I envy St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Ireland shuts down for his feast day every March 17. And all over the globe where there are Irish communities, his special day is celebrated with so much fun and revelry that people look forward to it every year. Truly St Patrick has become not only a religious symbol but a national icon as well.
The same can be said about the saint that we are celebrating today. St Lorenzo Ruiz is the first Filipino saint, the first Filipino canonized by the Catholic Church. He has been promoted as the patron saint of various causes. For instance, as the patron saint of the laity, the missionary, or even the OFWs. But beyond all that, what stands out is the story of the courage of this saint. I remember how in grade school, the dramatic last moments of his life fired up our imaginations and melted our hearts. In retrospect, that moment in Lorenzo’s life was already a lesson in Christian, even Ignatian discernment: Renege on your faith and live or embrace it and die a horrible death! And of course the famous last words of the saint are forever seared in our memory. “I am a Catholic and wholeheartedly do accept death for God. Had I a thousand lives, all these to Him shall I offer.”
As I understood it then and now, like St. Patrick, San Lorenzo Ruiz was not just a saint, he was also a national symbol, being the first-ever Filipino saint. His canonization meant that the whole Catholic Universal Church recognizes the courage of this Filipino. The message to the world is clear: like any race, the Filipino will live and die for his faith, for his love of his Creator and Savior. As the bearer of this message, Lorenzo, therefore makes every Filipino proud of being Filipino.
And yet although Lorenzo’s feat of faith can be compared to St. Patrick (although St Patrick was not martyred but died in his old age), our Filipino saint or hero has not received the same honor or accolade. That is why I said earlier that I envy St. Patrick, in behalf of Lorenzo Ruiz. Today, in this Mass, we observe Lorenzo’s feast but many Filipinos, including Catholics, seem to have already forgotten his feast day. Today seems to be a very ordinary day. No fun, no fiesta, no fanfare. Just an ordinary day.
This is, of course, understandable, given everyone’s busy schedule. But it becomes worrisome or disconcerting if our forgetfulness of our saint’s day betrays a deeper more unfortunate reason. If we were to transpose ourselves to the time and place of our martyr, for instance, how would we answer the question asked of him: would you give up your life for your faith, will you die for your God? Indeed, does the valor and courage of Lorenzo Ruiz still flow through the veins of the Philippine Church today? Will we be able to say with Lorenzo that we will offer the thousands, nay, millions, of lives we have, anyhow, somehow, to God?
A homily delivered by Fr. Nono Alfonso, SJ, for the Feast of St. Lorenzo Ruiz.