Looking at Easter, seeing Easter

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday within the Octave of Easter, 07 April 2021
Acts of the Apostles 3:1-10  <*(((>< + ><)))*>   Luke 24:13-35
Photo by author, sunrise at Lake Tiberias in Galilee, the Holy Land, 2017.
When the crippled man saw Peter and John 
about to go into the temple, he asked for alms.  
But Peter looked intently at him, as did John, 
and said, "Look at us."  He paid attention to them, 
expecting to receive something from them.  
Peter said, "I have neither silver nor gold, 
but what I do have I give you:  
in the name of 
Jesus Christ the Nazorean, 
rise and walk."  
Then Peter took him by the right hand 
and raised him up, and immediately 
his feet and ankles grew strong.  
(Acts 3:3-7)

Praise and glory to you, our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, in sharing with us your victory and glory over sin and death, sickness and powerlessness. In joining us in our humanity in all of its aspects except sin, you have made us share in your divinity at Easter.

Like Peter and John at the Beautiful Gate that afternoon, fill us with your presence and power, love and mercy to uplift and empower our brothers and sisters afflicted with sickness and other burdens that drag them down, unable to rise again to experience life anew.

Give us the courage to tell people to look at us and find you like that crippled man you have healed through Peter and John.

Moreover, let us look at your face, look for what will unite us than divide us, look at your light than at the world’s darkness and shadows so we may look for Easter especially in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Remove the pessimism and cynicism growing among us in this worsening pandemic.

Ignite the flames of faith, hope and love within us so our eyes may be opened to see you again walking with us in this journey.

Cleanse us of our biases and prejudices, as well as of our expectations and other personal beliefs so we may see you most especially when we are treading the wrong path to our Emmaus of sunset and defeat.

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 things 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)

O dear Jesus, may we look at Easter on the face of everyone you send us and at every situation we find ourselves into so we may lead and guide others to you.

May we see and recognize you most of all in the darkness enveloping us this time of crisis so that eventually, we may come together in the breaking of bread and sharing of our very selves to others blinded by the calamities that have fallen upon us. Amen.

“Road to Emmaus I” painting by Daniel Bonnel, 2011 from mwerickson.com.

“Every Breath You Take” by The Police (1983)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 04 April 2021
“The Three Marys” by Henry Ossawa Tanner, from womeninthebible.net.

Blessed happy Easter to everyone!

This is perhaps the only year when it is so difficult to greet others with “Happy Easter” due to this ongoing lockdown following the worsening surge in COVID-19 infections with hospitals now beyond capacity.

But, that is the mystery of Easter: it is an event that truly happened in our history but something more than the usual thing like in Christmas when God became a child like us. At Easter, God broke through all human limitations to enter a new realm, a vast expanse of unknown realities beyond our imaginations, beyond our most dreaded thing in this life we call “death” (https://lordmychef.com/2021/04/04/breaking-into-new-realities/).

Like Mary Magdalene and the rest of the apostles except for John the Beloved, there are times we see nothing at all and say things we hardly think or process because everything seemed to have been lost when suddenly from within we realize life bursting forth, new hope, new beginnings!

And that is Easter!

Like this great song composed by Sting with his former group The Police, Every Breath You Take from their penultimate album Synchronicity released in 1983.

Sting was surprised with the great reception by people worldwide to this song that became their most recognized piece, spending so many weeks in almost every music chart around the globe. It is a song filled with negativities, according to Sting who wrote it in 1982 while on a retreat at Jamaica in the Caribbean following his separation from Frances Tomelty when he got involved romantically with her best friend and neighbor, Trudie Styler. The affair was so controversial, even condemned by many. Complicating things was the brewing rift among them in The Police.

But, that’s how Easter is: death becoming gateway to new life!

Imagine Jesus Christ now singing this to us in the midst of the pandemic, assuring us in every breath we take, he is not only watching us but in fact, with us!

