Lent for dreamers

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 05 March 2021
*Homily as Chaplain of Our Lady of Fatima University (OLFU) and Fatima University Medical Center (FUMC) in Valenzuela.
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, February 2021.

Contrary to a common belief by many, Lent is a season of joy because it is a preparation for Easter, the “mother of all feasts” in our Church.  Although this season calls for intense prayers, contrition of sin, fasting and abstinence, and alms-giving, Lent does not have to be sober nor somber. 

Jesus said to his disciples, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.  They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face…”

Matthew 6:16, 17

At the start of this season during Ash Wednesday, I have told you that life is a daily lent, a daily exodus from darkness into light, from sickness into health, from sin into grace and new life. 

During Lent, we are filled with joy as we await our little Easter celebrations in life when we finish all our papers or pass our exams, or achieve whatever goals we have set even in the midst of this pandemic. Lent is a joyful season because it is a celebration of our rising to new life in Jesus Christ.  It is therefore a time for us to dream again, to aspire for the best, to “Rise to the Top” as our motto says at Our Lady of Fatima University and Medical Center.

In our readings today are two great dreamers, Joseph the son of Jacob (aka, Israel) called “the Dreamer” and our Lord Jesus Christ, the one referred to as son of the vineyard owner in our gospel’s parable of the wicked tenants. 

How sad that in our time of social media that have saturated us with too much showbiz and entertainment, many people no longer dream big except to be rich and famous with a lot of money and many “followers”.

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, February 2021.
Importance of dreaming to become better persons

Lent invites us to dream big again, dream things that really matter in life like being good and holy, being a better person or “Improving Man as Man” minus all the arte and kikay things and porma we are so used to these days.

Yesterday I went to the mall to get my pair of glasses.  I was so surprised to see great crowds seated in about six rows of chairs at the hall with a another row snaking through Watson’s while a guard directed the flow of human traffic with his megaphone.  When I inquired at my optical shop about the crowd, I was shocked to learn that it was all due to a sale of cosmmetics!

I am not judging nor demeaning those people lining up for a sale of cosmetics but, should we not examine our priorities again in this time of pandemic?

When I was still assigned in our diocesan school in Malolos, I used to require my students at elementary to start dreaming what they would want to be when they grow up even while still in grade one.  I tell them to start dreaming while young.  No wonder there are so many young people about to enter college still not certain what course to take or even what to do with his/her life.  

Do not be afraid to dream like Joseph and Jesus or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr with his famous “I have a dream” speech. 

Photo by author, 2020.

Dream big, it is free!  Do not be affected by those without dreams and plans in life.  Watch out for them who may be even those closest to you like family and friends like the brothers of Joseph who “hated him so much that they would not even greet him” (Gen.37:4) he spoke to them of his many dreams in life.

Danger of not having a dream

People without dreams are people without vision, people who cannot see beyond the present moment and the physical realities. 

Helen Keller said “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision” like the brothers of Joseph as well as the wicked tenants in the Lord’s parable who have no vision of things beyond this life. That is why they did not mind killing their own brother Joseph who was eventually sold or murdering the only son sent by the vineyard owner to collect his share of harvest. 

Here lies the evil of people without dreams in life:  they lack any concern at all to the value of person and of human life. 

People without vision, without plans in life, without dreams have no regard at all with others.  A dreamer is always one who thinks not only of the betterment of his life but also of others.  Dreamers are those who perfect themselves, who seek fulfillment in life, not just material things.  They think of how they can help others in need for they always seek the higher and deeper truths in life.  No wonder, dreamers are also merciful as we shall see how Joseph forgave his brothers for their grave sin against him.

Recently we have started our limited face-to-face classes in our College of Medicine because we are not contented waiting for things to happen, because we dream of something better even in the midst of a pandemic.  Dreamers make things happen, even against all odds like Joseph who never stopped dreaming in God after being sold to Egypt by his brothers.  The Dreamer eventually became the interpreter of the dream of the Pharaoh that led Egypt to adequately prepare itself for the great famine Joseph had predicted. It led to his rise to power and fame in Egypt that later became the fulfillment of his dream as a teenager when his brothers and father came to him to apologize and buy grains.

On Sunday, our graduates are taking the Physician Licensure Exam.  Let us pray for them to have the chance to fulfill their dreams of serving the people as doctors especially in this pandemic.  May they all pass the medical board exam with flying colors. 

It is not enough that we dream big for ourselves but we also share in others’ dreams because ultimately in the end, all our dreams lead us to God our fulfillment in life.  Amen.

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, February 2021.

