Faithful and upright

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Memorial of St. John of Capistrano, Priest, 23 October 2020
Ephesians 4:1-6     >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>     Luke 12:54-59
Pope Francis delivering his “Urbi et Orbi” before an empty St. Peter’s Square in Rome, 27 March 2020 at the height of COVID-19 pandemic. Photo from Vatican Media/AFP via Getty Images.

So many things have happened in the past 24 hours, O God our Father, that the peoples of the world felt as if the earth was shaken and thrown off its course following the news of the Pope’s recent interview.

So many have spoken without really reflecting the Pope’s statement proposing a “civil coexistence law” (translation by Fr. Darwin Resuello) among people with homosexual tendencies “so they may be legally covered” (Pope Francis, Catholic News Agency) “in seeking mutual help or helping another” (Fr. Resuello).

Many were quick to conclude Pope Francis is endorsing same sex relationships or same sex-marriage when in fact nowhere did the Pope said it; in fact, he had avoided using the word “marriage” in his adherence to our teaching that marriage is only between man and woman.

Everybody is now taking it to advance each one’s popular opinions and preferences long rejected that would never be allowed in the light of your teachings and commandment to truly love like your Son Jesus Christ.

In this world so divided and colored with different beliefs, guide us Lord Jesus in the Church as we seek ways to be compassionate and loving to everyone like Pope Francis, may everyone see it is always in your desire to be one, just as you and the Father are one.

Brothers and sisters: I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received… striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace; one Body and one Spirit, as you were called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1,3-6

We pray for Pope Francis, his continued guidance by the Holy Spirit as he tries to reach out to more people marginalized especially in the Church – which is so ironic. Help him in his efforts to bring into the fold those outside, those driven away by our lack of love and mercy.

Do not deter him from being your sign of unity despite his portrayal by some especially those in media who keep on presenting him as breaking away from tradition. May his life of kindness and compassion convince others of his fidelity and uprightness before you like St. John of Capistrano who called on us priests to be examples for others in holiness.

We pray also for everyone to be more reflective to avoid sowing confusion and divisions with the Pope’s pronouncements, just like during your time when those around you were so focused on themselves than on those truly in need. Amen.

The Chair of St. Peter, sign of the Primacy of Rome which is about the primacy of love and service especially to those neglected and unrecognized; how sad some sectors use these efforts by Pope Francis for their own agenda. Photo from en.wikipedia.org.

Dalawang makabagong santo, kapangalan ng aming Patron

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-22 ng Oktubre 2020
Larawan nina San Juan Pablo II at San Juan XXIII kasama isa sa mga matandang imahen ng aming Patron San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista sa likuran ng aming simbahan sa Bagbaguin, Santa Maria, Bulacan.

PANALANGIN KAY SAN JUAN APOSTOL AT EBANGHELISTA KAUGNAY NG MGA BAGONG SANTO NG SIMBAHAN: PAPA JUAN PABLO II at PAPA JUAN XXIII (Bahagi ng aming mga Panalangin sa Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Bagbaguin, Santa Maria, Bulacan mula nang itanghal bilang Santo ang dalawang naturang dating Santo Papa noong 27 Abril 2014, Linggo ng Dakila Awa ng Diyos.)

Minamahal naming Patron na Banal, 
Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista po ang inyong ngalan!
Ngayo'y aming ipinagdiriwang sa buong Simbahan 
dalawang bagong Banal: Kapwa sila pastol ng kawan, 
nang manungkula'y pangalan mo ang hiniram.

San Juan Beinte-tres nang sa kanyang katandaan tuladmo,
Sinikap maging makabuluhan at buhay na palatandaan ng Diyos
sa gitna ng makabagong panaho nitong InangSimbahan
nang kanyang simulan ang Ikalawang Konsilyo sa Vatican. 

Kasabay niyang tinanghal bilang Banal 
ang tinaguriang Dakilang San Juan-Pablo Ikalawa;
Labis na pagtitiis ang kinamit sa kanyang sakit, 
Krus ay sinapit, katulad mo’y naging malapit
sa Ina ni Hesus kaya’t “Totus Tuus” ang kanyang awit.

Itulot mo aming Mahal na San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista,
kaming iyong mga anak sana’y matularan,
pinagsikapan ng dalawang bagong San Juan:
pamilya’t sambayanan mabuklod sa nagkakaisang pag-ibig
katulad ng dalangin ni Hesus doon sa Huling Hapunan. AMEN.

San Juan Ebanghelista, ipanalangin mo kami.
San Juan Beinte-tres, ipanalangin mo kami.
San Juan-Pablo Ikalawa, ipanalangin mo kami.

Praying to be rooted and grounded in love

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of St. John Paul II, Pope, 22 October 2020 
Ephesians 3:14-21     >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<     Luke 12:49-53
Pope John Paul II waves to well-wishers in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 1978 when he was elected as the 263rd successor to St. Peter (CNS photo/Arturo Mari, L’Osservatore Romano).

