Praying for the lepers among us

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Thursday,Week-I, Year-I in Ordinary Time, 14 January 2021
Hebrews 3:7-14   >><)))*> + >><)))*> + >><)))*>   Mark 1:40-45
Photo by Mr. Jay Javier in Cubao, QC last May 2020.

How timely and relevant are your words today, Lord Jesus Christ, especially when this the second time in less than a week we have heard your story of the healing of a leper who came to you, asking that if you will it, he could be cured of his disease (Mk.1:40-45).

Last week we heard St. Luke’s version of the same event St. Mark is almost exactly telling us today. Are you trying to tell us something very significant about this beautiful healing that assures us of your will and desire to heal us, to grant us what is best for us?

Definitely, you have a lot of things to tell us, to remind us in this part of our history as a nation and as a church when we live like being afflicted with a contagious disease we have to isolate ourselves from one another.

Aren’t we all like lepers today, with all the masks we wear and most especially the social distancing we have to keep from one another due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

And that is why, dear Jesus, we pray for one another especially those ostracized due to the stigma of contagious diseases like COVID-19 and AIDS as well as situations like homosexuality and substance abuse.

Help us realize, dear Jesus, how this corona virus pandemic is a symptom of a deeper malady afflicting us today, including us priests your servants tasked in taking care of the sick. Even before the pandemic began, we have been separated from one another and from you due to the “evil and unfaithful heart we have, forsaking the living God” (Heb.3:12).

May we experience your presence among us in every “today” so that we may all heed the call of the psalmist: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Help us remain in you in faith, trusting you more while the corona virus continues to wreak havoc to our economy, to our well-being as persons.

Send us Your Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds and our hearts to examine and change our attitudes towards “modern lepers” among us while at the same time, may we spend more time “communing” with You in prayer as a way of life, filled with enthusiasm like the leper You have healed who could not stop himself proclaiming Your powers and Your mercy and love to him. Amen.

Photo by author at Silang, Cavite last September 2020.

Our song, our life

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-7 for the Soul
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Advent Week IV, 22 December 2020
1 Samuel 1:24-28     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Luke 1:46-56
Photo by Marc Angelo Nicolas Carpio, 20 December 2020.

When I was about to enter the high school seminary, an aunt would always comment on our way to school how I would become a priest when I am a big fan of rock and roll music. You know, the usual stuff ever since with old folks about rock music as evil and everything…

Looking back, I just imagine what if I had told her and my other relatives the meaning of Steely Dan that is my most favorite band? Most likely they would have fainted! And I would tell tell them too that I am the only priest who had played Stairway to Heaven in Radio Veritas where I used to co-anchor a show, playing only good, old rock n’ roll to the delight of many listeners despite protests from management.

Lately I have been blogging every week linking secular music with the Sunday gospel that had enabled me to reach new and younger generations I hope had rediscovered Jesus in the music I had offered them.

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer had said that “music is the food of the soul” and it is very true for it transcends cultures and languages that even if you do not understand the lyrics, music always touches the soul.

Meanwhile, the great English playwright William Shakespeare is said to tell his audience at the start of his plays that “If music be the food of love, play on.” That’s very beatiful. Like love, music is best served with another person; when we sing, it is always to pour our hearts out. We let others hear our song even if we sing alone because that is what music is all about – it is meant to be shared.

This is the reason why Mary sang her Magnificat during her Visitation of Elizabeth, not by herself in Nazareth after the angel had left after announcing to her the birth of Jesus.

Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.”

Luke 1:46-49
Photo from Pinterest, Our Lady of Fatima Centennial in Portugal, 17 May 2017.

Mary praised and thanked God with her “Magnificat”

Recall how Elizabeth praised Mary twice and her baby Jesus in the womb once yesterday at the Visitation. Naturally for us, when we are praised we always return it by praising too whoever spoke nicely of us.

But that was not the case with Mary. She took the occasion to praise and thank God for all His goodness and salvific work in her and in Elizabeth. Like Hanna in the first reading and responsorial psalm today who sang praises to God in giving her a son in the prophet Samuel, Mary while filled with the Holy Spirit sang this canticle, narrating how God worked in her and through her.

Our lives is a song of thanksgiving always to God who never stops doing great things for us not to make us famous but to bring His divine will into fulfillment. Mary affirmed this when she admitted her own blessedness, “From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.”

Yesterday we have reflected that true blessedness is to trust in God. Likewise, Mary added another dimension in what is to be blessed before God and that is being His servant, His slave or in her very words to the angel at the annunciation, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

A handmaid is the feminine form of “slave” but more than being poetic in her identification as a female slave of God, Mary through her Magnificat showed us a glimpse of the lives of the early Christians at that time who were considered “weird” and “odd”, even “bizarre” among the Roman pagans who could not understand why they worshipped Jesus Christ they saw as “a crucified criminal”.

