Following Jesus in lights and darkness by Caravaggio

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 20 September 2021
Detail of Caravaggio’s painting, “Calling of St. Matthew” from en.wikipedia.org.

That beautiful painting by Caravaggio, “The Calling of St. Matthew” completed in 1600 for the French congregation of San Luigi Francesi in Rome is said to be the favorite of Pope Francis among the many other masterpieces found in the eternal city.

It was through the Holy Father that I have started to fall in love with Caravaggio’s works, promising myself to see them if given another chance to return to Rome. His paintings like the meeting of Thomas Didymus with the Risen Lord and his breaking of bread at Emmaus evoke body movements and inner motions among the characters that lead us to continue the beautiful story of his subject.

And that is what I wish to share with you on this Feast of St. Matthew, a reflection on his sitting, arising and standing to follow Jesus who had called him while at work as a tax collector.

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Matthew 9:9
From shutterstock.com.

Sitting. Many centuries from now, anthropologists and other experts will be studying our generation on how humans have evolved – or retrogressed – with our spending too much time sitting. Doctors warn of the many health risks that result in prolonged sitting like obesity and heart disease. They have recently sounded the alarm anew following a surge in zoom meetings and webinars as well as the new set ups of classes on-line and work from home that entail sitting for long hours.

When the term “couch potato” was coined in the 1980’s, potato growers in the US complained against the association of their beloved crop with those people glued on their seats watching TV, doing nothing at all.

Sitting is an important human movement especially in studying and learning lessons through reading and writing, meeting and discussions. Meals become more satisfying and fulfilling when taken while seated in a leisurely manner whether at the table or even on the ground like picnics in the park or forest. In fact, it is when we are seated at the table for meals we are most peaceful and neutral – nobody eats with weapons laid on the table or while holding a gun or clenching a fist which is the reason why we are not supposed to rest our elbows on the table!

Imagine St. Matthew when he was called by Jesus, while sitting at the customs post: here we find sitting at its worst imagery of being stuck on our seats of comfort and complacency, sins and other vices. Worst is see how in our modern time we have given so much premium on where we sit to insist on our ego trips and sense of territory as well as claims to fame and prominence not realizing that what really matters in life is not where we sit but where we stand (https://lordmychef.com/2019/02/22/it-is-where-we-stand-that-matters-most-not-where-we-sit/).

From en.wikipedia.org.

Following Jesus

Going back to Caravaggio’s painting, we notice everybody seated at the table with St. Matthew dressed in the artist’s period of the 1600’s to show that Jesus continues to come in our own particular time in history.

Most of all, the gospel tells us that St. Matthew was seated at his customs post when called by Jesus but Caravaggio’s painting portrays them to be inside a tavern to tell us that we are also St. Matthew whom Jesus visits and calls daily while we are busy or drunk sitting at our comfort zones, in our vices and sins, in our complacency and mediocrity.

And like St. Matthew, we, too, are invited to rise and follow Jesus right away!


Don't you hear how Jesus is calling you daily, 
asking you, "will the real you please rise up and stand for who you really are"?
See yourself the way Jesus sees you - forgiven and beloved,
precious and loved.  No need for us to look good before Jesus.
Just rise and stand with him!

Standing. Following Jesus demands that we must first rise from our seats to make a stand for Jesus and his teachings of love and kindness, mercy and forgiveness, service and self-sacrifice. Notice how St. Matthew, the fat man at the middle with a black hat like a beret pointing to the man bowed down to the table.

See and feel the hesitancy of St. Matthew – like us – always wondering, asking God, “is it I, Lord?” So many times we cannot believe Jesus really looking for us, wanting us, calling us, believing in us!

And in all that beautiful interplay of light and darkness by Caravaggio in his painting, we feel the eyes of Jesus looking at our beloved apostle as if telling him, “yes, you, Matthew; Follow me”.

