Graduating in time of COVID-19: Being the right person in the right place at the right time

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 02 July 2021
Genesis 23:1-4, 19-24:1-8, 62-67   ><}}}'> + <'{{{>< Matthew 9:9-13

Congratulations, my dear Senior High School graduates of Our Lady of Fatima University Batch 2021. Yes, you hold the distinction of belonging to the first graduates of the pandemic who persevered, who were not daunted by COVID-19 that continues to plague us after more than a year of altering our lives.

Take pride in belonging to this batch because you have just proven you are the right people in the right time at the right place called by God to witness his truth and mercy, our university motto, “Veritas et Misericordia”.

Too often we pray God would send us the right person to become our friends and colleagues at work or project, or simply our co-journeyer in this life – perhaps lovers – without realizing we are in fact the right person being called and sent first by God in the right place, at the right time.

This was the experience of Matthew in our gospel today:

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Matthew 9:9
“Calling of St. Matthew” painting by Caravaggio from en.wikipedia.org.

Let me tell you a beautiful story about the call of St. Matthew as depicted in a painting by the renowned artist named Caravaggio during the 1600’s in a chapel in Rome. It is one of the favorite paintings of Pope Francis who claims he used to see it while a student in Rome and later as the Cardinal of Buenos Aires whenever he would go to the Vatican.

Caravaggio’s painting is very unique and amusing especially in the way he would play with lights and darkness like in that other famous painting of the meeting of the Risen Lord and doubting Thomas eight days after Easter. This contrast of light and darkness is very evident in painting the call of Matthew by Jesus.

Very interesting is the kind of clothes the characters wear in this painting: notice how Caravaggio portrayed Matthew, the bearded man with a beret and his companions at the table wearing the expensive clothes of the Middle Ages while Jesus and Simon Peter are in their traditional garments and – barefooted! The room looks like a tavern of Caravaggio’s time than a customs house as narrated by Matthew during the time of the Lord in Galilee.

All of this because Caravaggio was fond of incorporating biblical scenes into his milieu to show the relevance of Christ in their time.

And that is also the reason why I share this painting with you: aside from being the gospel on this first Friday of the month, I find its story so relevant with you Senior High School students and graduates.

When you look at the painting, it is like a video happening in split seconds, very much like that photo taken in the live mode of an iPhone with the picture moving a little, wondering if Matthew would stand and leave to follow Jesus.


When you look at the painting, it is like a video happening in split seconds, 
very much like that photo taken in the live mode of an iPhone 
with the picture moving a little, 
wondering if Matthew would stand and leave to follow Jesus.

From en.wikipedia.org.

See Matthew and company seated at the dark side of the room with Jesus standing near the window partially washed by lights specifically his face and hand with finger pointed towards Matthew whose face is clearly lighted, evidently hesitant, asking Jesus if he were referring to him or to the one slumped on the table. Notice the bright face of Matthew and his index finger pointing to the man beside him, his thumb to himself as if asking “is it I, Lord?” or “who, me?” while his other hand is holding a coin on the table.

So beautiful as it evokes the hesitancy of Matthew and certainty of Jesus!

That is how we have felt this first year of COVID-19, the Academic Year 2020-2021, your batch: there is our hesitancy and uncertainty, fears and anxieties in life, of going back to school or not, of where to get money or laptop or reliable internet service while deep inside us, we felt the Lord so certain in his plans for us, in his love and mercy, that we can “rise to the top” here at Fatima University!

We are the ones always doubting, asking Jesus if he were talking or calling us because we cannot let go of that “coin” Matthew is holding on in the painting symbolizing the materials things and persons on whom we put our trust instead of having faith in God alone.

Doubt no more, my dear graduates of the COVID-19 batch of 2020-2021! You are the right person in the right place – Our Lady of Fatima University – at the right time, Academic Year 2020-2021 on the first year of COVID-19 pandemic.


Jesus is telling you today as he fills you with his light 
of truth and mercy in finishing Senior High School in our beloved University 
that you are indeed the right people called in the right place at the right time.  
Will you "rise to the top" to pursue further studies 
to achieve your dreams in this time of the pandemic?  

Jesus is telling you today as he fills you with his light of truth and mercy in finishing Senior High School in our beloved University that you are indeed the right people called in the right place at the right time. Will you rise to the top, pursue further studies to achieve your dreams in this time of the pandemic?

Come and follow Jesus, make your dreams come true here with us in Our Lady of Fatima University for we do not stop seeking ways in dealing with the pandemic with our innovative classes and curriculum. We are the first university approved by the government to conduct limited face-to-face classes in our medical courses.

Like Abraham in the first reading from Genesis, trust God that he will send you his messenger, that he will send you people who will be teaching and preparing you for the post-pandemic period while journeying with you, learning with you in this time of the COVID-19.

Amid the darkness of our time like Caravaggio’s painting, do not fail to see the light brightening the scene, getting intense on the face of Matthew and people around him with Jesus looking intently on you, making sure you do not get sick, that you rise and follow him in pursuing your dream.

Don’t worry, my dear graduates, your Rebekah or your Isaac will surely come along the way but at the moment, Jesus wants you to finish your studies first.

Study hard, work harder, and pray hardest! See you in August!

Have blessed break!

