Holiest week in most unholy time

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, 28 March 2021
Isaiah 50:4-7  +  Philippians 2:6-11  +  Mark 14:1-15:47
Photo by Mr. John Karol Limjuco, Parish of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 26 March 2021.

For the second straight year, we are again celebrating our holiest week in the most unholy time of our lives in this COVID-19 pandemic. The timing could not escape everybody’s suspicion of something so sinister, if not diabolic, that religious gatherings are again limited.

But on a closer look and deeper reflection, we find what is happening right now is something similar with what Jesus went through that made these days so holy.

Notice that the official designation of our celebration today is “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion” when Vatican II fused the two earliest preparations by the Church for Easter: the palm procession by Christians at Jerusalem in the fourth century and the proclamation of the long gospel of the Passion of the Lord in Rome by the Pope in the fifth century.

Both ancient celebrations set our sights to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus beginning this Sunday stretching it through this whole week to remind us of the triumph and tragedy, of darkness and light, of death and life. These contrasts shall be most pronounced when we enter the Triduum of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection on Holy Thursday evening, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil.

Then everything becomes light and pure joy in Easter!

And the key to understanding, appreciating, and deeply imbibing the meaning of all these confluences of mixed emotions and feelings, colors and hues like our situation while under this time of the corona is to have the same attitude of Jesus Christ expressed so beautifully by St. Paul in our second reading:

Have among yourselves the same attitude (mind) that is also yours in Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The mind and heart of Jesus Christ

Having the mind and heart of Jesus Christ is opening ourselves to the Father by trying to see everything in his light as we go through life especially during this pandemic. It is what Jesus has always reminded us of “reading the signs of the times”.

God is telling us something in this pandemic but we are not listening to him as we continue to see it as a medical and social issue, refusing to recognize its spiritual and moral implications. In a lot of senses, this pandemic and quarantine we are undergoing is similar with situation when Jesus entered Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago when Israel under Roman rule and life was so difficult but nobody recognized him as the Christ and Savior!

In his entire life here on earth, Jesus always saw everything in the light of his Father in heaven. He never got involved into politics and other temporal concerns or subject but throughout the course of history since then until now, his teachings remain relevant in addressing our social issues and problems.

Seeing things and events in our lives and history in the light of God demands that we have the same attitude of Jesus of opening ourselves to be empty of our pride, of our plans and agenda, of our self-interests as well as of our illusions and insecurities in life.

We will never see God nor find him when we are filled with our selves, especially with our bloated egos when we think we know everything, when we presume we are always right, when we play gods.

Like the people who welcomed Jesus entered Jerusalem holding palms, singing “Hosanna in the highest!”, soon we would also be shouting “Crucify him!” unless we get emptied of ourselves and be filled with God.

St. Paul could eloquently present the mind and heart of Jesus in this beautiful hymn because he himself went through a process of kenosis, of self emptying. He had experienced in himself how when Jesus emptied himself and went down to his lowest point obediently accepting death on the cross, that is also when he was at his closest union with the Father who raised him to his highest glory at Easter.

That is why St. Paul called it the “scandal of the cross” for when we empty ourselves and offered everything to God out of love for him and for others that we are willing to go down to our lowest point in life, that is when God raises us up to “meet” him, to be one in him that miracles begin to happen, when things change for the best not only for us but also for others and those around us.

Hence, while we are in the most unholy period of our history, the Lord is giving us every chance to have the holiest Holy Week of our lives by examining our very selves in this time of quarantine to cleanse and empty ourselves of sins and evil to be filled with God of his holiness and grace through Christ’s cross.

Photo by author, St. Joseph Parish, Baras, Rizal, 15 January 2021.

The logic of the Cross

As we go to another Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) or lockdown like last year, I am convinced that while we are sad at how things are going on, it is actually God who is most “sad” of all as we go through all these pains and difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

God cannot suffer because he is perfect; but, he can suffer with us that is why he sent his Son Jesus to become human like us to join us in all our sufferings including death and thus, “console” us in Christ.

“To console” is from the Latin terms “con” (with) + “solatio” (solace/comfort) that means not only to comfort or delight those in suffering but to also “strengthen” or make strong those weakened by trials and difficulties which is the literal meaning of cum fortis, with strength.

