Refreshing our faith in Lent

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Third Sunday of Lent in Cycle B, 07 March 2021
Exodus 20:1-17  ><}}}*>  1Corinthians 1:22-25  ><}}}*>  John 2:13-25
Parish Church of St. Joseph in Baras, Rizal.

One thing we notice in Lent is the “noble simplicity” of celebrations: no flowers at the altar, simple music without percussions, without Gloria no Alleluia meant to refocus our attention back to God in a more personal level.

That is why during Lent, our faith is refreshed or rebooted in order to “reset” it back to God himself than with rites and rituals and other formalisms that have made our relationships with him and with one another stagnant.

When faith and religion get fixated on formal codes of worship and belief, detached not only from God but even with people like those in the margins, then it had become an idolatry.

Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

John 2:13-17
Photo from turbosquid.com.

Our personal, relating God

On this Third Sunday of Lent until its final Fifth week, we turn to the fourth Gospel of John to deepen our personal relationship with the Father in Christ when each gospel is compacted with signs and language rich in meanings to reignite our faith with “zeal” that “consume” us like Jesus.

Observe John’s formal introduction of this episode of cleansing of the temple by presenting to us its chronemics, the non-verbal communication of time and space to indicate the presence of God in Passover (time), Jerusalem, and temple (space/place). Keep in mind that the fourth gospel is called “the book of signs” because John would always use events, buildings and places, and people as signs pointing to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.

In this episode that immediately happens at the start of the Lord’s ministry as seen by John, something very wrong have happened with the very signs of God’s presence so revered by the people during their important feast of Passover right in their temple in Jerusalem: God had been eased out from the lives of the people and from their worship itself!

The gospels teem with many references at how the people at that time led by the temple officials and religious leaders have turned into worshipping rites and rituals than God himself, forgetting to serve the people by sticking to the letters than to the spirit of the Laws that Jesus always attacked.

It is similar to our own time where our faith and church worship have become empty of God and spirituality filled with human inanities led by some priests who tinker with liturgy, forgetting its noble simplicity, that less is always more. In our efforts to make God “present” with so many “shows” and gimmicks in the liturgy and church buildings, the more we have removed the Divine, unconsciously creating a cult around ourselves.

Notice some churches devoid of the holy with all the flat screens and tarpaulins all over. Worst is how priests have promoted this culture of shouting and clapping of hands during and after Mass as if God were deaf!

So many other things are sadly going in our celebrations where emotions are heightened without really stirring the hearts nor souls with God’s presence. Good liturgy flows from our personal and faithful relationship with God anchored in prayer life, not with shows and activities.

In the first reading, God reminds us in his Commandments that more than laws, these are meant to bring us into a relationship with him our God. See God speaking in the first person, addressing everyone with conversational personal pronouns, “I am the Lord your God” or “I am the Lord thy God”.

More than a mere body of commandments, the Decalogue are a covenant by God with people he had freed from slavery, pledging his unfailing fidelity to them who are expected to be wholeheartedly attached with him as their Lord and God. The Decalogue is first of all a call to intimacy with God expressed with our respect for one another.

This Lent, God invites us to renew our personal relationship with him in Jesus who had come to bring equilibrium in our lives through his Cross where our vertical relationship with the Father is intersected by our relationships with one another in Christ, through Christ, and with Christ. Without this, our faith or any religion will drift to extremes, either to joyless conformism as seen in fundamentalism and traditionalism or exaggerated expressionisms happening nowadays, disregarding the norms of liturgy and of sanity as well. In both instances, there is human manipulation strongly present that pretend to serve God but actually massage somebody’s ego, totally forgetting the people who suffer most.

Photo by author, 2019.

Jesus himself as the new temple

When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was newly elected in office, he wrote a bishop in Europe suffering with cancer. According to reports, the former Pope tried to uplift the spirits of the sick bishop by telling him that “Jesus saved the world not with activities but by suffering and dying on the cross.”

Beautiful words from one of the most spiritual and theological man of our time! Here lies too the fullness of our relationship with God expressed in our worship when our “zeal” for him is consumed in our oneness in Jesus Christ, our new temple.

At this the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

John 2:18-22

John now presents to us Jesus more than a prophet cleansing the temple with full authority, being the perfection of every worship that is “in Spirit and truth” (Jn.4:23) because as the Messiah of God offered on Good Friday which is also the feast of the Jewish Passover, his Body becomes the new temple.