Learning in time of COVID-19

Homily by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Baccalaureate Mass, Basic Education Department
Our Lady of Fatima University, 16 June 2021
From IgnitedToInspire.com

Congratulations! Today, everyone deserves a warm round of applause, a pat on the shoulder and perhaps, a little treat after our Mass for making it through the Academic Year of the pandemic, 2020-2021.

Most likely while you were chilln’ after your final exams last Wednesday evening, you have seen and heard this great woman of America’s Got Talent, Nightbirde who mesmerized us not only with her voice but most of all with her infectious joy and presence on the stage.

Her words last week are the most quoted in social media even in our Masses last Sunday: “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.”

She connected so well with us because there is a little Nightbirde in each one of us when we look back to this past academic year when the pandemic happened before we ended classes last year and did not have any Baccalaureate Mass in our University.

Despite the uncertainties and fears and apprehensions due to COVID-19 , we decided to be happy.

We did not wait “until life isn’t hard anymore” to go back to school despite the enormous challenges and adjustments we all have to go through: parents, teachers and faculty, University admin, and most especially you, our dear students.

And if there is one most important lesson we have learned in this past academic year of the pandemic, it is GOD.

Yes!

Like Nightbirde, we have realized how God never abandoned us, always with us, loving us, silently working for us even with just 2% chance of surviving cancer or COVID or passing an exam.

St. Paul said it so well in our first reading:

Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God.

2 Corinthians 9:8, 11

The Lord never failed in providing us with all that we need, even during this pandemic.

Let us be open to more of his grace by trusting him more, and sharing his blessings with others.

Dare to “rise to the top” amid the pandemic and other challenges in life!



We did not wait 
"until life isn't hard anymore" 
to go back to school 
despite the enormous challenges 
and adjustments we all have to go through:  
parents, teachers and faculty, 
University admin, and most especially you, 
our dear students.  

From Our Lady of Fatima University/FB.

God never abandoned us this year. We are still alive and we are now moving up, advancing in our pursuit for education. Some of us may have lost a loved one, others were left behind due to many reasons but we celebrate today our achievements made possible by God.

He is the most important lesson we have learned this year of COVID-19: only God suffices. Without God, we are nothing.

What would our lives be today if we all waited last year for the pandemic to be over to resume classes?

And the good news is, God is assuring us today in this Baccalaureate Mass that he shall be blessing you more this coming academic year 2021-2022.

There will surely be a lot of challenges awaiting us, even more difficult but rest assured that if you were able to complete your Prep or Kindergarten, Elementary or Junior High and Senior High stage, there is nothing you cannot do now!

Lahat kakayanin ninyo huwag lang kayong bibitiw sa Diyos!

God has beautiful plans for you despite this pandemic. Persevere and remain in him.

Study hard, work harder, pray hardest!

I have one assignment to give you my dear students as you go on your academic break this June: continue studying, continue praying.

Try to get a copy of a book called “Imitatio Christi” or the Imitation of Christ written around the years 1418-1427 by the German-Dutch monk named Thomas á Kempis.

Don’t worry… it is available in the internet and it is an excellent devotional book. You won’t regret reading it. In fact, next to the Bible, the Imitatio Christi is the other leading devotional book in Christianity.

His reflections are very timely and relevant especially in this time of COVID when he said that what matters most is that we love the Giver – God – and not the gift because God is the source of all good things in life.

A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover, as the love of the giver. He esteems the affection above the gift, and values every gift far below the Beloved. A noble lover is not content with a gift, but desires Myself above all gifts. 

Imitation of Christ, Book III, Part VI, “Of the proving of the true lover” by Thomas á Kempis (d. 1471)

Study hard, 
work harder, 
pray hardest!

From Pinterest.com

Do not forget amid the many gifts we have received this year of pandemic is the giver of these gifts, God.

When you have God, you have everything. And you can do everything.

Fall in love with God.

So many times in our lives especially when we are still young and strong, we forget God, wasting our lives and precious time with less important things.

We do not realize that God alone is the one whom we must always seek and have in life because he alone loves us truly to whom alone we must always turn to.

To fall in love with God is to cultivate a prayer life, to be a man or woman of prayer.

When you love somebody, you always talk to that person.

If you love God, then you will always pray.

God loves you very much. He believes in you. He knows what you need even before you ask him.

What we do not know is what God wants from us. That is why we have to pray in order to learn what are the plans of God for us this coming academic year 2021-2022.

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. Your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

Matthew 6:5-6

God is the best and most loving teacher of all. His lessons are always practical and personal. That is the meaning of “entering your inner room” – go into your heart and there you shall meet God, always waiting for you, eager to listen to you and speak to you about his love and plans for you.

He only has one lesson plan: love, love, love.

See how during the pandemic even the most powerful nations were crippled by COVID-19. Even until now these vaccines we have are not an assurance of being safe from the virus. We do not even know its other side effects.

We still have to hurdle so many problems this year.

Problem is we refuse to see that this pandemic is also spiritual in nature, not just medical and social.

Let us learn our lesson very well – God.

And so, I ask you again, my dear students to work hard, study harder and pray hardest this coming Academic Year 2021-2022 to achieve your dreams and realize God’s great plans for you in the future, now. Amen.

God bless you all!

Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son praying in our former parish at Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan, 2019.