Becoming God’s children

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Feast of the Sto. Niño, 17 January 2021
Isaiah 9:1-6  >><)))*>  Ephesians 1:3-6.15-18  >><)))*>  Mark 10:13-16 
Photo by author, 16 January 2021.

Today we spend an extra Sunday for the Christmas Season’s Feast of Sto. Niño granted by Rome to the local Church in recognition of the important role played by that image of the Holy Child gifted by Magellan to Queen Juana of Cebu in 1521.

Its role in the Christianization of the country cannot be denied, considering the historical fact that when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived in Cebu 44 years later after Magellan to claim the country for Spain, they were surprised to discover how the natives venerated the Sto. Niño inside a special hut for worship along with their other anitos.

Legazpi’s chaplain Fray Luis Andres de Urdaneta attested to how that devotion to the Sto. Niño in Cebu enabled them to Christianize other natives without difficulties as the Holy Child image at that time has become the favorite among the people in asking favors like children and bountiful harvests as well as protection from calamities and wars.

The late National Artist Nick Joaquin was absolutely right to claim in his many writings and talks that it was really the Sto. Niño who truly conquered the Philippines that continues to be the most popular Christ-devotion in the country along with the Nuestro Padre Jesus de Nazareno of Quiapo.

More powerful than the swords and cannons or any force in the world indeed is the Child Jesus who has continued to be a paradox in world history: the Son of God born in a lowly stable in a small town called Bethlehem because there was no room for them in the inn during the time of the powerful Caesar claiming to be the king of the whole world by ordering a census of all his subjects in the vast Roman Empire now totally forgotten, his kingdom long gone.

What an irony the God who came so weak like all of us, without any title to His name nor an army at His command still influencing the world in His weakness and silence, in His childlikeness. A reality in life until now we have refused to accept even in the Church.

People were bringing children to Jesus that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then Jesus embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.

Mark 10:13-16
A child praying in our Parish, 07 November 2019; photo by Mr. Red Santiago.

Christ’s path of weakness vs. the world’s path of power

It is so timely that during this Ordinary Time we have this Feast of the Sto. Niño to remind us of the central teaching of Jesus Christ to be childlike that gets lost in the novelty and sentimentality of our Christmas celebrations.

See how this call for us to be childlike becomes more difficult even almost impossible to achieve in our world that has become so technical and “sophisticated” as we seek to shape and manipulate everything according to our own design.

The world of men, of macho men we love to relish with delight in the secular and religious world in all of its trappings of fads and fashion and “hard talks”, of external showmanships that we try so hard to project cannot hide the hypocrisies within, of keeping grips and control on everyone and everything like the disciples of Jesus. The tragedy of that scene continuing to happen in our time is how some few people who live in darkness pretend to be seeing the light that in the process are actually misleading people towards darkness and destruction.

Every time we refuse to allow others to come forward with their new thoughts and new ideas, fresh perspectives in governance and management, in the ministry, in theology, when we close our minds to hear others ideas and opinions in doing things, then we are into serious power plays that can be pernicious at the same time.

When this happens, we are all the more challenged to be child-like before God in taking all the risks in exposing what is true, what is real like those kids shouting “the emperor has no clothes”!

To be a child means to owe one’s existence to another which we never outgrow even in our adult life. It is an attitude of being open, that Jesus can be talking to us through people not necessarily like us, even different from us. It is an attitude of trusting others, unlike those hungry for power who only believe in themselves, so afraid they might be proven wrong because their minds are either narrow or closed.

Are we not surprised at all that these control freaks around us who try so hard to project images of power and strength are often the perverts and deviants hiding their childishness and immaturities and other skeletons in the closet?

Photo by author, “Sleeping Sto. Niño”, January 2020.

Becoming and living as God’s children

Jesus shows us today in this feast of the Sto. Niño that it is in the path of being weak like children when we are truly free like Him – free to be a child of God indeed! This He accomplished by dying on the Cross not only to forgive us for our sins but made us a “new man/woman” in God as His children.

Brothers and sisters: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in then heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundations of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.

Ephesians 1:3-6

How sad that in our efforts to be in the man’s world of power and dominance, we try so hard becoming somebody else whom we are not only to end up alone, lost and unfulfilled.

Our being children of God is something innate in us, already within us that was accomplished by Christ for us at the Cross.

The key is to always go back to Jesus at the Cross.

We have said earlier that to be a child is to owe one’s existence to another that is, ultimately speaking, to God alone.

Hence, one sure sign of being like a child is having the sense of gratitude, of thanksgiving.

