, and tranquility. He did not realize that adoring God was changing him; it was making his face reflect the face of the God who is Love.
And now let us go to the second sign, which, Pope Francis says, is another clear indication that we have truly encountered God who is Love: SERVICE. Adoration leads to service. It makes us see the face of God in every fellow human being. A genuine love of God teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves. It makes us see every suffering person with compassion. It enables us to feel the pains of others as our own pains, and the joys of others as our own.
How can we say we love God and hate our neighbor? So asks the apostle John in his epistle. How can we claim to love the God we do not see and yet hate our neighbor who is the image and likeness of the God we adore? Imagine how we take holy communion with a lot of reverence, conscious that it is Christ whom we receive into our bodies. We even genuflect before the tabernacle because we know it contains Christ in the Eucharist. But do we ever realize that in receiving Christ we become tabernacles ourselves, dwelling places of God who became flesh in Jesus Christ? And so we are reminded, that the best sign of adoration is service of our neighbor, especially of those stripped of dignity, disfigured by poverty and misery, the ones whose feet we have been taught to kiss on Holy Thursday.
Mother Teresa was washing the sores of a homeless beggar when the journalist who was watching her said in disgust, “I wouldn’t do that even for a million dollars!” She quickly replied,” Oh me neither. I can only do it for love.” No wonder the Gospel of Matthew tells us in ch. 25, at the last judgment, we will find out that the hungry we fed, the thirsty whom we offered a drink, the naked we clothed, the sick we cared for…will turn out to be no other than Christ Himself. Because you adore God, you see his face in your neighbor and your adoration turns into service. For the Lord will say, “Whatever you did to the least of my brethren you did for me.”
No wonder Jesus criticized the religious leaders of his time for “tying heavy burdens that are too hard to carry but would not even lift a finger to help them.” Because they adore themselves instead of God, they also cannot see God in their neighbor. Let us never forget what Jesus said to James and John who were aspiring for positions of authority so that people would adore them. Remember what Jesus said to them: “It shall not be so among you!” Do you want to be great? Be a servant, be a slave to all, like our divine master “who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for the many.”
We are here today, dear Sisters, not just to celebrate with you your Centenary, but to be reminded by you that our Christian life makes no sense except in adoration and service of the God who is love, who shows his face to us in the last, the least, and the lost.
Homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan for the Centenary of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (Pink Sisters), Tagaytay City, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, 05 November 2023, Matthew 23:1-12