Kuwaresma: Bundok ng Buhay, Bundok ng Krus ng Pagpapanibago

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-01 ng Marso, 2021
Larawan kuha ni P. Gerry Pascual sa Switzerland, Agosto 2019.
Noong mga araw na iyon, 
umakyat si Jesus sa isang mataas na bundok. 
Wala siyang isinama kundi 
sina Pedro, Santiago at Juan. 
Samantalang sila'y naroon, 
nakita nilang nagbagong-anyo si Jesus, 
nagningning ang kanyang kasuutan 
na naging puting-puti, anupa't 
walang sinumang makapagpapaputi 
nang gayon (Marcos 9:2-3).
Kay sarap pagnilayan mga paglalarawan
 ating buhay katulad ng kabundukan
dapat akyatin upang marating
rurok ng tagumpay na ating mithiin;
gayun din naman sa ganitong paglalarawan
ating matatanawan ating napagnilayan
paulit-ulit na Kuwaresma yaring ating buhay:
mula sa ilang, mataas na bundok pinuntahan
 kasama tatlong alagad upang masaksihan
pagbabagong-anyo ng Panginoong Jesu-Kristo
paalala na Siya ay kasama at kaisa natin
umaahon upang matunton kabanalang nilalayon.
Alisin at iwanan mga dala-dalahang
sagabal katulad ng mga kasamaan at kasalanan
bunsod ng paghahangad sa mga walang kabuluhan
o kinalaman sa ating kaligtasan gaya ng
kayamanan, kapangyarihan at kapalaluan;
madalas pananamapalataya natin ay sinusubukan
tila ang Diyos mga pangako Niya ay nakakalimutan
basta makinig lamang at Siya ay sundan
asahan gagawa Siya ng paraan at daan
lalo kung tayo ay laang isuko ating pinanghahawakan
upang Kanyang mapalitan
ng higit na mas mainam.
Madalas sa itaas ng kabundukan
hindi kaagad nababanaagan tinutunguhan
ngunit nararamdaman
pagbabago sa pangangatawan
maging sa kalooban;
higit sa magagandang tanawin
pagkaunawa at pananaw kapansin-pansin
lumalawak at nagiging malinaw ang lahat
kapag nataas antas ng ating karanasan
kaya mula sa itaas ng kabundukan
ibaba sa pangkaraniwang pamumuhay at pag-iral
natalos nating karunungan sa Krus ni Hesus!
Habang bumababa sila sa bundok 
mahigpit itinagubilin sa kanila ni Jesus: 
"Huwag ninyong sasabihin kaninuman 
ang inyong nakita hangga't hindi 
muling nabubuhay ang Anak ng Tao." 
Sinunod nila ang tagubiling ito, 
ngunit sila-sila'y nagtanungan 
kung ano ang kahulugan 
ng sinabi niyang muling pagkabuhay
(Marcos 9:9-10).
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The ups and downs from Lent to Easter

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Second Sunday of Lent in Cycle B, 28 February 2021
Genesis 22:1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18  +  Romans 8:31-34  +  Mark 9:2-10
Photo by author, the Sinai Mountain Range in Egypt, May 2019.

As we have been saying, life is a daily Lent: from the desert of our lives last Sunday, today we ascend a mountain with Jesus to be with God and be transformed, transfigured in him. Our efforts to become holy and better persons in itself is like going up a mountain symbolizing God as expressed in many instances in the Bible.

This is the reason that every year following the temptation of Jesus in the desert, the Second Sunday of Lent tells us the story of the transfiguration of Jesus at Mount Tabor to stress anew this lenten character of coming and meeting God in our selves and in our daily lives through many ups and downs in life like in climbing a mountain.

Our readings this Sunday give us some tips on how ascend the mountain of God with Jesus so we may be transformed and transfigured in him.


First important step is to leave everything behind, to travel light. The key to approach a mountain is to bring nothing except one’s self and other essentials only like faith in God. There are many detours with no permanent path going up the mountain like what Abraham realized when God asked him to offer his son Isaac.

Photo by author, Sonnen Berg Mountain View, Davao City, 2018.

Feel the drama of the scene when Isaac sensed something unusual while Abraham remained confident in God…

As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke to his father Abraham: “Father!” he said. “Yes, son,” he replied. Isaac continued, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?” “Son,” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.” Then the two continued going forward.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Then he reached out and took his knife to slaughter his son. But the Lord’s messenger called to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!” “Here I am!” he answered. “Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger. “I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” As Abraham looked about, he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son.

Genesis 22:7-13

In the gospel, we find a similar situation after Peter had confessed at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus is the Messiah, thus expressing the faith of the Twelve in Christ while making a U-turn back to Jerusalem. It was at that time when Jesus made his first prediction of his coming Passion and Death that confused Peter.

As they travelled to Jerusalem, Jesus preached to the crowds and the Twelve the three conditions of discipleship: deny one’s self, take up his cross, and follow him. It was something Jesus would be teaching repeatedly until they reached Jerusalem to underscore the importance of that instruction from the voice during his transfiguration, “Listen to him”.

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then a cloud came, casting shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

Mark 9:2-3, 7
Photo by Atty. Grace Polaris Rivas-Beron atop Mt. Sinai in Egypt, May 2019.

Observe my dear reader how Jesus separated the three disciples from the rest so as to be by themselves like Abraham in the first reading in order to be empty and obedient to God.

An obedient person is first of all a good listener, one who is willing to forget one’s self, to be empty and open to instructions from those above him. From the two Latin words “ob audire” that mean to listen attentively, obedient men and women from Abraham to Jesus Christ to Peter and all the saints were first of all attentive listeners to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

One cannot follow unless he/she first listens. That is why it is in obedience when our faith in God is tested, where we grow deeper in our faith in him too! Every act of obedience is an ascend to God our mountain because to obey the Lord is to trust him especially at times when God seems to contradict himself.

Imagine how painful it must have been for Abraham after waiting for so many years for the birth of his own son by his wife Sarah when God suddenly asked him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice!? Or with Peter, James, and John. After learning that Jesus is finally the awaited Messiah during their conversations at Caesarea Philippi, suddenly the Lord gave his first prediction of his passion and death, to be repeated after his transfiguration.

