Archbishop Peña Parra: Like Mary, may we welcome Christ in our lives and world
By Tiziana Campisi
Visiting the Dominican Republic until 18 August, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, Substitute for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, presided over the Mass on Sunday at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Altagracia in Higüey.
The celebration marked the closure of the Jubilee Year for the centenary of the Canonical Crowning of the image of the Virgin of Altagracia, known as the Mother and Patron of the Dominican people. The celebration took place before the pilgrimage of the image of Our Lady to Santo Domingo.
Archbishop Peña Parra described this journey as a devotional procession that reflects "a commitment to God" to bring to the world the Jesus we receive in the Eucharist, "witnessing to Him daily with a life consistent with the Gospel." He added it reflects a common commitment that will bear fruit so the nation "will continue to be a land consecrated to Mary where Jesus reigns, as over the past hundred years."
The painting of Our Lady of Altagracia
In his homily, Archbishop Peña Parra conveyed Pope Francis' greetings to the faithful and then focused on the painting depicting the Virgin of Altagracia. He noted how Mary is depicted as she "gazes at the Child with a prayerful and contemplative attitude, holding everything in her heart," a gaze of adoration that "brings to mind the Eucharist." He described how it seems as if the Child is placed on an altar, "offering Himself as living Bread for the life of the world."
Behind Mary is St. Joseph, who seems to approach carefully, as if not wanting to interrupt the "dialogue of love between the Son and the Mother," with an open door behind him. And it is precisely on Joseph, wearing a red cloak with his head covered, a candle in his left hand and his right hand to protect the flame, who has the look of a pilgrim, Archbishop Peña Parra observed, "as of the one who must tell Mary that it is time to set out, humbly carrying a candle to illuminate the one who is the bearer of the Light of the world."
He added, "let us also turn to Mary with this intention and ask her to go out with us, on the road of life and history, and to accompany us on this journey of the Dominican Church."
Contemplation and journeying
Mary and Joseph recall two facets of the Eucharist, Archbishop Peña Parra explained, "on the one hand is contemplation and encounter, welcome and adoration, and on the other hand is Passover, passage, a call to set out and nourishment for the journey." And indeed, when we listen to the Word of God, when we encounter Jesus in the sacraments, "and especially when we receive Him in Eucharistic communion," the Substitute continued, Christ "comes to us, comes into our world. And we are living the same experience that we contemplate with wonder in the painting of the Virgin of Altagracia."
At the same time, he continued in his homily, such an encounter is "far from escaping reality or serving as a refuge to protect us from the world," but instead "calls us to be courageous, to stand up for Jesus, as we see in Joseph, to take Him wherever He asks us to go." And "like James and John," the Archbishop explained, "Jesus asks all of us if we are ready to embrace His cross as promised in baptism, to set this earth on fire with the fire of His love."
Following Jesus together
If at times we feel unable to follow Christ because we are "weak and sinners," Archbishop Peña Parra encouraged us to just look to "this multitude of witnesses," Mary, Joseph, Jeremiah and all those who have offered their lives to God and placed their trust in Him. He noted how they "run with perseverance in the race that touches us, renouncing everything that hinders us and the sins that beset us."
Archbishop Peña Parra's invited the faithful to run "with enthusiasm, without hesitation, as a Church," together with the Bishops and Pope Francis," to persevere knowing that the road is long, but the spirit is willing; the flesh is weak, but we need the strength of God and the love of our brothers and sisters to support us."
He explained that "we must accept sacrifices, be vigilant and pray, so as not to fall into temptation. But, above all, always keeping our gaze fixed, like Mary, on the One who fulfills our faith. We need to see Jesus in the Eucharist as she saw Him, a tender child in her arms; a mighty prophet in the midst of His people; the victor over sin and death on the Cross; His glory 'seated at the right hand of the throne of God.'"
In conclusion, Archbishop Peña Parra urged everyone to pray to Mary for help in life's journey and ask her "to give us the obedient steadfastness of St. Joseph, his simplicity and humility of service."
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