One of the things I am so thankful to you, O God our Father in making me live in this generation is your gift to us of a great shepherd in St. John Paul II whose memorial we celebrate today. It is a tremendous blessing from you to grace our years of existence along with a great man like him who had overcome so many difficulties and struggles in life, being orphaned at a very young age from his mother, then from his father and later from his only beloved brother, not to mention his coming from Poland, a country exploited by foreign powers and subjected to communism for the longest time.

In his entire life, Lord, you have always manifested your loving presence in him and destined him to be your sign in this most difficult period in history when men and women have gravely challenged you with so many evil and sins, including some priests you have called to serve.

Praise and glory to you, O God, for the great St. John Paul II, a man rooted and grounded in love!

and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17-19

What a beautiful prayer by St. Paul after extolling your love to call us all to be your children by having faith in your Son Jesus Christ!

What a beautiful prayer by St. Paul so perfect for today the memorial of St. John Paul II, a man rooted and grounded in love!

But, beyond the beautiful language, teach us, Father, what is to be rooted and grounded in love to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, to be filled with all of your fullness?

Roots refer to something inside, deep within and hidden, not seen; on the other hand, grounded is something outside, above and seen.

What do you mean, Father?

It is so demanding but that is what to follow you, to be set on a blazing fire of purification in Jesus Christ (Lk. 12:49), to be one with him on the Cross so that inside and outside, we are totally yours with Mary like St. John Paul II’s Totus Tuus!

St. John Paul II, pray for us to be not afraid to follow Jesus and be one with the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

From Pinterest.com.

Our heavenly citizenship

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Week XXIX, Year II in Ordinary Time, 20 October 2020
Ephesians 2:12-22     >><)))*> + >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>     Luke 12:35-38
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD in Quezon, 2020.

Glory and thanksgiving to you, God our Father, through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit for reconciling us all in you, making us one despite our many differences.

How lovely to the ears, to our being the words of St. Paul today, Lord Jesus, assuring us of our citizenship in heaven through the salvation you have brought us all, regardless of our color, race, status or even religion!

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

Help us, O Lord, to embody and manifest this unity of peoples in you in the Church, your Mystical Body here on earth.

Heal us of our many divisions and make us truly Catholic by helping everyone enter into communion with you through one another.

Keep us on guard for your return, Jesus, by “girding our loins and lighting our lamps” (Lk.12:35) ready to welcome you with our good works each day, leading others closer to you.

Let us start by going back to you in prayers and silent meditations that many have forgotten or taken for granted in this 24/7 world saturated by media with all the cacophony of sounds and blinding visuals that have blurred our vision of who we really are as citizens of heaven, beloved children of God our Father in heaven.

Help us find our way back home to the Father in heaven here on earth by finding our way back home to our true selves and to our brothers and sisters in you, dear Jesus. Amen.

Healing the divisions within and among us

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXIX-A in Ordinary Time, 18 October 2020
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6  ><)))*> + <*(((><  1 Thessalonians 1:1-5 ><)))*> + <*(((><  Matthew 22:15-21
Photo by author, the Walls of Jerusalem, May 2019.

People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.

“I Like You Just Because” by Albert J. Nimeth, OFM

We live in a world with so many divisions of our own making. Most of the time we are divided on the things we possess not only of things like properties and borders, inheritance, and toys but also of persons like in child custody and “trading” players in sports! So many times these divisions have caused harm and destruction among us as nations and as individuals.

Sad to say, these divisions come from within us in our hearts where we always try to divide our lives between God and our very selves, especially in the realm of religion and civic life.

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”

Matthew 22:15-16, 17

When our possessions possess us.

Today and next Sunday, Jesus is confronted by his enemies who have increased their efforts in finding faults against him in his speech to charge him with serious cases and get rid of him; but, more than dispatching his enemies with his brilliant answers to their question, Jesus brought to the fore the real score of the great divide within us.

In our gospel scene today, we can see clearly how divided within were the enemies of Jesus like the Pharisees and Herodians who joined forces to put Jesus down despite their being poles apart in their beliefs: the former who were against the Romans taking control in Israel while the latter were members of a faction supportive of the occupying forces.

As they sought the Lord’s opinion on the perceived deep divisions many still believe to exist up to this day between “Caesar” and God, Jesus brought to the open how divided inside were his enemies after all —- just like us today when we have been possessed by our very own possessions!

Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Matthew 22:18-21

Jesus is not proposing a compromise in his answer but rather trying to heal the false divisions we have created inside us.

Aside from the silly alliance of the Pharisees and Herodians, Jesus bared how divided within they have always been when they gave him a coin used to pay taxes to the Caesar that has an image of the emperor and the inscription that says “son of god” – something that was clearly against the First Commandment of God that in fact, they should have not been carrying at all when in the temple area!