So many times God can be too much for us to understand that we just have to believe and trust him, to ride on or make sakay. Most of the time we find God so “malabo” or “bomalabs” —- so unclear but at the same time very clear of his great plans for us that we feel him deep inside us that we continue to push ourselves higher to him, believing and hoping he is up to something for us. And that is when he surprises us with the bestest things in life!


When we trust God, when we dare to walk the darkness ascending to the mountain with him with nothing else except our very selves and faith, that is when we are transformed and transfigured in Christ. That is when we are opened to new possibilities we have never imagined. That is when we become fruitful and fulfilled.

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, Atok, Benguet, September 2019.

As any mountaineer would tell, the best sights are seen from above, from the top when our horizons are widened as we journey to the summit, giving us new perspectives and views on everything, especially in our selves and life in general.

Even if we climb with somebody else like Abraham with Isaac or Peter with James and John, God touches us in the most personal and unique way.

See when Abraham was about to strike Isaac, an angel stopped him that he saw a ram caught by its horns in the thicket which he eventually offered as holocaust instead of his son. Peter hardly knew what to say as they were terrified when Jesus transfigured while conversing with Moses and Elijah until suddenly, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

Like Abraham and Peter and his companions, we have wondered many times what happened after feeling so lost and confused, when we felt “game over” but suddenly everything turns out perfectly well by the grace of God. We’re not only saved like Isaac but we also begin thinking deeper inside us of many things like the three disciples “questioning what rising from the dead meant” (Mk.9:10).

Go back to those moments of hardships and emptiness with nothing to hold on except God, when climbing up to him in faith was the only thing left to take when great things happen unexpectedly and joyously for us! How we wish to remain up there on cloud nine, in ecstasy, hoping those moments would never end, but….


The challenge of life and of Lent especially when seen in the light of our baptismal promises of being holy like God is not to remain on top of the mountain but to bring that mountain experience down into our daily living. It is an ongoing process of trusting, of being faithful to God especially in prayers, in ascending his mountain daily.

In this age of instants when everything has become so efficient and easy, more and more people are finding prayer and God in general as useless waste of time. We have reduced our lives and existence to mere activities for social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Tweeter flooding them with our photos and words empty of meaning. We have stopped living meaningfully as we have ceased probing deeper into life, exploring what’s inside ourselves who can truly lead us to fulfillment, Jesus Christ. How tragic that after quantifying everything in life to save so much precious time in doing so many things, we still lack quality time.

God is greater than our minds and our hearts (1John 3:30) that not everything can be measured in human success and failure. Sometimes, human success is failure with God while human failure can be success in God as we have seen in the experience of Abraham today.

In this time of Lent, we are encouraged to pray and sacrifice, to strive ascending the mountain of God to deepen our faith in him who has given us Jesus his Son to save us, to make us like him, divine and sublime.

Transfiguration is a process, a call to be faithful to God that to reach our glory, we have to go through a lot of pain and sufferings like the scandal of the cross of Jesus Christ. If we are faithful to God especially in our prayers, in our ascent to his mountain of purifications, we realize in the process we are not alone, that we have God by our side as St. Paul assures us in the second reading: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom.8:31)

This Sunday, let us be confident and trust in God that everything would be right. Amen.

Photo by author, sunset at Marcos Highway, 2019.

From fishermen to fishers of men

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle-B, 24 January 2021
Jonah 3:1-5, 10  >><)))*>  1 Corinthians 7:29-31  >><)))*>  Mark 1:14-20
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

The sea evokes mixed feelings of both joy and fear at the same time. It symbolizes life itself that may be nice and lovely but difficult and dangerous too. For many people, the sea is the sign of abundant life, a source of livelihood while for some, a reminder of death and misery.

Such is the mystery of life too that at the start of the ministry of Jesus Christ, we find Mark locating its setting by the sea as we embark fully into the Ordinary Time of the liturgy.

After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen.

Mark 1:14-16

Mark wrote the first gospel account that became the framework for Matthew and Luke in writing their own versions. He was in a hurry in writing his gospel because he felt the urgency in making known the good news of Jesus Christ; thus, his gospel is also the shortest, doing away with so many other details without losing the essentials.

This we find in his brief presentation today of the beginning of Christ’s ministry set by the Sea of Galilee.


Our sea of discontent.

First thing we notice is the very nature of the coming of Jesus Christ that happens when we are in rough waters, perhaps even with a violent storm at the middle of the sea called life: After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Photo by author, sunrise at the Sea (Lake) of Galilee, 2017.

The setting was not totally good. John had been arrested. People must have been disappointed. But, that is always the cue in God’s coming called “kairos” or fullness of time, the day of judgment.

It is when we are going through difficult situations in life when we must examine ourselves too, of the need to set aside our own plans and agenda to let go and let God.

Every here and now is the time of fulfillment, a time of God’s coming to us.

Do we have the room, the space in us to welcome him to bring us into fulfillment? Hence, the need to empty ourselves, to repent and believe in Jesus Christ, the gospel himself.

Secondly, it is when we are sailing through rough seas when we also experience within that feeling of discontentment, of emptiness when there seems to be something missing in our lives even if everything is going fine like with our career or business, relationships, or family where nobody is sick or maybe the kids have all grown up and now on their own.

There comes a time in our lives when our problem is not having any problems at all — when we are no longer contented with being happy and satisfied but longing for fulfillment.

Rejoice and be glad when feeling this way! Emptiness leads to fullness as discontentment in life is always a sign of spiritual growth if we heed the calls of Jesus when desolation is a prelude to consolation.

Like in the story of creation, out of chaos comes order, exactly the experience of the first four disciples of Jesus.