And here lies the “logic” of Christ’s Cross: Jesus died by the hatred of others so that we may live again by his love. Only God can give us the evidences of his love to render us capable through Jesus Christ to forge on amid our pains and sufferings, hoping against all hope that love is always stronger than suffering, death, and sin.

When we persevere in our sufferings, especially in silence for the sake of others out of love, imitating the self-emptying of Jesus, that is when God showers us with more of his love and mercy, strength and vigor to overcome everything in Christ.

This he had promised and fulfilled in Christ who is the “Suffering Servant” we heard in the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah:

The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Isaiah 50:4-7

See how everything Isaiah had written was fulfilled in Jesus as we heard in the gospel today when at the praetorium “They clothed him in purple and, weaving a crown of thorns, placed it on him. They began to salute him with, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and kept striking his head with a reed and spitting upon him. They knelt before him in homage” (Mk.15:17-19). It went on up to the calvary when “They gave him wine drugged with myrrh, but he did not take it. Then they crucified him…” (Mk.15:23-24).

In my reflections this Lent, I have been dwelling lately on tenderness and compassion as mercy of God in action, as mercy of his hands. To be tender and compassionate is to be one with the suffering even if you are suffering too – just like our medical frontliners who risk not only their very lives but even their families.

Last Friday I was asked to give a talk via webinar about development of compassionate teachers and staff at Our Lady of Fatima University where I serve as chaplain. A doctor asked if there is such a thing as “over compassion” wherein she can already feel chest pains in seeing and hearing all the sufferings of their patients in this time of the pandemic.

I was so touched by her question because I felt it too; I told her she is not alone feeling that way when I also feel overwhelmed with the sufferings of the people but cannot do so much. I told her it is a grace to feel that way, that she had to find ways how her mercy in the heart can flow to mercy of the hands while ensuring safety protocols as a doctor.

But that is where the grace of God works fullest, when we believe and trust more in Jesus Christ when the chips are already down, when we feel defeat is inevitable that we just surrender everything to Divine grace and intervention.

“Ecce Homo” by Murillo from wikipediacommons.org.

That is the meaning of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion when we see life in its total weakness and even wreak, whether in our selves or among others, and yet we continue to persevere, to hope against hope because deep in us we know God is with us, God is working in us, and God will save us.

French poet Charles Péguy wrote in one of his great poems at the turn of the century that hope is God’s favorite virtue because “hope surprises him”.

Péguy described hope like the end of a play or a movie in our time; we know the show had ended but we stay on refusing to leave the theater because we believe that something is still coming up like a preview or a surprise scene!

See how St. Mark tells us at the end of his Passion Story when everything was so dark after Jesus had died when “he breathed his last” that the centurion standing there believed that “Truly this man is the Son of God!” (Mk.15:39)

Sometimes in life, God becomes clearest and most truest when we have lost everything, including what is most precious and dearest to us.

Have a heart with a lot of faith, hope and love that this may be the holiest Holy Week in our lives because it is the most unholy period in our history like when Jesus entered Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago. Amen.

Keep safe, be blessed, and be a blessing to others!

Panalangin sa mga ginigipit

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Paggunita sa Pagpapakasakit ni San Juan Bautista, Ika-29 ng Agosto 2020
Ama naming mahabagin,
ngayong ginugunita namin 
pagpapakasakit ni San Juan Bautista, 
Inyo sanang dinggin aming panalangin
para sa maraming kapatid namin na ginigipit, iniipit;
ang iba sa kanila ay nakapiit
marami ang lugmok sa pait at sakit na sinapit
mula sa mga makabagong Herodes at Herodias
na prinsipyo at pagkatao, ipinagpalit sa ginto.
Inyong patatagin paninindigan sa katotohanan 
katulad ni San Juan Bautista
upang ipagpatuloy pakikipaglaban 
nasaid man ang kabuhayan
at tanging pinanghahawakan 
dangal ng katauhan.
Ikaw lamang Panginoon
ang nakaaalam ng higit na mainam
kami ay Iyong turuan at tulungan
katulad ni San Juan loob mo ay masundan
kami ma'y maging palatandaan
ng Iyong kapanatilihan sa gitna ng mga 
pag-uusig at kahirapan.
Amen.

*Mga larawan sa itaas: una ang painting ni Caravaggio ng pagpupugot sa ulo ni Juan Bautista mula sa wikimedia.org; biktima ng tokhang mula sa Philippine Daily Inquirer; umiiyak na empleyado ng ABS-CBN mula sa Reuters.org; at mga locally stranded individuals sa ilalim ng flyover malapit sa NAIA kuha ni G. Raffy Tima ng GMA-7 News.