They have been divided inside because they have been possessed by their possessions like money. In telling them, and us today, to “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”, Jesus reminds us that what belongs to Caesar are inanimate objects that are external to the heart of things. When a young man asked Jesus one day to tell his brother to give him his share of inheritance, the Lord stressed that he had not come to settle our disputes about money and properties (Lk.12:13). Today, Jesus is telling us that it is our responsibility and not for him to decide for us how to settle our political and other problems.

Our undivided hearts are God’s alone.

Photo by d0n mil0 on Pexels.com

Jesus clearly points out that what belongs to God is our whole selves, our whole hearts undivided by pride, hypocrisy, and selfishness. While we must give back to Caesar what is due them as further taught by St. Paul and St. Peter in their letters to the early Christians, Jesus directly tells us that our duties to God bind all, everywhere and all the time.

Unlike the image of the Caesar found on coins, we are stamped with the image and likeness of God who created us out of his immense love. It is our duty and moral obligation to always ensure that this image of God in us is never destroyed and always upheld.

Here falls the sensitive – and false issue of “separation of Church and state” in our time like the payment of Roman tax raised by the Pharisees and Herodians. Nowhere does the concept forbid us priests nor the Church as an institution not to speak out when the very image of God is destroyed among men and women with injustice, violence and abject poverty.

What the separation of Church and state forbids is the support and endorsement of a state religion; in a sense, it promotes more harmony and unity among government and religions in their exercise of their true freedom among peoples.

Even God himself works within our own settings in this world to fulfill his plans for us. Trust him because everything works best for those who have believe wholly in God.

In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah we find the most amusing bit of history of how God had used a pagan ruler, Cyrus the king of Persia or Iran today to become his anointed savior or messiah of Israel then in their Babylonian exile. Imagine how God used an outsider, an unbeliever to free his chosen people from one of their darkest moments in history to show us that God is the master of history because everything is his.

May we heed St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians and to us today to never doubt it was God in Jesus Christ who called us out of darkness and sin to be his new chosen people. Everything in our lives specially in our ministries and apostolate are the initiatives of God – may our hearts be undivided in giving him back everything through Jesus Christ, our life and meaning. Amen.

A blessed new week to you!

Photo by the author, view of the hills from Jerusalem temple, May 2019.

Trees are “shaken” to get its fruits

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXVII-A in Ordinary Time, 04 October 2020
Isaiah 5:1-7     ||+||     Philippians     ||+||     Matthew 21:33-43
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

To all the plantitos and plantitas: happy feast day this Sunday, the fourth of October which is also the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron of those in the green movements.

Part of the grace of this pandemic is the new awareness and interests of many among us for all kinds of plants borne out of the prolonged quarantine periods these past seven months. I remember growing up in our barrio where fences were all plants like santan, San Francisco and gumamelas whose flowers we used to mix with Tide to play bubbles. Who would have thought that after several decades those plants we used to take for granted like the gabi varieties and others along with cactus found almost everywhere would cost a fortune today?

But what I really miss and hope the plantitos and plantitas will be able to revive and bring back are the fruit trees every home used to have even in vacant lots like guava, santol, atis, aratiles, mabolo, achesa, duhat, kamias and of course, mango. Whenever me and my cousin would trek to the mini forest at the back of our compound called “duluhan” near a swampland to shoot birds and everything with our slingshots (tirador), we always had some fruits to munch in our little adventures.

And part of that adventure was to “shake” until we break branches of trees to get fruits and local beetles called salagubang (on mango trees).

Shaking of tree. Exactly the same thing that Jesus did today in his next parable addressed to the chief priests and elders of the people who would soon have him arrested, tried, and crucified: after telling them parable of the wicked tenants who killed the servants and the son of the owner, Jesus shook and shocked his listeners who later realized the parable was about them!

“What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes?’ Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

Matthew 21:40-43

We are the vineyard of the Lord


From Google.

Jesus had already entered Jerusalem and was teaching at the temple area. Among his audience were the chief priests and elders of the people trying to gather evidences against him for his arrest and execution. Unknown to them, Jesus knew what was in their hearts.

Last Sunday the parable was directed to them so they may realize how wrong they have been in regarding them so highly above the publicans and prostitutes who repented for their sins and went to receive the baptism by John the Baptist.

Today, Jesus “shook them” with this second parable taken from a well known song and lament of a beloved to his vineyard by the Prophet Isaiah which we have heard at the first reading.

Vineyards are very common in Israel as in the rest of the Mediterranean and Europe where grapes and wine symbolize life. Hence, the vine is always considered as a highly prized plant that biblical authors have taken as the image of the people whom God cultivates and from whom he expects beautiful fruits.

In the first reading, we find God lamenting why after investing his vineyard with the best of everything, the grapes it produced were so bad that it had to be burned. It was a very strong warning against Israel who have gone wayward in its ways of living that aside from worshipping idols, they also killed the prophets sent by God.