Cast all your doubts if Jesus were really calling you, believing in you, trusting you – he does! Jesus always comes to each of us in the most personal manner like with all his apostles, telling us, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit” (Jn.15:16).

Don’t you hear how Jesus is calling you daily, asking you, “will the real you please rise up and stand for who you really are”? See yourself the way Jesus sees you – forgiven and beloved, precious and loved. No need for us to look good before Jesus. Just rise and stand with him!


Photo from Facebook of nuns delivering relief goods to people in far-flung areas during the pandemic last year.

Walking. It is not enough for us to remain standing. Making a stand for Jesus means to follow him in his path of justice and love, mercy and forgiveness, being small and the least serving the weak and the poorest of the poor.

To walk in Christ is to be like Christ because Jesus himself is “the way the truth and the life” (Jn.14:6).

Walking in Christ is following the “road less travelled” that leads to the Cross of self-offering and sacrifice, of love and acceptance.

Notice in Caravaggio’s painting how he portrayed Jesus in his own traditional clothes along with Simon Peter – and they are both barefooted!

There seems to be a slight commotion wherein Simon is like warning the man with a sword close to him to be still, to not make any move for they are walking away soon once St. Matthew rises and stands from his seat. Look at the feet of Jesus and Simon; they are all set to walk, as if telling St. Matthew, “come on, let us go!”

But where to?

While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Matthew 9:10-13

We all first walk home with Jesus, right into our hearts to reconcile again with him and be healed of many hurts and aches in the past. Then, we walk with Jesus to our fellow sinners so that they too may experience Christ’s love and forgiveness.

Following Jesus, walking on his path of the cross means going to those forgotten by us and the society, walking to meet those who are not like us – in beliefs and way of thinking, in clothing and appearances, in disposition and backgrounds.

It can be a lonely walk filled with pains and sufferings, and yes, disappointments like the two disciples who walked back to Emmaus on Easter without realizing Jesus was the stranger who had joined them along the way. That is the beauty of walking with Jesus, in Jesus, and to Jesus: you never see him nor recognize him right away but he is always with us, walking with us by our side even if we are going the opposite direction in life!

Walking the way of Jesus is tough and rough. It is not easy but it is the only way we must follow. That is why we need to rest in Jesus, with Jesus who asks us to be seated again as he washes our feet to comfort and console us, and prepare us for longer walks in the journey.


Photo by Ms. JJ Jimeno of GMA-7News, Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, UP Diliman, 2019.

Kneeling. Of all the body movements modern man has forgotten is kneeling. Again, look at Caravaggio’s painting, take a peek below the table and notice the robust knees of St. Matthew, look at the soft throw of light on his right leg and the softer tone on his left.

Caravaggio must be telling us something about the healthy lower body of St. Matthew despite his sitting position. See Caravaggio’s genius in throwing that soft light on St. Matthew’s legs and knees that were made strong not only by long hours of standing and walking with Jesus but with longer time of kneeling and praying after the Lord’s Ascension.

Kneeling is one very important gesture and body movement we must regain to truly follow Jesus and regain order in ourselves and in our nation. It is the best praying position for it signifies surrender and humility before God. In fact, for the Hebrews, the knee is the symbol of strength that to bend one’s knees – to kneel – means to submit one’s self to God the all-powerful.

How sad when people refuse to kneel because their knees or expensive pants and clothes might get dirty. Worst of all is when we have refused to kneel and bend our knees because we feel so strong and able to accomplish a lot that we would rather be pursuing our own interests than following Jesus.

Photo by author, 07 September 2021.

Like Caravaggio’s painting of “The Calling of St. Matthew”, our lives and nation are into a great darkness due to the pandemic and the worsening decadence in every aspect of our society.

It is not a time to be a fence-sitter or a bystander; Jesus calls us to arise and make a stand against the pervading evils, asking us whom are we really following in this journey in history and life.