Of course, sacred buildings are still important as well as rites and rituals but they are signs pointing to the realities of Jesus Christ, the Emmanuel or God-is-with-us truly felt in ourselves, in our lives when we have that oneness, that intimacy in him in our personal and communal prayers that flow down to our interpersonal relationships with others especially the poor and the suffering.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Last October, I had the most severe test in life when my only brother was diagnosed with an ailment affecting his spine, becoming immobilized for three months. I took him to my parish so I can look after him. What was most difficult for me was seeing him suffer, writhing in pain even in the middle of the night, sometimes begging me to ask God to take him so his sufferings may finally end.

I thought already knew how to pray, that I was tough and strong especially in my faith but, like a child, I would always hide and cry to God for my only brother who in his entire life has always been sickly and afflicted with many illnesses.

One morning in our daily Mass, tears swelled in my eyes during consecration as I held the Body of Christ in my hands with my voice breaking as I said, THIS IS MY BODY WHICH WILL BE GIVEN UP FOR YOU.

How I wanted to stop the Mass at that moment to cry in joy as I felt Jesus so true, in his flesh and blood, truly alive and personal!

Until now I could not explain what or how I felt that I cried at that time except that the night before, I assisted my brother in bed and cleaned him up. It was very difficult and even messy but a great moment of God’s grace and mercy for me expressing my love for him through my brother. That is when I realized that to truly touch Jesus is first of all to touch him among our sick brothers and sisters; that there is an intimate connection between the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and everyone especially the sick and suffering. And, for us to truly receive the Body of Christ, to experience the Holy Communion in him, we must first have his eyes and heart and hands among those deprived around us (https://lordmychef.com/2020/10/28/the-body-of-christ/).

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, Good Friday 2020.

Brothers and sisters: Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:22-25

Faith in God is not meant to be explained nor analyzed. Though we do not stop studying and learning our faith doctrines and teachings, we are reminded this third Sunday of Lent to keep our zeal for God burning. Let us pray to Jesus that like him, may our zeal for the Father consume us by seeing him in persons not on things that are often self-serving. Amen.

Have a blessed and refreshing Sunday in the Lord with your family and loved ones!

Photo by author, 2019.

Lent is for dreaming again

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
First Friday of March, Second Week in Lent, 05 March 2021
Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28   ><}}}*> <*{{{><   Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, February 2021.

Lately O Lord you have been consoling me with the shades and hues of Lent, providing much needed inspiration and enthusiasm to forge on amid the many trials I have been going through along with some loved ones hurdling great obstacles in life these days.

As we close another week, you have never stopped showering us with your immense love, dear Father, by inviting us to come to you to be forgiven and enlightened to set all things right again in our lives. No matter how dark or light are the various contrasts of daily life, there is always your Son Jesus Christ journeying with us.

On this first Friday of March, you invite us to dream again of great, good things in life: to dream again of being close to you, of being good, of being loving and loved, of being saved from our sins as we heard the story of Joseph in the first reading and the parable of the wicked tenants in the gospel referring to Jesus. Both were dreamers that someday, we shall be with you in your glory, O God.

But unlike other dreamers, Joseph and Jesus dreamt of salvation in you with “eyes wide open” by working hard on their dreams by remaining faithful and true to you even if others despised them, plotting their deaths.

And so, loving Father, I pray that we dream anew beginning today — of being with you, of doing your work, of making you present in this world where nobody dreams big anymore except of being rich and famous. For those who refuse to dream or cannot dream again for any reason, give them the grace to dream with other dreamers instead of blocking or hindering our dreams like the brothers of Joseph and the wicked tenants of the parable.

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he made him a long tunic. when his brothers saw that their father loved him best of allo his sons, they hated him so much that they would not even greet him… They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelite for twenty pieces of silver.

Genesis 37:3-4, 28

Lastly, Lord Jesus, I pray for the dreamers among us that like Joseph and you, may we hold on to our dreams, to keep dreaming until they come true, in you and through you. Amen.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, make my heart like thine.

Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son praying in our previous Parish, March 2019.

Things we ask God

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in Second Week of Lent, 03 March 2021
Jeremiah 18:18-20 ><}}}*> + <*{{{>< Matthew 20:17-28
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD in Candaba, Pampanga, February 2021.

Almighty Lord, so many times we feel asking you many questions but would not dare to because we are afraid of you, we fear we might offend you and commit sin, or maybe because we are afraid of what or how you might answer our query that we would not like it all!

