To rest – magpahinga -is to be filled with God

The Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 19 January 2022
Photo by author, 31 December 2021 Ubihan Island, Meycauayan, Bulacan.

It is my fifth day in home quarantine after contracting COVID-19 with mild symptoms of colds and coughs last Saturday. From the bottom of my heart, thank you everyone for your love and concern, prayers and gifts like food and fruits you have been sending.

But, no thanks at all to those who told me that God simply wanted me to have much needed rest that is why I got sick.

Whoa!!!

And to those planning to tell me or anyone else afflicted with Omicron, please STOP!

With another week to spend in home quarantine, I feel compelled asking everyone to PLEASE DO NOT EVER SAY GOD WANTS US SICK SO THAT WE CAN HAVE OUR MUCH-NEEDED REST.

It is not true.

It is not uplifting because it is simply stupid and insane. Nothing bad can ever come from God, like sickness or accidents or disasters. Or pandemic. Always remember 1 John 4:16, “God is love”.

However, God continues to work in silence even in the midst of our troubles, doing his very best that even the worst scenarios in our lives would still turn out well and good in the end to proclaim his love and mercy for us.

Photo by author, 31 December 2021 Ubihan Island, Meycauayan, Bulacan.

A few years ago I concelebrated in the funeral Mass for the two brothers of a priest shot multiple times by a neighbor with an Armalite right at the gate of their home. How I wanted to walk out from the Mass to tore my garments when the homilist said with his matching “drama” of tears and breaking voice that it was the will of God: “Ipagpasa-Diyos natin ang lahat… kalooban niya ang pangyayaring ito ngunit siya ang nakaaalam ng higit na mabuti”!

OMG!

So kawawa our God…. and most kawawa are we!

How can a priest claim God willed the brutal slaying of those two brothers?

When Ondoy flooded vast areas of Metro Manila and nearby provinces in 2009, “acts of God” became the most notorious phrase to simply describe a disaster never imagined.

It is neither spirituality nor even Christianity when God is always made the reason and – scapegoat – for anything that happens to our lives. May the Good Lord have mercy on us!

Photo by author, Singapore, 2018.

Now with another surge in COVID due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the “spiritualists” and “pseudo-theologians” among us are busy spinning those blasphemous threads of God simply wanting the sick to have much needed rest and “me-time” too.

Totally untrue.

God could have just sent us with tickets to Boracay or El Nido or anywhere to go on vacation to rest, instead of sending us the COVID pandemic!

When we are sick, that is when we have a dis-ease. We are not at ease, there is dis-order in our body functions. And we remedy that with medications and a lot of rest which is part of recovery and healing.

But we do not need to be sick in order to rest.

In fact, we need to always rest so that we do not get sick.

That is the lesson of this pandemic. What we can do is to continue praying and help those who are sick instead of “theologizing” or “spiritualizing” them with such insane ideas.


In the Old Testament, God gave the third commandment to “Keep holy the sabbath day” (Ex.20:8 and Dt. 5:12), instructing us for all time to always rest – in God.

Here we find the beauty of our Filipino language: to rest is “magpahinga” from the root “hinga/hininga” or breathe/breath. Literally speaking, to rest in Filipino which is “magpa-hinga” is to be “breathed on by God”.

Photo by author, November 2021.

In the story of creation, we find how the “Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being” (Ge. 2:7).

In our Filipino Bible, it is translated as “hiningahan”. This beautiful scene was repeated by Jesus on the evening of Easter when he came to visit his disciples at the Upper Room in Jerusalem, “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (Jn.20:22).

In its simplest sense, to rest essentially means to reconnect with God, to be breathed on by God to be one with him again who is our source and final end.

To rest – magpahinga – is to be filled with God anew. A rested person is always a renewed creation!

This is one of the many important lessons this pandemic has taught us, of the need for us to go back to God and be one with him again in Jesus Christ through one another along with Mother Nature. This we do by taking a rest, a pause and conscious stop from the daily grinds of life so we can see clearly again ourselves and one another in God and in his creation.


This COVID came because we have not only abused Earth but also our very selves. This pandemic is definitely not from God but he is using it to remind us of his loving presence. And most especially of his healing that can truly last and end this pandemic if go back to him.