Breaking into New Realities

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Easter Sunday of the Lord's Resurrection, 04 April 2021
Acts 10:34, 37-43  +  1Corinthians 5:6-8  +  John 20:1-9
Photo by author, Paschal Candles outside the Lord’s tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, 2017.
Clear out the old yeast,
so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, 
inasmuch as you are an unleavened.  
For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.  
Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with old yeast, 
the yeast of malice and wickedness, 
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  
(1 Corinthians 5:7-8) 

A blessed, happy Easter to everyone in this most unholy time of the COVID-19 pandemic! I know, many of us are at a loss at how can we truly celebrate and experience Easter of the Lord’s Resurrection from the dead when those among us are dying or have actually died in this recent deadly surge of corona virus infections.

Unlike Christmas which we could easily identify with the signs and symbols of birth and babies plus the cool climate of December, Easter has always been a problematique especially among us Filipinos now in the heat of the dry season. Making matter worse this year is the pandemic and its ECQ.

Christmas is always delightful. We are always drawn and attracted to the idea and reality that God became a child, making so many things great for us humans.

But, unlike Easter which is so different in the sense that here, God did not enter a familiar stage and state in our human life and existence. On the contrary – which is also its biggest plus factor and enigma – God broke through all human limitations to enter a new realm, a vast expanse of unknown realities that are beyond the most dreaded thing of all which is death!

That is why Easter to much extent is difficult to celebrate because it is hard to comprehend and explain or grasp with our limited reasons and yet, at the same time, it is so real, so true as something we have experienced deep within us!

More than those egg hunts and bunnies now gone – hopefully forever – due to the pandemic, Easter 2021 calls us for a deep, inner renewal of our selves. As we have been saying since Palm Sunday, this may be the holiest Holy Week of our lives in the most unholy time in history as it gives us many opportunities to pray and reflect this great mystery of Jesus risen from the dead.

If we truly wish to find the Risen Lord in our lives in this unholiest time of the pandemic with deaths and sufferings surrounding us, we need to go inside our selves as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, to commit ourselves anew to Christ in the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist where we share his Body under the sign of bread.

Recall how last Thursday we were reminded how Jesus perfected and fulfilled the Jewish Passover with his very Body given to us on Good Friday. This Easter after having risen from the dead, Jesus our Bread of Life calls us to discard the old bread that is corrupted and spoiled; Christ has given us himself as our new yeast, new leaven penetrating the dough to make rise in us a fresh and wonderful bread even in the midst of this pandemic!

We have to discard the old leaven – our old selves and way of life in sin – to break new realities in Jesus and through Jesus. Easter is a passing over, a pasch when like Jesus Christ, we dare to cross and pass over life’s challenges and risks to achieve not only we are wishing for but sometimes, we have never even imagined – like the Lord’s rising from the dead!

“The Three Marys” by Henry Ossawa Tanner, from womeninthebible.net.
On the first day of the week, 
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, 
while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.  
So she ran and went to Simon Peter 
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, 
and told them, "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, 
and we don't know where they put him." 
(John 20:1-2)

A few days before Ash Wednesday in February, we moved into our new assignments just in time for the start of the Lenten Season or 40-day preparation for this great feast of Easter. I have been assigned as chaplain to Our Lady of Fatima University and the Fatima University and Medical Center in Valenzuela plus its five other branches at Quezon City, Antipolo City, San Fernando City, Cabanatuan City and Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

I have been conducting my ministry basically “on-line” like Masses and talks and recollections.

And lately, praying over our sick and dying patients especially this past week with the surge of COVID-19 cases.

Due to the situation at the hospital and in compliance with the health protocols, we have devised a plan where the nurse on duty would text me for those requesting prayers for the sick with details of the patient and telephone number of the guardian. I would then call the guardian to ask him/her to bring the phone near the patient’s ear so I can pray aloud, and most of all, give the much needed absolution and commendation of the dying. Each nurse station is provided with a bottle of Holy Water for the guardian to sprinkle the patient at my signal.

After that, I pray over the guardian and bless him/her.