Amid the gloom are streaks of light bringing hope and reason, truth and goodness, inviting us to learn from the call of St. Matthew to…

Sit and learn more of Jesus
Rise and stand with Jesus
Walk and follow Jesus 
Kneeling always at the foot of his cross 
to truly follow him our Lord and Master.
Amen.

Imitating St. Matthew

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle, 22 September 2021
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13   ><}}}'> + <'{{{><   Matthew 9:9-13
Photo by author, pilgrims ready to walk at a site in Jerusalem, the Holy Land, May 2019.

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Matthew 9:9
We know for sure, dear Jesus Christ
that you are always passing by,
calling us to follow you but
most often, we do not see you,
or worst, we refuse to look at you
nor listen to you.
Forgive us, dear Jesus
for choosing to be contented
and comfortable on our seats -
especially on those seats of power;
sorry when we are so glued on
our seats watching mostly trash
on television and internet;
drag us, if you may, if we choose
to be stuck on our seats of all
kinds of vices and sins.
Give us the grace, O Lord Jesus
of imitating St. Matthew
who immediately heeded your call:
open our eyes and our ears
to await your daily coming to us;
may we have the will and resolve
to change ourselves, to arise from our
being seated and slumped on our 
comfort zones of mediocrity and sins;
most of all, strengthen our knees and our feet,
our limbs that as we arise 
to listen to your voice, we may follow
you closely every step of the way
to the Cross.

Brothers and sisters: I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:1-3
Merciful Jesus Christ,
teach us to forget our desires
for positions and recognition,
for fame, power and wealth;
make us realize that what really
matters is not where we are seated
but where we make a stand -
and to how far can we go walking
in standing up for you always.
Like St. Matthew, 
your Apostle and Evangelist,
let us arise and follow you
daily in faith, hope and love
as we write another gospel of
 Jesus Christ according to each one of us.
Amen.

The joy of acceptance

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle, 24 August 2021
Revelations 21:9-14     ><}}}'>  +  <'{{{><     John 1:45-51
Photo by author, 2018.
Once again on this feast of another saint,
the Apostle Bartholomew, you teach us O God
how you work in mysterious ways; for, indeed, 
how "can anything good come from Nazareth?"
like Jesus Christ when in fact he was from 
Bethlehem and ultimately from you, Father in heaven!
But the most wonderful mystery of all
is when your Son Jesus affirmed 
Nathanael-Bartholomew's perception
and still accepted him!

Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true child of Israel. There is duplicity in him.” Nathanael said to him, “How did you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

John 1:47-48
What did your Son see about Nathanael
doing under the fig tree is also a mystery
but it was more than enough to feel 
the love and acceptance
by Jesus despite his not so kind
words about Nazareth,
enabling him to trust him in return
committing himself as an Apostle
after realizing it did not matter to Jesus
his background nor his previous life.

Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

John 1:49
Give us the grace, O God,
not only to be contented with your words
but most of all to go out of our way
like Nathanael in "coming and seeing"
to meet Jesus and experience
his unique love and mercy,
and be surprised with his presence
that welcomes everyone.
Amen.

Graduating in time of COVID-19: Being the right person in the right place at the right time

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 02 July 2021
Genesis 23:1-4, 19-24:1-8, 62-67   ><}}}'> + <'{{{>< Matthew 9:9-13

Congratulations, my dear Senior High School graduates of Our Lady of Fatima University Batch 2021. Yes, you hold the distinction of belonging to the first graduates of the pandemic who persevered, who were not daunted by COVID-19 that continues to plague us after more than a year of altering our lives.

Take pride in belonging to this batch because you have just proven you are the right people in the right time at the right place called by God to witness his truth and mercy, our university motto, “Veritas et Misericordia”.

Too often we pray God would send us the right person to become our friends and colleagues at work or project, or simply our co-journeyer in this life – perhaps lovers – without realizing we are in fact the right person being called and sent first by God in the right place, at the right time.

This was the experience of Matthew in our gospel today:

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Matthew 9:9
“Calling of St. Matthew” painting by Caravaggio from en.wikipedia.org.

