Befriending the Cross of Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
First Friday, Week XXXI, Year II in Ordinary Time, 06 November 2020
Philippians 3:17-4:1     >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<     Luke 16:1-8
Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, August 2020.

Sometimes I wonder if we are still in a pandemic, God. It seems we have slowly gone back to our old ways or, even worst as we seem to have totally forgotten you. We have become so used with the new situations we prefer to call as “new normal” as if the norms or standards of what is just and moral, right and true change at all.

Have we become an enemy of your Son’s Cross?

Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us. For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame”. Their minds are occupied with earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:17-20

Our loving Father, I am not asking for a return to our situation during the lockdowns of summer with growing number of COVID infections; I am not praying for more crosses to bear as if the ones we now have are not enough. Just help us befriend your Son’s Cross again, to forget ourselves and follow him instead of following more the social media that has become our new god.

How prophetic were the words of St. Paul to the Philippians, Lord! They are all happening especially in social media that has become everyone’s new religion that seemingly binds but actually divides us as a nation, as your children.

From The Facebook Facade – owning30.com

Everybody wants to be in social media, doing all the crazy stuff to be popular by being viral and trending with many followers to boast without realizing what St. Paul referred to as “their glory is their ‘shame'” when we are filled with our ego – or selfies -that we forget you in others.

Many are beginning to accept the lies being peddled in social media like abortion and euthanasia, genetic engineering, same sex marriage or unions, and homosexual relationships that end in destruction.

Facebook and Instagram have become the altars of those who have made their “stomach as their God” flaunting their food in social media, insensitive to the plight of many going hungry these days.

Wake us up to the reality in Jesus of how our “minds are occupied with earthly things” these days that even you our God we have made into a commodity whom we can have when we want like any product or the Netflix when celebrating online Masses.

Help us realize like the steward in the parable that life is about the giving of self in love for others like Jesus – of befriending your Cross – not wealth nor fame. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Marc Angelo Nicolas Carpio, January 2020.

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.

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.

Meeting Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XIX, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 09 August 2020
1 Kings 19:9, 11-13 >><}}}*> Romans 9:1-5 >><}}}*> Matthew 14:22-33
Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News, Batanes, 2018.

I have always loved the sea and lately my thoughts have always been about the beach as I miss it so much after COVID-19 had robbed us of our summer vacation.

In ancient time, the sea evoked fear because it was largely unknown that even in the bible, it is the symbol of evil and its powers over man. That is why our gospel today is very significant when Jesus walked on water to show God’s greater power over evil and sin.

And like our gospel last week, our story today tells us a lot more about Jesus walking on water in the midst of a storm to reveal himself and most of all, his desire to meet us his disciples.

Place and location as non-verbal communication of one’s presence

Every meeting and encounter presupposes locations or places, a locus; but, everything is “levelled up” or elevated in Jesus in whom things do not remain in the physical level.

Proxemics is the non-verbal communication that refers to places and location, its nearness and orientation. How we arrange our furnitures, designate the rooms and sections in our homes, offices, schools and every building we stay and gather communicate and reveal who we are.

For example, Catholic homes are easily identified in having a grotto at the garden, an altar of the Sacred Heart or any saint at the sala, and the Last Supper painting in the dining hall.

But for Jesus, a place or a location is more than the physical site because in him, proxemics takes on a deeper dimension and higher meaning when we meet him in situations and places. That is why after feeding the more than five thousand people last week, he ordered the Twelve to cross the Sea of Galilee (which is actually a lake) ahead of him while he dismissed the crowds.

After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. during the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Matthew 14:23-27
Photo by author, Sea of Galilee at Capernaum where Jesus used to preach, May 2019.

Crossing to Jesus, crossing with Jesus

I love that scene very much, of Jesus getting his disciples into the boat to precede him to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. Again, St. Matthew never bothered to tell us why Jesus sent the Twelve ahead of him as he stayed behind, dismissing the crowds and later praying alone at night atop the mountain.

Let us now reflect the proxemics or non-verbal communication of our gospel scene this Sunday.

We need to cross to the other side to meet Jesus.

To meet Jesus Christ, we always have to “cross to the other side” by leaving our “comfort zones”.

More than going to the other side of the lake physically, we have to move over to unchartered areas of life, be bold and daring to try new things, new situations in order to mature and find fulfillment by meeting Jesus Christ.