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.

Mark 1:16-20
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, Carigara, 2019.

When we are sailing through rough seas in life, that is when we have to trust God more so he can do and move in our lives to achieve the great plans he had created us for. “Be still and confess that I am God!” (Ps. 46:10), so the psalmist tells us.

Money and material things were not a problem for Simon and company. They must be well to-do as they have their own fishing boats at the time, even with men hired to work for them. Opening their hearts to listen to Jesus, they must have felt deep inside them that finally, they have found direction in life, something they have been searching for a long time.

Did they understand the meaning of “fishers of men”? We have no way of knowing it but Mark tells us how upon listening to Jesus, Simon and Andrew left everything behind and followed the Lord! Imagine the great fortune they have left behind.

Even Zebedee, the father of James and John, did not complain nor run after them to at least ask them to stay behind so they would help him run their family business because he too must have been praying for his sons to grow up and mature! Recall how the mother of James and John requested Jesus the favor to have them seated beside him when reigning in his kingdom they thought to be like the kings of their time living in a palace. Or, their attitude in asking Jesus to burn down a Samaritan village that refused them passage. These instances indicate how the brothers James and John may have been like today’s typical happy-go-lucky rich kids of their time but searching for meaning in life amid the many troubles and misadventures in life.

Jesus comes to us in a similar manner, in the ordinariness and problems and struggles of our lives like when Simon and Andrew, James, and John were busy working near the Sea of Galilee. The Lord speaks to them about what they were doing as fishermen to express to them his plans to make them fishers of men.


We do not find God;
it is God who finds us.

Every day, Jesus Christ is passing by, calling us, inviting us to repent and believe in his gospel, challenging us to face our responsibilities and most of all, asking us for our commitment. He never imposes but would always patiently wait for us.

We all search for meaning in life; for some, it may come early in life while for others, it might come later. But surely, our search for meaning, for God always come for sure because we were created that way by God.

In my personal experience, I have realized that we do not really find God; it is God who actually finds us! Moreover, nobody escapes God as attested by so many saints and even ordinary people we have known who have experienced conversion.

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, December 2020.

One beautiful story of God coming to us, searching for us, and saving us from storms at the middle of the sea of life is that of Jonah and the city of Nineveh in the first reading. Jonah himself tried to escape God when his ship encountered a severe storm in the middle of the sea that he was thrown out to be swallowed by a whale. Of course, it is symbolic but it tells us in a nutshell the urgency of proclaiming God’s message of conversion, of not escaping God. This we find when Jonah was surprised at how a pagan nation like Niniveh listened to his preaching that they were spared of God’s wrath and punishment.

Jonah and Niniveh both give us beautiful lessons in resolutely turning back to God and his ways without wasting any instant as well as God’s immense love and concern for everyone, offering his mercy and forgiveness no matter how serious our sins are.

The characters of Jonah and of the inhabitants of Niniveh may be exaggerated but they are very true even among us in our own days! Recently we have seen how things have gone worst in this life in almost every aspect especially since last year with the coming of COVID-19 pandemic.

That is why St. Paul’s call in the second reading is so timely: “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. For the world in its present form is passing away” (1Cor.7:29,31).

When St. Paul wrote the Corinthians telling them to act as not having wives or weep as not weeping means we have to detach ourselves from all that perish like material things as well as jobs and careers, and even this life we have. We have to focus more on things that last who is ultimately God in Jesus Christ.

Last week, I was so saddened with the news of the closing of the Makati Shangri-la Hotel next month. One of our parishioners is a young man working there as a chef since 2004. He is a very good man, always dropping by the parish after work, never missing a Sunday with his father who died last summer. When COVID-19 started, he would always attend our online Mass wherever he may be.

I texted him the night the news came out of the closure of their hotel next month. Beside is a screenshot of our chat that turned my sorrow into joy upon realizing Carlo’s deep faith in God.

That night, I thanked God in my final prayer, for letting Jesus passed by my room while chatting with Carlo, in taking care of Carlo.

Yesterday after Mass I talked to him again and he was already very upbeat, looking forward to celebrating the Mass with us more often while looking for a new job.

Let us pray this Sunday for everyone going through many hardships these days so they may remain open in their hearts, listening to Jesus who is passing by, calling them to be his fishers of men in this troubled seas. Amen.

A blessed week ahead of you!

Praying for empathy

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Wednesday, Week-I, Year-I in Ordinary Time, 13 January 2021
Hebrews 2:14-18     <*(((><<   + + +   >><)))*>     Mark 1:29-39
Photo by author, December 2020.

Today O Lord I pray for the grace of empathy, for the gift of being one with others in pain and suffering, of being one with those who are lost and confused, of sharing in the plight and burdens of others.

Thank you, dear Jesus, in teaching us something very valuable that we often overlook about empathy which is more that just a feeling, of writing or sharing a post on social media about the miseries of some people.

Remind us that empathy is first of all being one with You, dear Jesus, who first empathized with us when You chose to suffer and die on the Cross, overcoming so many temptations of turning away from the Father, looking more into Your own good and benefit, forgetting the suffering humanity.

Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Hebrews 2:17-18

Far from being a contradiction as we have used to believe, Your suffering and dying as the Messiah revealed to us has the Father’s immense love for us, proving that You, dear Jesus is truly the Son of God who went through His pasch to become our perfect intercessor.

May we imitate the brothers Simon and Andrew, James and John who “immediately told” You of Peter’s sick mother-in-law, a perfect example of empathizing in and through You, Lord.