Worst of all for the pagans, they could not understand why the early Christians who were mostly poor would give themselves to Jesus in loving service to others like the sick, the elderly, the hungry, widows and orphans and those living in the margins.

In fact, the Roman historian Pliny recorded in his writings how during the persecution the emperor’s soldiers rounded up Christians in every town and city by looking for anybody doing good, serving the poor and needy! It is something to think about for us Christians today: Would any one of us be arrested because we are doing something good like serving the less fortunate?

Photo by author, Our Lady of the Poor at Boys Town in Cavite (2009).

Mary, the first model disciple, the first to live out the Gospel

In singing her blessedness by God, Mary had assumed her being the spokeswoman of the early Christians, the poor ones or anawim of Israel who were truly poor materially, trusting entirely on God.

Here lies her challenge to us who love to sing her Magnificat: do we allow God to work in us His salvation?

“He has mercy on those who fear him. He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he remembered his promise of mercy…”

Luke 1:50-54

Again, we find many similarities in the Mary’s Magnificat and Hanna’s song we heard in the responsorial psalm. But, more than that is the striking similarity of Magnificat with the Beatitudes to be preached by Jesus according to Luke.

In Matthew’s gospel, there are eight Beatitudes preached by Jesus at his sermon on the mount; Luke narrated it differently by citing only four Beatitudes he paired with four woes that Jesus preached in His sermon on the plain (this is due to the different audience Luke and Matthew addressed):

Blessed are you who are poor… Blessed are you who are now hungry… Blessed are you who are now weeping… Blessed are you when people hate you…

Woe to you who are rich… Woe to you who are filled… Woe to you who laugh now… Woe to you when all speak well of you…

Luke 6:20-26

Magnificat is the Gospel in a nutshell. See the works of God cited by Mary perfectly jibing with the Beatitudes of Jesus. Here we find again how Luke has shown us the consistency of Mary as a disciple of her Son Jesus Christ by witnessing to His teachings, living them out for which she was crowned as Queen of heaven and earth.

This is the reason why I love so much the image of Fatima and of Banneux known as Lady of the Poor with Mary portrayed as so simple yet so lovely and beautiful. What a scandal for the Church in our time with all those lavish processions and coronations of the Blessed Virgin Mary where the poor are left out, becoming more of a social function among the rich and famous. What a shame most especially amid the pandemic when some parishes can spend so much fortune in these rituals that look more as a show which the Blessed Virgin would definitely disapprove. Keep in mind how Mary identified herself as “handmaid of the Lord” — do away all those pomp and pageantries please!

Every night, we priests and the religious sing the Magnificat in our Evening prayers to examine ourselves if we have lived out the Gospel message of the Lord, if we have been poor and hungry, if we have allowed ourselves to be used by God to effect His salvation among the suffering.

The same is true with every disciple of Jesus: when we sing the Magnificat or “Ang Puso ko’y nagpupuri”, we have to do some soul searching how consistent we have been as a disciple of the Lord like His Mother Mary.

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24 July 2016.

How sad late yesterday when some people -whether they are trolls or not – had come out expressing support to that cop who brutally shot and killed Sonya Gregorio and her son Anton in their home in Paniqui, Tarlac Sunday afternoon.

How can some people be not affected and even defend or belittle such unspeakable crime of a man supposed to uphold the law, protect civilians?

What had gone wrong with us as the only Christian nation in this part of the world?

Can we sing “Ang puso ko’y nagpupuri sa Panginoon, nagagalak ang aking espiritu, sa aking Tagapagligtas” while we rejoice and defend all forms of brutalities and violence around us?

As we strongly condemn this unspeakable crime and demand justice for Sonya and Anton, let us work hard and pray hardest to imitate Mary to effect change in the society we live in and create by being a voice of the poor and vessel of God’s salvation. Amen.

True blessedness this Christmas

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-6 for the Soul
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Advent Week IV, 21 December 2020
Zephaniah 3:14-18     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Luke 1:39-45
Photo by author, Church of the Visitation, the Holy Land, May 2017.

The Bible rarely tells us conversations between women, except for the Book of Ruth which records to us the story of two women, Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth who became the grandmother of King David, and therefore, a kin of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But more rare in the Bible are conversations between two pregnant women, mostly conversations even fights among pregnant mothers and their midwives or rival wives found in the Old Testament. It is therefore so unique is Luke’s account of the Visitation when Mary meets Elizabeth. There must be something so significant for Luke – and for us most especially – in this encounter and exchange.

Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:39-45

Women as vessels of God’s blessings

Recall Matthew’s genealogy dominated by the male figures as it was the prevailing culture at that time when women were not really given much attention. But to show the immense power and freedom of God, Matthew mentioned five women who made the coming of Jesus Christ possible.