Notice the transition by Jesus using the same imagery from the Old Testament of the vineyard as the people of God but this time bearing fruits at harvest time. By that time, the chief priests and the elders of the people felt they were better than their ancestors who had the prophets killed. In fact, they felt proud that they have been faithful to God, and therefore, fruitful — thinking they were a far cry from Isaiah’s lament. Unknown to them, Jesus could read their hearts, how they were all planning to kill him like the son in the parable so they can have the vineyard, the people and lord it over them!

Everything fell into right places at the end of the parable when Jesus asked them:

“What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.”

Matthew 21:40-41

Try to imagine the scene with Jesus face-to-face with the chief priests and elders of the people – and with us – discussing the present time, not the past.

Here is Jesus Christ shaking us all to find whatever fruits we have, telling us that this parable is about me and you (see v. 45), asking us, why are you trying to remove me from the people? Why are you easing me out, creating all these cults around yourselves like celebrities, getting the people’s money and approval for your own sake?


Sometimes we need to be shaken – even shocked – to bring out our fruits


Photo by author at Silang, Cavite, 22 September 2020.

See again my dear Reader the beauty of the Lord’s parables wherein he invites us to be involved with it to see how we felt with certain situations like in the merciless debtor and early workers at the vineyard; today, Jesus is asking us our opinion on what the vineyard owner must do against the wicked tenants.

He knows what to do and wants us to realize that we could be those tenants too because like the chief priests and elders, we easily see the sins and shortcomings of others, the fruitlessness of others without realizing our own darkness within, even our sinister plans to dominate.

See how the chief priests and elders of the people called the tenants “wretched men” deserving “wretched death”, not realizing that the more we talk of other people, the more we actually talk of ourselves!

Every parable by Jesus is always set in the present moment with sights set to the future, to eternal life.

Sometimes, God has to shaken us, even shock us so we may bring out and give him his share of harvest of fruits like our faith, hope and love that will build the community in him, not take people away from him. Problem with us is like with those tenants and the chief priests and elders: “masyado tayong bumibilib sa ating sarili”, that is, we believe too much on ourselves that unconsciously we feel like God, forgetting we are mere stewards or tenants of his vineyard.

St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that we strive to imitate Jesus, be like Jesus so that people may find in us a model in following Jesus. Very clear with St. Paul: nobody is replacing Jesus Christ whom we must all imitate.

This time of the pandemic is a time of harvesting, of showing others our fruits like love and kindness so we may lead more people to God, not to ourselves or anyone else trying to lord over us.

This is the time we are asked to feel more than think more like those tenants, a time to lead people back to God who truly owns us, his vineyard (see https://lordmychef.com/2020/10/02/on-being-kind-and-loving-during-covid-19/).

When shaken by the Lord, will there be fruits found in us to share with others?

Have a blessed Sunday and brand-new week ahead! Amen.

Hiling at daing sa Mater Dolorosa

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Martes, Kapistahan ng Mater Dolorosa, 15 Setyembre 2020
1 Corinto 12:12-14, 27-31  || + ||  Juan 19:25-27
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, Abril 2020.
O Birheng Maria, aming Ina!
Ngayong aming ipinagdiriwang
iyong kapistahan bilang Mater Dolorosa
kinabukasan pagkaraan ng kapistahan 
ng Pagtatampok ng Banal na Krus ni Hesus,
nabubuo ang napakagandang larawan
ng malalim at matalik ninyong ugnayan, 
 kaisahan bilang mag-ina sa liwanag ng Banal na Krus;
tunay nga ikaw Birheng Maria ang una at dakilang alagad Niya
sinamahan Siya hanggang pagdurusa at kamatayan
kaya naman ikaw ay naging Ina nitong Santa Iglesya
nang kami ay naging katawan Niya.
Aming dalangin sa gitna nitong COVID-19
paratingin aming mga daing at hinaing
masintahing Ina sa Panginoon natin:
patatagin aming pananampalataya
paalabin aming pagmamahal at paglilingkod
iwaksi kami sa sakit at iba pang kapahamakan
upang balang araw sa pagbubukang liwayway
mapawi rin aming mga dalamhati
katulad mo'y magningning ang ngiti sa aming mga labi
mula kay Kristong muling nabuhay
sa pandemya kami'y pinagtagumpay.
Amen.
Larawan ng “Mater Dolorosa” ng pintor na si Carlo Dolci mula sa Wikimedia Commons.

Mary in the hiddenness of God

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 10 September 2020
Chapel of the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem where the Holy Family hid before fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s murder of innocent babies. According to tradition, a drop of milk from the Virgin Mary fell on the floor of the cave that turned color of the stones to white.

We have just celebrated the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most perfect example of one who had experienced God’s hiddenness in her life, teaching us with some important lessons in rediscovering and keeping God’s hiddenness specially in this age of social media when everything is shown and has to be seen.