Hindi normal ang new normal

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-30 ng Hulyo, 2020
Hindi normal sa gitna nitong pandemya
mayroong mga nagpapasasa sa kayamanan
at luho sa katawan habang karamihan 
naghihikahos at pilit idinaraos bawat araw 
maski mamalimos dahil kabuhayan nila ay naubos.
Hindi normal sa gitna nitong pandemya
nakukuha ng iba na matuwa at magsaya
kapag mga kumpanya ay naipasara o nagsara
gayong ito ang panahon kay hirap kumita
di nila alintana pighati at dalamhati ng masawi.
Hindi normal sa gitna nitong pandemya
sariling kapakanan inaatupag ng mga congressman
lahat ng panggugulang at kabalastugan
naiisipan habang buong bayan nahihirapan
ni walang masakyan sa pupuntahan at uuwian.
Hindi normal sa gitna nitong pandemya
na daanin sa biro at masasakit na salita
patutsada laban sa kapwa maging maralita 
na bantad sa banta ng gutom at kamatayan
simula umaga hanggang makatulugan na lang..
Hindi normal sa gitna nitong pandemya
kawalan ng katarungan kung saan
ang mga makapangyarihan di kakitaan ng 
kabutihan at pagka-uliran sa pagsunod sa mga
patakaran habang mga nasasakupan pinarurusahan.
Hindi normal kahit walang pandemya
ano pa mang katuwiran sabihin ninuman
ito ang panahon ng new normal dahil hindi
kailanman nababago ang normal
na siyang pamantayan ng kalakaran.
Kaya inyo nang tigilan
pagturing sa umiiral na takbo ng buhay
sa gitna ng pandemya bilang "new normal"
dahil ang karamihan kailanman 
ay hindi pa man naranasan tinuturing nating
normal na pamumuhay; 
sa tuwing ating ginigiit itong "new normal" 
lalo nang nababaon, nagigipit at naiipit mga maliliit.
Baguhin mga pananaw at kaisipan
ng umiiral na sitwasyon upang mapabuti
kalagayan ng mga kinalimutan ng lipunan
ngayon natagpuan kanilang dangal at kahalagahan.
Huwag nating hintaying dumating ang panahon
masahol pa sa sinapit natin ngayon 
na kung kailan sadyang kakalusin ang salop 
na ating napuno ng kalabisan
ng kawalan natin ng pakialam sa mga maling umiiral
sa ating lipunan at pamahalaan, simbahan at pamayanan
lalot higit sa ating tahanan at puso't kalooban.

*Mga larawan sa itaas ay mula kay G. Raffy Tima ng GMA-7 News maliban sa una at huling larawan na mula sa GMA News.

Holding on to God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 16 July 2020
Isaiah 26:7-9, 11, 16-19 >><)))*> + <*(((><< Matthew 11:28-30
Photo by author, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel of the Holy Family, Guiguinto, Bulacan, 08 December 2019.

Your words today, O God our Father, are very comforting and consoling, so reassuring of your love and mercy for us sinners, giving us new life in you as we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Like the Israelites living in exile because of their own making when they turned away from you in sins worshiping false gods, we also admit our sinfulness and failures in standing up for what is true and just, in being faithful to you.

Help us to rise again, heavenly Father, breathe into us your life-giving Spirit specially at this time we feel so down and crushed not only by COVID-19 pandemic but by public officials concerned only with their well-being and whims forgetting the people they are supposed to serve.

We conceived and writhed in pain, giving birth to wind. Salvation we have not achieved for the earth, the inhabitants of the world cannot bring it forth. But your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise; awake and sing, you who lie in the dust. For your dew is a dew of light, and the land of shades gives birth.

Isaiah 26:18-19

If there is anything we would want to have these days, it is rest, O Lord.

A lightening of our load and burdens.

But why another yoke, Jesus?

Forgive us Jesus when we feel negative with yoke because they always portray to us images of slavery and oppression. Open our eyes, Lord, as we come closer to you to take your yoke because you not only help us carry our burdens but most of all, your yoke gives us direction in our path back to the Father.

May your Blessed Mother of Mount Carmel help us to hold on to God in this hour of darkness in our lives as individuals and as a nation. Amen.