And sometimes, we really have to literally cross the sea or get to the other side of the country or the world to find our self and meet Christ.

Fifteen years ago I went on vacation to Toronto for some soul-searching as I went through a burn-out. While serving at St. Clement Parish, I met many Filipinos serving as lectors, choir members, catechists and volunteers.

Graph shared by sugarindustryfoundationinc.org.ph.

They would always confess to me with both a sense of pride and little shame that they never went to Mass regularly when in the Philippines and now in Canada, they were amazed at how God had brought them there to be involved in parish activities and be closer to Jesus than ever!

As I listened to their stories, I realized the many sacrifices and hardships they have to endure in that vast and cold country with no one to turn to except God. If given the chance, many of them admitted they would return to the Philippines for there is no place like home!

Though I have found so many things I have been searching for in my initial three months of stay there on top of other opportunities given me, I still felt empty. That raging storm within continued. As I prayed and reflected guided by an old, Polish priest who claimed to have been the student of St. John Paul II, I saw myself more, eventually leading me to God anew who refreshed my vocation that I finally decided to go back home after six months of my supposed to be one year leave.

Sometimes in life, we need to get away from our comfort zone, cross to the other side, especially when life becomes so artificial. Jesus invites us to go ahead and cross to the other side of the lake or sea to experience life at its “raw” so we can feel again our souls within and desire him anew until we finally meet him wherever we may be in the world.

It is when we are at the other side of the sea in the midst of a storm when Jesus comes, immediately answering our cries for help – At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage; it is I” – because when we are reduced to emptiness and nothingness, then our faith kickstarts again. Faith, like love, is always an encounter with God.

Try going to the other side, leave your comfort zone to meet Jesus and finally have meaning and direction in life!

Silence is the presence of God.

In the first reading we have heard that beautiful story of Elijah meeting God at the mouth of a cave — not in the strong and heavy wind nor earthquake nor fire like Moses before him.

After the fire, there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.

1 Kings 19:12-13

Silence is the place of the presence of God because silence is his language too. Wherever there is silence, we can surely find and meet God there.

That is why Jesus wants us to cross to the other side, to be silent and listen to him.

Photo by author, crossing the Lake of Galilee, May 2019.

In his silence, God teaches us that except for sin, he never considers everything as being finished; everything is a “work-in-progress” even if he seems to be silent that some think he must be absent or even dead.

The world thrives in noise, loud talks, and screams with each voice trying to dominate another resulting in cacophony of sounds. Shakespeare’s Hamlet said it well when he told Polonius what he was reading were “Words, words, words” — nonsense!

Some people like those in power think that the more words they say, the more meaningful their thoughts and ideas become. Worst, they thought that using foul and filthy language make them so natural and credible, not realizing the more they look stupid with their crazy thoughts and ideas not even clowns and comedians would ever attempt to imitate.

But when our words come from deep silence, they come with power and meaning, touching everyone’s heart and inner core.

That is when silence becomes fullness, not emptiness or mere lack of noise and sound.

Like when our medical frontliners and medical experts spoke with one voice last week airing their thoughts about the pandemic — we were all moved and reawakened to realize how we have been going about with our lives almost forgetting them these past five months!

What a tragedy at how our officials in government and Congress reacted negatively, feeling hurt deep inside with the painful truth of how they have been irresponsible from the beginning. Sapul!

Pico Iyer wrote in a TIME magazine essay 30 years ago that “silence is the domain of trust”.

True. The most trustful people are the most silent; those who speak a lot trust no one and most likely, cannot be trusted too.

Jesus invites us to cross to the other side to be silent and learn to trust him. It is only then when we can meet him. In silence.

Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News, Manila Bay with Mt. Samat’s Cross at the background, April 2020.

Jesus meets us in darkness.

Jesus asks us to cross to the other side of the lake or sea like his disciples in order to meet us in darkness. This is a paradox because Jesus is the light of the world.

But, note the most notable moments in his life happened in darkness: he was born on the darkest night of the year, he died when darkness covered the whole city of Jerusalem, and he rose from the dead when it was still dark on the first day of the week.

Jesus had overcome darkness! So, what happened to Peter in this episode after being called by Jesus to walk on water too?