Let me tell you a beautiful story about the call of St. Matthew as depicted in a painting by the renowned artist named Caravaggio during the 1600’s in a chapel in Rome. It is one of the favorite paintings of Pope Francis who claims he used to see it while a student in Rome and later as the Cardinal of Buenos Aires whenever he would go to the Vatican.

Caravaggio’s painting is very unique and amusing especially in the way he would play with lights and darkness like in that other famous painting of the meeting of the Risen Lord and doubting Thomas eight days after Easter. This contrast of light and darkness is very evident in painting the call of Matthew by Jesus.

Very interesting is the kind of clothes the characters wear in this painting: notice how Caravaggio portrayed Matthew, the bearded man with a beret and his companions at the table wearing the expensive clothes of the Middle Ages while Jesus and Simon Peter are in their traditional garments and – barefooted! The room looks like a tavern of Caravaggio’s time than a customs house as narrated by Matthew during the time of the Lord in Galilee.

All of this because Caravaggio was fond of incorporating biblical scenes into his milieu to show the relevance of Christ in their time.

And that is also the reason why I share this painting with you: aside from being the gospel on this first Friday of the month, I find its story so relevant with you Senior High School students and graduates.

When you look at the painting, it is like a video happening in split seconds, very much like that photo taken in the live mode of an iPhone with the picture moving a little, wondering if Matthew would stand and leave to follow Jesus.


When you look at the painting, it is like a video happening in split seconds, 
very much like that photo taken in the live mode of an iPhone 
with the picture moving a little, 
wondering if Matthew would stand and leave to follow Jesus.

From en.wikipedia.org.

See Matthew and company seated at the dark side of the room with Jesus standing near the window partially washed by lights specifically his face and hand with finger pointed towards Matthew whose face is clearly lighted, evidently hesitant, asking Jesus if he were referring to him or to the one slumped on the table. Notice the bright face of Matthew and his index finger pointing to the man beside him, his thumb to himself as if asking “is it I, Lord?” or “who, me?” while his other hand is holding a coin on the table.

So beautiful as it evokes the hesitancy of Matthew and certainty of Jesus!

That is how we have felt this first year of COVID-19, the Academic Year 2020-2021, your batch: there is our hesitancy and uncertainty, fears and anxieties in life, of going back to school or not, of where to get money or laptop or reliable internet service while deep inside us, we felt the Lord so certain in his plans for us, in his love and mercy, that we can “rise to the top” here at Fatima University!

We are the ones always doubting, asking Jesus if he were talking or calling us because we cannot let go of that “coin” Matthew is holding on in the painting symbolizing the materials things and persons on whom we put our trust instead of having faith in God alone.

Doubt no more, my dear graduates of the COVID-19 batch of 2020-2021! You are the right person in the right place – Our Lady of Fatima University – at the right time, Academic Year 2020-2021 on the first year of COVID-19 pandemic.


Jesus is telling you today as he fills you with his light 
of truth and mercy in finishing Senior High School in our beloved University 
that you are indeed the right people called in the right place at the right time.  
Will you "rise to the top" to pursue further studies 
to achieve your dreams in this time of the pandemic?  

Jesus is telling you today as he fills you with his light of truth and mercy in finishing Senior High School in our beloved University that you are indeed the right people called in the right place at the right time. Will you rise to the top, pursue further studies to achieve your dreams in this time of the pandemic?

Come and follow Jesus, make your dreams come true here with us in Our Lady of Fatima University for we do not stop seeking ways in dealing with the pandemic with our innovative classes and curriculum. We are the first university approved by the government to conduct limited face-to-face classes in our medical courses.

Like Abraham in the first reading from Genesis, trust God that he will send you his messenger, that he will send you people who will be teaching and preparing you for the post-pandemic period while journeying with you, learning with you in this time of the COVID-19.