Most of all, may we always follow you, seek you, and be one with you so we may truly empathize with the poor and suffering by remaining united and one in You to the Father.

He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him. Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.

Mark 1:35

That is the essence of empathy: being one with the Father in Jesus to be one with everyone. Empathy is not doing everything by ourselves but doing only as much as we can in You. May we keep that in our minds for failure to be one with You will never be an empathy but simply be playing hero and “wannabe”. Amen.

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, 2016.

The problem with beginning

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-2 for the Soul 
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Advent Week III, 17 December 2020
Genesis 49:2, 8-10     >><)))*> + >><)))*> + >><)))*>     Matthew 1:1-17
Photo by author of sun beginning to shine over the mountain ranges Sinai Desert in Egypt, May 2019.

Yesterday we started our reflection with an old Christmas song, Do You Hear What I Hear? by Bing Crosby; today, it is Andy Williams turn to serenade us with the opening lines to the theme of the 1970 film Love Story:

Where do I begin 
To tell the story of how great a love can be 
The sweet love story that is older than the sea 
The simple truth about the love she brings to me 
Where do I start

No. I did not see that movie now a classic but I was old enough to remember its theme that became popular even for some more years during the 70’s that made Andy Williams so well-known when we were in elementary school. His song came to my mind as I grappled – which usually happened – on how to begin this reflection.

Where do I begin or how shall I begin? is one of our most common question in almost anything we start doing or telling because beginning any undertaking is always difficult. Experts have tackled it like Stephen Covey telling us to “begin with the end in sight” while Simon Sinek insists we always “start with why”.

Every beginning – like a homily or a speech, a business venture, or even an exercise program – means so much as it gives us a gist of where it is leading to, of what is going to happen.

The evangelists also wrestled with the same issue and they all have their own style in starting their gospel account but nothing beats Matthew in his most unique manner by beginning with a series of names in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. According to the late American biblical scholar Fr. Raymond Brown, he was willing to bet that if anyone is asked to tell the story of Jesus to a non-believer, no one will ever imitate Matthew by starting with Abraham begetting Isaac, Isaac is the father of…

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar…

Matthew 1:1-3
Photo by author of an oasis in the Dead Sea region of Israel, May 2017.

God the Prime Mover, the Beginning of everything

Today we shift our focus in our Advent preparations to the first coming of Jesus Christ when he was born in Bethlehem more than 2000 years ago. Strictly speaking, the Church’s official countdown to Christmas begins only today when all our weekday readings from December 17-24 are focused on how the birth of Jesus happened.

And what a way to start this series with the gospel by Matthew that begins with “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham”! The Greek is more literal in stating it as “The book of the genesis of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

That makes Matthew’s gospel so unique by starting it with names that all sound so weird to us today.
So, what’s with the names? Of course, a name is everything!

Companies and organizations pay huge amounts of money for their trademarks and logos like Coca-Cola, IBM, and Apple. Some corporate or product names have in fact entered our vocabulary like Xerox for copiers, Colgate for toothpaste and Frigidaire for refrigerators.

Every name carries a story, a meaning, a mission, even a destiny. How sad that we Filipinos rarely take this seriously especially in giving names to children that often becomes a joke or a disaster, or both. But to foreigners especially the Jewish people, a name is more than an identification but also one’s mission.

When we examine each name in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, we discover it is just like our own family trees with some men and women not really that exceptional, even a shame and an embarrassment to the family. Behind each name we have heard is an imperfect person -except for Joseph and Mary – with so many sins and mistakes.

And that is the good news of today: God does not call the qualified but qualifies His call.

Everything begins with God – our lives and coming into being. In all eternity, God perfectly knows everything that will happen to us and yet He chose to believe in us, despite our imperfections and being prone to sin that He sent us to this world with a mission to make His Son our Lord Jesus come into the world through us, just like his ancestors.

Photo by author, Mt. St. Paul Spirituality Center, La Trinidad, Benguet, January 2020.

From the imperfect “house of King David” to Jesus Christ’s eternal kingdom

Let us take the first name mentioned by Matthew in starting his gospel, David who makes this genealogy so interesting. In fact, it was on him the whole genealogy is structured by Matthew. And we all know how imperfect was David, of how he had sinned when he took Bathsheba the wife of army officer Uriah whom he ordered placed in a position that got him killed in a battle.

But that is how God works – so unlike us! God is a God of surprises who works so unpredictably unlike us humans. Imagine after all the sex scandals with Bathsheba, God still promised an eternal kingdom coming from the house of David, that of Jesus Christ: “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever” (2 Sam.7:16, first reading on Sunday and morning of Thursday).

At the end of his genealogy of Jesus, Matthew added this interesting note:

Thus the total number of of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Christ, fourteen generations.

Matthew 1:17

Matthew is up to something here! Why build around the history of Israel and genealogy of Jesus Christ around a person who had gravely sinned against God and others?

Most likely. Remember how Matthew experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness when Jesus came to call him while at his tax collection booth and he immediately stood and left everything behind to follow the Lord. Matthew knew well that God is not like humans who box people and label them like things.

Caravaggio’s famous painting of the call of Matthew by Jesus from wikicommons.org.

In assembling to us three sets of fourteen generations that traced the coming of Jesus Christ from Abraham structured around David, Matthew shows us how God worked through this sinful man a series of new “beginnings” in life, both in grace and in sin. See the genealogy rising from Abraham to David, then its decline and descent from Solomon to the Babylonian Exile, and then rising again to the advent of Jesus.