Jesus said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Matthew 14:29-30

Imagine how everything was going so well with Peter doing another crossing while crossing the lake! But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Jesus calls us into the dark so that we only look for him and upon finding him, focus on him alone. Peter saw the strong wind, not the stronger and powerful Jesus walking on water, that fear overtook him.

That’s the whole point of St. Paul in our second reading today: he was telling the Romans how some people in Israel trusted more in their physical descent from Abraham than in God’s promise of salvation fulfilled in Jesus they have refused to see and recognize as the Christ (Rom.9:1-5).

When in the dark, be silent and still for Jesus is near! Keep your sights at him, not on anything else. Problem in darkness is not God but us who follow other lights or have become delusional.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

That is the tragedy we are into as a nation while crossing to the other side of the sea of pandemic in just one boat when our officials see only themselves as always being right. Worst, they all want to be on the stage with all the lights on them as they speak and sing in cacophony like psychopaths.

All the more we must hold on tight, trust and focus in Jesus who is “now here”, not “nowhere” for he will never allow us to perish.

Let us trust Jesus overcoming all these evil, leading us to the shore. Amen.

A blessed rainy Sunday to you and your loved ones!

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.

New normal is not normal

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 28 July 2020
Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News, March 2020

Experts have been telling us since the start of this COVID-19 pandemic that our lives would no longer be the same like before 2020. Even if a new vaccine and more effective treatment are discovered to fight this disease, life on this planet is definitely changed.

But, for better or for worse?

That is the most important challenge of this pandemic next to finding a vaccine and cure or treatment against it: that we seize this unique opportunity from COVID-19 to “reset” or “refresh” the world so we can all start anew by correcting the mistakes and excesses of the past to finally kickoff a true and meaningful growth and development among peoples, especially the poor and marginalized.

Photo from TurboSquid.com

This we can start – or restart – by immediately deleting from our vocabulary and consciousness that word we have been erroneously using since summer, “new normal”.

New normal is abnormal because norms or standards like morality always remain.

Washing of hands frequently, covering one’s mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing, not spitting everywhere are not new normal. Cleanliness has always been the norm since the beginning that we have that saying always true, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”.

Praying every day, individually and as a family especially the Holy Rosary is not a new normal. Connecting with the Divine has always been the norm of man since the beginning even before Jesus Christ came to the world.

More than half a century ago, the late Fr. Patrick Peyton has been saying, “The family that prays together, stays together; and the world at prayer is a world at peace.” Praying has always been the norm in our lives.

Normal or norms do not change because they are the standard measure. Even before COVID-19 came, normal temperature has always been 37 degrees Celsius, 12-inches make a foot, and so on and so forth.

So, please forget this abnormality of referring to our new way of living as “new normal” because it is not new at all.

Worst, this usage of the term “new normal” courtesy of the media, politicians, and policy makers is a dangerous indication of unconsciously or subconsciously perpetuating our excesses of the past that the Wuhan virus have rightly exposed: too much greed especially among capitalists, materialism and consumerism, and individualism.

From vaticannews.va

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI had long been speaking against these by describing it as “dictatorship of relativism”.

Acceptance of this term or concept that was actually coined at the aftermath of the 2007 financial crisis indicates that we are miserably not learning the lessons of this global crisis.

Our sights remain myopic, even blinded in looking at this pandemic without realizing at all how this was spawned by our own excesses and sins. Long before we have been told to maintain physical or social distancing to stop spread of the new corona virus, we have long been distant from one another. We have been spending more time with our computers and smartphones, trying to connect with friends and everyone in various social media platforms unmindful of the persons seated near us. “Table for one” in restaurants is fast becoming the order of the day than the exception to the rule.

My point is, accepting everything now as the new normal is also accepting wholesale the new ordering of things going on that continues to neglect the weakest and poorest among us. We are only perpetuating an error and worst an evil among us that we have refused to examine closely in the past.

This “new normal” is a conditioning concept that pushes the marginalized and disadvantaged people deeper into misery as the daily news tells us. Unconsciously to many of us, “new normal” is an excuse even a justification for the continued poverty and slavery of the weak and disadvantaged.

What a shame that while so many countries are suffering from COVID-19 like ours, Beijing is flexing its muscles around the world economically and militarily – right in our seas!- as if they are not bothered at all by this virus that came from their own province of Wuhan.

