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.

Christ’s ascension, our mission

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, 24 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11 ><)))*> Ephesians 4:1-13 ><)))*> Matthew 28:16-20

Paschal candles at the entrance to the burial site of Jesus inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Photo by author, May 2017.

We are now at the penultimate Sunday of the Easter Season with the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. Next Sunday we close the season with Pentecost and begin the Ordinary Time following Monday.

But, with our situation expected to last until 2021 when we shall have a vaccine against COVID-19, it still feels like Lent for many of us who now feel the economic and psychological impact of this pandemic.

More than ever before, we are challenged today to give testimony to Christ’s Resurrection so we can grasp the meaning and beauty of our celebration today.

The Ascension of Jesus is not about his movement or change of residence from earth into heaven or some remote part of the deep space to start his “working from home”: the Ascension of Jesus is the “leveling up” of the relationship of Christ with his disciples who include us all today.

Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20
Dome of the Chapel of the Ascension beside a mosque outside Jerusalem. Photo by author, May 2019.

Giving testimony to the Risen Christ

Notice how our gospel today does not speak much about Jesus Christ’s ascension or his being taken up to heaven unlike with Luke both in his gospel account and Book of Acts of the Apostles.

With Matthew, it is very clear that with Jesus Christ’s departure comes the mission to give testimony to him who is risen from the dead. Every disciple’s testimony is essentially his/her mission to proclaim to the world that Jesus is alive, that he is Life itself.

Like during his Ascension on a hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus is calling us all today to gather again around him, to seek those who are lost and forgotten in order to bring them all together in Christ especially at this time when people suffer more from the neglect and double-standards of this government than from COVID-19 itself.

Where is God?

We are about to end two great seasons in our liturgical calendar but it seems that we are stuck in the Holy Week. We wonder what have happened to us in this pandemic when every scene we see, every situation we are into are unbelievable, something we see only in movies. And this one’s for real!

For those of us who have not lived through wars like our parents, the atrocities of Martial Law like others, or great catastrophes like the Baguio earthquake of 1990 and the recent “Yolanda” in Samar and Leyte, when the only sufferings we can “brag” are “Ondoy” and EDSA traffic, we now live life in the most uncertain way. In between the temporary escapes and respites offered by Netflix and social media platforms, we go through a lot of self-doubts, sometimes with fits of depression or sadness and loneliness especially when the day ends and darkness begins to envelop us.

For the first time, many of us have truly experienced of not having that much in life, whether they are family and friends, or money and things.

Window inside the Chapel of Ascension, May 2017.

This is the call of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord: that we gather ourselves anew, our families and friends, our memories, most of all, our faith and hope in God whom we have always taken for granted all these years.

This is the great challenge of our time as Christians: how can we be like the Apostles and other followers of Jesus along with his Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary be filled with joy at his departure, bearing all the pains and sufferings of persecution in this time of the corona virus?

Can we gather ourselves anew – not only our family and friends but our very selves to proclaim in our lives, in our presence, in our social media posts, in everything that Jesus Christ is risen, that he is with us always?

Brothers and sisters: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might….

Ephesians 1:17-19

Opening our hearts

I have always loved that part of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, imploring God that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened, that we may be opened to the truths and realities of Jesus Christ truly alive in our midst.

Giving testimony that Jesus Christ is risen, that he is alive, that he is Life itself needs an open heart.

Our minds will never be enough to capture, to understand and process everything about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ because it is something beyond history, beyond logic. We are sure it had truly happened, leaving imprints in the hearts and persons of all of Christ’s followers, from his first witnesses like the apostles down to us in our own time. What we need are listening hearts, seeing hearts… hearts that are open to the realities of God dwelling in us.

You must have followed the news last week about Mang Dodong of Caloocan City who was detained for more than ten days in Navotas where he was caught buying fish without a quarantine pass.

We were all saddened and affected by the news because it was at that same time when the President had pardoned and retained in position a police general who had violated quarantine rules he had vowed to implement. In fact, so severely in many instances including with Mang Dodong!

Good news is how so many people helped him pay his bail to be set free. That’s the risen Jesus working in our own time!

Fish vendor Joseph Jimeda, aka, Mang Dodong in his detention cell in Navotas. Photo from GMA News.