Most of the women were not really that good whom we would rather describe as a problematique: Tamar pretended to be a prostitute to entice her father-in-law Judah to get her pregnant while Rahab was a real prostitute (a mamasan in fact) at Jericho who helped the spies sent by Joshua before attacking that ancient city; Ruth was a foreigner, not purely Jewish while Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah whom David had killed after she got pregnant with Solomon. And Mary, the wife of Joseph, was found pregnant while still a virgin! (That is what I like most with God – he has a great sense of humor all the time!)

Very interesting with the gospel by Luke is that he got a lot of stories not found in the three other gospels but we find him unique in having a special place for women. He was one of the earliest champions of women in the Church by mentioning many females in his stories to show their important roles in God’s plan for mankind.

Photo by author, frescoes at the Church of the Visitation depicting the Visitation and then the infamous Holy Innocents Day of how an angel helped save the child John the Baptist from Herod’s executioners (2019).

In this story of the Visitation, we find a totally different presentation of women even in today’s world. What do I mean? Recall how during the lockdown the memes of pictures of women meeting with a caption “mga nagbabagang balita” (today’s news headlines) portraying women as rumor mongers or chismosas. Later when classes resumed, another meme circulated of women gathered together exchanging class modules of their children as if to show they are stage mothers.

Luke always presented women so dignified in stature like in the Visitation, so blessed by God.

First thing we notice in the story is how Luke never mentioned Mary and Elizabeth were pregnant. He merely indicated their situation by saying “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb” at 1:41 while at the following verse 1:42, Elizabeth proclaims to Mary, “Most blessed are you among women, blessed is the fruit of your womb”. Biblical scholars say that perhaps, Luke wanted to assure his readers that God’s powerful blessings marked both women, over each of whom the Holy Spirit overshadowed them with a child: Elizabeth in her barrenness and old age, Mary in her being a virgin before living with her husband Joseph.

What a display of the power of God so simple, so unassuming!

But the most beautiful part in this conversations by these two great women is the meaning of being blessed. So often when we think of being blessed, especially us Filipinos, it is something more of being “lucky” or “swerte” that means having money to spend and buy things. Sometimes being blessed for us is having achieved something that makes us and our loved ones famous.

The Visitation story tells us something entirely different: to be blessed means to believe in God, that His words would be fulfilled in us like with Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk.1:45).

True blessings

Luke’s Gospel teems with so many occasions of blessings beginning in the infancy narratives up to the Presentation to the temple and then of Jesus pronouncing His blessings especially to those who listen and act on God’s words or those who accept Him as the Christ.

It is at the Visitation where Luke shows us the true meaning of blessedness through Mary because of her faith and trust in God’s word spoken to her by the angel at the annunciation of the birth of Jesus Christ. Her faith makes her a model disciple to be imitated by all followers and believers of her Son Jesus Christ.

And here we find again the artistry of Luke because it is not only Mary who is blessed in the Visitation, but also Elizabeth as another model disciple like the Blessed Mother. Elizabeth was the first to call and recognize Jesus Christ as Lord, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk.1:43).

Photo by author, Advent Week IV, 2020.

See that when Elizabeth heard the greeting by Mary, like when Mary heard the greeting by the angel at the annunciation, it signaled the coming of the messianic age. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI even claims the annunciation is the beginning of the New Testament.

Elizabeth is the first person as far as Luke is concerned to call Jesus “Lord” and the first to call Mary “blessed” whom she will confirm later in her Magnificat, “all generations will call me blessed” (Lk.1:48).

Two women so blessed by God because they both believed in His words, both believed in the Christ still in the womb. Mary and Elizabeth are in fact the first two Christian disciples who showed us the essential task of every disciple: after hearing the word of God and accepting it, we must share it with others not only by repeating it but interpreting it in our very lives that everyone would see it as the good news.

With barely a week left on this final week of Advent, let us ask ourselves how are we going to show to others what we believe happens in Christmas in this time of the pandemic, that true blessedness is not being rich with material wealth but being enriched by a deep and animated faith in Jesus Christ who is Christmas Himself.

A blessed Monday to everyone!

Advent is being consistent

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B, 20 December 2020
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16  >><)))*>  Romans 16:25-27  >><)))*>  Luke 1:26-38
Photo by author, Christmas 2019.

We are now on the final week of our four Sundays of preparations for Christmas. We have been saying Christmas 2020 is surely the most different and difficult in our lives due to the pandemic. However, it may also be the most meaningful when we have more of spiritual values, less of material things; more of the other persons, less of ourselves; and, more of Jesus, less of the Christmas trimmings.