Incidentally, the Greek word for thanksgiving is eucharistia or eucharist! In the gospel accounts, we find so many instances of Jesus thanking the Father for everything that beautifully reminds us of His childlikeness.

The moment we feel strong enough without need for others, then we stop being grateful, then we lose that childlikeness in us as we start tinkering with power and influence, assuming to ourselves that everybody owes us, the world needs us.

That is when we stop growing and sooner or later, we collapse and eventually fall so hard on our faces.

How amazing that the Sto. Niño image given by Magellan to Queen Juana holds an orb or a globe. It is very interesting where did the maker of that image got that idea that the world is round when in fact it was the theory that Magellan had in mind in setting out to his ambitious expedition by sailing westward and returning from the east?

Records show that the first images of the Child Jesus or Sto. Niño as we know came from Flanders, a region in the Netherlands. The Flemish people have been making those images as early as the late 1400’s. That is why there is also that popular image of the the Child Jesus in Prague in the Czech Republic.

The mystery remains where did they get that idea of the Child Jesus holding an orb?

Could it be that the Flemish people who were devoutly Catholics at that time must have found the “light” from Jesus Christ in their devotions and prayers as prophesied by Isaiah in the first reading?

Nobody knows for sure but the next time you look at a Sto. Niño, be reminded always that it is the Child Jesus who holds the world in His hands. If you want to have the world in your hand too, be child-like! Be always grateful for who you are and what you have. Jesus promised it anyway.

Blessed week ahead of you!

Prayer to enter God’s rest

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Friday, Week-I, Year -I in Ordinary Time, 15 January 2021
Hebrews 4:1-5, 11  >><)))*> >><)))*> + <*(((><< <*(((><<  Mark 2:1-12
Photo by author, sunrise at the Lake of Galilee in Israel, 2017.

Let us be on guard while the promise of entering into his rest remains, that none of you seem to have failed… Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:1, 11

Thank you, dear God this Friday with Your words reminding us of “entering Your rest”, Your Sabbath!

But what is Your “rest”, God our Father?

More than a particular day of the week, it is first of all Your very presence like in paradise that our first parents have lost due to their pride and disobedience to You.

May we heed and learn from the reflections of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews of how Your chosen people, the Israelites, disobeyed you, dear God, while in the wilderness that prevented them from entering Your rest in the Promised Land of Israel, spending 40 years wandering in the desert.

Sadly, all these continue to happen in our own time when we are supposed to be disciples of Your Son Jesus Christ.

Help us O God to resist the temptations and strive hard to see you, feel you, and experience you.

Help us to be like those men carrying the paralytic who sought ways and means to see Jesus Christ, our only true hope and inspiration and consolation in times like these. It is in Jesus Christ’s coming that we are able to enter Your rest freely and truly, dear God, to experience Your love and mercy, kindness and compassion we have all taken for granted.

But, more than a place and a day, Your rest, O Lord, is heaven, Your very presence, that very moment when Jesus healed and forgave the sins of the paralytic, astounding everyone, glorifying You, saying, “We have never seen anything like this” (Mk.2:12).

Let us “rest” in You, dear God by returning to You, of being renewed in You with Your whole creation in Jesus. Amen.

Photo by author, sunset somewhere in Pampanga, 13 January 2021.

Praying for the lepers among us

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Thursday,Week-I, Year-I in Ordinary Time, 14 January 2021
Hebrews 3:7-14   >><)))*> + >><)))*> + >><)))*>   Mark 1:40-45
Photo by Mr. Jay Javier in Cubao, QC last May 2020.

How timely and relevant are your words today, Lord Jesus Christ, especially when this the second time in less than a week we have heard your story of the healing of a leper who came to you, asking that if you will it, he could be cured of his disease (Mk.1:40-45).

Last week we heard St. Luke’s version of the same event St. Mark is almost exactly telling us today. Are you trying to tell us something very significant about this beautiful healing that assures us of your will and desire to heal us, to grant us what is best for us?

Definitely, you have a lot of things to tell us, to remind us in this part of our history as a nation and as a church when we live like being afflicted with a contagious disease we have to isolate ourselves from one another.

Aren’t we all like lepers today, with all the masks we wear and most especially the social distancing we have to keep from one another due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

And that is why, dear Jesus, we pray for one another especially those ostracized due to the stigma of contagious diseases like COVID-19 and AIDS as well as situations like homosexuality and substance abuse.