Now try to imagine how great and loving is our God and Father who chose to believe in David, a person just like us with many imperfections and prone to sins! See His power and holiness in setting any sinful situation for new beginnings of grace and blessings.


Sometimes,
God uses our occasions of sins
as new beginnings 
of His grace and blessings.

One thing I have realized in life is that our most unforgettable moments happen either when we are nearest, or farthest away from God.

This is very amazing. Consider when are we closest to God? Most often that is when we were high and good, feeling blessed and loved, when healthy and successful that were ironically the times we rarely thought of God. We only remember those moments as our closest with God after being away in fact from Him!

And when are we farthest from God? Quickly we say when we were deep in sin, when lost, or when unloved and misunderstood.

Between these two moments, it is most often when we are farthest from God that is always most unforgettable, the ones we remember always, the ones that have left the deepest cut in us because those times in turn have become occasions for us to begin anew in God!

Like David. Or Matthew known before as Levi the tax collector.

Photo by author of the Lake of Galilee shortly after sunrise, May 2019.

That is how God sometimes would make it for us to begin anew in Him! See how at the first set of fourteen generations from Abraham to David, we find the whole history of Israel so close with God punctuated by Egypt and Exodus when their sins “turned” into their favor. In the second set of fourteen generations from Solomon to the Babylonian exile, the Israelites sank into their lowest point in history when led by their kings they turned away from God, worshipping idols. But, God did not abandon them as we see in the third set of fourteen generations when things got better as the Israelites returned to God and to their Promised Land reaching its high point in Jesus Christ’s birth.

God is the beginning of everything and even if we try to “end” with our many sins what He had began, He always finds ways to begin anew even when we are so far away from Him.

This is also the meaning of the Jacob’s choice for Judah over his other sons in being the tribe to continue his family line leading to the fulfillment of the Davidic lineage in Jesus Christ. It was from Judah came the name of their religion “Judaism” even if Judah was not the best and holiest of Jacob’s sons. Joseph the Dreamer must have been the wisest choice as more suitable to have been blessed by their father or by God himself but, that is not the way of God.

By starting his gospel with the line “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham”, Matthew shows us God’s total power and goodness as source and beginning of all good things who also has the last and final say in everything.

In the genealogy of Jesus, we are reminded that every day is a new beginning in God, right in our darkness and sin, in our sickness and pandemic. David like Judah may have sinned so great before God but His mercy and love proved greater than their sins that they were able to rise again to become better and holier in His grace.

That’s one great beginning we can start right here, right now in our Simbang Gabi! A blessed Thursday to you! Amen.

Photo by Marc Angelo Nicolas Carpio, our Parish at night, 29 November 2020.

Priesthood is loving Jesus first

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II on the occasion of 
the First Year Anniversary of Ordination 
to the Priesthood of Rev. Fr. Howard Tarrayo
Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
Malolos City, 10 December 2020
Photo by author of Lake Tiberias (Galilee) at sunrise, May 2019.

This preaching should have been last year.

Fr. Howard was the very first person to have invited me to be his predicador at his Primera Missa Solemne while still a seminarian — and that is why I think he was delayed for almost two years before getting ordained exactly a year ago today!

That gospel scene you have chosen for this occasion at the shores of Lake Tiberias is something that happens everyday in our lives as priests, from day one of ordination way into our old age in with Jesus asking us, like, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” (Jn.21:17)

Priesthood is essentially loving Jesus Christ first of all. That is why Jesus had to ask Simon Peter thrice with the same question, “Do you love me?” because we have to love him first before we can truly follow him.

When the priesthood or the Call becomes the very core and center of our lives and not Jesus our Caller, sooner or later, we replace Christ that we become the Lord and Master in our parish, in our ministry.

Today, we are celebrating Fr. Howard your remaining in love with Jesus, of loving Him first, a year after your ordination and we pray that every year, it will always be the very reason you celebrate your ordination anniversary.


When they had finished breakfast,
Jesus said to Simon Peter, 
"Simon, son of John, do you love me
more than these?"
He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know 
that I love you." 
He said to him, "Feed my lambs."
(John 21:15)

Loving Jesus first is growing deeper in our prayer life in him. People who love are always together; they have a ritual or a schedule that like the fox telling the Little Prince, an hour before their appointed meeting, his heart is already beating for him, excited with his presence that he is coming.

Photo by author, parish sacristy, 05 December 2020.

It is my hope that during this pandemic we priests have rediscovered the value and beauty of having that seminary schedule during our formation years that must have ingrained in us discipline. Like schedules, prayer is a discipline. Love goes through a process, it matures, becomes more disciplined. That is why a disciple is not only a follower but also a disciplined one, a true lover!

It is good to bond with brother priests and friends and family once in a while but not every night or every other night that we have practically made every Starbucks outlet a parish or even a diocese where 1/3 of the clergy get together religiously (pun intended)! Any loving husband would always be home at night to be with his wife. The same is true with every priest — be home at night in your parish to be with Jesus at prayer. He awaits you, He misses you!

Whenever people ask me what is the most difficult part of priesthood, I always tell them it is praying every day. And I mean real prayer when we have to strip ourselves naked before God in our truest selves. Kaya sabihin man nila walanghiya o salvahe ang sino mang pari, pero kung araw-araw lalo na sa gabi siya ay nananalangin, mabuting pari pa rin siya kasi maski minsan, nagiging totoo siya sa sarili at sa Diyos. And masama kapag hindi na siya nagdarasal nang tunay, iyon ang simula ng pagkaligaw ng sino mang pari.