Photo by author, Our Lady of Mount Carmel of the Holy Family, Guiguinto, Bulacan, November 2019.

“Someone Like You” by Van Morrison (1987)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 05 July 2020

At that time Jesus exclaimed: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

If there is anything we all wish this first Sunday of July 2020, it must be rest from all the worries and burdens in this time of the corona. We all want something that would be lighter in this second half of the heaviest year we have ever had in decades or even a generation.

Being light does not mean being worry-free, no problems nor sufferings. Dr. M. Scott Peck insists in his book Road Less Travelled that “life is difficult” – the sooner we realize and accept this, the better for us (see our homily, https://lordmychef.com/2020/07/04/we-are-disciples-of-a-meek-and-humble-lord/).

Being light is having a companion to share with our burdens and woes in life because having these all by ourselves is so difficult and impossible. Most of the time, our problems need not be solved at all but simply be accepted and shared with someone who loves us, cares for us, and believes in us.

Jesus Christ is that only companion par excellence we can have for he is meek and humble of heart.

Van Morrison’s lovely ballad Someone Like You released in 1987 captures this essential desire among us all to seek and forge many relationships.

I've been searching a long time
Someone exactly like you
I've been traveling all around the world
Waiting for you to come through

Someone like you makes it all worth while
Someone like you keeps me satisfied
Someone exactly like you

Though the song has become a staple in many weddings and in many romantic movies covered by various artists, Someone Like You sounds more like a spiritual song longing for God through our loved ones for he is always faithful and loving to us despite our many weaknesses and sins.

I've been doin' some soul searching
To find out where you're at
I've been up and down the highway
In all kinds of foreign lands

Someone like you makes it all worth while
Someone like you keeps me satisfied
Someone…

May Van Morrison’s song bring you closer to God through your loved ones as we continue to hurdle the many obstacles and trials ahead in this time of COVID-19.

Have a blessed Sunday and brand new week ahead!

Video uploaded at YouTube by Megan Smith.

Glorifying God in our love

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Memorial of St. Philip Neri, 26 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 20:17-27 <*(((>< >+< ><)))*> John 17:1-11

Dome of the Malolos Cathedral. Photo by author, December 2019.

The beautiful readings of this week after the Ascension of the Lord complement the crucial week ahead for us all in this time of the corona virus.

Your words, O Lord, continue to amaze us with its many meanings to guide and soothe and assure us of your loving presence.

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him.”

John 17:1-2

After praying for us your disciples, now you tell us of your “hour” when you shall fulfill your mission which is to suffer and die on the Cross for our salvation. It is your hour of glory, Lord Jesus, because it is the outpouring of your and the Father’s immeasurable love for us all.

Yesterday you have taught us that before everything else in our lives, there has always been your love.

Today, you assure us especially in this time of the corona virus that before all these sufferings and pains we endure, you were there first to suffer and die for us still because of your love for us.

Teach us to be like St. Paul to be firm and persevering in our mission to love against all odds, to never “shrink” in our love and patience to our detractors and those who mean to discredit us.

Like St. Paul, may we never “shrink before all those who malign your holy name, those who find material things more essential than you our Lord and our God.

Let us never shrink in our love and understanding, patience and wisdom.

Likewise, fill our hearts with your joy and humor like St. Philip Neri who attracted many followers and believers to you with his infectious cheerfulness.

Despite our many limitations and sinfulness, may your Holy Spirit, dear Lord Jesus Christ help us to continue loving you among one another especially to those with special needs in this time of crisis.

And Lord, despite the continued abuse of those in power and authority in pushing and shoving us, shouting and cursing us for everyone to hear and see on national TV, let us never shrink in choosing to be peaceful and understanding. Amen.

St. Philip Neri, pray for us.

Lamenting in time of quarantine

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 03 May 2020
Photo by author, Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Bagbaguin, Santa Maria, Bulacan. April 2020.

Against the advice of good friends, I went out to distribute Holy Communion in the streets to some parishioners who have participated in our Sunday Mass early this morning at Facebook Live.

I know the risks involved despite our best efforts in having all the precautionary measures but, what convinced me to go on with it is a beautiful Psalm so appropriate during this quarantine period.

As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God.

My being thirsts for God, the living God. When can I go and see the face of God?

Psalm 42:2-3
Photo from Reddit.