So far, for the past month since we have been doing this, nobody had called me what have happened to their patients, if they survived or not. I have stopped following up on them because usually, when I asked the guardian how was their patient, they would always tell me “buhay pa po siya” (he/she still alive), as if I were waiting for their death.

However, there were times some of the guardians have called me back to express their gratitude, telling me how they were relieved knowing their loved ones have been prayed for by a priest.

Last Holy Thursday at the height of so many COVID cases, I prayed over two patients successively.

That was very amazing and inspiring for me. They were “little moments of Easter” as people experienced deaths so close to home these days, even in the most surreal way, still believing, still hoping. We too have felt it one way or the other with requests for help and prayers by relatives and friends with patients sick with COVID and with other ailments lately when we felt so helpless, with nothing else to do and contribute except pray and worry.

That is the grace of Easter so abounding in this pandemic. Let us hope that with ongoing inner renewal among us of hoping against hope that love after all conquers death. Always and certainly as we have seen lately.

Like Mary, there are times we see nothing at all and say things we hardly think or process.

We feel at a loss, almost about to give up yet a tiny sparkle of faith and hope keeps us running to others for help whom we think could do something, maybe used by God to change or remedy our “lost” cause or situation.

That is where the grace of Easter is found every day: something very true and real within us keeps us believing in life and meaning, in God through Jesus Christ when all is gone and even lost.

Why still go to the tomb at all like Mary? If Jesus were already dead, what is the use of going to anoint him with oil and perfumes? Was Mary feeling something even so little, so tiny like hope against hope that Jesus could still be alive?

It was beyond her that she was terrified and ran to Peter upon seeing the empty tomb! She had felt that what was deep inside her was true after all, that there is a greater life beyond this that exists – exactly like what we believed – that there is Resurrection of the dead in Jesus Christ because he himself we can feel deep inside us!

Like Peter on that Pentecost Sunday, we may not go on a discourse explaining what had happened because we have not witnessed the Resurrection like him but we speak out, we believe because we experienced life bursting forth amidst deaths and losses. Like Peter, we have witnessed so many other things, little moments of Easter that showed us signs of God’s abiding presence and love.

Like the light of the new day piercing through the darkness, there is the Risen Jesus touching us, assuring us, loving us and telling us that Easter is not an ending in itself for it continues now and shall continue until the end when Christ comes again to definitively put an end to death when we live eternally with him in the Father in heaven. Amen.

Blessed happy easter!

Photo by author, Mirador Center of Spirituality, Baguio City, January 2019.

Good Friday: When “negative” is “positive”

The Lord Is My Chef Good Friday Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 02 April 2021
Isaiah 52:13-53:12  +  Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9  +  John 18:1-19:42
Photo by Marc Angelo Nicolas, January 2020.
"Biyernes Santong Biyernes Santo."
(A popular expression among us Filipinos.)

Perhaps, today we can truly feel the meaning and gravity of our favorite expression when somebody looks so sad and gloomy, when somebody seems to have been totally lost: “Biyernes Santong Biyernes Santo”.

That is how we are today – stuck in our homes, others in hospitals while others almost about to give up as this new wave of COVID-19 gets stronger with about 15000 infections today!

As I have been saying since Palm Sunday, this could be our holiest Holy Week in our lives in this most unholy time of our history when we are given the opportunity to be holy, to be good and kind, to be forgiving and caring with others. Side by side every post in Facebook we find prayer requests for sick family and friends, help for those trying to find a hospital that would admit their sick, or buy much needed medicines and equipment like oxygen.

For the second straight year, churches are empty and everyone is home due to COVID-19 pandemic. Perfect example of “Biyernes Santong Biyernes Santo”… so bad… so negative.

That is often how we think of Good Friday – so negative in the sense it is so sad and gloomy, so painful and too difficult.

Ultimately, Good Friday is so negative for us because it means death. Even of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Nothing would be more sad than that.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2015.

Lately due to this COVID-19 pandemic we have been living inversely or “baligtad” as we say.

We would always pray at every swab test for the virus that we be “negative”.

Never has been thinking negative has become so positive, so good, in fact!