The path of love towards Easter and Ascension

What really makes this quarantine period too difficult and painful is not COVID-19 itself but the incompetence and injustice of this government personified by officials who are mostly arrogant, inconsistent, liars, and closed from the realities of life. They are so blinded by material things that they see businesses like malls as more essential than houses of worship that remain closed up to this day (unfortunately, even our bishops are so silent about it except for a few of them).

Sometimes, I feel we are not doing enough as witnesses and disciples of Christ, that we must be bolder and more adamant in insisting what is right, what is just with various social media platforms offering us venues for expressing our views.

But, as I prayed more about the pandemic in the light of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the more I see him present in his seeming absence by being silent amidst all these threats of the pandemic worsened by the government’s irresponsibilities, insensitivities, and injustice.

The very site where Jesus is believed to have stood during his ascension now encased in glass inside the Chapel of the Ascension. Photo by ator, May 2017.

To give testimony to the Risen Lord, to make disciples of all nations, and to teach everyone all he had commanded us to observe need not use force. Like Jesus and the Father, we need to remain gentle and patient despite the violence prevailing around us.

See how God patiently waited for the fullness of time before sending us his Son; and when Jesus was born, notice also the many trials he went through from Bethlehem to Egypt and back to Nazareth, reaching its highest point in his Passion and Death on the Cross on Good Friday.

Then came Easter Sunday and now, his Ascension.

Everything happened in silence, so gently and gradually, mostly with only a few people present.

That has always been the way of God from the Old Testament to the New Testament and right into our own time: no use of external powers and violent forces, only freedom to offer and elicit love that conquers all.

Today we are also celebrating the 54th World Communication Sunday, the only feast mandated by Vatican II for us to realize the importance of modern means of communications in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

For this year, Pope Francis has chosen the topic of the human story, of how our individual story is woven into our collective stories as a family, nation, and church. And the good news is, according to the Pope, all these stories of ours are made part of God’s story of love, the greatest story of all, the story that renews us.

Yes, we all have dark stories in this time of pandemic. Or even in childhood or the past. But, if we look into our hearts in prayer and in faith, we find Jesus there, loving us, keeping us, guiding us. Most of all, authenticating his resurrection in us, in our own life!

There are more beautiful stories we can tell during this pandemic that enable others to see the Risen Lord among us. Let us entrust ourselves to Jesus, to keep our hearts open as he authenticates our many experiences of witnessing to his Resurrection like he did to all others ahead of us.

Be assured we are on the right path in him. Amen.

Pilgrims waiting to enter the Chapel of the Ascension in the Holy Land, May 2019.

A prayer for trolls and liars

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Saturday, Easter Week-IV, 09 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 13:44-52 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> John 14:7-14

According to Pope Francis, the serpent is the first peddler of “fake news” when it deceived Adam and Eve into eating the forbidden fruit in Paradise. Photo from gettyimages.com.

As we end another week O Lord, we pray this time for those who refuse to follow your path of truth. We pray for all trolls and peddlers of fake news and lies, including those who concoct and spread nasty and malicious talks about us.

The gossipers and slanderers.

We pray for them, Jesus, that they may finally come to their senses to see and accept the realities around them.

We pray that they may stop living in darkness, speaking of lies that have destroyed many good names and have caused so much heartaches to those they have maligned.

How sad, O Lord, that these liars and trolls are using the modern means of communications to spread their fake news and lies and gossips to mislead a nation, destroy families and organizations.

Photo by author, February 2020.

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we saw how Jews were filled with jealousy against Paul and Barnabas while proclaiming your Gospel at the synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia.

Not contented in engaging your apostles into “violent abuse of contradicting” their teachings, they also “incited the women of prominence and leading men of the city” to persecute Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:45, 50) because they cannot accept the truth, they cannot accept you, Jesus.

And that continues to happen today when people cannot accept you as Lord and God who truly loves us, forgiving our sins and setting us free to become better persons despite our sins and weaknesses.

Keep us faithful to your words, Lord, and purify our minds and our hearts that we may be one with you in the Father in thoughts, words, and deeds.

Likewise, we pray for everyone that we may always be on guard in examining information and stories we read and hear in order to stop the spread of fake news and lies. Amen.