Sometime in March, I had some blues when I came across a reflection in one of the blogs I follow that soothed me like a gentle caress from God himself that I began praying Psalm 42 again (https://prodigalthought.net/2020/03/02/lament-in-silence/#comments).

And when our quarantine period was extended for the second time before the end of Holy Week last month, I began praying again Psalm 42 every night for that is when I truly long for God so much, most of the time lamenting to him our situation, my condition of being alone in my rectory.

This is the first time I felt like this, so different from those so-called “desolation” or “dryness” because I could feel God present in my prayers but… he is not “fresh”.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Like the deer longing for streams of water, my soul longs for God too.

Not just like the water we buy from a filling station but exactly what the deer yearns for — fresh water that is refreshingly cool not only on your face but deep into your body when sipped amid the burbling sounds of the spring, babbling through rocks and branches of trees with the loamy aroma of earth adding a dash of freshness in you.

Admittedly, sometimes I wonder if I still know how to pray or if I still pray at all!

I can feel God present but he is like someone stacked there in my mind, in my memory, in my ideas shaped by my years of learning and praying.

What I am longing for is a God so alive, so true not only in me but also in another person.

And that is when I realized, most likely, my parishioners must be longing for God too in the same way — the God we all come to meet and celebrate with every Sunday in our little parish, among the people present who are so alive, so vibrant, so true, so touching.

Our empty church since March due to COVID-19.

Psalm 42 is believed to have been sang by David when he was prevented from coming to the tent of God either during the reign of King Saul who plotted to kill him or during the revolt of his own son Absalom when he was already the king of Israel.

Like David or the psalmist, I miss celebrating Mass with my parishioners.

And maybe it is safe to assume that two or three of my parishioners are also feeling the same way with me and David, saying these to the Lord:

My tears have been my food day and night, as they ask daily, “Where is your God?”

Those times I recall as I pour out my soul,

When I went in procession with the crowd, I went with them to the house of God,

Amid loud cries of thanksgiving, with the multitude keeping festival.

Psalm 42:4-5

If there is one very essential thing this pandemic has brought back to us in our very busy lives, it is most certainly God. And if ever this is one thing people need most in this time of corona virus, it is spiritual guidance and nourishment from God through his priests.

Of course, people can pray and talk to God straight as the Pope had reminded us before Holy Week.

But, human as we are, we always experience God and his love, his kindness, his mercy, his presence among other people who guide us and join us in our spiritual journey. They are special people like friends or relatives or pastors with whom they can be themselves, let off some steam, get some rays of light of hope and encouragement.

And that this is why I try to keep in touch with my parishioners in various ways in this time of corona: even I myself can feel so low and dark despite my prayers and very condition of living right here in the house of God who can still feel alone and desolate, even depressed.

If I – a priest – go through all these uncertainties and doubts this in this time of quarantine, how much more are the people, the beloved sheep of Jesus the Good Shepherd?

Why are you downcast, my soul; why do you groan within me?

Wait for God, whom I shall praise again, my savior and my God.

Psalm 42:6
Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, 10 April 2020.

After our Mass this morning when we set out to distribute the Holy Communion, there was a little drizzle. It did not last long that I just wore a hat and left my umbrella in the rectory.

There were about 30 people who waited for us to receive Holy Communion, most of them along the main highway that stretched to about 2 kilometers. Some families gathered with a little altar at their front gate while a waited a couple waited in a gas station along our route.

In less than 20 minutes, we have completed our mission and as we headed back to the parish, the rains fell again, this time stronger than before.

My driver commented, “The weather cooperated with us, Father”1

I just nodded my head to him inside his tricycle but deep inside me, I felt joy because God answered my prayer, my lamentations for he was crying too, – for me and his people.

May this lamentation be an answer to your lamentations during this pandemic of COVID-19.

Continue with your lamentations to God our Father for this very act of crying out to him is the working of the Holy Spirit he had sent us through our Lord Christ Jesus. Amen.

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, 26 April 2020.

When darkness becomes light

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe, Holy Wednesday, 08 April 2020

Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

Tonight is “Spy Wednesday” – the night traitors and betrayers are put on the spotlight because it was on this night after Palm Sunday when Judas Iscariot struck a deal with the chief priests to hand them over Jesus for 30 pieces of silver (Mt. 26:14-16).