And it all began more than 2000 years ago at the calvary when Jesus offered himself for us on the cross.

That is why Good Friday is called “Good”: the cross of Jesus Christ is a sign not of death but of the good news or gospel of life, hope, and eternal life. The cross of Jesus Christ is not a negative sign (-) but a positive sign, a plus sign (+).

We celebrate in the most solemn and unique way because the cross is no longer a sign of condemnation but honor. Before, it was a symbol of death but now a means of salvation. The cross of Christ has been the source of countless blessings for us, illuminating our path with light when our lives are so dark with sins and mistakes, sickness and disappointments. Most of all, the cross of Christ has brought us closer to God again and with one another despite our sins and past, promising us a bright a joyful Easter.

Yes, for some the cross of Christ is so negative: why display the body of the Lord everywhere in our churches and homes, bloodied and defeated, lifeless and dead?

See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted. Even as many were amazed at him – so marred was his look beyond human semblance and his appearance beyond that of the sons of man – so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless; for those who have not been told shall see, those who have not heard shall ponder it.

Isaiah 52:13-15

Many times in life, and we have proven this, God uses of many of “negative” experiences lead us to more positive outcome and results.

Yes, we may be Biyernes Santong Biyernes Santo in sadness and fear, even anxieties.

But, we continue to pray and forge on with life’s trials and difficulties because we see the cross of Jesus Christ leading us to the light and life, joy and celebration of his Resurrection at Easter.

A very good Good Friday to you. Amen.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2015.

Holiest week in most unholy time

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

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

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

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

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

Then everything becomes light and pure joy in Easter!

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

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

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

The mind and heart of Jesus Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The logic of the Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 50:4-7

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

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

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

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

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

“Ecce Homo” by Murillo from wikipediacommons.org.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lent is home in God

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Week V in Lent, 26 March 2021
Jeremiah 20:10-13   ><}}}*> + <*{{{><   John 10:31-42
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, February 2021.
I hear the whisperings of many:
"Terror on every side!  Denounce! 
Let us denounce him!"
All those who were my friends 
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
(Jeremiah 20:10)

God our loving Father, we are now in great danger, in critical level not only with the pandemic happening but with the continuing callousness and heartlessness of those in power in our land. Instead of fighting COVID-19, they are fighting those who speak the truth like your prophet Jeremiah.

They utter all lies and harsh words in public, even make faces to put down those who speak about the real situation and suggest solutions to the problem.

Even families and communities are breaking apart because of COVID-19 as many of us forget the enemy is the virus not the afflicted.

We only have you as our refuge,Lord. We count only on you. Indeed, you probe the mind and the heart of everyone as Jeremiah mentioned today.

Increase our faith in you and do not allow us to take vengeance into our hands against our oppressors who are our very own countrymen, even relatives and friends.

Let us focus on the evil that is pervading which is our closed minds, hard hearts, and angry fists.

May we all go back to you, dear God, in Christ Jesus.

Help us retreat to our own Jordan River (Jn.10:40) like Jesus where everything started – our baptism, our mission – to find rest and comfort in you.

Let us come home in you, God our Father, from whom everything started and finds meaning. Make us remember our journey in faith in you, our sense of mission from you.

In this time when many are rejecting Jesus and his message of salvation, open our minds and our hearts to believe the many signs by which you reveal in him your love and mercy to us. Amen.

Our body like the Body of Christ

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, 25 March 2021
Isaiah 7:10-14, 8:10  +  Hebrews 10:4-10  +  Luke 1:26-38
Photo by author, Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel, 2017.

Last Monday I celebrated my 56th birthday in quarantine after having a close contact with a person with COVID-19. The health officers were both smiling in disbelief as they took my swab test that morning after finding out after my interview it was indeed my birthday.

Between that morning and its eve – in fact since Saturday when I went on quarantine – I felt like in another scene of the Annunciation as I awaited the “good news” with my whole world standing still in animated suspension.