Help us realize, dear Jesus, how this corona virus pandemic is a symptom of a deeper malady afflicting us today, including us priests your servants tasked in taking care of the sick. Even before the pandemic began, we have been separated from one another and from you due to the “evil and unfaithful heart we have, forsaking the living God” (Heb.3:12).

May we experience your presence among us in every “today” so that we may all heed the call of the psalmist: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Help us remain in you in faith, trusting you more while the corona virus continues to wreak havoc to our economy, to our well-being as persons.

Send us Your Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds and our hearts to examine and change our attitudes towards “modern lepers” among us while at the same time, may we spend more time “communing” with You in prayer as a way of life, filled with enthusiasm like the leper You have healed who could not stop himself proclaiming Your powers and Your mercy and love to him. Amen.

Photo by author at Silang, Cavite last September 2020.

Praying for empathy

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Wednesday, Week-I, Year-I in Ordinary Time, 13 January 2021
Hebrews 2:14-18     <*(((><<   + + +   >><)))*>     Mark 1:29-39
Photo by author, December 2020.

Today O Lord I pray for the grace of empathy, for the gift of being one with others in pain and suffering, of being one with those who are lost and confused, of sharing in the plight and burdens of others.

Thank you, dear Jesus, in teaching us something very valuable that we often overlook about empathy which is more that just a feeling, of writing or sharing a post on social media about the miseries of some people.

Remind us that empathy is first of all being one with You, dear Jesus, who first empathized with us when You chose to suffer and die on the Cross, overcoming so many temptations of turning away from the Father, looking more into Your own good and benefit, forgetting the suffering humanity.

Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Hebrews 2:17-18

Far from being a contradiction as we have used to believe, Your suffering and dying as the Messiah revealed to us has the Father’s immense love for us, proving that You, dear Jesus is truly the Son of God who went through His pasch to become our perfect intercessor.

May we imitate the brothers Simon and Andrew, James and John who “immediately told” You of Peter’s sick mother-in-law, a perfect example of empathizing in and through You, Lord.

Most of all, may we always follow you, seek you, and be one with you so we may truly empathize with the poor and suffering by remaining united and one in You to the Father.

He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him. Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.

Mark 1:35

That is the essence of empathy: being one with the Father in Jesus to be one with everyone. Empathy is not doing everything by ourselves but doing only as much as we can in You. May we keep that in our minds for failure to be one with You will never be an empathy but simply be playing hero and “wannabe”. Amen.

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, 2016.

We are all brothers and sisters in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday, Week-I, Year-I in Ordinary Time, 12 January 2021
Hebrews 2:5-12   +   >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<   +   Mark 1:21-28

Praise and glory to you, O God our Father in giving us your Son Jesus Christ. Not just as Savior but as a brother by suffering and dying for us.

What a great mystery You have revealed to us when Jesus could have just come and simply be our brother through a declaration from You when He was baptized at Jordan; but, He chose to obediently go through Passion and Death.

So often, we take this so ordinarily without realizing its deeper meaning that Your glory and our salvation should be brought about by Jesus becoming one of us but that He should go through so much pain and suffering on the cross, not to mention the indescribable humiliation He went through.

You know so well, O God, how we see sufferings as punishment but in Jesus Christ you have shown and taught us that in fact it is a source of Your abounding grace.

In “subjecting” all things to him, he left nothing not “subject to him.” Yet at present we do not see “all things subject to him,” but we do see Jesus “crowned with glory and honor” because he suffered death, he who “for a little while” was made “lower than the angels,” that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering.

Hebrews 2:8-10

How sad that like in Capernaum during His time, we are amazed, wondering, asking: “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him” (Mk.1:27).

Help us, O God, to embrace this beautiful mystery and reality of Jesus Christ’s coming that through His obedience to You even in suffering and death, He is able to help us, consecrating us to You because we are His brothers and sisters in suffering and death. Amen.

When ordinary means “special”

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Monday, Week-I, Year-I in Ordinary Time, 11 January 2021
Hebrews 1:1-6     >><)))*> + >><)))*> + >><)))*>     Mark 1:24-20
Photo by author, Pulilan by-pass road, 25 February 2020.

Please clear our minds, O God our Father, to stop taking for granted anything called or labeled as “ordinary” like our Ordinary Time in the liturgy that begins today. So often, when we hear the word “ordinary”, we dismiss it as something not so important, of lesser value.

May we realize that the word “ordinary” implies orderliness, regularity as its Latin root means “rule”. The ordinary days, the ordinary people, the ordinary fares – whatever ordinary always makes up the bulk of our lives.