Experts say the Omicron variant is the beginning of the end of COVID.

But, just before it finally ends, may this also be the start of our renewed relationships with God and with our very selves as we rediscover the essence and meaning of rest.

So, take a rest and stop saying God makes us fall sick in order to rest; God created rest so we do not get sick.

Have a restful moment with the Lord and your loved ones to be well and healthy!

Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA7-News, 18 January 2022.

How do we look at each other?

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Week II, Year II in Ordinary Time, 19 January 2022
1 Samuel 17:32-33, 37, 40-51   ><)))*> + <*(((><   Mark 3:1-6
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 2020.
Your words today, O Lord, 
invite me to examine and reflect
sincerely how do I look at others, 
what do I think, what do I search
on others I meet or encounter?

With his shield bearer marching before him, the Philistine advanced closer and closer to David. When he had sized David up, and seen that he was youthful, and ruddy, and handsome in appearance, he held David in contempt.

1 Samuel 17:41-42
Forgive us, dear God our Father
when so often we "size" up everyone
we meet, when we always try competing
with everyone, examining their outward
appearances to compare them with our
very selves, with our competencies and 
abilities, or records and backgrounds.

Jesus entered the synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand. They watched Jesus closely to see if he would cure him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him.

Mark 3:1-2
But the most unkindest look we make
at others is when we condition ourselves
at finding faults and sins and slightest malice
against others for whatever they do;  what
a shame when our hearts and minds "see"
evil when what our eyes truly "see" is all good.
How difficult it must be for you, merciful Jesus,
to experience it happening even among us who 
claim to be your disciples and followers, that until
now you are "filled with anger and grieving 
for our hardness of heart" (Mk.3:5).
Cleanse our minds and our hearts to find your
image and likeness in everyone we meet,
purify our biases with others so we start
to mean what we keep on hearing
and saying to one another, 
"may the Lord be with you".
Amen.

In our Father’s house

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Feast of the Sto. Niño, Sunday II in Ordinary Time, 16 January 2022
Isaiah 9:1-6 ><}}}*> Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18 ><}}}*> Luke 2:41-52
Photo by author, Sto. Niño exhibit at the Malolos Cathedral, 13 January 2022.

We Filipinos celebrate the longest Christmas season in the world which starts – unofficially -every September first when radio stations begin playing Christmas songs, ending officially today, the third Sunday of January with the Feast of the Sto. Niño (Holy Child Jesus).

Today’s feast is considered a part of the Christmas season which is in recognition of the crucial role of the image of Sto. Niño given by Magellan 500 years ago to Queen Juana of Cebu in the evangelization process of the Philippines. As the late Nick Joaquin would rightly claim in his essays, the Philippines was colonized by the Sto. Niño which is clearly seen in its widespread devotion coming in close second with Nuestro Padre Hesus Nazareno of Quiapo we celebrate every January 09.

What a wonderful “coincidence” or Divine intervention that the two most popular Christ devotions in the country happen on the same month of January, immediately after Christmas, reminding us despite our many shortcomings as the only Christian nation in this part of the world, Jesus reigns supreme in our hearts and homes.

And churches.

Despite the many accusations hurled against our brand of Christianity, of being sacramentalized but not evangelized, we can find hope and consolation in our being as very “church people” – our coming to the church even outside during this pandemic period in itself is a child-like trait, a grace we can deepen for a more matured faith that can lead to our transformation as a people.

This we see in our gospel today which we have heard proclaimed last month at the Feast of the Holy Family, a day after Christmas that was also a Sunday.

Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:41-43, 46, 48-49
“The Finding of the Savior at the Temple” painting by William Holman Hunt (1860) from en.wikipedia.org.

We are all children of the Father in Christ

When we examine Christ’s life and teachings, we find how everything is anchored in being a child of God the Father as he would always remind everyone that unless one becomes like a child, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

This Jesus clearly showed when he was 12 years old after staying behind at the Temple in Jerusalem that left Mary and Joseph so “anxiously looking for him”.

We see in this gospel scene how Jesus must have been so rooted in his own childhood experience that he could speak with familiarity about the child’s being and dignity. Most of all, of being the Son of God, a child of God when he told his Mother Mary, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk.2:49).