Today we heard the beautiful story of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus Christ found only in the gospel of Luke, the source of many inspirations in arts for many centuries even today. The scene reveals to us the artistry and spirituality of Luke believed to be a medical doctor who was a disciple of St. Paul. He is the only evangelist who admitted he had “investigated everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence (the events about Jesus Christ) so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received” (Lk.1:3-4).

And what is that certainty Luke looked into? That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises to the patriarchs and prophets, who is the very presence of God among us. That is why Luke wrote a second volume to his gospel, the Acts of the Apostles to show us Jesus still present in the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit. In this beautiful canvass painted to us by Luke on Jesus the Christ in his Gospel and Acts we also find in a supporting role the Blessed Virgin Mary, His own Mother and model disciple.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. then the angel said to her, “do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end”

Luke 1:26-33

The discipleship of Mary

As a former journalist, I have always considered the four evangelists as the premiere reporters of Jesus Christ. Mark is the old school type of straight news reporting, writing the basic who, what, where, when and why, making his gospel the first to be written and shortest as he was in a hurry, a true journalist. Matthew is more of a feature writer or interpretative reporter while John was a news analyst, an op-ed columnist.

Luke is the modern journalist using the “digital platform” who goes on “live as it happens” with all the colors and actions without losing depth and focus like the BBC and Al Jazeera. He brings us where the news is happening as you must have noticed yesterday in the story of the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah which also served as introduction to his lead story of Christmas, the annunciation of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Here we see the unique position of Mary as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke tells us how Mary is the only one to have believed in a “situation of contemporaneity” as Fr. Cantalamessa would love to say, meaning, she believed while the event was taking place and prior to any confirmation by the event or history.

See how Matthew presented some facts already known to him in narrating the annunciation to Joseph where the angel clarified Mary’s pregnancy was due to the Holy Spirit. Luke, on the other hand, is like reporting live in real time, so realistic with Mary and the angel conversing to each other!

Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, mosaic of the Annunciation at the San Padre Pio Church in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, 2016.

Writing in Greek like the rest of the authors in the New Testament, Luke did not use the usual Hebrew greeting of “Shalom” when Gabriel appeared to Mary, addressing her instead with chaire or “Rejoice favored one” that means especially graced from which came our translation from the Latin “Hail, full of grace!” in 1:28.

The favor or grace of Mary has found with God in 1:30 is explained in 1:31 in the future tense, “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son“. What is amazing here is that there is the sense of certitude on the part of the angel that the future will definitely take place because Mary has already been highly favored one by God before this event. How?

Though Mary will finally become a disciple at the end by saying “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” in 1:38, we find in 1:29 how she had always been disposed to the will and grace of God when Luke described how “she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be“.

Mary “pondered – meaning, she prayed, she meditated right away the greetings to her, indicating her openness and disposition to listen and follow the will of God. That shows how even before the annunciation happened, Mary had always been obedient to God that is why she could say yes to Him when asked to be the Mother of the Savior.

Here we find Mary’s consistency as a disciple of the Lord, her Son Jesus still to be born but already existing in eternity!

When we were growing up, our mother would always tell us that once our names are called either by her or by our father, we only say one thing, “Opo… ano po iyon?” (Yes, what is it?). That is old school discipline where we literally obeyed first even without any instruction yet because we have always been assured parents would never tell kids to do something bad or wrong. And we believed that. Unlike today’s generations where the usual reply to parents’ call is “wait” that no wonder, we now ask God wait before he can speak to us. Thank God I did not get married….

Going back to Mary, we now find the contrast with yesterday’s annunciation to Zechariah: Mary pondered and felt everything in her heart and soul while Zechariah reasoned out, used more his head than his heart – something we must ponder this Christmas. Mary right away had her heart, her very self onto the Christmas Nativity while Zechariah was stuck in his negativity.

Mary believed while the event, the annunciation, was taking place, prior to any confir­mation by the event itself or by history. Later we shall see that expression “pondering in her heart” repeated often by Luke and also by John in presenting Mary: after listening to the words of the shepherds who came to see baby Jesus at His birth in Bethlehem, at finding Jesus at the temple aged 12, and during the wedding feast at Cana where He did His first miracle.

Photo by author of the site where the annunciation to Mary took place found below the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth (2019).

The faith of Mary

From the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to His crucifixion, Easter and Pentecost, Mary always believed. During the Visitation, Elizabeth praised her, becoming the first to call Mary as “blessed” because “you believed what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk.1:45).

Eight days after Easter, Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe! ” (Jn 20:29). Early at the annunciation, Mary was the first to have believed without having seen Jesus Christ!

Mary teaches us the importance of subjective faith or the act of simply believing and trusting God, a person-to-person relationship with Him.