Earlier that morning, I celebrated Mass in my room when I looked back to my birthday last year. It was a Sunday, the first week of the lockdown when public Masses were suspended. After celebrating the Mass alone in our Parish church, I borrowed a truck and mounted the Blessed Sacrament at the back and went around our parish that afternoon to bless the people who knelt on the road with some were crying.

This year, I felt the Lord wanted me to celebrate my birthday in quarantine to be alone with him again to realize the rich meaning of this Solemnity in relation with our lives, especially with me as his priest.

Photo by Ms. Ria de Vera, 2020.

Brothers and sisters: It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins. For this reason, When Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight. Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.'” By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:4-7, 10

The mystery of Christ’s coming

Notice that in Mass today at the proclamation of the Creed, we are asked to genuflect at the words “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary” to remind us that the Incarnation of the Son of God is the fundamental mystery of our faith which the Church has always proclaimed since the beginning.

This is the gist of our short but rich reflections by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews of how Jesus truly became human born by the Blessed Virgin Mary in the power of the Holy Spirit without losing any of his divinity in the process in order to save us and make us new again before God our Father.

In his reflection, the author of the Letter mentions how the Old Testament worship was more symbolic and a preparation to the perfect offering made by Jesus on the cross.

Photo by author, Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, 2019.

In the Old Testament, priests offered animals for atonement of sins with the blood symbolizing life. They offered three animals: first for their sins so they may be cleaned before God in making the sacrifices for the people for whom the second animal stood for. The third animal was usually a goat to cover all the other sins of the world from which we got “scapegoat” as term for one who takes all the blame.

Jesus Christ came to perfect the temple worship in his very body when he told the Pharisees and scribes after cleansing the temple, “Destroy this temple and in a three days I will raise again” (Jn.2:19).

By dying on the cross, Jesus fulfilled his words to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well that someday, people would no longer worship in just one place because through his “hour” of glory – his crucifixion – people will be able to “truly worship the Father in Spirit and truth” (Jn.4:23).

On the cross, Jesus made himself the perfect sacrifice to God by atoning for our sins. The word atonement was coined by a Protestant translator of the bible to convey the idea of salvation as being one again with the Father, or “at-one-ment”.

Following the reflection by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, we find that the very coming of Christ announced by the angel to Mary was in fact directed toward this paschal sacrifice of Jesus.

In the gospel today we have seen the angel telling Mary to name her child “Jesus” that means “God is my savior”. The angel was more explicit in the Annunciation to Joseph who was instructed, “you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt.1:21).

It was from this celebration of the Annunciation of Christ’s birth that we have the tradition of praying the Angelus every 6am, 12noon and 6pm to make our day holy, reminding us of this great mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus who became both “the gift and the giver” when he offered himself on the cross for us which we remember and make present in every celebration of the Mass.

Photo by author, chapel at the site of annunciation, Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, 2019.

The life of obedience in Christ

From that beautiful story of the Annunciation of Lord we find how in the coming of Jesus Christ from the very start – from heaven to its coming on earth to Mary’s virginal conception at Nazareth – the mystery of his Incarnation has always been characterized by obedience.

In being obedient to the Father, Jesus consecrated us through him in offering his body once and for all that opened for us an avenue to a life of holiness through obedience to God. And the first to have this distinction is his Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:38

Next to Mary is her husband, St. Joseph whose Solemnity we celebrated last week. His “yes” to following the angel’s instruction upon waking up from his dream echoed the Blessed Mother’s obedience to God’s plan and will for everyone through Jesus Christ.

Here we find Mary and Joseph, two righteous people who allowed themselves to be instruments in the fulfillment of the divine plan in Jesus Christ, relying more in the power of God, believing in his words spoken by the angel to them.

Photo by author, Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, 2019.

On this Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, we are challenged and invited to be open and obedient to God, to his words we hear proclaimed in the celebration of the Mass and in our personal prayers.

Jesus is the word who became flesh and dwelled among us, present among us because of the obedience and faith of Mary and Joseph.

It is always very tempting to be like King Ahaz in the first reading, when we rely more in ourselves, in our wisdom and intelligence, expertise and experience that we sometimes feel it no longer needed to bother God at all for directions especially with “earthly” things and concerns like the economy or defense of the country.