And who is the supreme ordinary of our lives but You, O God?!

So let us stop taking granted whatever or whoever we deem as ordinary because they are the rule of the day. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews said it so well for us today:

Photo by author, November 2019.

Brothers and sisters: In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through the Son, whom he made heir to all things and through whom he created the universe.

Hebrews 1:1-2

Today begins the rule of my life, the rule of each day – Jesus Christ who had come to make You known to us, dear God our Father. He is the rule, the order of each day because everything was created in Him and through Him.

Today begins the rule and order of grace and peace, of kindness and charity, of love and mercy because “this is the time of fulfillment, the coming of Your Kingdom” (Mk.1:15).

Teach me, dear Jesus, to have this regularity of life, of having order in my life that begins and ends in You because you have come to make me and everyone truly special by being closer to the Father through one another. Amen.

Looking back, looking forward in Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Baptism of the Lord, 10 January 2021
Isaiah 55:1-11   +   1 John 5:1-9   +   Mark 1:7-11

On this second week of January we celebrate the final epiphany of Jesus Christ as an adult in His baptism by John the Baptist at Jordan River which is also called a “theophany” when God the Father made known to everyone Jesus is His beloved Son with whom He is well-pleased.

The other two epiphanies were last Sunday when Jesus manifested to the nations of the world symbolized by the Magi while the other was during His Nativity when He appeared to the poor and lowly symbolized by the shepherds for whom He first came for.

His baptism at Jordan closes the Christmas season that coincides with our secular calendar’s entry to the second week of January which is named after the Roman god Janus who has two faces with one looking forward to the future and the other looking backwards to the past.

It is exactly what our liturgical and secular calendars in this month of January are both telling us – that we are at the threshold of new beginnings, new start as we slowly leave the past behind. And what a blessed start we have on this Solemnity of the Lord’s Baptism when Jesus reminds us of His presence this 2021 which experts predict would just be an extension of 2020. We are looking to the future in Jesus and with Jesus while we look back to the past seeing the great things the Lord had done for us!

This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:7-11

Jesus Christ our Good News

For this year 2021 properly referred to in liturgy as “Cycle B”, we shall have Mark as our guide and companion in our Sunday Mass journey in the Lord (Cycle A is with Matthew, Cycle C is Luke; we hear John on special occasions like Christmas and Easter).

As I have told you during Advent, Mark wrote the first gospel account, it is the shortest because he was in a hurry in making known the good news right away. But, as Shakespeare had said, brevity is the soul of wit; Mark’s brief and direct reporting of the events and teachings of Jesus open for us so many reflections that make us experience the Lord.

Right away at the start of his gospel account, Mark tells us the baptism of Jesus as the inaugural event of the Gospel in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies announcing the coming of John the Baptist as Precursor to the coming of the Christ.

See his manner of narrating, stating matter-of-factly without any further ado that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John; he seems to be in a hurry to tell us something great, something important and so beautiful: On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.

I like that part when he said “the heavens being torn open” or in some translations which I prefer, “the sky rent in two”. What a beautiful imagery, so evocative of God intervening into our lives, descending into our world to bring order, to bring peace!

In the Book of Isaiah which is read during Lent, we find that beautiful expression, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down” (Is.63:19-64:3).

I love that so much! Imagine God rending, tearing apart the heavens like an action hero coming from behind to save us, to protect us, to get us.

Also in Mark’s gospel, he tells us how Jesus at his last breath “rending” while the curtain at the sanctuary of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Mk.15:38).

For the heavens to be rent apart shows us God finally intervening into our lives and affairs to set things right, to have some order.

And that is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ that happens daily in our lives. God has rent the heavens and descended upon us in His Son Jesus Christ who clothed Himself in our humanity so we can be like Him, divine and holy.

It is an invitation He extends to us every day, beautifully expressed by Prophet Isaiah in the first reading:

Thus says the Lord: All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord… so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:1-3, 8, 11

What a beautiful assurance to us this day with the threats of new strains of COVID-19 and problems in having the vaccine, here is God assuring us all the good things we need in this life. Of course, it is not merely the material things we need but surely all good things like milk and honey we need not only to survive but to live fully.

This Feast of the Baptism of the Lord assures us all the blessings and fulfillment we need and long for this 2021 if we accept His invitation to be one with Him.

How sad that too often, we reject Christ’s invitation, thinking how difficult it is to keep the commandments of God without realizing that they are indeed “not burdensome” (1 Jn.5:3) because the more we sin, the more life gets harder and heavier for us.