Amid the darkness of our time like Caravaggio’s painting, do not fail to see the light brightening the scene, getting intense on the face of Matthew and people around him with Jesus looking intently on you, making sure you do not get sick, that you rise and follow him in pursuing your dream.

Don’t worry, my dear graduates, your Rebekah or your Isaac will surely come along the way but at the moment, Jesus wants you to finish your studies first.

Study hard, work harder, and pray hardest! See you in August!

Have blessed break!

Sts. Peter and Paul, Mirrors of the Church

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, 29 June 2021
Acts of the Apostles 12:1-11 + 2Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18 + Matthew 16:13-19
Easter Sunday 2019 at St. Peter’s Rome with Pope Francis, photo from vaticannews.va.

God our loving Father, thank you for this Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul who both mirror to us our primary tasks as stewards of the Church founded by your Son Jesus Christ. Despite our many differences in our personalities and backgrounds, help us find in them what the Church should be and would be by our love and faith in Christ Jesus and the mission he entrusted us.

Remind us we are stewards of the kingdom of heaven among our brothers and sisters – not their masters even if we are entrusted with the power of binding and unbinding

“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

Let us be won over by Jesus Christ, by giving him entirely our faith and love despite our many weaknesses. Like Sts. Peter and Paul, may we keep in mind that our primary task in the Church is to serve, not to rule over the people nor amass wealth and fame along the way.

Let us strive to be loved than be feared so that in every decision we make people may find and realize your Holy Will.

O dear God, as we face today another serious threat of a new COVID-19 strain called Delta variant that is believed to be more dangerous as it spreads so fast, may we witness in our lives as we proclaim in words and in deeds your saving love and mercy in Jesus Christ.

May we offer our very selves like St. Peter and St. Paul, messengers of your love to everyone especially those in the margins of the society so they may continue to keep their faith amidst the many hardships during this pandemic for you, O God is always among us in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Voice of God, Power of God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist, 24 June 2021
Isaiah 49:1-6 ><}}}'> Acts 13:22-26 ><}}}'> Luke 1:57-66, 80
Photo by author, site where St. John the Baptist was born beside the Church in his honor in Judea, 2019.

Today’s celebration of the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist reminds us of the very important grace and gift from God we take for granted and always abuse – our voice.

Also known as the “voice in the wilderness” who prepared the coming of Jesus Christ, St. John shows us even before his birth through his father Zechariah the proper use of this gift of voice from God.

Voice is power.

In the Book of Genesis, God created everything by simply saying “let there be…” and it comes into being. When Jesus came as the “the Word who became flesh”, he witnessed to us this immense power of the voice of God when he would simply speak to heal people, cast away evil spirits, and still the seas and quiet the storms.

Only us humans were gifted with this unique power of God to speak using the voice.

How sad that we have forgotten or have been totally unaware of the fact that we merely share in the power of God in speaking, in voicing out what is in our minds and in our hearts. Like freedom or the power to choose what is good, we have abused this power of the voice so evident in this digital age as we drown in a cacophony of voices from everybody wanting to be heard, wanting to rule.



And the tragedy is that 
those with the loudest voice and 
easy access to all kinds of media platforms 
are also the ones in power who only voice 
out their selfish interests like our politicians. 

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, Bgy. Lalakhan, Santa Maria, Bulacan, June 2021.

And the tragedy is that those with the loudest voice and easy access to all kinds of media platforms are also the ones in power who only voice out their selfish interests like our politicians.

Have you noticed how most of the loud voices we hear these days come from those not involved at all in any kind of suffering? They are not only loud but also so quick to voice their views empty of any concern at all. Worst, many of these loud voices we hear come from people who have little or no concern at all for those truly in pain like the poor and marginalized who have remained voiceless in our society.

When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father; but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.” So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.

Luke 1:59-60, 62-64

Silence is the voice of God.

At the eve of our celebration today, we have heard how the angel had made Zechariah deaf and mute after he doubted the good news announced to him of the coming birth of their son to be named as John.