But it is not enough because it could lead to isolationism when we become individualistic and begin to have our own concept of God like what is happening these days especially with many Catholics with their own interpretations of God, heaven, evil and sin among other things.

Like Mary, we need to cultivate also objective faith, believe in the content of faith of the community. Mary believed God relating with the ancient prophets and patriarchs of Israel which the angel mentioned to her during the annunciation. See that after the annunciation, Mary hastily went to visit Elizabeth to share her good news and her faith. In her we learn that faith leads to a mission that is seen in the context of a community, the Church where Mary was portrayed to us praying with the disciples of Jesus during the Pentecost at the Upper Room in Jerusalem.

So here we find the consistency of Mary even before the annunciation that continued on in the life of the Church we still experience today in her many apparitions and messages always centered on Jesus not herself.

That is the call of Advent to us all: to be consistently clear with our faith with the one to be born at Christmas, Jesus Christ who is the Son of the Father, our Savior promised in Old Testament, now the very presence of God among us.

People kneeling on the streets during our Christ the King celebrations, 22 November 2020.

It is not enough that we just pray and believe; like Mary, we need to get out of ourselves and give ourselves to God and the Church. This is especially true with us priests who seem to believe more to himself and to media than with God! We must constantly examine ourselves if we truly believe in what we preach, in the kind of lives we lead. Is Jesus still center of our lives or us that we are so concerned always with our “image”, always seeking “likes” and “followers” than anything else?

If there is anyone who should be the first to be consistent in faith in God in any community, that must be the priest or pastor.

A few weeks ago while striving through the many challenges of my personal life and my ministry since this pandemic began, a parishioner told me how they draw strength and inspiration from me. I asked her why and how? What does my personal life has anything to do with them?

She explained that whenever they see me still going through with my ministry, holding on in my prayers and daily Masses, still smiling and can still laugh and crack jokes — they just feel they too can overcome their trials and difficulties.

I have realized in that short conversation more than preaching and explaining faith and its content, people look more at how faithful are we truly are as men of faith. That aside from dispensing the sacraments and doing all the ministries in my parish, there is also the task so unknown to me before of enkindling the faith of my flock, of guiding and leading them to God based on how do I live that faith in God with joy and patience.

People believe in God and the Church when they experience their pastor believing first in God and the Church. Like the COVID-19 virus, faith is contagious that spreads by coming into contact with. We priests must be the first to be “infected” with faith in the parish so that everyone would be “positive” with it, creating a “pandemic” in faith!

That is the consistency of Mary as a disciple — she is a “carrier” of a deep, joyful and active faith in Jesus, “infecting” everyone so positively that despite the difficult and trying situations we are into, we celebrate Christ’s coming amid the pandemic.

A blessed Sunday as we prepare for Christmas!

Advent: A parable of our life

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Third Sunday of Advent-B (Gaudete Sunday), 13 December 2020
Isaiah 62:1-2, 10-11 >><)))*> 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 >><)))*> John 1:6-8, 19-28
Photo by author, Gaudete Sunday at the Parish, Advent 2019.

Advent is a parable of our lives. Three months ago we reflected every Sunday the many parables of Jesus and we have learned that a parable is a simple story that contains deep meanings. Just like Advent: a season that comes in our church calendar every year that we take for granted not realizing the deeper meanings it teaches in the four weeks before Christmas or the Second Coming.

On this third Sunday of Advent also known as “Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday”, joy is the motif of all our readings for indeed, we are moving too closely to Christmas – and parousia. The lovely shades of pink remind us that we have to be alert to experience the advent of Jesus. Once again, its precursor John the Baptist guides us this Sunday in grasping the parable of Advent during his time and in our own time.


We are all a John the Baptist -
a reminder of Christ present among us.

All four evangelists mention John the Baptist in their gospel version before telling the ministry of Jesus Christ; but there is something so different with the approach of the author of the fourth gospel in introducing the Lord’s precursor.

In the fourth gospel, he is simply called “John”, omitting his title “the Baptist” for he is the only John in this gospel. The author of the fourth gospel never named himself preferring to be known as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” or simply “beloved disciple”. We learned his name is John through the other three gospel accounts, that he is the brother of another apostle James, both being the sons of Zebedee.

Why the author of the fourth gospel never identified himself with his name John is another topic; what matters to us is that there is only one man named John in his gospel and that is no other than John the Baptist whom he presented in the most unique manner like an official pronouncement, full of solemnity by declaring that this “man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him” (Jn.1:6-7).

Photo by author at Silang, Cavite, 20 September 2020.

Here we find John the Baptist clearly being placed by the author of the fourth gospel in relation to the Christ that is essentially the meaning of our being a baptized Christian — we are another John to remind people of Jesus present among us. It is one of life’s parables we always miss, something that can elicit joy in everyone.