A very interesting read I have found last month was written by Nigerian Chime Asonye who rightly claims that “the new normal” “should not be the lens through which we examine our changed world”.

The ‘new normal’ discourse sanitizes the idea that our present is okay because normal is regular. Yes, there may be public health challenges, but these are issues that can be managed. We accept life under the omnipresent threat of disease as ordinary. But what exactly is normal about this pandemic? It is not normal for society en masse to be isolated, but if this is normal, then we are supposed to have control of the situation. Even if we feel loss or despair, we are expected to get used to it — accepting that this morbid reality is now standard.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/theres-nothing-new-about-this-new-normal-heres-why/

COVID-19 can serve both as a catharsis to our past excesses and a watershed for a brighter future.

The old system, or what people refer to as “normal” before in the world had erroneously set is not working, plainly wrong and abusive; why continue or import it into this coming new period?

As the pandemic rages on it gives us a chance to reimagine the world by tracing history, not forgetting it.

We should revel in the discomfort of the current moment to generate a ‘new paradigm’, not a ‘new normal’. Feeling unsettled, destabilized and alone can help us empathize with individuals who have faced systematic exclusions long-ignored by society even before the rise of COVID-19 — thus stimulating urgent action to improve their condition. For these communities, things have never been ‘normal’.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/theres-nothing-new-about-this-new-normal-heres-why/

COVIDS-19 is definitely not a punishment from God but a result of man playing God.

And like in the past, whether in world history or in our own lives when things go wrong even worst, God ensures to make ways that anything bad happening to us would always lead to something good.

Photo by author, Christmas 2019 in our Parish.

See how providential in the sense that microscopic viruses are reminding us that true power is not in being big but in being small, not in being strong but being weak — the very example of God to us when he became human like us more than 2000 years ago.

Unfortunately, his lessons remain unheeded up to our time even among us in the Church.

It is a most welcomed change in the midst of this pandemic that the Vatican last week issued new guidelines through the Congregation for the Clergy (directed to us priests) for the world’s parishes that can help us respond adequately to the challenges of this crisis (http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2020/07/20/200720a.html).

But, that will require another blog.

For the meantime, please stop using that abnormal term “new normal”.

A blessed Tuesday to everyone!

Isang tula para sa ating Kapamilya

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-11 ng Hulyo 2020
Kaya pala himpapawirin nagdilim
bandang alas-tres pa man din
oras ng kanilang patayin
doon sa Krus nakabitin
si Hesus na Panginoon natin
nang kanyang sabihin
katotohanang hindi maatim
ng mga tao na ang puso ay ubod ng itim.
Bandang hapon ko na rin napagtagni-tagni
pangyayari bago magtanghali
nasunog matandang simbahan
ng Sto. Niño sa Pandacan
kabila ng Malacañang:
hindi ba nabuwang Haring Herodes
nang marinig niya balitang sumilang
Banal na Sanggol kaya mga bata pinagpapaslang?
Hindi ko nga malaman
sino nga ba aking tatangisan ---
apatnaput-dalawang binawian ng buhay
nitong COVID-19 na tunay na kalaban
o mga Kapamilya na tinanggihan kanilang 
prangkisa ng mga hunghang 
na tuta at alepores ng bagong Herodes
na walang malay gawin kungdi lahat ay patayin.
Bayan kong ginigiliw
bakit nga ba kung minsan
ang hirap mong mahalin?
Hindi mo pansin panloloko
ng mga matsing?
Aking dalangin
sana ikaw ay magising
o mahimasmasan iyong pagkalasing!
Matatala sa ating kasaysayan
pangalawang Biyernes Santo sa taong ito
ang ika-sampu ng Hulyo, dalawang libo dalawampu;
pinagluluksa natin hindi lamang
pagpatay sa prangkisa ng ating Kapamilya
kungdi pati na rin pagyurak sa ating dangal bilang tao
maging sa mga sandigan ng ating sambayanan.
Umasa at mananalig tayo kay Kristo
sa pagsapit ng Pasko ng Pagkabuhay;
bagaman ito'y natatagalan, hindi kailanman 
natalo ng kadiliman ang liwanag,
o ng kasinungalingan ang katotohanan,
kung tayo ay lilingon sa slogan noon:
"Ako ang simula" ng pagbabago 
dahil kung tinalo nila tayo kahapon sa boto, 
bukas talo sila sa ating boto!