Today God assures us of His love, of how his favor rests upon us in Jesus Christ.

May we heed His calls so we may see Him rending the heavens apart, coming to our rescue, coming to our aid and presence. Amen.

A blessed Sunday to you!

The Black Nazarene in COVID-19

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Saturday, Feast of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, 09 January 2021
1 John 5:14-21     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     John 3:22-30
Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, Quiapo, 09 January 2020.

For the first time in so many years, there will be no Traslacion today of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo due to the COVID-19 pandemic but devotees are still celebrating its feast via online Masses and by visiting other churches with revered images of Nuestro Padre Señor Jesus de Nazareno first brought in the country by Augustinian Recollects in the early 1600’s.

Like in our celebrations last year of Lent and Easter and recently of Christmas, COVID-19 pandemic has given us much needed time to reflect, meditate, and review our faith in general that has been shaped for better and, for worst, by our many rites and rituals that have turned us blind to its deeper realities of finding Jesus among the poor and suffering.

It is a great marvel for our eyes to see this unique and intense expression of faith of great crowds gathering every year to fulfill their panata or vow to the Black Nazarene. People from all walks of life, children, men and women, young and old flock to Quiapo on this day as part of their panata for a prayer and wish granted them by the Señor Nazareno.

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

Beloved: We have this confidence in him that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked him for is ours. Children, be on your guard against idols.

1 John 5:14-15, 21

So often people wonder do we really have to go through all these because of a prayer granted like healing or having a child or getting a job or passing a board exam?

The beloved disciple reminds us today during this time of the pandemic that somehow we have to restore some sense of order especially in the Traslacion.

There is no doubt about the faith of everyone — but it is not everything. Faith is directed to God, a Person, not to a ritual or rite nor to an image. In this time of COVID-19, Jesus reiterates to us His love for us, of how like yesterday in the gospel He always wishes the best for us.

Let it be clear we are not passing judgment on the devotees of the Black Nazarene and of other popular devotions anywhere else in the world. In the letter of St. John we heard today, we find that we do not need to go through so much hardships like some people would do in their panata because prayer is not primarily for having things but for deepening relationship with God. We pray because we relate, we want to be one with God. Asking for things or blessings is secondary. Prayers and sacrifices do not necessarily change situations in one’s life; prayers and sacrifices change the person. In fact, when we pray for something, deep within us we already knew if it is meant for us or not; that is why, I always tell people to “claim” from Jesus whatever he/she may be praying for because if it is for you, the Lord will surely give it to you.

It will almost be a year since we have this pandemic but until now, see in most churches how people continue to disregard our health protocols not to touch and kiss images. In less than a month, we shall start the Season of Lent when images are covered so we go deeper into the person of God and not merely to His images and other visuals that unfortunately for some have become their gods. And that is why despite our deep religiosity, we cannot experience real change in our society because we are still individualistic than communal. Values are misplaced or even disregarded when we think more of the favors to be had than the relationships to be kept, the person to be respected and life to be valued. No wonder, so many Catholics ironically and sadly support corrupt politicians and leaders who lie and disregard life despite their being “prayerful”.

From Google.

John said: “He (Jesus) must increase, I must decrease.”

John 3:30

Señor Nazareno reminds us how in this life we imitate John the Baptist remaining humble before Jesus, entrusting everything to Him. Most especially, working hard to ensure that Jesus and His gospel of salvation is made known to everyone.

See how in our gospel today when the disciples of John the Baptist reported to him Christ’s ministries in Judea, seeking clarifications on how to deal with the situation as more and more people were coming to Jesus. The scene reveals to us the deep spirituality of John, telling his disciples how Jesus must increase and he must decrease which is essentially Christ’s teaching on discipleship, that who ever wants to follow Him must first deny himself and take up his cross with Him.

That is the central message of the Black Nazarene: of how we are also willing to forget our very selves, take up our cross and follow Jesus in the path of self-sacrifice. It is finding Jesus among the poor and suffering that made the Quiapo devotion so appealing to every generation, but — we also wonder why our nation remains poor with so many sufferings! There must be something wrong.

This is something that only the pandemic can offer us: to search our souls, sincerely asking our selves if we still find Jesus in the center of all these devotions. How sad that every year, we hear reports of how some devotees getting unruly, insisting on what they believe, on what they want, including the route of the Traslacion.

Amid all these celebrations, do we hear John’s declaration “Jesus must increase and I must decrease”?

That is spirituality which is more about relationship with God than just fulfillment and celebration of rites and rituals that we call religiosity.