The “Tenebrae” is celebrated in some churches when candles are gradually extinguished with the beating of drums and sounding of matraca to evoke silence and some fear among people as they leave in total darkness to signal the temporary victory of evil in the world for tomorrow we enter the Paschal Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil of the Lord.

From Google.

Darkness generally evokes evil and sin, uncertainties and sufferings. But, at the same time, darkness preludes light!

That is why Jesus Christ was born during the darkest night of the year to bring us light of salvation.

Beginning tonight, especially tomorrow at his agony in the garden, we shall see Christ entering through darkness reaching its climax on Friday when he dies on the cross with the whole earth covered in darkness, rising on Easter in all his glory and majesty.

Our present situation in an extended Luzon-wide lockdown offers us this unique experience of darkness within and without where we can learn some important lessons from the Lord’s dark hours beginning tomorrow evening of his Last Supper.

St. John gives us a glimpse into how we must deal with life’s darkness that plagues us almost daily with his unique story of the Lord’s washing of his disciples’ feet on the night he was betrayed.

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over. So, during supper… he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter…

John 13:1-2, 4-6
Photo from aleteia.org.

It is very interesting to reflect how Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter dealt with their own inner darkness on that night of Holy Thursday when Jesus was arrested.

Though Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter are poles apart in their personalities, they both give us some traits that are so characteristic also of our very selves when we are in darkness. In the end, we shall see how Jesus turned the darkness of Holy Thursday into becoming the very light of Easter.

Getting lost in darkness like Judas Iscariot

Right after explaining the meaning of his washing of their feet and exhorting them to do the same to one another, Jesus begins to speak of Judas Iscariot as his betrayer.

When he had said this, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me …It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I had dipped it.” So he dipped the morsel and handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. After he took the morsel, Satan entered him… and left at once. And it was night.

John 13:21, 26-27, 30
Photo from desiringgod.org

The scene is very dramatic.

Imagine the darkness outside the streets of Jerusalem in the stillness of the night and the darkness inside the Upper Room where they were staying.

More darker than that was the darkness among the Apostles not understanding what Jesus was saying about his betrayer because they thought when Judas left, he was being told to buy more wine or give money to the poor!

Most of all, imagine the darkness within Judas.

To betray means to hand over to suffering someone dear to you.

That’s one darkness we always have within, of betraying Jesus, betraying our loved ones because we have found somebody else to love more than them. Satan had taken over Judas. The same thing happens to us when we sin, when we love someone more than those who truly love us or those we have vowed to love always.

And the darkest darkness of all is after handing over our loved ones, after dumping them for something or somebody else, we realize deep within the beautiful light of truth and love imprinted in our hearts by our betrayed loved ones – then doubt it too!

The flickering light of truth and love within is short lived that we immediately extinguish it, plunging us into total darkness of destruction like Judas when he hanged himself.

See how Judas went back to the chief priests because “he had sinned”, giving them back the 30 pieces of silver to regain Jesus.

Here we find the glow of Jesus, of his teachings and friendship within Judas still etched in his heart — the light of truth and love flickering within.

Any person along with their kindness and goodness like Jesus, our family and true friends can never be removed from one’s heart and person. They will always be there, sometimes spurting out in our unguarded moments because they are very true.

That is the darkest darkness of Judas – and of some of us – who think we can never be forgiven by God, that we are doomed, that there is no more hope and any chance at all.

See how the evangelist said it: “Judas left at once. And it was night.”

And that is getting lost in darkness permanently, eaten up by darkness within us because we refuse to believe in the reality of a loving and forgiving God who had come to plunge into the darkness of death to be one with us so we can be one in him. What a loss.

Groping in the dark into the light like Peter

Photo by author, Church of Gallicantu, Jerusalem where the cock crowed after Peter denied Jesus the third time, May 2017.

Of the Twelve, it is perhaps with Simon Peter we always find ourselves identified with: the eager beaver, almost a “bolero” type who is so good in speaking but many times cannot walk his talk.

“Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”

John 13:6-8

Here is Peter so typical of us: always assuming of knowing what is right, which is best, as if we have a monopoly of the light when in fact we are in darkness.

See how during the trial of Jesus before the priests, Peter denied him thrice, declaring he never knew Jesus while outside in the dark, completely in contrast with Jesus brilliantly answering every question and false accusation against him inside among his accusers!