Or, pandemic.

This is the saddest part with COVID-19: a year after it started and wreaked havoc on this planet, we still continue to consider it as a medical and social issue, refusing to see its spiritual meaning.

This pandemic is an annunciation moment when God is telling us something very important for our salvation like with Mary over 2000 years ago.

God has been sending us messengers since the start of this crisis to welcome his Word, Jesus Christ so that he can work in us to bring us back to the Father and with one another through our loving service especially with the weak and most needy.

It is easy for God to send us solutions right away to end this pandemic. In fact, he had blessed us with at least six vaccines that took only a year to develop unlike the normal course of 3-5 years.

But vaccines will not entirely solve and end this pandemic. This we can see right in our country where spas and gyms and malls are seen as more essential than religious gatherings. Its worst part is how we have modern King Ahaz so confident with themselves in addressing the issues from the pandemic. Incidentally, the main sin and mistake by King Ahaz during the time of Isaiah was his aligning himself with the superpower Assyria that eventually conquered Israel – something so similar with our dealings and reliance with China, the origin of this virus and pandemic!

How sad at how this government pinned all its hopes last year in the discovery of vaccines without working hard in other aspects of mitigating the effects of the pandemic when now that there are vaccines available, it is still at a loss in making any progress in the vaccination program especially with those most vulnerable like the medical frontliners who are doing a life of offering like Jesus Christ.


Early this year, we had our major revamp in our parish assignments in almost nine years. It was an Annunciation event for us priests as it directed us to new challenges in the ministry to continue proclaiming the mystery of Incarnation.

I was assigned as chaplain of Our Lady of Fatima University (OLFU) and Fatima University and Medical Center (FUMC). At first, I was afraid like Mary in going to a new ministry at the forefront of facing the pandemic. But like Mary, I gave my fiat to God, joyfully coming to my assignment with so many plans and dreams.

And just when I was starting to heat up in my ministry, I was suddenly sent on a quarantine. That was when I realized the meaning of this Annunciation of the Lord to me: becoming like the Body of Christ to be offered too for many.

As I heard news of more people including friends and relatives getting COVID-19, I promised God in my prayers during my “quarantined” birthday that whatever may be the result of my swab test, I will still serve him with same enthusiasm in my previous assignments.

Like the Blessed Virgin Mary, may we say yes to God everyday, relying more than ever in our relationships with him and with others in Christ than in the hopes of things getting better; should things get worst like Jesus dying on the Cross, like Mary, may we hold only on God’s loving mercy and presence in this world marred by sin. And pandemic. Amen.

Photo by author, Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, 2019.

Lent is home in God

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Fifth Week in Lent, 24 March 2021
Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95   +++   John 8:31-42
Parish Church of St. Joseph, Baras, Rizal.

We pray most specially today, O God our Father, for all who are sick especially with COVID-19 along with the doctors and nurses and other medical frontliners who take care of them. We pray also in a special way for doctors and nurses getting sick because of this surge in COVID-19.

At the same time, we pray for our good bishops who gallantly stand to continue with the public Masses because our spiritual nourishment is very essential in times like these. Give them the courage and grace to stand their trials like your three prophets in the first reading today.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, “There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.”

Daniel 3:16-18

Make us at home with you, Father, like those three young men.

Let us remain in the words of your Son Jesus Christ so we may know the truth and be set free from our idols and others gods like persons who make it difficult for us to truly follow you and do your holy will.

Let our lives be centered in you, Father, through Jesus Christ we receive in the Holy Eucharist daily.

In these trying times of the pandemic worsened by leaders chained to their personal interests and foreign powers, make us remain in you in Jesus and set us free, free from fears and biases and free to serve and care for those in need. Amen.

Lent is acquiring taste for God

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Fifth Week in Lent, 23 March 2021
Numbers 21:4-9  ><}}}*> + <*{{{><  John 8:21-30
Photo by author, Franciscan Monastery on Mount Nebo overlooking Israel, 2019.