We have mentioned in our previous blog that hiddenness is different from being invisible that simply means “not visible”; hiddenness is more than not being seen per se but that feeling with certainty that God is present though hiding because he wants to surprise us. If God were not hidden, we would have not found him at all. And the more God is hidden, the more we are able to see him and experience him too as seen in the life of Mary (https://lordmychef.com/2020/09/04/the-hiddenness-of-god/).

The hiddenness of Mary.

Simplicity and humility of Mary as venue for the perfect setting of God’s coming in Jesus Christ. Consider her origins: her town of Nazareth in the province of Galilee was definitely outside the more popular city of Jerusalem that was the place to be at that time. Most of all, it is the only town in the New Testament never mentioned in the Old Testament nor by the prophets for lack of any significance in the coming of the Messiah.

Nazareth was largely unknown with some hint of notoriety as expressed by Nathanael (aka, Apostle Bartholomew) when he expressed disbelief to Philip who told him they have found the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, by saying “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

Photo by author of chapel at the grotto believed where Mary received the good news of bearing Jesus Christ in her womb underneath the Basilica of the Annunciation at Nazareth, Israel (2019).

But that is how God works in his hiddenness, coming to us in the most ordinary places and circumstances, even least expected like Mary who was definitely not “in” if we go by today’s popular standard of “who’s in and who’s out?”

In fact, she was so “outside” the circle of influence of their time with her being promdi as we say these days, without any illustrious lineage to be proud of like her spouse Joseph who was from the royal Davidic line or her cousin Elizabeth from the priestly branch of Aaron, the brother of Moses whose husband, Zechariah belonged to another priestly clan in Israel.

Yet, God chose Mary to be the Mother of Jesus Christ because of her hiddenness expressed in her simplicity and humility. It is a far cry from our extreme “Marianism” when we almost worship Mary forgetting Jesus Christ her Son and our Savior! Worst still is the growing trend of “triumphalism” in many parishes racing for the so-called “episcopal” and “canonical” coronation of their various images of the Virgin Mary that come in all kinds of names and titles that has come to look more of a fad than authentic Marian devotion.

Without any intentions of denigrating the role and stature of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our faith as well as her proper place in the life of the Church defined by Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, I dare ask the following questions:

Photo by author, a replica of Our Lady of the Poor of Banneux, Belgium at Girlstown, Cavite (2009).

Is her coronation in heaven as Queen of heaven and earth not enough?

Why the need for these lavish spectacles for the coronation of the most simplest and humblest woman to have lived on earth?

It is a clear case of triumphalism – that exaggeration or overdoing our worship and rituals – especially if the Marian image is less than 200 years old without widespread devotions like the ones at Sto. Domingo (Quezon City) and Manaoag (Pangasinan).

I do not think the Blessed Mother would favor this considering her simplicity and solidarity with the poor and marginalized peoples seen in her many apparitions.

See the quaint and charming simplicity of Mary at Fatima in Portugal (1917) and lately at Banneux in Liege, Belgium (1933) where she identified herself as “Lady of the Poor”.

Note how the Virgin Mary reads “the signs of the times” in her apparitions and appearances when during the 1500’s at the height of European royalties and expeditions, she was always portrayed as victorious in regal clothes; but since Fatima in the 20th century as the world sank into the excesses of Industrial Revolution and affluence, Mary appeared simple, always in solidarity with the poor and suffering.

It is a cue we are sorely missing and sad to say, instead of renewing the world as St. Paul had asked us, we have allowed ourselves with the Mother of God to be transformed into the ways of the world by immersing in its showbiz frenzies, focusing on the material aspects like expensive clothes and jewelries.

Second example of Mary’s hiddenness is her oneness with Jesus Christ. She was never on her own, always seen in Jesus, with Jesus her Son and Lord. She believed in him so much, making him the focus at the wedding feast at Cana as well as at the foot of the Cross where she expressed in the most strongest terms her solidarity with the Savior of the world.

This has always been insisted by the Church since Vatican II regarding our devotions to Mary that must always be in relation with Jesus and his mission — never on her own.

Photo by author, 2019.

In all her apparitions, the Blessed Mother has always been consistent with her messages of conversion and return to God through her Son Jesus Christ, the frequent reception of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession or Reconciliation.

Mary’s Christocentricity is best seen in her oneness with him in pains and sufferings like in the Pieta and the Mater Dolorosa where Jesus is the one standing out, not her. Nor anybody else.

When Mary, or anybody else for that matter goes on one’s own, Jesus is no longer hidden but removed from the scene. Then his Cross disappears and all that is seen is Mary in all her “beauty and glory” that are empty, very secular because these attributes come precisely from her communion in Jesus!

Perhaps, this pandemic is teaching us today to review our Marian devotions and processions that have become more of a show and a spectacle for Instagram than for deepening of our faith.

