October 8, 2009
The Big Picture
Thursday of the 27th Sunday
Luke 11:5-13 “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find.”
We are now into the 6th day of our novena in honor of our Blessed Mother Nuestra Senora La Virgen del Pilar. But what really is a novena prayer? Why do we pray the novena? Our catechism would tell that novena is “a nine-day private or public devotion to obtain special graces. It is usually made in honor of a saint, asking his/her intercession for a specific intention.” In our case, the novena mass we are celebrating today is in honour of our Blessed Mother, La Virgen del Pilar. We are deeply grateful to our Blessed Mother for a century of accompanying us in our personal and community journey.
I am sure you have your own personal intentions for our novena mass this year. We visit this shrine to attend Mass or to just light coloured candles and say a little prayer for ourselves, our families and friends. And some of us are begging for a miracle: healing of loved ones who are sick, praying for a better job for a better life, good health, reconciliation in the family, financial problem, love life, to pass the Bar or teacher’s board exams, and others. Today we pray for the intercession of our Blessed Mother, that God will grant our prayer intentions.
But for today, in the midst of the recent events in our country, let’s think, reflect, and go beyond Zamboanga. Let’s look at the big picture.
Just a week ago, Typhoon Ondoy dumped a month’s worth of rainfall in just 24 hours causing huge flood in Luzon. More than 300 people died and thousands were forced to stay in the evacuation center. Fortunately, many Filipinos quickly responded and helped them with food and other assistance. But the struggle does not stop there, they need to reconstruct their houses and rebuild their lives. Most of their savings and things were washed away by the flood.
Last week, here in our locality, the Municipality of Indanan, Sulu experienced another armed conflict. More than 1,400 families were internally displaced when they were caught in the middle of the crossfire. Most of them are now staying in the evacuation centers. They have nothing to eat and nowhere to go.
When you go international, we see the news of powerful earthquake in Indonesia, tsunami in Samoa, and bombings in Afghanistan that killed hundreds of people. The big picture is not really good. And when we look at the big picture, we realized that we are more fortunate.
A friend of mine who complains a lot, have stopped complaining when he saw in the television how thousands in Luzon were affected by Typhoon Ondoy. A woman who lives in a shanty is very grateful that her family is not living in the evacuation center in Indanan. When they saw the big picture, their perspective changed.
The “not so good” big picture we are in today should compel us to go beyond ourselves and beyond Zamboanga. In this novena, we beg for the intercession of our Blessed Mother, not only for our own personal intention, but for the whole country and the whole world. Let’s pray for the big picture
Suddenly, we realized that we are still fortunate here in Zamboanga. We do have our own personal and family concern that we need to attend to. There is a great need for us to pray for our own personal intentions. But the “big picture” of people who are “suffering more than us” compels us to gaze our sight to them and pray for them. And we do that today through the intercession of our Blessed Mother La Virgen del Pilar.
When Fort Pilar was built on 1635 under the instruction of Governor Juan Cerezo de Salamanca and under the supervision of Padre Melchor de Vera, a famous Jesuit engineer, it was principally to protect and defend Zamboanga Peninsula against possible attacks from the pirates and armed groups.
Today, after 100 years, Fort Pilar takes a different role. It is now the symbol of Zamboangeños perseverance against the many challenges in our city and Mindanao at large. While our Blessed Mother La Virgen del Pilar remains Zamboangeños source of protection and inspiration in the midst of our personal and social challenges.
Our gospel for today teaches us the right disposition in praying the novena. Some of us have this wrong notion of novena - that God will grant any of our prayer intention after completing the novena. Some are disappointed when their prayer intentions were not granted. Novena is not a way to twist the hands of God to grant our prayers. Novena is not a magic prayer. Instead, novena prayer should lead us to be more open and dispose to the will of God. He knows what’s best for us. He knows the grand design of everything. The will of God plays a big role in the big picture. Let us learn from our Blessed Mother.
When angel Gabriel told our Blessed Mother that she would be the mother of the savior, she was dumbfounded and confused. God was proposing to engage herself in the plan of God and be part of the big picture of saving humankind. She has a personal dream. She was already engaged to Joseph. But after listening to Gabriel, she decided to submit herself to the will of God – salvation of humankind – by saying, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your will.” It was our Mother’s YES to the big picture. And the rest is history.
We have a small picture – our personal care, concern, and trials. We have a big picture – our city and country’s concern and challenges. Both are important. But each time I pray to our Blessed Mother La Virgen del Pilar, I cannot help but look beyond myself and remember the original intention of Fort Pilar – to defend Zamboanga against the enemies. We don’t have pirates anymore, but the challenges being posted to us by Ondoy, Indangan, Mindanao conflict and others, calls us to pray for our country and do something. Like our Blessed Mother, let’s contribute something to the big picture.
We don’t lose hope. We should persevere in our prayer. Perseverance could produce miracles. We have many accounts of the miracles of Our Blessed Mother La Virgen del Pilar in our history: the failed attempt to capture the Fort by a big armed group in 1734, the story of the earthquake and tsunami in 1897 and 1976, and hundreds of undocumented miraculous intercession of our Blessed Mother as the Protector and Patroness of Zamboanga.
These stories should inspire and rekindle the fire within us, to move out of our comfort zones and be engaged in the big picture.
There is always hope for those who persevere in prayer and action. We don’t lose hope in our struggle for peace and progress in Mindanao, because in the end, through our prayers and actions, the good will prevail.
Nuestra Senora La Virgen del Pilar, pray for us.
- Wilfredo M. Samson,SJ
Fort Pilar Shrine, Zamboanga City
October 8, 2009