It has been a year, dear God our Father, since we went into this journey into the wilderness of this COVID-19 pandemic. It has become very similar with the wandering in the desert of your chosen people during the time of Moses that like them, we have become impatient too.

But with their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!” In punishment the Lord sent among the people seraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died.

Numbers 21:4-6

Of course, we know you do not punish for you are love, O God; you even took that occasion to foreshadow the dying on the cross of your Son Jesus Christ for us.

Very much like them, we have been grumbling and complaining with you, forgetting all your goodness to us while we have been remiss with our own duties and responsibilities.

How ironic that the more they spoke of the tastelessness of the food you sent from heaven called manna, the more they revealed their own tastelessness as people.

And that is what is sadly happening with us too — our tastelessness as a people: our tastelessness in choosing our leaders in government, our tastelessness in giving value to your many blessings in life like family and country, our tastelessness in tolerating corruption and all the evils in our society long before this pandemic came.

We have lost our sense of taste, Lord, like being afflicted with COVID-19 — exactly like what your Son Jesus declared to his enemies always seeking ways to entrap him.

He said to them, “You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above. You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world. That is why I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.”

John 8:23-24

Send us your Holy Spirit, O Lord, to enlighten our minds and our hearts, to be simple and humble like those folks in Jerusalem who came to believe in you because you spoke in such a way (Jn.8:30), unlike the learned Pharisees and scribes who, despite thei education, remained tasteless like many among us.

O dear Jesus, give us some tastes! — a taste for what is decent and good, a taste of heaven and holiness, a taste of true order and beauty found only in you. Amen.

Loving like St. Joseph in the time of pandemic

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary
2 Samuel 7:4-5, 12-14, 16  +  Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22  +  Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24
Photo by author of the site believed to be the workshop of St. Joseph in Nazareth, 2017.

Today’s celebration of the Solemnity of St. Joseph as most chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a very special one being in the “Year of Saint Joseph” that began last December 8, 2020 until December 8, 2021 in commemoration of the 150th year anniversary of Pope Pius IX’s declaration of the beloved saint as Patron of the Universal Church.

In launching this Year of Saint Jospeh last year, Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Letter “Patris Corde” (With a Father’s Heart) how the COVID-19 pandemic has helped us see more clearly the importance of “ordinary” people who, though far from the limelight, exercise patience and offer hope every day.

The Holy Father explained that the “ordinary” people like those who kept our lives going especially during the lockdowns resemble Saint Joseph, “the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence,” who nonetheless played “an incomparable role in the history of salvation” (Vatican News, 12 December 2020).

I really hope you can have time to read today this very short letter by Pope Francis who is a known devotee of Saint Joseph having popularized among us during his 2015 Papal Visit the image of “Sleeping Saint Joseph”.

In Patris Corde, Pope Francis gives us some helpful points on how we can love with the heart of God our Father like Saint Joseph during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of these traits the Pope invites us to imitate from Saint Joseph is his “creative courage” in loving God and loving others.

If the first stage of all interior healing is to accept our personal history and embrace even the things in life we did not choose, we must now add another important element: creative courage. This emerges especially in the way we deal with difficulties. In the face of difficulty, we can either give up and walk away, or somehow engage with it. At times, difficulties bring out resources we did not even think we had.

Pope Francis, Patris Corde #5

A creative person is always someone who is deeply in love with another person or with one’s craft, art, career or whatever passion.

The most loving person is always the most creative like Saint Joseph who sought ways expressing his love for Mary and her child by deciding to silently divorce her as the gospel tells us.

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Jospeh, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.

Matthew 1:18-19
Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago of a mosaic at the San Padre Pio Shrine at Rotondo, Italy of the angel appearing to Saint Joseph in his dream.

Holiness is having creative courage like Saint Joseph.

Notice how the Pope’s description of Saint Joseph is not far from St. Matthew’s calling him a “righteous man” – a holy man – who obeys the Laws of God handed down to them by Moses, including their other traditions meant to keep them clean and pure before God.