As he grew up and matured during his ministry, Jesus frequented the synagogues and later the Temple as a devout and faithful Jew.

What a beautiful expression of his being a child of the Father, always coming to the “Father’s house” to worship and praise, to be one with God and with the people.

What a beautiful expression of his – and our being children of God the Father!

Every time we come to the church to celebrate the Sacraments especially the Holy Eucharist, every time we come to pray inside the church, we express our being children of the Father. It is the most beautiful expression of our being child-like before God when we come to him in his house of worship in total surrender, on bended knees to plea for his grace and mercy.

Photo by Ms. Mira Mandal Sibal, September 2021.

To believe in the Church and come inside the church is part of our faith in the mystery of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ we profess in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church”.

Recall that after cleansing the Temple, Jesus declared to those asking him for signs to “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn.2:19) with the Evangelist’s added note, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (Jn.2:21). Eventually on Good Friday as he died on the cross, we are told in another gospel account how “the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mt.27:50), indicating a new phase in worshipping God in his Son Jesus Christ who has become the Body of the new people he had called that includes us today, the Church.

Therefore, every time we come to the church as a community of people, it is an act of being child-like as taught by our Lord Jesus Christ in the same manner he told his parents that “I must be in my Father’s house”.

Our being able to come to the church for the Mass and the other sacraments is a pure grace from God, an act of being child-like before him when we submit ourselves to him, when we try to listen to his words proclaimed, when we believe in the power of prayers and Sacraments.

At the height of this pandemic when religious gatherings were banned, so many faithful expressed their child-likeness to God by turning to on-line Masses and prayers.

However, as we slowly open up churches for live celebrations, there now arises the call for us to return into the Father’s house. The very nature of the Church as the Body of Christ and the Sacraments presuppose presence.

Here, we find the great relevance of today’s Feast of the Sto. Niño to return to the Father’s house and reconnect anew with our fellow disciples without disregarding health protocols of course.

When the Spaniards returned to the Philippines in 1565 (40 years after Magellan), they saw the Sto. Niño venerated on an altar above other anitos inside a hut presumed to be a house of worship of the natives. Most likely, the natives felt the Sto. Niño as the superior deity always answering their prayers for abundant harvests, healing from sickness or avoidance of pestilence, and fertility for more children to work in the fields. Again, the imagery of that child-like attitude of coming into the “Father’s house” to commune in prayer by those natives.

Photo by author, National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 14 January 2022.

It is perhaps the new challenge we will be facing as the COVID-19 virus wears off as experts claim, how to bring back people into the Father’s house. Confounding the problem is the lure of the convenience of online Masses that have commodified the Sacrament, a clear indication of lack of any child-like attitude but more of manipulation.

Added to this is the relativistic attitude of modern time when some people claim to believe in God without necessarily having the need to believe in the Church that is deeply embroiled in cases of sexual abuses by its clergy.

All of these are calls for everyone in the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church which is a mystery in itself for its members, clergy and lay alike, to recapture that child-like attitude of Jesus himself to always affirm his being in the Father’s house. Amen.

A blessed week ahead to everyone. Stay safe!

The problem with our insistence

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Week I, Year II in Ordinary Time, 14 January 2022
1 Samuel 8:4-7, 10-22   ><]]]]*> + <*[[[[><   Mark 2:1-12
Photo by author, ruins at Capernaum where Jesus healed the paralytic, May 2017.
Today, O Lord, I remember
those days when I insisted on
what I wanted, without giving any
moment to dwell on your plans
and suggestions.
Today, dear God our Father,
your words clearly show us how 
so apart are our thoughts and 
your thoughts, of how wide and
encompassing at how you see
everything and everyone
compared to our very limited
and shallow perceptions that 
are too little, hence, easier to insist on.

The people however, refused to listen to Samuel’s warning and said, “Not so! There must be a king over us. We, too, must be like other nations, with a king to rule us and to lead us in warfare and fight our battles.” When Samuel had listened to all the people had to say, he repeated it to the Lord, who then said to him, “Grant their request and appoint a king to rule them.”