St. Paul in time of COVID-19: need for pastoral communication

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 11 June 2020
Painting by Raphael (1515) of St. Paul preaching at Areopagus in Athens, Greece. From wikipedia.

With houses of worship still closed despite the opening of most business establishments, here is the final installment of reflection in our series on how the life and teachings of St. Paul may help us in our ministry during this time of COVID-19 amid a perceived government “persecution” of the Catholic Church.

There is no doubt that like during his time, St. Paul would be using modern means of communication to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ especially in this most trying time of our history, using the internet as the new “Areopagus” with social media in particular.

Then Paul stood up at the Areopagus and said: “You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious. For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To An Unknown God.’ What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all that is in it…”

Acts of the Apostles 17:22-24

Social Communication

Perhaps before we go into our reflection, it is imperative especially for bishops and priests to be reminded anew of some important terms in communications; this is more than about names or nomenclature because for as long these terms of communications are not clear with us, all our evangelization efforts would be askewed as it is now showing with an explosion of online Masses and other religious celebrations.

First priority is to stop using the words “mass media” and even “social media” in our church communications because these are very limited in scope and context.

It is important to note that in the 2000-year history of the Church, it was only in Vatican II that we have issued a conciliar document on communication wherein the Fathers also introduced the term social communication as a new name for communications in the Church.

How sad that there are still bishops and priests using the terms “mass media” or “media” and lately “social media” when more than 50 years ago the Church through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit coined social communication to refer to “the communication of and in human society including all the ways and means used in this process” (Fr. Franz-Josef Eilers, svd, 2009 BISCOM-FABC, Bangkok).

Social communication is a very prophetic term because it is theological and rooted in God who is communication himself, sharing with us his power to communicate so we may also communicate with him and with others. Most of all, God continues to communicate with us and from that lies our task as a Church to communicate him to the world.

This is the reason why we have to keep on using this term “social communication” in our Church communications to keep us Christocentric, meaning, every communication in the Church and by the Church has Jesus as Message.

And that is essentially the kind of communication process followed by St. Paul the Apostle. In fact, reviewing his letters and the various accounts about him would show us that early, this great apostle has been into social communication, specifically “pastoral communication” that is an emerging field in Church communications whose realities have long been espoused by St. Paul himself.

Pastoral Communication

Pastoral communication is anchored on Jesus Christ, the “Good Shepherd” who sets himself as the norm and standard of our Church communications.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.”

John 10:11, 14-15
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

St. Paul has always been very clear with this in all his communications that towards the end of his life, he had beautifully written his disciple this wonderful piece:

Beloved: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; per persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient… For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

2 Timothy 4:1-2, 6-7

Communicating Jesus Christ is always about self-sacrifice, about giving of one’s self like our Lord and Master. In whatever form of communication we use, it is always a call to “enflesh” the Word. In short, communication is spirituality that indicates the kind of relationship we have with God. How we reflect that relationship with God in words and in deeds, in our clothings and everything is communication.

Like St. Paul, he was able to offer himself wholly to God as reflected in his writings and preaching because he was more concerned with the needs of the flock and not with his own needs.

And this is where I sadly feel our bishops sorely absent and silent except for just two, Lingayen-Dagupan’s Archbishop Soc Villegas and Manila’s Apostolic Administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo.

Where are the other bishops?

Business establishments are almost all opening, even dine-in restaurants and yet, until now for no valid reason, the government continues to ban religious mass gatherings except for maximum of ten persons in areas under GCQ.

When are the bishops and priests going to speak out against this and open the churches so people may be spiritually nourished?

What an auspicious time for the clergy and hierarchy to speak against this continued closure of churches as we are on the eve of our 500th year of Christianization when under serious persecution. Has the Church grown timid in the face of an unfriendly government?

Worst are some priests who seem to follow more the secular world in their digital presence but empty of Jesus Christ, concerned only with popularity measured in number of likes and shares as well as followers.

Many of us have become more of personalities than as priests and ministers, unconsciously trying to be more popular than the Lord himself that we no longer have sacrifice of the Mass but a variety show, complete with sound effects and digital characters, some wit dance numbers and raffles!