Problem during that time is how people have lost sight of God and of others that they were so focused on the letters of the law than its spirit, becoming impersonal in the process as we have seen in instances when they would ask Jesus why he healed the sick even on sabbath day. Worst is when people brought to Jesus a woman caught committing adultery, reminding him of Moses’ instruction to stone her in public.

Such was the dilemma faced by Saint Joseph with Mary being pregnant with a child definitely not his!

In deciding to silently leave Mary, Saint Joseph expressed his righteousness or holiness wherein he showed the true interpretation of their Laws by upholding the dignity of every person, respecting life above all. Like Jesus Christ, Saint Joseph showed that real holiness is authentic love that is willing to sacrifice for the beloved by having the courage to be in pain in giving up or losing a beloved.

Here we find Saint Joseph was not only courageous in facing the painful truth about Mary having a baby not his but also very creative in the sense that because of his great love for the Blessed Virgin, he did not want her exposed to shame and public humiliation in allegedly breaking the seal of their betrothal.

Having courage is more than being able to do death-defying acts that is more on physical strength; courage is a spiritual virtue, a spiritual strength when we do extraordinary things because of higher ideals and values like the love of Jesus who offered us his life on the Cross.

Courage is from the Latin word “cor” for heart which is the seat of our being. And to have courage is to be true and loving that we have such expressions to speak from the heart, to listen to our heart, and to act from our heart when we dare to lose ourselves because of love.

Photo from Aleteia.org of “Let Mum Rest” image St. Joseph nursing the Infant Jesus while Mary sleeps, 2019.

A person who truly loves is always creative, 
finding ways in expressing one's love even sometimes 
it may be painful and difficult.

A “creatively courageous” person like Saint Joseph is someone so deeply in love with Mary and with God: after learning the circumstances surrounding Mary’s pregnancy, St. Matthew tells us “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Mt.1:24).

Saint Joseph’s love for Mary found ways to spare her all the pains and hurts that may result if found with a baby not his; but after learning the truth, the more we find him creatively courageous when he sought many ways to save Mother and Child from all harm and even death like bringing them to Egypt in the time of Herod.

See that when Saint Joseph accepted Mary, Jesus came forth to us while at the same time, when Saint Joseph accepted God through the angel as expression of his deep faith and love, he took Mary as wife.

And this is what Pope Francis further explains in Patris Corde that at the end of every account in which Saint Joseph plays a role, the Gospel tells us that he gets up and takes Jesus and Mary who are the most precious treasure of our faith.

Taking Jesus and Mary like Saint Joseph as creative courage calls us Christians to always love the Church and in loving the Church, we love the poor for whom Jesus came and Mary identified herself with in her Magnificat which she sang after accepting the Annunciation by the Angel of Christ’s birth which we celebrate next week on March 25.

In this time of the pandemic, we are called to be creatively courageous in finding Jesus among those people too familiar with us as well as with those so different from us. Don’t you find it so funny that the people we always take for granted are those either so close to us like family or completely strangers?

Being creatively courageous in this time of the pandemic means being more sensitive with others especially in our words and actions like Saint Joseph.

I was wondering during prayers why did he not ask Mary about the truth of her pregnancy so that he would have been spared with all the thinking and praying? That is when I realized the value of Saint Joseph’s silence: he did not speak at all to Mary as a sign of his love and oneness with her who must have been into some difficulties too with the situation of being the Mother of Christ. sympathy.

In his silence, Saint Joseph expressed his complete trust in Mary and in God. And in his being silent, Saint Joseph was creatively courageous expressing aloud his tenderness and care for Mary and her Child, something we need so much in this time of the pandemic.

Let us pray to Saint Joseph in this time of social distancing that like him, we may have the creative courage in touching others with the love of God, especially those who are sick and suffering, those in difficult situations, and those forgotten by their families and friends and even by the society. Have a blessed Friday, everyone!

Saint Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for us!

Photo from Vatican News, St. Joseph and the Child Jesus, 14 December 2020.