1 Samuel 8:19-22
Widen our horizons to see
how you have made us in fact
different from others, so special and
beloved to be close to you and yet,
like those people to Samuel, we would
always insist to be just like others.
And the saddest part of belittling our
stature is how we also try to bring you
down to our own level:

Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth.” He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”

Mark 2:6-11
Raise up our thoughts
and understanding, Lord Jesus!
Let us "level up" and "shift" to
your thoughts and the way you see
persons and situations that lead us
to claim our freedom from sins and 
evil that have trapped us for so long
despite your victory since your rising
from the dead; open our eyes and our
hearts, Jesus, to see the new realities,
our restored dignity as beloved children
of the Father in you so that we stop 
insisting with our little and unworthy
causes and demands.  Amen.

Fighting life’s battles

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week I, Year II in Ordinary Time, 13 January 2022
1 Samuel 4:1-11   ><]]]'> + ><]]]'> + ><]]]'>   Mark 1:40-45
Photo by author, Pililla Wind Farm in Rizal, January 2021.
As we go into another year
with a new surge in COVID-19, 
teach me, dear Lord,
how to fight life's many battles;
just when we thought we are almost
done with the pandemic, recent 
events indicate more battles are
still coming our way for sure.
May we learn from the lessons of the
past two years to equip us better
this 2022 by deepening our faith in
you and stop manipulating you.

So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned upon the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were with the ark of God. When the ark of the Lord arrived in the camp, all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth resounded. The Philistines fought and Israel was defeated; every man fled to his own tent. It was a disastrous defeat, in which Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were among the dead.

1 Samuel 4:4-5, 10-11
Forgive us, God our Father,
whenever we remember you most
when we are losing life's battles; 
and worst, when we manipulate
you to turn the tide in our favor!
Forgive us, God our Father,
when we behave and act like
pagans, believing more in our
images and signs of your presence
than in your very Person.
How foolish like lately in an
accident in Brazil, many among us
even questioned why you have allowed
a boat named "Jesus" crushed by a 
falling rock that killed ten people on
board including a child?!*
Teach me, O Jesus, to have the same
attitude of that leper who approached
you and humbly pleaded for healing,
"If you wish, you can make me clean."
And you were so moved with pity that
you stretched out your hand and touched
the leper, telling him, "I do will it.  
Be made clean" (Mk.1:40-41).
You have come to join us in our battles,
Lord Jesus; let us then fight with you, 
and give us the courage
to approach you and humbly beg you,
trusting you which is in itself a way of
fighting our life's battles.  Amen.  

* For the article, click https://aleteia.org/2022/01/11/boat-named-jesus-crushed-by-falling-rock-in-brazil-why-did-god-allow-it/

Praying when to speak

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Week I of Ordinary Time, 12 January 2022
1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-20   ><]]]]*> + <*[[[[><   Mark 1:29-39
Photo by author at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church in Madaba, Jordan, May 2019.
Teach me, O Lord, when to speak -
not only how and what to speak;
Teach me, O Lord, to speak only 
when you want me to speak,
only after you have spoken and 
I have listened.

When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the Lord came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.

1 Samuel 3:10, 19
So many times my words are
without effect because they are
empty of you, Jesus, the Word who
became flesh; many times my words
are without effect because they are
empty of truth and sincerity, no love 
nor mercy, without any kindness and
care or concern.
Sad to say, many times, my words
are filled with evil and malice and lies; 
like the demons you have driven out
in the gospel, never allow me to speak
when my words are not coming from you.
O Lord open my lips,
cleanse my heart of every evil 
and worthless thoughts
so that my mouth shall 
declare your praise.  Amen.

What prompts us…?

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday in Week I, Year I of Ordinary Time, 11 January 2022
1 Samuel 1:9-20   ><]]]]'> ><]]]]'> ><]]]]'>   Mark 1:21-28
Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son Caius in January 2020.

“It isn’t that, my lord,” Hannah answered. “I am an unhappy woman. I have had neither wine nor liquor; I was only pouring out my troubles to the Lord. Do not think your handmaid a ne’er-do-well; my prayer has been prompted by my deep sorrow and misery.”