I am sure that even before a question is formed in our minds, you knew it already for nothing escapes you, especially our innermost thoughts and feelings like when we are deeply hurt like your prophet Jeremiah in the first reading:

“Heed me, O Lord, and listen to what my adversaries say. Must good be repaid with evil that they should dig a pit to take my life? Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them.

Jeremiah 18:19-20

Must good be repaid with evil…?

Surely you have heard this question so many times, Lord. And surely, you also know it is more than a question but a cry for help from you, a cry for your affirmation because there are times when we know you are on our side, that we are doing something good that is why people even loved ones are so against us like in the experience of Jeremiah.

Thank you for the courage and strength to be faithful to you; when people repay our deeds with evil, it means we are not ignored. Our efforts are bearing fruits because of you.

Keep us strong, Lord, and help us persevere amid difficult and trying situations in life. And yes, let us keep on asking you for more questions because that is when we rely more on you!

On the other hand, please forgive us, Lord, when we ask too much from you like the mother of James and John.

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking.”

Matthew 20:20-22

Indeed, there are times we do not know what we are asking from you, Lord. Sometimes, we ask for your affirmation in the wrong sense, according to the standards of the world, of quid pro quo, of things in exchange or in return for good things we may have done as if it was solely our efforts.

During this Lent, help us realize that what we need to ask you about or ask from you are those essentially needed so we can be faithful in following you, in doing your works, in speaking your words. Teach us, dear Jesus that ultimately, what we need to ask you and ask from you is nothing else but YOU.

O dearest Jesus, reign in our hearts and fill us with your humility, justice, and love! Amen.

The ups and downs from Lent to Easter

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Genesis 22:7-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by author, sunset at Marcos Highway, 2019.

Ang ating pagkakamali

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-10 ng Pebrero 2021
Larawan kuha ng may akda, Ikapitong Istasyon ng Krus sa Parokya ni San Ildefonso sa Tanay, Rizal.
Doon sa magandang simbahang
aming pinuntahan kamakailan
matatagpuan din kakaibang larawan
ng ikalawang pagkadapa ni Jesus
habang ang Kanyang krus ay pasan;
isa sa mga taga-usig Niya
hindi kita mga mata dahil 
suot niya may kulay na antipara
kagaya ng maraming nabubulagan
at hindi makita katotohanan
nasisilaw sa kapangyarihan
ngunit kaliwanagan ayaw masilayan.
Palagi namang kulang at kapos
ating kaisipan at karunungan
kahit anong ingat at siyasat
hindi sasapat;
Diyos lamang ang ganap
na Siyang nakasisipat
ng mga magaganap
na ni wala sa ating mga hinagap
kaya naman madalas mas mainam pa
na ating matanggap kahit mabigat
kakulangan maging kahangalan
ng mga nanunungkulan.
Madalas aking napag-iisipan
sa dami ng mga kamalian
kagagawan ko o ng iba pa man
kailanma'y hindi naman ako pinabayaan
ng Panginoong Maykapal;
sinasamahan maging sa pagpapasan
ng mga pinagdurusahang bunga
ng mga kasalanan at kamalian
hanggang sa maliwanagan
lahat ay malampasan
at muling makabangon
sa Kanyang kabutihan at kaganapan.
Ito ang ating panaligang
katotohanan sa ating buhay:
lahat ay nagkakamali
maging mga pari
ngunit si Jesus kailanma'y
hindi nagkamali
sa atin ng Kanyang pagpili
kaya tayo ay manatili
 huwag managhili
patunayan nating hindi Siya nagkakamali
 magsumakit sa Kanya mapalapit
hanggang ang langit ay masapit!
Mayroong mga nagsasabi
ito raw lalaking nakasalaming may kulay
ay si Caiaphas na punong pari
na siyang humatol laban kay Jesus
nang Siya ay litisin ng Sanhedrin
nang dakpin noong gabi sa hardin
habang nananalangin;
kay gandang pagnilayan
ngayong aming lipatan ng kaparian
paalala sa amin ng yaring larawan
alisin na at hubarin salamin na madilim
upang makita si Jesus nakadapa sa tabi.
Detalye ng larawan sa itaas ng Ikapitong Istasyong ng Krus sa Simbahan ng Tanay na inukit noon pang 1785.

The Black Nazarene in COVID-19

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Saturday, Feast of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, 09 January 2021
1 John 5:14-21     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     John 3:22-30
Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, Quiapo, 09 January 2020.