And the more we find ourselves like John the Baptist in his mission, the more we experience Jesus closest to us too!


Life is a perpetual Advent
of Jesus who needs a 
John the Baptist in us.

After formally introducing to us John as man sent from God to testify for the Christ, our gospel today skipped the rest of the Prologue and jumped into the mission of John to introduce the ministry of Jesus Christ. See how in a few verses we find transitions from John to Jesus then to us.

Painting by Raphael of John preaching in the wilderness; photo from wikicommons.

John said: “I am the voice of the one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord, as Isaiah the prophet said. I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

John 1:23, 26-27

John is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy. But, at the same time, he is the continuation of the Old into the New as he stood present pointing to Jesus Christ who had come and would come again!

This we find in his last reply to the query of the Pharisees: “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

This is the parable of Advent: it is a perpetual event, something that keeps on happening even in our time that needs a John the Baptist to remind us that Jesus had come, that he is coming and most of all, he is come!

Aside from preparing others for Jesus Christ’s coming – we need to be like John the Baptist who also prepared himself for his Lord and Master!

In telling us that “there is one among you whom you do not recognize”, John humbly prepared himself to recognize and receive Jesus when he identified the Lord while coming to him for his baptism as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”, saying “He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me'” (cf. Jn.1:29-30).

But most of all, we find the most beautiful lesson of John in preparing for the Lord’s coming when like him, we allow Jesus to reveal himself to us, always saying “He must increase; I must decrease” as he taught his disciples asking him about Jesus’ ministry.

“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.”

John 3:29-30

Advent is being alert
and open to the Holy Spirit
who always comes with Jesus.

Advent is a parable of life when we hope in joy and humility for the Second Coming of the Lord who also continues to come to us in so many ways we never expect. It is a time of prayer and reflections when we try to become more open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

In the first reading we are reminded of the exact words of the Prophet that Jesus proclaimed in their synagogue when he came home to preach that,

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God.

Isaiah 61:1-2
Photo by author, Advent 2018.

After proclaiming those beautiful words of the prophet, while people were all eyes on him, Jesus declared “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk.4:21).

That is the power of the word of God, it is always effective and performative as the very sign of his presence among us. That is why Advent is the season when we are encouraged to cultivate that habit of praying the Sacred Scriptures that cleanse our hearts to be empty and ready to receive Christ in his coming. We encounter God first in his words filled with parables that enrich our lives.

To be open for the word of God and to the Holy Spirit means being alert that Jesus is “one among you whom you do not recognize” as John had told us.

Like John, it is finding the “whole” of God’s plan for us from the Old Testament to the New Testament and into our own time in the Church. It is the joy of discovering in this myriad of events and happenings, there is a God personally coming to us, loving us in the most personal way.

Like John, we are sent from God to give testimony to Jesus who had come, will come again and always comes.

That is the parable of Advent: when we realize deep within that we are able to rejoice and be glad to be alive to meet Jesus. May we heed to the words of St. Paul in the second reading:

Brothers and sisters: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-22

Have a blessed and joyful week!

Photo by author, Advent 2018.

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!

Advent is renewing friendship with Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of St. Francis Xavier, Missionary, 03 December 2020
Isaiah 26:1-6 >><}}}*> >><}}}*> >><}}}*> Matthew 7:21, 24-27
Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son while praying in our Parish, November 2019.

Thank you very much, God our loving Father in continuing to keep us, in gathering us together as family, as friends, as a community despite our many sins and failures, most especially in the midst of these trying times.

Like the remnants of Israel thrown into exile in the first reading, you have gathered us in Jesus Christ as our “strong wall and rampart” (Is.26:1), protecting us, blessing us, befriending us.

Let us not make same old mistake again like your chosen people thrown into Babylonian exile who worshipped you only with lips:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven.”

Matthew 7:21

In this Season of Advent, let us rediscover you anew, Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Help us renew our friendship in you by cultivating a prayer life that is consistent because friends always communicate, they always listen and speak to each other.

Sorry, Lord, for ignoring your words for so long, listening more to empty words of media than to your words that are performative or life-changing as Pope emeritus Benedict XVI used to say.

Most of all, friends not only talk and listen — they love each other.

Teach me to be truly wise, dear Jesus, to love more in deeds than in words.

Teach me to have my life founded on you, rooted in your love like St. Francis Xavier whose memorial we celebrate today for having accomplished so much against all odds because of his love for you and for people scattered in the Far East, hungry for your words.

Fill my heart with your love so that like St. Francis Xavier, I may be “stirred to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to me… that I may forget my own desires, my own human affairs and give myself over entirely to God’s will and choice that my heart would cry out: Lord I am here! Send me anywhere you like!” (adapted from a letter by St. Francis Xavier to St. Ignatius).