1 Samuel 1:15-16
In the midst of this new surge
in COVID infections, we identify
so well with Hannah, dear God
our loving Father:  we are not happy,
and we are so sorry for this surge
that has affected almost every 
family and household among us.
Listen to our pleadings to you, dear Lord,
heal our family members and friends
afflicted with the virus as well as those
most vulnerable like those bed-ridden
and those going through dialysis and
chemotheraphy and other treatments.
You know, O Lord, our deep longings and 
desires; purify and cleanse us inside, 
especially the sources of our pleadings
and speaking; whatever prompts us to 
say and do may always be rooted in you
not in us nor in our pride and ambitions
like the scribes.  May our promptings be
from the Holy Spirit always so that like
Jesus, we may speak with authority.
Amen.

Life directions and freedom

The Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 10 January 2022
Photo by author, Ubihan Island, Meycauayan, 31 December 2021.

It is said that “life is a journey” but I have found through the years that as a journey, life is more of a direction than a destination. It is always easy to plot our life destination but upon reaching them, what do we do next?

If life is a journey that is more on destination, all we will be doing in life is keep on thinking of new places to visit and new goals to achieve until we ran out of destinations and we have nowhere else to go!

That is why life is more of a direction.

It does not mean we stop making plans or setting goals to reach; we just learn to be more open with the directions life is leading us into.

So often it can happen that while pursuing a goal or reaching a destination, we find many things and meet persons along the way who make us change directions in life for something better we never knew existed before.

Sometimes we discover while at the middle of a journey the many directions we have been seeing or noticing earlier that suddenly later make sense, opening new routes for us to take to something more fulfilling or clearer and better.

As we become open for directions in life, the more we become free to be our true selves, free to pursue what is best than be fixated and even held hostage by a previous goal or destination we have set before which we find no longer viable.

It is like using those travel apps Waze and Google Maps that give us the pertinent information like traffic conditions that help us choose the best routes to reach a specific destination.

However, as we travel, we find the apps taking us to longer routes or may even be misleading us because the data available are obsolete or the internet signal is unreliable. And so, we disregard the apps and try to find our way to our destination through directions provided by actual people and signages we check on the streets. Recall how the apps would continue to “speak” and even insist us to turn left or right as it is bent on reaching the destination. Travel apps are concerned merely with the place to reach, totally “unaware” of the person traveling.

That’s the problem with journeying more on destination when we forget persons that we miss the fun and adventures along the way.

When we journey more on directions, we are more concerned with persons and people that we experience fun and adventures, learning new things about peoples we meet or travel with as well as places we pass through on the way to our destination.

Sometimes, we have to scrap everything as the new directions lead us to more interesting places to visit.

In that way, we grow and mature as persons because we have become more free to be ourselves, more free to follow our inner voices within our hearts that lead us to far and exciting new places. In the process, we also discover our true friends and companions in life!

Ultimately, when we are free to follow directions than simply reach destinations, the more we also discover God – the most wonderful journey in life because ultimately he is our only destination and end.

God as a direction demands us a deepening of our faith, hope and love in him whose “invisible hands” guide us to persons and places and situations that seem to be unrelated at first but as we journey, we discover their many linkages, like tiny pieces of a mosaic creating a wonderful picture bigger than us.

God as a direction leads us to more freedom to discover life itself. That is the beauty of every new year: those twelve months of the calendar have no specific destinations but give us directions to follow by being sensitive to where God is leading us. It is totally senseless and useless to consult fortune-tellers for their fearless forecasts of what is going to happen for that will only make you “unfree” to seek and follow new directions in life. Besides, only God knows what will happen and that is why we follow his directions.

Above all, remember that the discovery of God is not the end of a journey but the beginning of a new one in him, with him, and through him. The journey never stops in Christ Jesus to God our Father in heaven. So, have life and be free to follow new directions from God this new year!

Keep traveling in Christ this 2022. Who knows, we might meet once or twice along the way. Amen.