I pray that the Cofradia that holds the annual December 8 processions at Intramuros would take a rest this year until 2022 to discern their noble efforts before that have degenerated to pomp and pageantry among “devotees” specially camareros and camareras trying to outshine and outclass each other with some participation at the sidelights of their pastors and sacristans.

Keeping the hiddenness of God while we remain hidden in contemplation.

Of all the qualities of Mary we all must imitate to help people rediscover God’s hiddenness is her being hidden in prayer and contemplation.

St. John Paul II noted in Rosarium Virginis Mariae when he launched the Luminous Mysteries in 2002 that although the scriptures are silent about where was Mary during the other significant moments of the life of Jesus, especially at the institution of the Holy Eucharist, it was most likely that Mary was also present deep in prayer.

This we find clearly at the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary while they were praying at the Upper Room in Jerusalem (Acts 1:13-14).

Modern rendition of the Pentecost with Mary among the other disciples of Jesus. From Google.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI shares with us his profound insight in his second Jesus of Nazareth book series (Birth of Jesus) how after the annunciation of the the birth of Christ to Mary, the angel left her totally without ever coming back to warn or instruct her unlike with Joseph. After saying “Yes” to the plan of God to be the Mother of Jesus, Mary immersed herself deep in prayers and contemplation, becoming hidden herself in God.

Since then, she never doubted Jesus her Son as the Christ, nurturing her faith with prayers beautifully expressed by St. Luke in saying how “Mary treasured things in her heart” when facing difficult situations like during his birth and his finding at the temple. It is not surprising that in the contemplation by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Risen Lord must have first appeared to his Mother upon rising from the dead because she was the first to believe totally in him (which became the basis of our tradition of the Salubong).

Mary has always been present in the hiddenness of Christ from his coming in the darkness of the night on a manger in Bethlehem, to his hidden years in Nazareth, to his ministry when he would always retreat to a deserted place to pray, to his Crucifixion and death and burial on Good Friday and finally, in the darkness of Easter.

In this age of social media where everyone and everything has to be seen and shown with nothing hidden anymore even without qualms and shame at all, part of our mission and ministry as priests and religious is to lead people back to God’s hiddenness like the Virgin Mary so they may realize anew that the best things in this life are not always seen.

To fulfill this is for us first of all to imitate God like Mary — be hidden!

How unfortunate that instead of leading the people back to God’s hiddenness, we priests and religious have in fact joined the secular world, imitating the “influencers” like bloggers and vloggers that instead of focusing on God who is hidden, we are concerned with our selves and all the “porma” for the sake of number of “likes” and “followers” we have in our posts.

The more we try so hard to make God visible in our ministry by imitating the styles and gimicks of some media personalities that make our liturgy look like a variety show complete with song and dance numbers with our altars heavily decorated like a studio set with giant tarpaulins like in EDSA, that is when we remove God totally – not only his hiddenness – from the scene and inverse proportionately, the more we priests and pastors become more popular than the Lord himself.

“The Assumption of the Virgin” by Italian Renaissance painter Titian completed in 1518 for the main altar of Frari church in Venice. Photo from wikidata.org.

And that is how cults begin, with or without Jesus. It is very sad, even tragic and ironic because we have removed God himself – even Mary! – by unconsciously making ourselves the center of attention like pop icons and idols.

Mary had shown us the most perfect example of discipleship which is more of Jesus, less of self.

Can we not post without using our own pictures – no matter how profound our thoughts are – so the people may see the hiddenness of God in a photo of a lovely flower or a magnificent sunset? Unless you are a bishop or the Pope himself, having your photo published specially in the news is part of the information process about the person in focus. It is totally different in Church communications which is all about God and his message of love, not us.

The quarantine period invites us in the Church to appreciate and share this wonderful hiddenness of God by first becoming incognito, unknown and hidden from others, preferring to be at the background or “behind the camera” as we follow God in his hiddenness until we go to that great beyond of totally hidden from everybody except God.

Do not worry. We have Mary in every step along the way. Amen.

Presence and Love of Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXIII, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 06 September 2020
Ezekiel 33:7-9 /// Romans 13:8-10 /// Matthew 18:15-20
Photo by Mr. Gelo N. Carpio, January 2020.

For the next three Sundays beginning today, our liturgy directs our gaze to the nature of the Church as the mystical Body of Jesus Christ. For today we hear from Matthew how we as a church or a community of believers are signs of the presence and love of Jesus Christ.

Recall how two weeks ago at Caesarea Philippi Jesus called Simon as “Peter” (“Rock”) to head his “church”, giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven that whatever he binds on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever he looses on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Mt.16:17-19).

Matthew is the only evangelist so particular in using the term “church” that he devoted chapter 18 of his gospel on its nature, collecting and giving some of the Lord’s teachings about community life to his own group of disciples or early church.

And off he went to start with the most important part of community life:

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you… If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector… Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Matthew 18:15-16, 17, 19-20
Photo by author, dome of the Malolos Cathedral, 2019.

