The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II Fifth Sunday in Easter, Cycle B, 02 May 2021 Acts 9:26-31 ><}}}'> 1John 3:18-24 ><}}}'> John 15:1-8
"Ang lungkot, Father. Wala na akong asawa na mauuwian, abo na ang asawa ko."
This broke my heart last Friday evening from a post by Jesuit Fr. Marlito G. Ocon of a woman who came by herself to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) to deliver her baby. Her husband had just died of COVID-19 while she and her baby are both COVID positive. Worst, she has not informed her parents-in-law about the death of her husband because they are also in critical condition in the province for COVID-19.
“Ang lungkot, Father. Wala na akong asawa na mauuwian, abo na ang asawa ko. Hindi man lang kami nagkausap. Hindi ko man lang maibalita na may second baby na kami. Hindi man lang sila nagkita ng anak namin.” (“It is so sad Father. I do not have a husband anymore to come home to, he’s all ash now. We did not even have the chance to speak to each other. I cannot even tell him the news we have our second baby. He did not even get the chance to meet our new baby.”)
Fr. Ocon is one of the chaplains at the PGH, the largest public hospital in Metro Manila. He said, “I have no words because I know any word can’t explain enough why horrible things like this happened. But I realized that it is in our deep, deep silence and it is when we run out of words, and when theology can’t explain enough, that our faith can speak louder.”
Lately I have noticed a shift in prayer requests by relatives and friends, from the usual healing prayers for those afflicted with COVID-19 to prayers for their and loved ones’ emotional and psychological well-being.
More and more people have been coming to me for counseling via Zoom and Messenger apps as they hurdle so many crises in marriage, work, livelihood and self since the pandemic started last year. We have resumed yesterday in our parish our weekly confessions and everyone who came cried not only for their sins but most of all for their emotional baggages either triggered or worsened by this pandemic.
And like Fr. Ocon, I could not say anything at all except to pray and tell them to hold on to God, to never let go of him, “kapit lang at huwag bibitiw sa Diyos”, exactly what Jesus is telling us this Sunday:
Jesus said to his disciples: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit because without me you can do nothing." (John 15:1, 4-5)
“Remain in me.”
In St. John’s vocabulary, “remain in me” is one of the key phrases he used 68 times in his writings (gospel, three letters and the Revelation), 11 times in this whole discourse in John 15:1-17, and if you have listened attentively, that phrase was mentioned eight times in eight verses!
In its strongest sense, “to remain in me” speaks of the intimate bond of the Father and the Son, of the Son and the Spirit that only St. John recorded for us during the Lord’s discourse at his last supper found in John 14-15. Most of all, “to remain in me” follows that great revelation by Jesus as the Christ in the fourth gospel like “I AM the bread of life”, “I AM the good shepherd”, “I AM the way, the truth and the life” and now “I AM the true vine”.
To remain in the Lord is to live in him in faith even if nothing seems to happen like during this pandemic when God seems to be silent and even distant from us.
It is first of all a call to prayer life. Not just recitation of prayers we have memorized since childhood but to cultivate a deep and personal relationship with God when we do not have to speak at all but simply be in his loving presence.
There are times we feel nothing is happening with our prayers but unknown to us, that is precisely when something is actually happening because prayer does not change the situation but the person!
As we grow and mature in our prayer life, we become more aware of God and of the other persons that we become less focused with our very selves. And that is when we change, when we realize our mistakes and sins, our weaknesses, teaching us to be humble, patient and persevering. It is worth keeping in mind this four-letter word PUSH – Pray Until Something Happens.
Most of the time, we do not see things in our lives the way God sees them. He tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9 that his ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts for God is totally different from us! We have to trust him and remain in him "for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything" (1Jn.3:20). And that is for sure - as we have proven so many times in our lives.
Remaining and being fruitful
Remaining in Jesus means being faithful especially when things get worse, when even in bad times, we consistently stay in the Lord in silence.
Remember how we have been so sullen in March, wondering if God has forsaken us with the deadly surge of COVID-19 cases amid the glaring incompetence of this government when suddenly our hopes were raised high by this community pantry movement?
Who would have thought of Ms. Patricia Non in the quiet street of Maginhawa in Quezon City would rally the whole nation with her “Community Pantry” now helping so many people going hungry?
Not only that. The most beautiful thing Ms. Patricia Non had done is her bringing out the best in every one of us, rich and poor alike, young and old to share whatever we have for our suffering brothers and sisters!
Most of the time, we do not see things in our lives the way God sees them. He tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9 that his ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts for God is totally different from us! We have to trust him and remain in him “for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything” (1Jn.3:20). And that is for sure – as we have proven so many times in our lives.
In the first reading we find the very difficult and almost impossible situation of St. Paul following his conversion: nobody would believe him and everybody suspected him of possible sinister plots against them! But, St. Paul remained consistent in his prayers and studies in Tarsus until Barnabas introduced him to the apostles who gave him the opportunity to preach in Jerusalem. Despite his dark past, St. Paul won so many converts in his preaching in the name of Jesus that eventually, he was sent to missions abroad that led to the growth of the early church.
That is remaining in the Lord – allowing God to work in us and through us like St. Paul so that we become fruitful, not just successful.
Fruitfulness is the result of remaining in the Lord, of letting God do his work in us. Most often, this leads to pains and failures as Jesus tells us of the need to be pruned like the branches of the vine to be more fruitful. But, despite these failures and defeat in our lives, we experience that sense of fulfillment within us because we have grown and matured in the Lord. We have not really failed at all because we have become fruitful.
On the other hand, being successful means relying more on our human efforts like our strengths and intelligence that is usually measured in tangible things like money and popularity. But, we have also experienced or heard many successful people still feeling empty and lost, that despite their fame and wealth, they have no peace and joy within, feeling nobody truly loves them for who they really are.
Many times in life we have experienced that even if we feel safe and sufficient, that is when we feel so empty, something is missing. As we usually say, parang may kulang pa.
This Sunday, Jesus our Good Shepherd reminds everyone of us to remain united in him who is our true vine. It is only in him can we find life and meaning amid the many sufferings and trials going our way especially at this time of the pandemic.
Only in remaining in Jesus is the surest path to fulfillment despite our pains and sufferings, as well as losses in life. Just stay and remain in him as he is always doing something beautiful for us. Amen.
A blessed and fruitful week to everyone!