When “ordinary” is “extraordinary”

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday in Week 1 of Ordinary Time, Year II, 10 January 2022
1 Samuel 1:1-8   ><)))*> + <*(((><   Mark 1:14-20
Photo by author, 2019.
Glory and praise
and thanksgiving to you,
God our loving Father for 
bringing us to this Monday,
the beginning of our Ordinary
Time in the Church calendar.
Send us your Holy Spirit 
to enlighten our minds and our
hearts not to look down upon 
what we consider as "ordinary" -
ordinary people, ordinary days,
ordinary food, ordinary tasks,
ordinary as same usual fare,
ordinary as less than grand and
special things.
Help us rediscover the true meaning
of "ordinary" which connotes orderliness
from the Latin roots ordo, ordinis for
order and ordinarius for orderly.
Let us live up to our faith in you
during this ordinary days when 
many of life's challenges happen 
like your servant Hannah, the mother 
of your prophet Samuel:

Her rival, to upset her, turned it into a constant reproach to her that the Lord had left her barren. This went on year after year; each time they made their pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the Lord, Peninnah would approach her, and Hannah would weep and refuse to eat. Her husband Elkanah used to ask her: “Hannah, why do you weep, and why do you refuse to eat? Why do you grieve? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

1 Samuel 1:6-8
Keep our eyes and our hearts
open like the brothers Simon and 
Andrew, James and John for your
Son Jesus Christ who comes to us
in the most ordinary days, in the 
most ordinary circumstances like 
casting nets and mending nets.
Let us be on guard, dear God, during
ordinary days and time for these are 
extraordinary moments because you
have made everything and everyone
so special.  Amen.

Becoming an adult Jesus Nazareno at Christmas

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday, Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, 09 January 2022
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 ><}}}*> Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7 ><}}}*> Luke 3:15-16,21-22
Photo from flickr.com by Mark S. Abeln, Resurrection Cemetery in Affton, Missouri, USA, 16 November 2010.

Today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord closes the Christmas Season in the most unique way as we are again in another surge of COVID-19 while for the first time, not even during these past two years of pandemic, people are totally barred from celebrating the Mass outside the Quiapo church for the feast of the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno or the Black Nazarene.

It is the second consecutive year due to pandemic that there is no Traslacion of the Poon Nazareno but whereas before despite COVID-19 all roads led to Quiapo every January 09, all devotees today are directed to the website of the Minor Basilica of the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno to celebrate the hourly online Masses from dawn until late night tonight.

Police and Church officials have appealed to the public to stay home with the Archbishop of Manila assuring devotees of the grace and blessings still being granted to them by the Señor Nazareno through the “modern means of communications”.

Here we find a most wonderful grace of God for us to mature into an “adult Jesus” in this time still in the Christmas Season when we are invited to put some spirituality to our devotions that are both amazing but baffling even to us. How can we so devoutly Catholic as a nation be blind to all the corruption and disrespect for life going on in our country that we cannot progress like other Asian nations made worst by our choices of leaders in government?

As we close the Christmas Season before going into Ordinary Time tomorrow, let us not remain children but become adults like Jesus Christ when baptized at Jordan by John.

After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:21-22
Photo by author, Ubihan River, Meycauayan, Bulacan, 31 December 2021.

Jesus as “one of us”, present among us

All four evangelists have their particular emphasis in narrating the baptism of Jesus at Jordan by John. For this year, we look into Luke’s version that celebrates the anointing and royal investiture of Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

Though there is no need for him to be baptized, Christ’s baptism at Jordan signified his solidarity with us sinners making us share in the gift of the Spirit he had received on that day, making each of us a “beloved child” of God with whom he is well pleased!

First thing we notice with Luke’s baptism account is the Lord being incognito during the baptism by John. There were no conversations or “debate” with John as Jesus was readily presented as among the crowd. It is a beautiful imagery by Luke of the Christ always present but unknown among us.

Jesus being with the people in Jordan River reminds us that Christmas does not mean only of him remaining a child lying in a manger because part of this season’s story is how he grew up and matured in wisdom and spirit in Nazareth, Galilee before embarking on his ministry and mission.

Imagine the Lord joining the sinners like tax collectors, soldiers, and perhaps with some prostitutes going to John for baptism without any special treatment whatsoever. From the very start, Jesus had been eating and conversing, interacting and living with sinners that include us today.

Photo by author of sisters posing along the Israeli border near Al-Maghtas in Jordan, the site where Jesus was baptized, May 2019.