Many times in our lives, it is so easy for us to speak on everything when we are in our comfort zones, safe and secured in our lives and career. But when left or thrown out into the harsh realities of life, we grope in the darkness of ignorance and incompetence, trials and difficulties.

How often we are like Peter refusing Jesus to wash our feet because we could not accept the Lord being so humble to do that simply because he is the Lord and Master who must never bow low before anyone.

And that is one darkness we refuse to let go now shaken and shattered by the pandemic lockdown! The people we used to look down upon are mostly now in the frontlines providing us with all the comforts we enjoy in this crisis like electricity, internet, security, food, and other basic services.


Bronze statue of the call of Peter by Jesus. Photo by author, May 2017.

We have always thought of the world, of peoples in hierarchy, in certain status where there are clear delineations and levels of importance, totally forgetting the lessons of Jesus of being like a child, of service and humility: “whoever wants to be great must be the least and servant of all.”

According to Matthew and Luke, Peter realized his sins – the darkness within him – of denying Jesus thrice after the cock crowed that he left the scene weeping bitterly, feeling so sorry. Eventually after Easter, Peter would meet Jesus again on the shores of the Lake of Tiberias, asking him thrice, “do you love me?”

Peter realized how dark his world has always been but in that instance when he declared his love that is so limited and weak did he finally see the light of Christ in his love and mercy!

Unlike Judas, Peter moved out of darkness and finally saw the light in the Risen Lord right in the very place where everything started when he was called to be a fisher of men, in his humanity as he was called by his original name, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?”.

Human love is always imperfect and Jesus knows this perfectly well!

The best way to step out of darkness within us is to be like Simon — simply be your imperfect self, accepting one’s sins and weakness for that is when we can truly love Jesus who is the only one who can love us perfectly.

Overcoming darkness in, Jesus, with Jesus, through Jesus

Though the fourth gospel and the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke differ in providing us with the transition from the Upper Room of the Last Supper into the agony in the garden, the four evangelists provide us with one clear message at how Jesus faced darkness: with prayer, of being one in the Father.

Even on the cross of widespread darkness, Jesus spoke only to pray to the Father.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress.

Matthew 26:36-37
Photo by author, altar of the Church of All Nations beside the Garden of Gethsemane, May 2017. The church is always dimly lit to keep the sense of darkness during the Agony in the Garden of Jesus.

Before, darkness for man was seen more as a curse falling under the realm of evil and sin; but, with the coming of Jesus, darkness became a blessing, a prelude to the coming of light.

We have mentioned at the start of our reflection that Jesus was born during the darkest night of the year to show us he that is the light of the world, who had come to enlighten us in this widespread darkness, within us and outside us.

As the light of the world, Jesus was no stranger to darkness which he conquered and tamed in many instances like when they were caught in a storm at sea and in fact, when walked on water to join his disciples caught in another storm.

But most of all, Jesus had befriended darkness and made it a prelude to light.

How? By always praying during darkness. By prayer, it is more than reciting some prayers common during his time as a Jew but as a form of submission to the will of the Father. Jesus befriended darkness by setting aside, forgetting his very self to let the Father’s will be done.

Bass relief of agony in the garden on the wall of the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane. Photo by author, May 2019.

This he showed so well in two instances, first on Mount Tabor where he transfigured and second in Gethsemane before his arrest.

In both events, Jesus showed us the path to overcoming darkness is always through prayers, of being one in the Father.

It is in darkness when God is most closest to us because it is then when we get a glimpse of himself, of his love and mercy, of his own sufferings and pains, and of his glory.

This is something the three privileged disciples – Simon Peter, James and his brother John – did not realize while being with Jesus at both instances until after Easter. We are those three who always fall asleep, who could not keep with praying in Jesus, with Jesus, and through Jesus.

It was in the darkness of the night when Jesus spent most of his prayer periods, communing with the Father up in a mountain or a deserted place.

On Mount Tabor, Jesus showed his coming glory while in Gethsemane he showed his coming suffering and death. But whether in Gethsemane or on Mount Tabor, it is always Jesus we meet inviting us to share in his oneness with the Father, in his power in the Holy Spirit to overcome every darkness in life.

And the good news is he had already won for us!

Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News of Mt. Samat with the Memorial Cross across the Manila Bay following clear skies resulting from the lockdown imposed since March 17, 2020.

In these extended darker days of quarantine period, let us come to the Lord closer in prayer to. experience more of his Passion and Death, more of his darkness so we may see his coming glory when everything is finally cleared in this corona pandemic.