For the first time in so many years, there will be no Traslacion today of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo due to the COVID-19 pandemic but devotees are still celebrating its feast via online Masses and by visiting other churches with revered images of Nuestro Padre Señor Jesus de Nazareno first brought in the country by Augustinian Recollects in the early 1600’s.

Like in our celebrations last year of Lent and Easter and recently of Christmas, COVID-19 pandemic has given us much needed time to reflect, meditate, and review our faith in general that has been shaped for better and, for worst, by our many rites and rituals that have turned us blind to its deeper realities of finding Jesus among the poor and suffering.

It is a great marvel for our eyes to see this unique and intense expression of faith of great crowds gathering every year to fulfill their panata or vow to the Black Nazarene. People from all walks of life, children, men and women, young and old flock to Quiapo on this day as part of their panata for a prayer and wish granted them by the Señor Nazareno.

Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, Quiapo, 09 January 2020.

Beloved: We have this confidence in him that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked him for is ours. Children, be on your guard against idols.

1 John 5:14-15, 21

So often people wonder do we really have to go through all these because of a prayer granted like healing or having a child or getting a job or passing a board exam?

The beloved disciple reminds us today during this time of the pandemic that somehow we have to restore some sense of order especially in the Traslacion.

There is no doubt about the faith of everyone — but it is not everything. Faith is directed to God, a Person, not to a ritual or rite nor to an image. In this time of COVID-19, Jesus reiterates to us His love for us, of how like yesterday in the gospel He always wishes the best for us.

Let it be clear we are not passing judgment on the devotees of the Black Nazarene and of other popular devotions anywhere else in the world. In the letter of St. John we heard today, we find that we do not need to go through so much hardships like some people would do in their panata because prayer is not primarily for having things but for deepening relationship with God. We pray because we relate, we want to be one with God. Asking for things or blessings is secondary. Prayers and sacrifices do not necessarily change situations in one’s life; prayers and sacrifices change the person. In fact, when we pray for something, deep within us we already knew if it is meant for us or not; that is why, I always tell people to “claim” from Jesus whatever he/she may be praying for because if it is for you, the Lord will surely give it to you.

It will almost be a year since we have this pandemic but until now, see in most churches how people continue to disregard our health protocols not to touch and kiss images. In less than a month, we shall start the Season of Lent when images are covered so we go deeper into the person of God and not merely to His images and other visuals that unfortunately for some have become their gods. And that is why despite our deep religiosity, we cannot experience real change in our society because we are still individualistic than communal. Values are misplaced or even disregarded when we think more of the favors to be had than the relationships to be kept, the person to be respected and life to be valued. No wonder, so many Catholics ironically and sadly support corrupt politicians and leaders who lie and disregard life despite their being “prayerful”.

From Google.

John said: “He (Jesus) must increase, I must decrease.”

John 3:30

Señor Nazareno reminds us how in this life we imitate John the Baptist remaining humble before Jesus, entrusting everything to Him. Most especially, working hard to ensure that Jesus and His gospel of salvation is made known to everyone.

See how in our gospel today when the disciples of John the Baptist reported to him Christ’s ministries in Judea, seeking clarifications on how to deal with the situation as more and more people were coming to Jesus. The scene reveals to us the deep spirituality of John, telling his disciples how Jesus must increase and he must decrease which is essentially Christ’s teaching on discipleship, that who ever wants to follow Him must first deny himself and take up his cross with Him.

That is the central message of the Black Nazarene: of how we are also willing to forget our very selves, take up our cross and follow Jesus in the path of self-sacrifice. It is finding Jesus among the poor and suffering that made the Quiapo devotion so appealing to every generation, but — we also wonder why our nation remains poor with so many sufferings! There must be something wrong.

This is something that only the pandemic can offer us: to search our souls, sincerely asking our selves if we still find Jesus in the center of all these devotions. How sad that every year, we hear reports of how some devotees getting unruly, insisting on what they believe, on what they want, including the route of the Traslacion.

Amid all these celebrations, do we hear John’s declaration “Jesus must increase and I must decrease”?

That is spirituality which is more about relationship with God than just fulfillment and celebration of rites and rituals that we call religiosity.

The Black Nazarene statue sits at the stage of the Quirino Grandstand in Manila on January 8, 2013, one day before its feast day when it will be paraded around the streets of Manila to the greeting of thousands of devotees. (Photo by LJ Pasion)

Usually, when you ask anyone for the meaning of “Jesus Nazareno”, easily they would say it refers to the Lord’s origins, the town of Nazareth where He grew up after returning from Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous plot against all infants when He was born.