Panaghoy sa COVID-19

Lawiswis Ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-06 ng Mayo 2020

Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com
Nalimot ko na bilang 
ng mga araw at buwan
mula nang simulan 
lockdown upang mapigilan
pagkalat ng pandemyang COVID-19.
Madaling tanggapin 
mahirap pasanin mga tiisin
ngunit ngayon pakiwari ko
hindi na maaring palampasin
kadilimang bumabalot sa atin.
Kay hirap isipin
sa napakaraming alalahanin
at mga suliranin hinaharap natin
bakit sa panahong ito mayroon pa rin
mga tao lihis ang mga isipan at damdamin?
Dahil sa COVID-19 nabuking ugali natin
panlalamang sa kapwa gawi pa rin
karahasan pinaiiral nang ang ilan ay 
makatangan ng kaunting kapangyarihan
hirap na taumbayan, pinagmamalupitan.
Batid namin Panginoon
marami naming kasalanan
noon magpasahanggang ngayon
kami'y baon na baon
tila hindi na makakaahon.
Kagagawan namin ang lahat ng ito
mga lilo na pulitiko binoboto
sa halaga ng ilang daang piso
habang wala namang ibang tumakbo
na matino at mabuting pagkatao.
Marami sa amin 
nahirati na sa dilim
ngunit mas marami ang ibig ay dilim
dahil doon kanilang naililihim
mga gawa nilang marumi at karimarimarim.
Hanggang kailan kami, Panginoon
magkikimkim nitong aming damdamin
saloobin nami'y nasasaktan 
sa mga patuloy nilang kabuktutan
pati iyong Dakilang Ngalan nilalapastangan!
Larawan mula sa Reddit.com
Buksan mo Panginoon
aming mga paningin
huwag nang hayaang bulagin
ng mga sinungaling
mayroong mga dilang matatalim.
Dinggin mo Panginoon
aming panaghoy
para kaming tuyong kahoy
naluoy, 
binaboy at tinaboy.
Ibangon kami, O Panginoon
manindigan para sa katotohanan
ipaglaban kahalagahan ng buhay
malayang makapaghayag
saloobin tulad ng sa nililiyag.
Sa amin ika'y mahabag
Panginoong Diyos naming butihin
itong aming hapis at pait
iyo sanang patamisin
upang ika'y aming hanapin at sundin!
Larawan mula sa Varsitarian ng UST.

Prayer in darkness

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Wednesday, Easter Week-IV, 06 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 12:24-13:5 ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*> John 12:44-50

Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

Our lamentations continue, O Lord, as our nation is plunged into deeper and disturbing darkness. How can all kinds of darkness fall upon us in this administration? First, they found death as solution to many problems. And then came all their lies and fake news.

Not to mention their diplomatic ties with a godless government that has been dishonest from the very beginning regarding this pandemic.

They themselves have chosen to be in darkness at the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic who would rather pass blame and wash hands for every confusion in implementing the quarantine.

And, now comes their most serious attack to light, in shutting down a beacon of light of news and information.

The more we cry out to you, O dear Jesus, please come to us now. Quickly. And save us!

Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me, and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me. I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.”

John 12:44-46

We pray for those in government, in this administration who’s leader had blasphemed your Most Holy Name not only once or twice for the grace of enlightenment and decency from the Holy Spirit.

We pray like your early church for the Holy Spirit to set aside just one or two good souls in this government – if there are still any – to be sent to bring enlightenment to this administration who thrives on lies and malice along with their minions and supporters.

Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy.

Hear our cries and our pleas, O Lord of justice.

Show us your path of holiness amid this time of darkness and evil. Amen.

Photo from the Varistarian of UST.

Call of the COVID-19 quarantine: a return to our contemplative spirit

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 29 April 2020

Photo by author, 2010.

This is again for my brother priests and fellow workers in Church communication: our extended “enhanced community quarantine” is a call for us to rediscover the contemplative spirit so essential in our communication apostolate. It is best that before we go in front of the camera, before we post anything at all, or even before we go out doing our social action, let us first have Jesus Christ in us.

After all, it is always Jesus and only Jesus we bring as priests in everything we say and do. Jesus is our life as priests and without him, our works mean nothing. Worst, it may be happening that it is not Jesus whom we are following when we fail to spend time with him in serious prayers that unknown to us, we are already replacing him by creating our own ministry apart from him.