Presence of Jesus in the love and unity of community

In a very short teaching taking a step by step method, Jesus tells us today how our mutual love shall always take precedence above all in our community life as his disciples and sign of presence.

Though we do not find in our gospel this Sunday the word “love”, it is clearly the Lord’s lesson for today: it is mutual love for one another that must guide everyone specially in the delicate matter of fraternal correction when one is going wayward in his/her path of life.

This explains why Jesus spelled out step by step how we correct others primarily because we love, not because we are better than them or that we have such authority or task and duty. Paul beautifully says it in our second reading:

Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8, 10

But of course, we need to clarify that all these lessons of love from the Lord and Paul are based on the love of Jesus Christ who clearly mandated us during his last supper how we must love:

I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

What makes this loving one another a “new commandment” is loving like Jesus Christ, unlike the pagans in ancient times that are still imitated to this day even by many among us who are also Christians. So often we find specially in media how love is portrayed as mere feelings like physical attraction that always leads up to sex, devoid of any sanctity and inner beauty at all.

St. Augustine called it “disordered love” when we become self-centered and selfish, directing our love solely to attaining what pleases us that we use persons and love things like money.

Love is not just a feeling but a decision, a choice we make and affirm every day specially when times are very rough and tough for us like when we are not loved in return.

Most of all, love is when we find somebody else we can love more than ourselves (Thomas Merton). This is the kind of love that Jesus and Paul as well as all the other saints speak of: the self-sacrificing love Christ showed us when he offered himself on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Monastery of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem where the Holy Family hid before fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s order to massacre the Holy Innocents, May 2019.

Love of Jesus builds, not destroys

Applying the law of love to our community is the most severe test of our being disciples of Jesus when we are challenged to be sincere in our love by hating what is evil and holding on to what is good like blessing those who persecute us, foregoing vengeance against those who have wronged us along with other expressions of mutual love in our community that Paul tells us in Romans 12:9-21.

In teaching us mutual love for one another in a step by step manner, it may seem to be a duty that one must follow in the church. It may even sound as contradictory that Jesus seems to be commanding us to strictly follow his law of command because no law can ever impose love.

However, when we try to reflect the ending of his teachings today – “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” – we find Jesus not ordering us to love but asking us our love because he loves us. He comes to us, grants our prayers because he loves us; therefore, when we love, when we gather as his disciples, we become his presence. And that is when our prayers are most effective because Jesus is in our midst!

Jesus and his love always build people and community; without him and his love, all we have is destruction and divisions. Hence, love is the only debt we owe to anyone. Love as a debt and “duty” is never paid back because the more we love, the more we have love, the more we are indebted to Jesus. It is the only debt that is never burdensome; in fact, the opposite happens when we refuse to love – we are burdened, life becomes heavy and so difficult.

This is what Ezekiel is telling us in the first reading: we are a “watchman”, a brother’s keeper of everyone. St. Pope Gregory the Great wrote a beautiful homily on being a watchman:

Note that a man whom the Lord sends forth as a preacher is called a watchman. A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming. Anyone appointed to be a watchman for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight.

Office of Readings, Memorial of St. Pope Gregory the Great, 03 September
Photo by author, sunset inside our parish, 25 August 2020.

In the Church, those designated as watchman of the flock of Jesus is the Bishop or episkopos in Greek that means watcher or overseer. It is the bishop’s duty to always be above others in the loving service of the Church that sometimes out of love for Christ, he has to discipline those going astray as instructed in our gospel today, “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector”, that is, excommunication or suspensions and other measures not meant to punish but to convert and correct the sinner.

Next Sunday, Matthew deepens our lesson on mutual love when he presents us the teachings of Jesus on how often we must forgive our brother or sister who repeatedly sins against us.

See my dear reader, how after presenting to us who is Jesus Christ last month, in how much he loves us and seeks us, these following Sundays we are challenged by the Lord to be like him – loving and merciful – to truly keep our relationship with him.

It is the first Sunday of September, the -ber months that tell us Christmas is around the corner. But, it seems we are still in a long haul in this pandemic. Having a vaccine will not totally eradicate COVID-19 nor guarantee us this won’t happen again in the future because the disease that is truly plaguing us until now is our refusal to love and live as brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us give it a try. Slowly. Jesus is not rushing us. All he is asking us is be open to his words expressed earlier in our responsorial psalm: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Have a heart and have a blessed, lovely week, everyone!

The hiddenness of God

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 04 September 2020
Photo by author, sunset at the Lake of Galilee (Tiberias) in Israel, May 2017.

August has always been a “ghost month” for me since elementary school. Long before I have heard these stories and words of caution against many things in the month of August, I have always dreaded this month when days are grindingly slow.

Specially this year 2020 when the whole month of August felt like the season of Lent when everything was dry and empty, even literally speaking in our churches when the five Sundays of August were like five Good Fridays.