Now after nine months of being silent, Zechariah recovered his voice and speech that he spoke blessing God.

Imagine the power and stature Zechariah must have commanded at that time: both he and his wife Elizabeth were from the priestly clans. They were like the royalty at that time, living in an affluent section of the country. Both were born into wealth and fame. And power.

Zechariah’s voice must be one of the most sought after in Judea with his wisdom and influence.

Suddenly gone when his very voice questioned the source of its power, God represented by Archangel Gabriel.

Photo by author, Church of St. John the Baptist, the Holy Land, 2019.

The experience of Zechariah teaches us of the value of silence that has become a very rare commodity these days.

Many of our misunderstandings are due to our lack of silence, of listening to what others are saying or telling us.



Contrary to what 
we also believe,
 silence is not emptiness 
but fullness:


Contrary to what we also believe, silence is not emptiness but fullness: it is different from being quiet when we do not simply speak but allow our minds to work on what we believe in or hold on to. Silence is trying to listen to every voice, especially the faintest ones that usually speak the truth. In the Bible, we find a common pattern in both the Old and New Testaments how God’s communication is preceded always with silence.

Zechariah was forced into silence to experience again its fullness, of being connected anew with God as it gave him opportunities to truly listen intently to God in prayers. That is why everyone was surprised not only when Zechariah confirmed the name of his son would be “John” but most of all when he spoke and his voice heard again by the people. According to Luke, Zechariah sang a blessing to God called the Benedictus.

Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

Luke 1:65-66

Becoming the voice of God like John the Baptist

See how Luke presented the scene in pure simplicity as if we were also there, everybody asking “what will this child be?” for surely the hand of the Lord was with him. The scene is packed with the power of God. No voices were heard except the few “pakialamera” or “mahadera” neighbors who wanted the child named Zechariah like his father.

Elizabeth was so cool but emphatic by declaring her son shall be named John. No debates nor arguments among the women who approached Zechariah – surely, not to ask him to voice his decision as he was deaf and mute at that time. Everybody was amazed when he asked for a tablet and wrote “John is his name”.

There was the deafening silence of God’s voice heard loud and clear, perhaps even for several days after the circumcision and naming of John.

“St. John Preaching In the Wilderness” by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779), photo from commons.wikimedia.org

Such is the power of God, of his voice.

Always preceded by silence.

Never harsh nor imposing.

Soft but always felt, always consistent, very clear and simple.

Most of all, refreshing and blissful.

It is a voice kept in one’s heart, nurtured through time in prayer and simplicity of life until the listener becomes the speaker and carrier of the voice of God.

In our digital age where humans and machines speak with voices competing for our attention, we are reminded that the true power of the voice is not in its volume but in God himself who is also the message.

Like images, voices can also be enhanced with the help of modern technology and human ingenuity, especially by image makers and propagandists who are paid to advance one’s power and influence.

Let us be more discerning in listening to the many voices competing for our attention.

Let us begin first in that soft and feeble voice inside our hearts we disregard but consistently speaks to us daily. That voice could be God speaking to us.

Let us rediscover silence and the true power and beauty of the voice of God.

Recall how often in our lives and in human history, the most important voices ever heard, ever written come after long moments of silence, of reflections and listening to God and with others.

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Luke 1:80
Photo by Fr. Pop Dela Cruz, Binuangan Is., Obando, Bulacan, May 2021.

Participating in God’s choices

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday in the Sixth Week of Easter, Feast of St. Matthias, Apostle, 14 May 2021
Acts 1:15-17, 20-26   ><)))'>  +  <'(((><   John 15:9-17
Photo by author, Pulilan Bypass Road, Bulacan, 2020.

If there is one thing we dread most in life, dear God our Father, it is making choices. You know it so well because day in, day out it is one thing we pray to you, that you guide us in making the right decision, in choosing the best and perfect choices in this life.