Incidentally, we are celebrating today the Memorial of St. Catherine of Siena who is considered as one of the patron saints for those working in telecommunications and TV stations.

In one of her numerous “ecstatic” visions, it is said that when she was so sick in her room, she begged the Lord to give her a glimpse of the celebration of the Mass in their chapel. The Lord heard her prayer and thus, she became the first person in history to have celebrated Mass by “remote telecast”!

From Google.

Faith and technology

We have mentioned in our previous reflection that we now live our faith in a mass-mediated culture. Media is all around us. And there is always that intense temptation by the devil to put us on TV and the internet to be popular.

So, how do we interact with technology on a daily basis?

What are we posting on Facebook? Are we like the rest who are also hooked into TikTok with all the inanities that go with it?

How much time do we spend for social media and Netflix these days?

And how many hours do we spend before the Blessed Sacrament, excluding our Liturgy of the Hours and praying of the Holy Rosary?

From Google.

We are familiar with Marshall McLuhan’s dictum “the medium is the message”.

This we have seen in the past very evident in our ministry when some priests have transformed the South American telenovelas and later Koreanovelas into a gospel too that people felt like listening to reviews during the homily. And it had given some people the idea that every homily of the priest must say something about television shows! In fact, about three years ago, some priests have to be reminded by the CBCP during the Simbang Gabi to focus only on the Word of God and not on TV shows and jokes to get the attention of their congregation during Mass.

But let us not forget that later in his life, McLuhan added to his dictum that “the medium is the massage” to warn us that sooner or later, we can be eaten up by media that everything is reduced into a show – or a palabas in Filipino that means outward.

That is what a show is, a palabas which is empty or walang laman.

And shallow, mababaw.

That is the sorry state of our many social communication efforts in the Church when we have Masses that have become like entertainment shows, priests becoming entertainers, church buildings and decors that look like videoke bars evoking none of the sacred, and tarps and posters that are all hype without any evangelical meaning.

Observe also how our presentations and shows in our Catholic schools and parish halls have become mere repetitions of what are on television that have left many of us now stuck in Emmaus who could no longer find the way back to Jerusalem, even to Jesus because all we see are the fun and excitement, the glitz and the glamor of media.

And of our massaged ego.

Road to Emmaus from clarusonline.it

Keeping technology in its place in the Church

We are not saying modern communications is evil; the Church has always been clear that these modern means of communications are in fact a gift from God. Vatican II asserts that it is Church’s “birthright” to use and own these modern means of communication for evangelization (Inter Mirifica, 3)

Our challenge in the Church is to keep these modern technologies in its proper place.

A technological culture is not the most hospitable environment for religious belief, but neither is it necessarily hostile. If we are to find a way of expressing our faith in this technological culture and of speaking to and with the people formed by this culture we need to take time to consider how we, as individuals and as a faith community, interact with technology on a daily basis.

James Mcdonnell, Communicating the Gospel in a Technological Age: Rediscovering the Contemplative Spirit (1989)

In a story posted by the CBCP News two days ago, it reported the experience of Filipino priest Fr. Jun Villanueva who contracted the dreaded COVID-19 disease in New York City last March shortly after he had arrived to study there.

Assigned in a parish in the heart of the Big Apple, Fr. Villanueva tells how he spent his days of being “alone literally and emotionally” as “moments with God”. But, his turning point came after recovering from the corona virus when he began celebrating Mass alone:

“I really cried when I first celebrated Mass without churchgoers. There’s no one in the Church except Jesus,” he recalled. “Then I realized that the Mass is not a show but our union with Jesus, whether there are people or none,” he said. “I started to look at the situation from that perspective”.

Fr. Jun Villanueva, CBCP News, 27 April 2020

That is the first step needed to put technology in its proper place in the Church: that we bring back Jesus Christ whom we have banished in the name of our ministry and vocation. The more we think of putting so much “art” and other things to “enhance” our liturgies, then we banish Jesus Christ.

This is the other pandemic we have refused to stop in the Church: triumphalism, the overdoing of things for God that in the process we actually put more of ourselves in the ministry and liturgy than of the Holy.