St. Francis Xavier, pray for us! Amen.

Disturb me to follow you, Jesus!

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, 30 November 2020
Romans 10:9-18     >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>     Matthew 4:18-22
Photo by author (May 2019), shore of Galilee at Capernaum where Jesus called the brothers Peter and Andrew to come and follow him.

Praise and glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ, on this second day of Advent you have given us the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle known as the “protoclete” or protokletos, the first to be called to follow you because he was also the first to entertain be “disturbed” by you.

Grant us this grace of being disturbed, of being moved within in a positive manner to seek out the truth like St. Andrew.

The moment he first saw you when John the Baptist identified you as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” he was there, moved in his heart and so disturbed that he asked you, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  And when you invited him and his companion to “come and see,” he believed you are the Messiah (Jn.1:35-41)!

I wonder what did he see in you, in your home, Lord Jesus that convinced him right away you are the Christ? What disturbed him?

Then in the wilderness as you tested Philip and asked him where you could buy food to feed more than 5000 people, Andrew again felt his heart so disturbed with the situation they were into that he was moved to bring to you a boy with five loaves of bread and two pieces of fish but at the same time, sincerely admitted to you how disturbed he was when he asked you, “what good are these for so many?” 

You never answered his question, dear Jesus, but Andrew remained with you and the crow until the great miracle happened when everyone was fed and satisfied with so many leftovers (Jn.6:1-15)!

St. Andrew must have been more disturbed than ever with what he had seen and experienced that he came to follow you more closely like his brother Peter!

For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

Romans 10:10

St. Andrew always believed in his heart, always allowed his heart to be disturbed with your words, with your presence, with your feelings.

And he never kept to himself those stirrings in his heart, always asking you or voicing out what he felt or thought no matter how crazy or even stupid they may be!

It was because of this openness with himself to you with his inquiries that you were made known as the Christ that eventually in his death, he chose to be crucified in the most different manner because he had truly owned your cross!

Give me that same grace, dear Jesus, to be honest in recognizing the inner stirrings in my heart no matter how crazy they may be, always telling these to you as part of carrying my cross. Like St. Andrew, may I have the courage to lovingly, faithfully and sincerely embrace your cross by expressing to you always whatever disturbs me that in the process you are more revealed in me and to others. Amen.

Following Jesus on the road

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 22 November 2020
Photo by author, Petra at Jordan, May 2019.
"As Jesus approached Jericho
a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging"
So many times I see myself in him
blinded by sins
and false securities
preferring to remain
at the safe side
at home with my comfort zone;
but soon 
I get tired of begging
of being blind
deciding to leave the roadside
to finally meet Jesus,
asking him to restore my sight.
O what a scene to behold
of the beautiful journey
that unfolds
only if I go 
to the middle of the road
to be with the Lord! 
Photo by author, a sycamore tree in Jericho, May 2019.
"At that time Jesus came to Jericho;
but Zacchaeus was short in stature"
So often in life
Jesus truly intends to pass
through wherever we are
only to test
if we would dare
to rise above our selves
to see and meet him there;
the key is to admit reality
that we are always short
in moral standing
but never in humility
if we can truly
forgo everything
then we see its beauty
when from the middle of the road
the Lord looks up to us
calling us to come down
for he had come to be with us!
Photo by Mr. Roland Atienza, 12 June 2019.
This is the most lovely 
thing I have heard
the Lord said:
"Those whom I love,
I reprove and chastise.
Be earnest, therefore, and repent.
Behold, I stand at the door
and knock.  If anyone hears my voice
and opens the door, then I will 
enter his house and dine with him,
and he be with me."
The Lord always comes,
bidden and unbidden,
but, are we open to meet him,
willing to leave
the roadside, climb a tree
if needed or turn the knob
to see and meet him?
Yes, Jesus is always passing by,
do not let yourself be left behind.

Christ the King: never imposing, always inviting

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Solemnity of Jesus, King of the Universe, 22 November 2020
Ezekiel 14:11-12, 15-17  >><)))*>  1Corinthians 15:20-26, 28  >><)))*>  Matthew 25:31-46
Photo by author, Chapel of the Graduate School of Theology, ICMAS, Guiguinto, Bulacan, 11 November 2020.

We Filipinos have a saying – sometimes taken as a riddle (bugtong) – that goes, “Utos ng hari, hindi mababali” that literally means the command of the king is unbreakable, always absolute.

Kings exist primarily to unite and help the people especially the weak, the suffering, and the voiceless; hence, kings are portrayed with strong bodies as well as sound minds to render justice. But, as we all know, power corrupts people that once kings like politicians have tasted the sweet elixir of authority and fame, everyone and everything is forgotten except one’s self interests.