Whatever is the fruit of our prayer, that is our homily and that is when all tests happen: the moment we deliver a homily, people measure us if we “walk our talk”. The priest is the homily himself. When a priest stops celebrating Mass, most especially refuses to give homilies, maybe Father is no longer praying. Baka may iba na siyang mahal kesa kay Jesus.

Remaining in love with Jesus is being a man of prayer.


He then said to him a second time,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
He said to him, 
"Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
He said to him, "Tend my sheep."
(John 21:16)

Loving Jesus first means keeping in mind that everything is a gift from Jesus, that whatever we have, whatever we share, whether material or spiritual things, is always from Christ. We have nothing except Him. Even if sometimes we feel bad in our ministry like going on a sick call when we are so tired or blessing a dead cat or hearing confessions of a parishioner who have maligned you, just do it! Whatever you give them, it is not yours but Jesus’!

Photo by author, parish sacristy, 05 December 2020.

Huwag maging maramot, Father. Maging mapagmahal, matulunging, maunawain, mapagpasensiya, mapagbigay, mapagpatawad — kasi ano mang pagmamahal, tulong, pang-unawa, pagpapasensiya, kapatawaran o ano mang ating maibibigay kanino man ay hindi naman talagang atin kungdi kay Kristo at Kristo pa rin!

Here lies the danger when we are so focused with our call or vocation when we feel the one who must be understood and cared for — we turn the ones being served instead of the one serving! Kasi feeling natin magaling tayo kaya tayo naging pari! Para tayong artista at politiko na “FGLG”: feeling guapo, looking gago. Parang lahat may utang na loob sa atin. Kaya kung magmayabang tayo: ako nagpagawa niyan, ako nakaisip niyan, ako, ako, ako…. Nasaan si Jesus? Nandun sa tabernakulo, nabuburo.

I wish to share with you a prayer I have written during our retreat with a Cenacle sister at the Theologate when we were in third year: “Lord Jesus Christ, you have given me with so much and I have given so little; teach me to give more of my self and more of You to others. Amen.”


He said to him a third time, 
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was distressed that he had said to him
a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him,
"Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep."
And when he had said this, he said to him,
"Follow me."
(John 21:17, 19)

Father Howard, we have learned in Holy Matrimony that a man and a woman marries not only each other but also their families; the same is very true in priesthood. Loving Jesus first means the priest’s family must love Jesus more than their priest son and Kuya Pari or Tito Pari.

Profession of faith by Rev. Fr. Howard with his mother and sister before Bishop Dennis, 10 December 2019.

Nanay Nelia and Mary Grace… kung mahal ninyo si Father Howard, mas mahalin ninyo si Jesus. Ang pagmamahal ng pamilya sa kanilang anak o kapatid na pari ay naroon din sa kanilang higit na pagmamahal kay Jesus. Kapag si Jesus ang minahal ninyo una at higit sa lahat katulad naming mga pari, manalig kayo lalong mamahalin ni Jesus si Father. Hindi siya pababayaan.

We are told that after this third question by Jesus “Do you love me?”, Simon Peter was distressed because he remembered how he had denied the Lord three times after His arrest on Holy Thursday evening.

What can be more distressing especially at this time of the pandemic for us priests than be caught between our family and ministry?

You were still preparing for your Diaconal ordination last year, Father Howard when your mother had a stroke, then followed by the death of your father. It must have been so difficult, so painful. But looking back, did God ever forget you, Father?

Ate Nelia and Mary Grace, give Father Howard to Jesus. Huwag ninyo siyang hahanapan. Magkusa na kayo sa inyong sarili kasi iba piniling buhay ni Father. And I address this to every parent, brother and sister, relatives and friends of Fr. Howard and every priest. Huwag ninyo siyang hanapan. Kung mayroon man kayong hahanapin palagi kay Father Howard, iyon si Jesus. Always Jesus, only Jesus.

There is still something more “distressing” for us priests with our family that I wish to share with you, Father Howard. When Jesus told us to leave our father and mother, brothers and sisters behind to follow Him, he never meant to turn our backs from them. We still have to love them but more on a different level as silent witnesses of Christ.

The most difficult part of our ministry is ministering to our own family with all our biases and past histories before us. We are so familiar with each other that inevitably, these would surely show on many occasions when least expected. Be on guard, for the pendulum swings to extremes when we sometimes become so lax or so harsh with them.

Most “distressing” is when Jesus asks us “Do you love me?” while we continue to hold on to the pains and hurts, frustrations and disappointments our families have inflicted on us.

It is in our own families when we are asked to be more like St. Francis of Assisi, of preaching the gospel, speaking only when necessary.

Father Howard, be the first to understand and to embrace the strains and the past in your family; Jesus called you despite your imperfect family to make you perfect and eventually, through your life of total love for Him, perfect your family too.

It is very difficult to love, most especially our Lord Jesus, Father Howard. How I wished you have never asked me to do this because so many times I have failed Jesus. And continues to fail Him, not loving him that much.

But that is exactly what happened at the shores of Tiberias that morning after breakfast when Jesus asked Simon Peter three times, “Do you love me?”

Don’t worry, Father. Jesus knows everything how much we love Him. You are never alone with Jesus and us. Let us keep saying “yes, Jesus, I love you” with our brother priests every day, specially during anniversaries like this. Amen.