It is true but on deeper reflection, we have to remember that Nazareth is the only place in the New Testament never mentioned in the Old Testament. Besides, Jesus Christ is actually from Bethlehem, the town of David and Joseph His father where He was born in fulfillment of the prophecies.

According to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the words Nazoraios and Nazarenos used to designate Jesus in the gospels came from the Hebrew root “nezer” for root. Remember in the Simbang Gabi the prophecy by Isaiah that “There shall comne forth a shoot (nezer) from the stump of Jesse” (Is.11:1)?

Pope Benedict explains that Matthew must have detected in the name Nazareth a prophetic reference to the “shoot” as a sign of fulfillment of God’s promise to draw new life from the dead stump of Jesse:

If we add that in the inscription above the Cross, Jesus is called ho Nazoraios (cf. Jn.19:19), then the title acquires its full resonance: what is at first sight refers simply to his origin, actually points to his essence: he is the “shoot,” he is the one completely consecrated to God, from his mother’s womb to the day of his death.

Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (pp.117-118)

What a beautiful reminder to us all today in this time of COVID-19 in celebration of the feast of the Black Nazarene, reminding us that in this time when everything seems to be “dead” like a “stump” of the tree, God is working something marvelous, something great among us through His Son Jesus Christ.

Jesus is coming, Jesus has come and remains with us despite this pandemic.

But, are we willing to die to ourselves to see Him, to experience Him, and most of all, share Him?

Viva Nuestro Padre Señor Jesus de Nazareno!

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 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.

Learning from Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Memorial of St. Clement, Pope and Martyr, 23 November 2020
Revelation 14:1-3, 4-5     >><)))*>  >><)))*>  >><)))*>     Luke 21:1-4
Photo by Red Santiago, his youngest son at prayer in our Parish, 21 November 2019.

Two things have struck me today, Lord, in your words: first is how St. John could say “No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been ransomed from the earth” (Rev. 14:3) when he heard them singing before you in his vision of heaven; and second, how did you know that the “poor widow put in more than all the rest” (Lk.21:3) into the treasury?

Of course, you are the Son of God, Jesus, who knows everything and can read everything in our hearts but, aside from that fact, one thing that truly best describes you is how you can give up anything even your very self for us, completely trusting the Father like a child.

In the gospel, you must have seen how the poor widow thought more of God, more of the temple, more of those in need than her self that she gave two small coins’ offerings worth a fortune for her. She was willing to let go of everything she has for God because she trusted him so much!

May we keep in our minds and in our hearts that it is when we are able to give up what is most precious in us that we truly love because that is also when we truly have faith in you that whatever we lovingly surrender is never lost but gained in eternal life like the 144,000 souls singing the new hymn for the Lamb in heaven seen by your beloved disciple.

As we close the current liturgical year this week, teach us, Lord Jesus, to learn more of these things from you so we can prepare ourselves for your daily coming especially this coming Season of Advent leading to Christmas.

Like St. Clement, may we entrust everything to God’s providence and care our whole lives. Amen.

When feeling helpless

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Week XXX, Year II in Ordinary Time, 31 October 2020
Philippians 1:18-26     >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>     Luke 14:1, 7-11
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

It is the end of another month, of another week as we brace ourselves for a super typhoon directly hitting our region. And yes, God our loving Father, we are scared, we are worried, we feel helpless most specially for our little brothers and sisters, those who have always been suffering in life like the poor, the elderly, the sick, the marginalized.

But if there is one thing we have learned from COVID-19 these past eight months is to wholly entrust everything to you, O God, to completely surrender and rely on you alone.

Let us grow deeper in faith, more fervent in hope and be unceasing in our charity and love for others so that the Gospel of Jesus your Son may always be proclaimed.

Help us imitate St. Paul, though imprisoned and almost certain of facing death, no trace of helplessness is found in him; on the contrary, he was so full of power coming from his deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

My eager expectation and hope is that I shall not be put to shame in any way, but that with all boldness, now as always, Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.

Philippians 1:20-21

Enable us in the power of the Holy Spirit to humbly submit ourselves to you, dear God, confident that you always have a specific place and seat, a role to play for us — if we can learn to first stand up for you like in today’s parable by Jesus.

May the coming typhoon be an opportunity for us to let our faith be expressed in words and in deeds. Amen.