How beautiful to realize and learn from your words in Jesus Christ as we celebrate today the Feast of St. Matthias who replaced Judas Iscariot that it is not really us who make choices but you!

Most of all, you never went wrong in your choices, even with Judas Iscariot. He did not remain in Jesus and that is why he made the wrong and sinful choice of betraying the Lord.

And so first we pray to you today, our loving Father, through Jesus Christ, give us the grace to cooperate and participate in your choices for us so we may remain faithful in you and be fruitful too.

"It was not you who chose me,
but I who chose you and appointed you
to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father
in my name he may give you."
(John 15:16)

Nothing much is known about St. Matthias but all accounts of his missionary works indicate he nourished and enriched your choice of him in his whole life that he died witnessing the gospel. Like him, may we remain in you to keep our choices according to your holy will always.

At the same time, when given the task to make choices, in choosing people and course of actions to take, help us to be prayerful in discerning your will and choices too like St. Peter and his brother Apostles in finding Judas Iscariot’s replacement.

How wonderful is their prayer that indicated it was you, O Lord, who still made the choice and not them!

So they proposed two, 
Joseph called Barsabbas, 
who was also known as Justus,
and Matthias.  Then they prayed,
"You, Lord, who know the hearts of all,
show which one of these two you have chosen
to take the place in this...."
(Acts 1:23-24)

We pray today for people having a hard time praying to finally realize your choices for them; for those afraid to accept your choices; for those who keep on looking for other options despite your clear choice for them. Enlighten their minds and fill them with courage and trust in you. Amen.

Prayer to deal with life’s many questions

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Feast of St. Philip and St. James the Less, Apostles, 03 May 2021
1 Corinthians 15:1-8   ><)))*> + <*(((><   John 14:6-14 
Photo by author, Pililla Wind Farm in Rizal, January 2021.

Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught me in my many experiences in life that a man is known by the questions he asks, not by the answers he gives. So often, the answers we have are always wrong or simply not true at all.

But, if we ask the right questions, even if there are no immediate answers or if we do not fully grasp and understand especially your answer, it is always more than enough than everything we need to know and realize in life.

So many times, we are afraid to ask you because we think more of our selves than of the truth that would set us free. Help us imitate your apostle St. Philip who dared to ask you again something you have been teaching them – and us! – yet have not fully understood yet. It is even doubtful if he really got what you meant when you answered him during the last supper which is exactly the same thing with us until now who forget and could not master the things you have been teaching us.

Philip said to Jesus, 
"Master, show us the Father, 
and that will be enough for us."
Jesus said to him,
"Have I been with you for so long a time 
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, 'show us the Father'?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father
and the Father is in me?
The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.
The Father who dwells in me is doing his works."
(John 14:8-10) 

Give us, Lord, that same courage and humility of St. Philip to keep on asking things we cannot understand, things we cannot dismiss, things that keep on bugging us because that in itself is a grace from you so that we may know you more, so we can love you more, and most of all, follow you more closely.

If St. Philip had not asked you that question – even if you seem to have sighed in exasperation, did you, Lord? – even us until know would have not realized that you are indeed the em-bodi-ment and the in-carna-tion of the Father in human form.

On the other hand, there is another question that we most of the time avoid confronting: the need to address difficult situations in our lives that affect our interpersonal relationships and the way we live out your gospel, Lord Jesus Christ.

In writing to us a “pastoral letter”, St. James the Lesser tried answering the many questions about our practice of faith that boils down to the most essential which is to “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves” (James 1:22).

Likewise, it was St. James with St. Peter (Acts 12:17) who tried to face and resolve the questions about the difficult relations between the Christians of Jewish origin and those of pagan origin regarding the integration of Jewish practices and beliefs into Christianity during the Council of Jerusalem:

After they had fallen silent, 
James responded,
"It is my judgment, therefore,
that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles
who turn to God, but tell them by letter
to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage,
the meat of strangled animals, and blood.
For Moses, for generations now,
has had those who proclaim him in every town, 
as he has been read in the synagogues every sabbath."
(Acts 15:13, 19-21) 

As we celebrate their feasts today, we ask for their intercessions, Saints Philip and James the Lesser that like them, we may also dare to ask and address questions especially when they blur our relationships and proper understanding of you and the Father so that your light, dear Jesus, may shine more than ever in our lives. Amen.