Is there anyone or anything greater than the Lord?

Remember St. Theresa of Avila: Solo dios basta!

And, like our saints who guide us closer to God, the only way to have Jesus and bring him back in our lives and ministry, in the church as institution and building is through the contemplative spirit of the priests.

It is a good thing that the catch call these days is that the “return to normal” is actually a “return to basics” like washing of hands, covering of mouths when sneezing, and most of all, a return to God.

From Google.

The spirits of modernity characterized by constant changes and technological efficiency do not jibe so well with the demands of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who have always reminded us of guarding against the temptations of the material world.

Jesus tells us to practice poverty but the world tells us to be wealthy.

Jesus asks us to forget ourselves and follow him but the world tells us to be popular and follow the limelight.

Jesus tells us to go down and be humble but the world tells us to rise up and go higher!

The other day, Jesus reminded us in the gospel:

“Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”

John 6:27

Most of the time in the Church and in our lives as priests, we have to be “inefficient” like “waste time” doing nothing in front of the Blessed Sacrament; have less of everything like food, money and clothing; be silent to listen more than to speak and talk more.

The contemplative spirit is about poverty and going down while the world tells us to be wealthy and to rise and go upwards.

The contemplative spirit is to be silent and trusting always in the Lord rather than relying on our own powers and abilities.

Here is James McDonnell again on the need to rediscover the contemplative spirit in communicating the gospel in this modern time.

“The contemplative spirit is an attitude of mind and heart that enables us to focus on the essential, important things. It refuses to be hurried or rushed into premature rejection or acceptance of technology. If we Christians allow it to inform our use of communication technologies we shall learn to be realistic, but always hopeful, able to love and reverence our culture even as we strive, with God’s help, to transform it.”

Communicating the Gospel in a Technological Age: Rediscovering the Contemplative Spirit (1989)

Take heart, my dear brother priests: we are representatives of Jesus Christ, our Eternal Priest. We are not entertainers and pleasers of anyone but of God alone. We do not need followers and likers. And we have so many other things to do than TikTok and Facebook or Instagram.

Let us go back to Nazareth to be silent and hidden so we can return to Jerusalem to await for further instructions from the Lord. Amen.

“Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio. From Google.

Some lessons from Emmaus

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 26 April 2020

This is for my brother priests and fellow communicators in the church who might be failing to recognize Jesus Christ along the way and sadly, stuck at Emmaus.

That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the tings that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.

Luke 24:13-16

We live our faith today in a mass-mediated culture.

Media is all around us.

Vatican II tells us that these modern means of communications are gifts from God that are “necessary for the formation of Christians and for pastoral activity” (Inter Mirifica, 3).

Communication is a sharing in the power of God who created everything by just saying “Let there be…”. When this power to communicate is mishandled and eventually abused, sooner or later, it can blind us and prevent us from recognizing Jesus in our midst.

And sadly, it is already happening.

Even before the start of the enhanced community quarantine, many of us were already using the various platforms of social media proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

But, are our hearts still burning deep inside in him and for him?

Is Jesus still the One we are proclaiming, or are we now trying to be like the so-called “influencers” of the secular world that we are more preoccupied and focused with gimmicks and antics, shows and bravaduras for the sake of followers and likes?

Are our hearts still burning with the Sacred Scriptures or the words of the world that we have made our ambos and altars like studios and stage complete with all the props to tickle the bones of people than build up their faith and experience Jesus?

On the road to Emmaus, after Cleopas had expressed their feelings and thoughts to Jesus, he and his companion fell silent and simply listened to Jesus explaining the Sacred Scriptures. No need to shout or mimic voices.

No need to keep on clapping hands like in a circus or even dance like Salome who later asked for the head of St. John the Baptist.

It is sad that on the road to Emmaus, it has become our monologue, our show that Jesus can no longer speak.

Remember that “in the beginning was the word, and the word became flesh”: God’s communication is always preceded by silence.

Even in the road to Emmaus, there was total silence when Jesus spoke that the two disciples were silent that they felt their hearts burning.

As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them…

Luke 24:28-33

The Mass and our Priesthood are both a mystery so unique especially for us. It is something beyond explanation without much physical descriptions but more of inner recognition.