The Black Nazarene statue sits at the stage of the Quirino Grandstand in Manila on January 8, 2013, one day before its feast day when it will be paraded around the streets of Manila to the greeting of thousands of devotees. (Photo by LJ Pasion)

Usually, when you ask anyone for the meaning of “Jesus Nazareno”, easily they would say it refers to the Lord’s origins, the town of Nazareth where He grew up after returning from Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous plot against all infants when He was born.

It is true but on deeper reflection, we have to remember that Nazareth is the only place in the New Testament never mentioned in the Old Testament. Besides, Jesus Christ is actually from Bethlehem, the town of David and Joseph His father where He was born in fulfillment of the prophecies.

According to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the words Nazoraios and Nazarenos used to designate Jesus in the gospels came from the Hebrew root “nezer” for root. Remember in the Simbang Gabi the prophecy by Isaiah that “There shall comne forth a shoot (nezer) from the stump of Jesse” (Is.11:1)?

Pope Benedict explains that Matthew must have detected in the name Nazareth a prophetic reference to the “shoot” as a sign of fulfillment of God’s promise to draw new life from the dead stump of Jesse:

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 is 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.

Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (pp.117-118)

What a beautiful reminder to us all today in this time of COVID-19 in celebration of the feast of the Black Nazarene, reminding us that in this time when everything seems to be “dead” like a “stump” of the tree, God is working something marvelous, something great among us through His Son Jesus Christ.

Jesus is coming, Jesus has come and remains with us despite this pandemic.

But, are we willing to die to ourselves to see Him, to experience Him, and most of all, share Him?

Viva Nuestro Padre Señor Jesus de Nazareno!

And the winner is…

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Friday after the Epiphany, 08 January 2021
1 John 5:5-13     <*(((><<   +   >><)))*>     Luke 5:12-16
Photo by author, December 2020.

Beloved: Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood. The Spirit is the one who testifies, and the Spirit is truth.

1 John 5:5-6

If we could all be aware of this wonderful declaration by your Son’s beloved disciple, O God our Father, surely there would be fewer disappointments and frustrations among us in this life, especially from that “rat race” where there are no victors but only losers.

As we advance in science and technology supposedly making life better and easier for us, making us more affluent to some degree, what a tragedy that we still do not feel contented as life has become more competitive in quantitative terms than qualitative aspects like love and understanding, closer ties and cooperation.

Life may be easier but, unfortunately we cannot see its great value that even on the personal level, there is still so much self-hate and self-rejection going on among us.

Help us, dear Jesus, to keep in our minds and our hearts how you wish only the best for us, our healing and our fulfillment in life like that leper you have healed in the gospel today.

It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where Jesus was; and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.” And the leprosy left him immediately.

Luke 5:12-13

Lord Jesus, let us believe in you wholeheartedly by embracing your Cross where you won the world for us with “the Spirit, the water, and the blood” that all testify to you as the Christ, the Anointed One of God who saved and redeemed us. Amen.

Photo by author, Chapel of Theology Dept., ICMAS, 12 November 2020.

Keeping God’s commandments

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Thursday After Epiphany, 07 January 2021
1 John 4:19-5:4     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Luke 4:14-22
Photo by author, 01 November 2020

For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

1 John 5:3-4

Sometimes in life I really do not still get you, dearest God.

Sometimes I just think this is part of life’s mystery as well as your own mystery as God.

Like today’s letter of your Son’s beloved disciple: he said to love you is to keep your commandments.

Just that. On the surface, how can it be love when there is subjection to commandments that often feel like burdensome?

And then, the beloved disciple telling us that your commandments are not burdensome?

It is difficult to be faithful to you, God! So hard to never use your name in vain, even in jokes. And look at how everybody complains not having enough time for self and family that they skip Sunday Masses!

If we try to dissect the seven remaining commandments, surely you know O God how hard we all strive to keep them from honoring our parents to not coveting other’s wives and goods!

Photo by author, December 2020.

But, again, O God, your words are true: your commandments are not burdensome but actually set us free! That must be the victory the beloved disciple is referring to because the more we break your commandments, the more we are bondaged by sin.

Jesus can boldly proclaim your words are fulfilled upon our hearing because he said them totally free of any inhibitions, of any fear, of any doubts. So free to truly love you and everyone of us.

Enlighten us, O Lord, that your commandments are all summed up in love. It is only when we love that we find the beauty of your commandments meant for us to truly love others. It is when we keep your commandments that we become faithful and loving in you through others. Amen.