Photo by author, ICMAS-Theologate Chapel, 2020.

The 13th Apostle of Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Monday, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, 25 January 2021
Acts 22:3-16    <*(((><<   +++   >><)))*>     Mark 16:15-18    
A sculpture of St. Paul near the entrance to the Malolos Cathedral by artist Willie Layug.

Praise and glory to you, O Lord Jesus Christ in coming to us always in the most personal manner in calling and inviting us to follow you to become fishers of men like in this Sunday’s gospel. You always come in the ordinariness of our lives, challenging us to face our responsibilities and most of all, asking for our commitment to you.

It is very funny but so true when you called St. Paul, he was out on his “ordinary” task of arresting followers of your Way while en route to Damascus. In that brief moment of encounter with him that eventually led to more days of prayers and teachings, you have shown us Lord the true meaning of conversion: it is not really a change in person in us but more of a change in focus.

St. Paul remained zealous in his ways but this time no longer to defend the old Mosaic Law he had defended at all costs before but this time for your gospel, Lord Jesus. He remained a committed person but no longer to the old ways but now in your person, dear Jesus, that he can claim in that “it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me” (Gal.2:20) .

That is essentially what conversion is all about: remaining the same person but no longer living in himself alone but in Jesus Christ alone.

Teach us, dear Jesus, that conversion in you is a daily happening, that needs to be cultivated in prayer and witnessing like St. Paul; that what really matter is to place you, O Lord Jesus at the center of our lives so that our identity is essentially marked by our encounter in you, by our communion with you and with your Word. More than seeing you in a vision, illumine us with your light, Jesus so we may recover and purify everything in us that has become dull due to sin.

We pray also for those people like Ananias who have been instrumental in bringing us close you, Jesus, people who set aside their biases against us and listened to your instruction so we may be converted and be your witness. Amen.

Prayer to respond faithfully to calls by Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Friday, Memorial of St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr, 22 January 2021
Hebrews 8:6-13     >><)))*>  = + =  <*(((><<     Mark 3:13-19
Photo by author, Dominus Flevit Church, the Holy Land, 2017.

Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him. He appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and have authority to drive out demons. He appointed the Twelve: Simon, whom he named Peter; and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.

Mark 3:13-16, 19

How great indeed is your love for us, O Lord Jesus Christ! I just wonder how or what are your criteria in calling those you wanted to follow you? You do not seem to reject anyone at all! You want all because you love us all!

Thank you very much, dear Jesus! Despite our many flaws and weaknesses, you still want us, you still call us, and most of all, even send us despite our imperfections.

And amid your great love for us is your “poor memory”, of always forgetting or disregarding our sins against you. Like when you called Simon and named him Peter to lead the Twelve as attested in all accounts as being the first among the list of the Apostles; but, at the same time, always mentioned last in every list of your inner circle is Judas Iscariot who betrayed you. Why called him at all?

So often, I find that so strange with you who knows everything and reads our hearts; but, the more I pray over your calls and our response, the more I find it more strange on our part when despite your mediating a new and perfect covenant in God (first reading from Hebrews), we still choose to turn away from you in sin.

Forgive me, Lord Jesus, when I cannot resist the temptation to slide back to the past, to seek something already obsolete and imperfect simply because they are easier.

Teach me to have the inner strength like of St. Peter, your prince of the Apostles and of St. Vincent, your Martyr and Deacon whose feast we celebrate today. May we remain faithful and vigilant in our commitment in responding to your call, Lord Jesus so we may always be one in the Father. Amen.

Photo by author, St. Joseph Parish in Baras, Rizal (07 January 2021).