But, for the first time in many years during this pandemic, amid the dryness and emptiness of August 2020, I felt and “found” God anew in his most unique and wonderful characteristic — his hiddenness.

Hiddenness is different from being invisible that simply means “not visible”.

Hiddenness is something both simple and complicated but beautiful and wonderful when we find God in his hiddenness.

Hiddenness of God means more than not being seen per se; it is that feeling with certainty that he is present but, just hiding somewhere. In fact, if God were not hidden, we would have not found him at all!

And the more God is hidden, the more we are able to see him and experience him!

Photo by author, April 2020.

Remember when we were kids and could not find the things that our mother had asked us to get from somewhere in the sala or kitchen or her tocador? She would threaten us with the classic line my generation have all heard and memorized, “Pag hindi mo nakita yan, makikita mo sa akin!”

It is one of our funniest memories of childhood! I am sorry for my English-speaking readers but there is no appropriate translation for this because it is very cultural and even spiritual in nature. Literally translated, it says that if you do not find what you are looking for, you would find it with me. Crazy and insane, is it not?!

I told you, hiddenness of God is both simple and complex but whenever we remember those “sweet, maternal threats”, we laugh and shrug off the experience as we were dead serious then searching for whatever thing mom had asked us because deep in us we knew too well, it must be somewhere there. Sabi kasi ni Inay! (Mom said so!)

That is how it is with God too! We know for sure he is around, he is present. But in hiding because that is how loving God is, like moms and some lovers with surprises for us his beloved.

The Prophet Jeremiah experienced it so well when he wrote:

You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter, everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding itin, I cannot endure it.

Jeremiah 20:7-9

No one can understand this without having experienced such intense kind of love of God or of another person that even if we are pained, we just cannot walk away or leave. More so with God, the most intense lover of all!

At the very center of Jeremiah’s torment is the invincible power of attraction of God. This is also the reason human love – whether for another a friend or a spouse, for the Church or any institution – must always be based on the love of Christ who told us to “love one another as I have loved you.” If our love remains in the human level, it can never go deeper or higher making it so sublime, so true, so pure.

That is how God is in his hiddenness who is like a lover who never stops looking for us, calling us, luring us, even seducing us to come to him, search him and once found, we may dwell in his great love; hence, even if we do not “see” him, we keep on following him as we also find him in his hiddenness!

Hiddenness of God, mystery and gift of Easter

This hiddenness of God is both the gift and mystery of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection. It is a gift because in his hiddenness, God has become closest to us more than ever while at the same time, a mystery because it is in his very hiddenness that we truly find and discover God.

Remember the two disciples going home to Emmaus on Easter afternoon who was accompanied by Jesus while traveling? They did not recognize him but as they talked, their “hearts were burning” as he explained the Scriptures. Then joining them at their meal at sundown upon reaching Emmaus, Jesus took the bread, blessed it and broke it — and the disciples’ eyes were opened, recognizing him as the Lord who immediately disappeared! The two then rushed back to Jerusalem to announce to the other disciples that Jesus had indeed risen.

That is the beauty of hiddenness, its giftedness and mystery that we find God even our beloved who had died or not physically present with us but deep within, we are certain of their presence as being so true and so real.

Hiddenness is a deeper level of relationship coming from one’s heart and soul not dependent on physical presence. This is the reason why upon appearing to Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, Jesus asked her not to touch him because from then on, knowing and relating with the Lord need not be physical and corporeal as he used to relate with them before his Death and Resurrection.

All these we must have experienced like when after a friend or a relative had died, that is when we felt growing closer with the person than when he/she was still alive and physically present with us. Or, when we were feeling low and down, we experienced sometimes so amazed at how we have felt the presence even the scent of our deceased loved ones comforting us, assuring us that all would be better.

This quarantine period invites us to experience and discover God anew in his hiddenness through prayers and silence so we can reflect on the many lessons this pandemic is teaching us today. In the darkness and emptiness of this pandemic are grace-filled moments with God hidden in our poverty and sadness, sickness and even deaths around us.

Photo by author, Christmas 2018.

Some people have already asked me about what or how would our Simbang Gabi and Christmas celebrations be. They are sad and worried that it must be a very bleak Christmas for everyone with so many out of work.

But, despite this gloom, I tell them that Christmas 2020 would be one – if not the most meaningful Christmas we shall ever have despite forecasts that there would be less of everything, materially speaking.

So often in life, when we have so much material things, that is when we fail to find and experience God.

Recall that in Bethlehem more that 2000 years ago when Jesus Christ was born, God came to us hidden in a stable, on a manger in the darkness of the night.

And do not forget, too, that Christmas is not a date but an event, the very person of Jesus Christ, the all-powerful God who came to us hidden in a child, who upon becoming an adult, was crucified and died. These are sad and down moments for us but for God, it is his hiddenness, his presence. Let us go and find him again for he continues to come to us in hiddenness. Amen.