Prayer does not necessarily change things but primarily changes the person first. And that is when prayer changes everything when we become like Jesus in praying.

Jesus is asking us to leave everything behind, to forget one’s self anew to rediscover him in this darkness when we get out of our comfort zones to see the many sufferings he continues to endure with our brothers and sisters with lesser things in this life, with those in total darkness, with those groping in the dark.

Now more than ever, we have realized the beauty of poverty and simplicity, of persons than things.

And most especially of darkness itself becoming light for us in this tunnel.

May Jesus enlighten us and vanish all darkness in us so that soon, we shall celebrate together the joy of his coming again in this world darkened by sin. Amen.

A blessed and prayerful Paschal Triduum to you.

Praying for justice in time of corona

40 Shades of Lent, Monday, Week-V, 30 March 2020

Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62 ><)))*> + <*(((>< John 8:1-11

“Ecce Homo” by Murillo from fineartamerica.com.

Our loving Father, today I pray in a very special way for all people who have been maligned, especially for those whose reputation have been destroyed in public by false accusations, those put to shame in our family and community by harsh words.

Like those two women in our readings today, Susana in the Book of Daniel and the woman caught in adultery in John’s gospel, these people unjustly accused in public or “in their face” are surely suffering so much in the loneliness of their homes, of their room in this period of lockdown.

Most especially, Lord, I pray for those languishing in jail especially those for crimes they did not commit.

But Susan cried aloud: “O eternal God, you know what is hidden and are aware of all things before they come to be; you know that they have testified falsely against me. Here I am about to die, though I have done none of the things with which these wicked men have charged me.” The Lord heard her prayer.

Daniel 13:42-44

Comfort, O God, those crying for justice.

Give them patience and perseverance, trust and confidence in Jesus Christ your Son who have come “to proclaim liberty to captives” (Lk.4:18b).

Grant them a healing of memories.

Most especially, I pray O God, that Jesus may touch them today with the same gentleness and love, mercy and forgiveness without any condemnation except to go and “sin no more” (Jn.8:11). Amen.

God’s overflowing grace with Mary

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

Tuesday, Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, World Day of the Sick, 11 February 2020

Isaiah 66:10-14 ><)))*> 0 <*(((>< John 2:1-11

Photo of Our Lady of Lourdes in France by Arch. Philip Santiago, September 2018.

Praise and glory to you O God, our loving and merciful Father who has given us a wonderful and most kind mother in the Blessed Virgin Mary through Jesus Christ your Son.

Through Mary, your abundant blessings, O God, have flowed and continue to overflow upon us even with the completion of her mission here on earth as Mother of Jesus.

How true were your words to the Prophet Isaiah that you shall send Israel a mother who shall comfort us, a mother in whom you shall spread prosperity and blessings upon us (Isaiah 66:10-14).

When Mary came into the scene when she was conceived without original sin, through her came our Savior Jesus Christ. From the very start, she worked to be the vessel of your blessings, God.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus told them, “Fill the jars wit water.”

John 2:1-3, 5, 7

How wonderful to recall and meditate on this first miracle of Jesus of turning water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana through the intercession of his Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

How lovely it is that more than 1800 years, another miracle would happen again from you, O God, at a grotto in Lourdes, France involving water through the Blessed Virgin Mary again!

Thank you dearest Jesus for the gift of water, the gift of life in you. Water is the primordial element of life, and water is also one of the primordial symbols of humanity. How amazing that since the miracle at Cana, your life continues to overflow upon us, Lord Jesus Christ, through Mary especially at Lourdes, France.

There are at Lourdes, Mary told the young St. Bernadette to dig on earth where water burst forth a spring, like life coming out of the womb of the earth. Until now, that spring is the origin and beginning of many healings and other miracles among generations of different peoples from all walks of life and nation, including to those who have not been there in Lourdes, France!

The waters of Lourdes remain a symbol of fruitfulness and of healing, of maternity in Mary who cares most to us and the sick next to Jesus our Lord and Savior..

Give us the grace, O God, the gift of purity, of cleanliness in our hearts so that we may become like Mary at Lourdes as a vessel of your healing and compassion especially for the sick of the world. Amen.

Photo of a cross of atop the church of Our Lady of Lourdes in France by Arch. Philip Santiago during his pilgrimage, September 2018.