His being immersed in Jordan River (that has always been dirty according to our pilgrimage guide) with the sinful people was a testament of his love and kindness for us without any hints of being judgmental to anyone. Whether we are in dire situations or in the midst of sins and evil or darkness and sufferings, we can always find Jesus standing with us, one with us, even reaching out to us. All we need is to be matured enough to open our eyes and our hearts like the people around him to admit we need conversion, we need God.

Second thing we immediately notice with Luke’s baptism account is Jesus at prayer when the heaven opened and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon him with a voice declaring, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”.

One distinct characteristic of Luke’s gospel is presenting Jesus always at prayer. In fact, all major events in his life in Luke’s gospel are always preceded by prayer, part of his artistry in teaching us about the importance of prayer.

Here in the baptism of Jesus at Jordan, we are reminded that prayer always precedes every divine revelation. Recall also during the Feast of the Holy Family a day after Christmas last year when we heard Luke’s account of the finding of Jesus at the temple when he told Mary how he must be at his “Father’s house” – of being one and united with the Father especially through prayer! The Christmas story is an everyday reality that happens with those who mature in their faith in Christ in prayers.

Prayer is more than the recitation of prayers and novenas nor of keeping a devotion; prayer is oneness with God. See that after narrating to us the baptism of Jesus at Jordan, Luke tells us the Lord’s genealogy traced back to “Adam the son of God”(Lk.3:38). Unlike Matthew who began his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, Luke puts his version of the Lord’s genealogy in the context of baptism at Jordan to show us Christ’s eternal birth in God. And this we all share in our Baptism, in our faith we nurture and celebrate daily in our prayer life.

The sad thing with our Christmas celebrations, along with that of the Holy Week, is how we immediately lose sight of the meanings of our feasts and devotions meant to make our lives centered on God. It is good to be led and carried by the signs of our liturgy but these were meant to inculcate in us, to deepen in us our relationship with God expressed through our relations with others which is what spirituality is all about.

This invites us today on this Feast of the Lord’s Baptism along with that of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo to examine our level of maturity in Jesus Christ whom we religiously and devoutly remember and celebrate during Christmas and Good Friday, the two most prominent dates of the Lord’s feasts tied up in this month of January.

Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, Quiapo, 09 January 2020.

Like Jesus Nazareno, we are consecrated to God

As we have mentioned at the start of our reflection, this is a most unique Sunday when we celebrate together two Christ feasts – the Lord’s Baptism and the Traslacion in Quiapo – with the former signaling the closing of Christmas and the latter as the most popular Christ devotion in the country.

Both feasts show us an adult Jesus in Christmas, especially the Black Nazarene of Quiapo.

When Matthew spoke of the Holy Family residing in Nazareth so that what the prophets spoke might be fulfilled that “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Mt.2:23), the evangelist was not referring to the Lord’s place of origin.

Nazareth is the only town in the New Testament never mentioned in the Old Testament to be of significance unlike Bethlehem. The word “Nazoraios” or Nazarene mentioned by Matthew refers to the overall designation of Jesus by the prophets as the hope and fulfillment of God’s promise that there shall come forth a “shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Is. 11:1). Shoot in Hebrew is from the word nezer which is also the context used by Isaiah in chapters 7 and 9 found in Isaiah 11:1 cited by Matthew.

If we add that in the inscription above the Cross, Jesus is called ho Nazoraios (cf. Jn.19:19), then the title acquires its full resonance: what at first sight refers simply to his origin, actually points to his essence: he is the “shoot,” he is the one completely consecrated to God, from his mother’s womb to the day of his death.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, pp. 117-118.

Now we get a complete picture of an adult Jesus Christ at the closing of Christmas Season.

Truly an Emmanuel, God-with-us, whom we so often fail to recognize journeying with us in life specially at its most difficult moments because we continue to refuse to grow and deepen in our spiritual maturity in him in prayers.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the first reading telling us “Here is your God! Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care” (Is.40:9, 11).

Let us heed the calls by St. Paul in the second reading that we “reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and our savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12-13).

Have a blessed and safe week ahead, everyone! Amen.

Photo from Google.com.