Exactly like Easter: the moment we recognize Jesus in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, he vanishes because he is more than enough than anybody or anything else in the Mass and in our ministry in general.

Even in our very own lives!

St. Mother Teresa asked us priests long ago to “always give (them) Jesus, only Jesus”. And that will always be valid until the end of time when Jesus comes again.

And here lies the great lesson for us from Emmaus: the more we try harder, insisting on giving “physical appearances” of Jesus in our celebrations with our showbiz kind of preaching complete with a song and dance number to the excessive use of modern means of communications like slide presentations during homilies to our “creative liturgies” that are very distracting to other trappings of overdoing everything called “triumphalism” — that is when we BANISH Jesus from the scene.

In Emmaus, Jesus vanished when the disciples’ eyes were opened.

In some Masses today, unfortunately, Jesus is banished and many eyes are not only left closed but sadly, even blinded.

“Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio.

We are priests called to preside the celebration of the Eucharist in persona Christi.

We priests do not own the Mass and we cannot insist on whatever we want to do, even if it is very pleasing and delighting to the senses of the people.

Do away wit all those “styles” and gimmicks.

Jesus saved us not with activities; Jesus saved us by dying on the Cross.

If all we are concerned with is to “feel good”, to tickle our bones and senses, our eyes – and those of the people we serve and bring closer to God would never be opened to recognize Jesus Christ.

Our Masses and other celebrations need only Jesus, always Jesus.

There is no need to put our pictures in every tarpaulin or announcement. Rest assured that every disciple of Jesus is always good-looking and handsome. Believe. And stop bragging it.

Let us have him always and let others recognize him from within. If there is no inner recognition of Jesus, maybe we have never met him at all. Neither in Emmaus nor in Jerusalem nor in our selves.

A blessed week ahead of you, my brother priests and fellow communicators of Christ, in Christ.

The “fourth” temptation of Jesus

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 23 April 2020

Detail of “The Temptation of Jesus According to St. Matthew” on the wall of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, Italy. Photo from psephizo.com.

English journalist and satirist Thomas Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990) said in his book “Christ and the Media” (1978) that if Jesus Christ were still with us in this age, the devil would have surely tested him a fourth time in the wilderness with, “I will put you on TV“.

So true!

Muggeridge has been proven right especially in the last 40 years when television has become the new “altar” not only in homes but everywhere, including in our churches that has made the sacred so ordinary, almost profane with priests speaking and moving more like entertainers with the Mass becoming quite like a variety show, complete even with raffles and prizes!

That is why we priests have to restudy again and review Church teachings on social communication during this long quarantine period. And pray more intensely on our next moves after COVID-19.

Although the corona pandemic has given the much-needed push for our social communication ministry in the church, it is my firm belief that the post-COVID 19 scene can be misleading if not handled properly at this stage.

This early, we can see some abuses in the celebrations of the Holy Mass on TV as well as in other similar platforms like Facebook live.

But the most serious danger now becoming so clear and present are some of us priests totally “lost in media” who have become the center of attractions, pushing Jesus Christ out of the total picture.

Communication is sharing in the power of God

Communication is power. In the story of creation, God created everything by merely saying the words “Let there be…” and everything came into being. Our ability to communicate intelligibly unlike other creatures is a tremendous gift from God which is a sharing in his power to communicate.

This is explains the simple reason that when we love a person, we always talk; any lack of communication is a sign of a breakdown in the relationship like when husband and wife or lovers have “LQ”.

We have seen in recent years with the advent of smartphones how powerful can communication be that it can build or destroy anyone with a single “click”.

Or, how our ego is massaged when we are the first to break a news on Facebook or when our posts get viral or trending!

See how the most influential and highest paid people are always the ones on TV.

The seal of “Good Housekeeping” on every product had been replaced with “As Seen on TV!” as mark of good quality of anything being sold.

To succeed in any war campaign or coup d’etat, military handbooks now give top priority in first neutralizing TV and radio stations to ensure victory.

And, sadly also due to this power of TV, every political career is now launched first on television that is why we have more actors and actresses than solons and statesmen in the corridors of power.

How amazing that it is the fictional character Spider-Man, one of the top grossing film franchise in recent years, is the one who reminds us that “with great power comes great responsibility”.