When God is displaced, then our love is misplaced, then, we lose all communications too.

Communication is more than the expression of ideas and the indication of emotion. At its most profound level it is the giving of self in love. Christ’s communication was, in fact, spirit and life.  In the institution of the Holy Eucharist, Christ gave us the most perfect and most intimate form of communion between God and man possible in this life, and, out of this, the deepest possible unity between men. Further, Christ communicated to us His life-giving Spirit, who brings all men together in unity. The Church is Christ’s Mystical Body, the hidden completion of Christ Glorified who “fills the whole creation”.  As a result we move, within the Church and with the help of the word and the sacraments, towards the hope of that last unity where “God will be all in all”. 

Communio et Progressio # 11
From Google.

Problem with online Masses and religion

Every communication presupposes presence. That is essentially the meaning of God’s “I AM” in the burning bush to Moses and the “I AM” declarations by Jesus in the New Testament, especially in the fourth gospel where we find him saying “I am the good shepherd”.

Even St. Paul in his letters always began with his standard salutations like “I, Paul…” to indicate his very presence among his “parishioners”.

However, in the digital media, presence is not so essential and can even be faked both ways, either by being “taped” or “replayed” by viewers.

And there lies the great danger of online Masses and other celebrations: whether we like or not, online religious celebrations give the impressions on people that God is a “consummable”, a product or a show that can be had when most convenient to us like video on demand or the streamed shows of Netflix.

That is why we have to open churches soon to stop these online Masses except for those in the Cathedrals and in existence long before COVID-19 that cater to the needs of the sick and elderly in their homes.

Pope Francis has always been clear with this, stressing that these online Masses and religious celebrations are very temporary due to the extraordinary situation brought about by the pandemic.

From Pinterest/Aleteia.

Imagine the problem at Corinth that reached St. Paul’s attention, prompting him to write them another letter to reprimand them but at the same time to encourage them to mend their ways. It was a problem of abusing the Eucharist when St. Paul was no longer with them.

It is the same thing happening in many of our online Masses that have become variety shows to impress viewers. Long before we got into this lockdown, many priests have crossed the boundaries without knowing they have made fools of themselves as they rely more on “likes”, on being viral or trending, dishing out shallow reflections covered with cute song numbers, litany of greetings on air, and so many other inanities that Jesus is lost in the process.

Unfortunately, many laypeople are now also having their own digital preaching or evangelization with their own “productions” taking their cue from their showbiz pastors.

If St. Paul were with us today, he would surely write again to express his dismay at the people seeking more of entertainment than having Jesus Christ.

“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere and pure commitment to Christ. For I think that I am not in any way inferior to these “superapostles”. Even if I am untrained in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.

2 Corinthians 11:3, 5-6

Church communication is Jesus Christ and his Cross as St. Paul reminds us in his writings (1Cor.15:1-3); it is never about techniques or gadgets.

Though we need to be present online, the cutting edge of real communication remains in pastoral communication that means being present with others who need us most including those without internet access, witnessing to the values of Jesus in relating with people, bringing people together into a communion and helping them find answers in their search for meaning and directions in life, in making the right choices and in living their convictions and faith.

What we are speaking of are real people, persons and lives that matter so much, more precious than goods and commodities.

Let us not fall into the trappings of this “media revolution” that made one futurologist describe our contemporary society as

Technologically Intoxicated Zone defined by the complicated and often paradoxical relationship between technology and our search for meaning.

John Naisbitt

According to Naisbitt and other experts, while people prefer quick fixes online of everything, from religion to nutrition, while at the same time fearing and worshipping technology that had blurred the distinction of what is real and fake, the more they live their lives distanced and distracted — something we are already seeing even before the coming of social distancing!

To communicate in the Church at this time is to imitate St. Paul: be present for and with the people wherein we help them find their way to God by being their companions and “co-journeyers” in life, witnessing to them the Cross of Jesus Christ with our very lives as an offering and sacrifice, not as a commodity or a show to be “liked” on Facebook and Instagram.

And, lest we forget, it is God whom people must follow and worship, not us.

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.

Ephesians 5:1-2
Pope Francis praying before an empty St. Peter’s Square last March 27, 2020 at the height of COVID-19 in Italy.