God bless you more, Father Howard!

Grace in every space

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 09 December 2020
Photo by author, 09 December 2020.
As I closed my prayers today
got my stares fixed on empty space
that stirred me into a daze;
And I was amazed at how we are in a place
so vast we cannot keep pace
yet we say in everyone's face
we need a space, we have no space!
If we can appreciate
the shape in every space
our heart will ablaze
with so much praise
for in between is grace
of a sacred space 
to raise
our living
and relating
in sharing God
dwelling
in every being
loving 
and caring.
What is a space?
A place or a dimension
 a creation for correlations
to locate persons and things
and every entity
yet always considered as empty
only a reality in relativity;
but, as far as
every soul can desire
every mind can imagine
space is there to see
like the deep, blue sea
an infinity and mystery
our entry into divinity!

Why are violets blue?

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 30 November 2020
When we were growing up
discovering the power of love,
these nursery rhymes
were so sublime
we used to find
  every Valentine's
without knowing why
"Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet.
So are you.
And I love you!"
Red means love
but what about blue
that has become violet too?
It is funny, though
now that I have become 
a priest and pastor
that I have come to know
why violets are blue:
According to one review,
violets mean
fidelity, humility,
modesty and simplicity
that to give
a violet is to reply
"I love you too!"
Like the season of Lent
when everything is violet,
Advent's shade is in blue
to keep things subdued
as we try to imbue 
value of patience and vigilance too. 
During Advent, violets are blue
the hue of God's mercy, that is so true.
In these four Sundays before Christmas
hear my prayer to you, dear Jesus
as I borrow the rhyme from "Mother Goose":
"Roses are red,
violets are blue;
let your Advent come true
because I love you too!" 

*All photos by author from our Advent celebrations in the parish this year 2020 (topmost collage) and last year 2019 (collage above). Flower arrangements by our liturgy commission head Ms. Imelda Santiago and Ms. Lucila Verana; am so thankful to their dedication and creativity in the past eight years, learning everything by experience, nurtured by prayer.

Ang Mahal na Birheng Maria at corona virus

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-26 ng Nobyembre 2020
Larawan kuha ni Arch. Philip Santiago, Lourdes, France, 2016.
Sana'y inyong ipagpaumanhin
at ako ma'y patawarin
ng Mahal na Ina natin
sa aking sasabihin
na noon pa man 
hindi ko inililihim:
Ano itong pagkahumaling
ng marami sa mga kapatid natin
sa pagkokorona sa Birheng Maria?
Mayroon pa bang hihigit
sa kanyang koronasyon 
sa langit?
Hindi kaya ito kalabisan
kaartehan 
o inggitan ng iilan
na ang tanging sandigan
ng debosyon kay Maria
ay panglabas lamang
upang hilig ay mapagbigyan
kahit walang kabuluhan
at katuturan
habang sambayanan
nanonood lamang
sa isang palabas na walang laman?
Pasiklaban, pabonggahan
tanging mga katangian nitong pagkokorona 
hindi birong halaga ginagasta
sa gitna ng isang pandemya
tila baga nawala na rin
panglasa at pang-amoy
nahawahan na rin
ng corona virus
debosyon sa masintahing Ina
di nila alintana
sila-sila lang nasa eksena
wala naman ang balana.
Larawan mula sa Pinterest.
Sana'y tigilan na
itong pagkokorona
ng Birheng Maria
na lumalaganap tulad ng virus
dahil natitiyak ko
hindi rin siya masaya
sa gayong parangal sa kanya;
malamang ipapaalala
din niya tulad ni Hesus
propesiya ni Oseas:
"habag ang nais ko
hindi mga susunuging hain."
Ang higit na nakakabahala
sa ginagawa nilang pagkokorona
sa Birheng Maria bilang Reyna
wala na ring pinagkaiba
sa mga monarkiya
lalo na sa Europa
na sadyang pang-aliw
na lamang sa mga turista
walang kahulugan ni
katuturan sa takbo ng buhay
maliban sa lumipas na kasaysayan
at yaman ng kanilang kalinangan.
Hindi ba ang korona
ng Birheng Maria
 ay ang putong niyang
katapatan at kababaang-loob
sa harap ng Diyos,
buod ng kanyang Magnificat?
Siya na ating Reyna
kayamanan at korona
ay mga dukha
at mahihina,
ningning at kinang
wala sa ginto at ano mang brilyante!
Balikan, higit sa lahat pagnilayan,
pagpapakita ng Birheng Maria
sa makabagong panahon
doon sa Lourdes, Fatima at Banneux
dama kanyang pagka-Reyna
dahil kaisa niya mga bata at dukha;
higit sa lahat, si Maria
ang tinutularan, pilit inaalam
kanyang larawan
hindi tulad ng kinagagawian
kanya-kanyang larawan
malayo sa katotohanan at kabanalan! 
Ang hamon ng Birheng Maria
siya ang ating makatulad
hindi siya manika o sagala 
na inaayusan dahil sa sariling kagustuhan!
Larawan niya ay karukhaan at kababaang-loob
hindi kapalaluan na pinaglalaruan;
huwag nating ipilit ang sa atin
korona ni Maria ay sirain
at maging koronang tinik
sakit at hapis ang kapalit;
koronang putik na ang dungis sa atin babahid
o corona virus sadyang wala na si Hesus!
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, Our Lady of the Poor ng Banneux, Belgium sa retreat house ng Boys Town sa Cavite, 2007.