In the Old Testament, people prided themselves in building the tower of Babel that reaches to heaven that God confused them with different languages causing its collapse. The reverse happened in the New Testament when during the Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit so people could understand each other despite their different languages and the Holy Church was built up.

When communication is seen in the right perspective, it becomes a spirituality because it is always a sharing in the power of God which is love.

“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, 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.

Pastoral Instruction on the Means of Social Communication (Communio et progressio), #11

Communication is spirituality, the sharing of Jesus Christ

Church communication, specifically the communication by every priest is communicating Jesus Christ, the eternal Word who became flesh.

Our mission as priests according to Vatican II as “man of the Word of the living God” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 4) is to primarily share Jesus Christ.

My spiritual director and mentor, truly another father and dad to me, Rev. Fr. Franz-Josef Eilers, svd would always tell me….

“Priesthood is for the service of the Lord and a priest should reflect it. He is not to become a ‘star’ with the public but rather another Jesus figure in humble service of the Lord… The test for a good priest is the depth and power of his spiritual life and being with the Lord. Can you imagine saints like John Vianney and John XXIII as television stars? If the media would report about their life, it is ok; but they themselves should not appear as “star” but rather as servants of the Lord. And this is reflected in their spiritual life and not any ‘show’…”

Personal notes with Fr. Eilers

What a tragedy when we priests are more after the number of followers and likes, forgetting the fact that Jesus himself had only 12 followers with one betrayer among them!

What a tragedy when we priests, starting from the seminary, has always been speaking and working around “Galilee” without any moments of silence and hiddenness of Nazareth and of the desert and wilderness.

All the spiritual masters from the apostolic period down to this modern age of Nouwen and Merton, including the secular Pico Iyer have always emphasized silence and solitude or stillness in prayer before the world and the Lord to truly have impact in this world.

We are priests asked to be the mouth and arms and limbs and legs of Jesus Christ. We are not replacing but merely representing Jesus Christ for it is him who is going to change the world, not us. Our task is to be filled always with Jesus Christ, to be like Jesus Christ, to share always and only Jesus Christ.

Like St. John the Baptist, our attitude toward Jesus and our communication ministry must always be “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn.3:30).

Then why all our pictures in every post, in every announcement?

If we firmly believe in Jesus, we do not need pomp and pageantry and all the gimiks and antics in our celebrations of the Mass or announcements of recollections or bible studies. People would always surely come for Jesus Christ who is more than anybody else.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The primacy of Christ in every Church communication

Long before Canadian philosopher and communication researcher Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) came up with his dictum “the medium is the message”, there has always been the towering figure of St. Augustine in early Church communication process.

In the fourth book of his “Doctrina Cristiana” (Christian Doctrine), he noted that in Christian communication, the process always begins with the Message, Jesus Christ.

Hence, whereas we normally find the process as:

SENDER —> MESSAGE —-> RECEIVER ;

in Church communication, it is always:

MESSAGE (JESUS CHRIST) —> SENDER —> RECEIVER.

When there is a breakdown in this flow of communication, especially by a priest, there is already a problem. When it is the priest who is always in the limelight, always his photo hogging whatever communication platform it may be, or when the homily has become more to delight and tickle the senses, it is a sign of falling into the fourth temptation.

Sooner or later, it will not be surprising that during consecration, instead of experiencing and realizing Jesus saying “This is my Body will be given up for you”, what the priest may be revealing is that This is my body. Be envious.”

Soon, Father will be endorsing products and services, entering into various contracts in the name of the Church, hanging out in the most expensive restaurants, rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, leaving Jesus behind among the poor and worst — alone in the Blessed Sacrament because Father is so busy with his “shootings” and media appearances.

And that is when he forgets being a priest, forgets Jesus Christ until it is too late, he had fallen into the trap of the devil as sex and financial scandals unfold, hurting the Church, hurting Jesus Christ, hurting himself and everybody else in the process.

Anybody can always be a good speaker and orator. But not everybody is called to speak for the Lord. Let us not waste it nor abuse it. Most of all, let us not disappoint the Lord who has called us not because we are good but because he is good!

May this quarantine period be another wilderness experience for us priests and communication ministers in the church so we may empty ourselves to be filled with Jesus Christ the Perfect Communicator we must share and proclaim. Amen.