And that has always been how kingship is seen based on power and supremacy, always imposing and domineering, insisting in their “power trips” that lead to divisions among peoples even nations that eventually, instead of serving others, they become the ones being served.

Exactly the opposite with the kingship of Jesus Christ that is not based on human power and authority but on the loving service of others, especially the weak and the marginalized. It was a radical move, of moving back to the very roots of kingship by God himself as prophesied by Ezekiel in the first reading. No wonder in Israel, kingship is closely seen in the imagery of shepherding.

Thus says the Lord God: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so I will tend my sheep. I will rescue them… I will pasture them… I will give them rest… The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal…

Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 16

This is the essence of our celebration today of the Solemnity of Christ the King: Jesus is in the other and within us, the Emmanuel or “God-is-with-us” that the greatest honor we can give him as our King is to lovingly serve him in one another. See our many images in art of him suffering and dying than regal as a king because Jesus is truly one with us in our most difficult and trying times. That is why he is the only one truly a king!

“Ecce Homo” by Murillo, from wikipediacommons.com.

Christ the King grounds us to God and others again

When Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925, the world was going through a lot of changes in every sphere of human life – for better and for worst – following the many advances in science and technology as well as in thoughts and ideas.

This continues to this day in our own age with its own twists that are more pernicious with everyone trying to reign supreme as kings and queens in life no longer with a scepter that was like a “magic wand” to get everything done but with the cellphones that can either build or destroy anyone with the slightest touch of ones’s fingers!

How sad that as the world had shrunken into a global community interconnected by modern means of communications invented to bring us all together, we have actually grown more apart from each other, polarizing us even further with every color of the rainbow signifying so many groups, agenda, and beliefs.

Worst of all, with these modern means of communications, we have become more focused with gadgets and things than with persons.

What an irony that we can be so close with those miles apart from us yet we hardly notice nor even recognize the persons seated next to us. Long before COVID-19, we have always been socially distant from each other, have always failed to appreciate or even look at the warmth and beauty of the human face now covered with a mask because we have always been “washing our hands”, escaping from our responsibilities as our brothers and sisters’ keepers.

See how in our readings this Sunday Jesus Christ is reminding us to go back to our solid grounding in God who dwells in each one of us.

Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them from one another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Matthew 25:31-32
Photo by John Bonding, Architecture&Design Magazine, 25 May 2019 via Facebook.

I have always loved this photo above that speaks perfectly well of our situation today, of how most of us are missing so much in life when everything is “media-ted” that we no longer touch ground as if we are “floating on air” with everything reduced to a mere show or “palabas” that must be caught, kept, and shared in Instagrams instead of being enjoyed in our collective memories.

More tragic is the fact how most of these are often fake and not true at all, leaving many of us empty, even alienated that have resulted in many instances of depressions and suicides.

What an irony when everybody is claiming to be their own king or queen and master, of being free from religions and God, the more they have become unfree and empty! The more our egos and self-interests reign, the more chaotic we have become with peace and fulfillment most elusive.

When Jesus is our only King reigning in our hearts and relationships, that is when we find fulfillment in our lives as we discover our rootedness in God and interconnectedness with others.

When Jesus spoke of separating the goats and the sheep, we are reminded of how these animals can sometimes be indistinguishable — exactly like when we fail to recognize our loved ones and persons nearest to us.

And true enough, even Jesus has become indistinguishable among us right in our homes and most of all, among the suffering people like the hungry and thirsty, the strangers and homeless, the sick, the poor we have stripped not only of their clothings but also of their dignity as persons, and those imprisoned.

Recall what Jesus told Pilate at his trial, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world to testify to the truth…” (Jn.18:37) that “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him” (1Jn.4:16).

All this comes to full circle today as Jesus tells us, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt.25:40) and “what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (Mt.25:45).

Jesus will surely come again

As we have reflected these past two Sundays, Jesus is coming again at the end of time to judge us if we have been faithful and loving to him through others. He himself assures us of his return as he declared When the Son of Man comes in his glory” and not the conditional If the Son of Man comes”.

The key is not to know the when and how but to be vigilant, of being awake, always finding Jesus our king with the least among us which is the truest sense of kingship — never imposed on others but always recognized and imitated. In Filipino, “sinusunod, sinusundan at tinutularan; hindi nasusunod”.

St. Paul reminds us anew in the second reading how Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross had decisively won over sin and death; but, he is coming again to fully establish his kingship when he vanishes sin and death completely to pave the way for new heaven and new earth.

When he comes again, will anyone recognize him among the poor and suffering like the hungry and thirsty, the sick and imprisoned, the strangers and homeless, and the naked? May we all have the eyes of a child who sees God in everyone and everything! Amen.

A blessed Sunday to you all!

Photo by a parishioner of his son, Red Santiago, praying in our parish, November 2019.