Conviction & Commitment to Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 04 September 2022
Wisdom 9:13-18 ><}}}}*> Philemon 9-10 ><}}}}*> Luke 14:25-33
Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza, 12 June 2019, Malolos Cathedral Basilica.

One of the most moving parts of the rite of ordination to the priesthood as well at profession of vows by nuns is when they prostrate in front of the church altar to signify their total conviction and commitment to the person of Jesus Christ.

What a beautiful image of the nature and essence of discipleship requiring great sacrifices to faithfully persevere to the end in Jesus who is always the highest priority of our lives, not only of priests and religious but lay people alike for we are all called to a life of holiness.

We find this conviction and commitment to Jesus in Paul’s own experience while in prison when the slave of his friend Philemon named Onesimus fled to seek refuge in him and eventually converted into Christianity.


Conformity and fidelity to the gospel 
is beyond morality 
because it is an adherence 
to the person of Jesus Christ.

It must have been a difficult situation for Paul if found harboring a runaway slave, Onesimus, who in turn could face death as punishment for his act. Remember that slavery was normal during Paul’s time and even if he did not preach directly against its institution, here in this short powerful letter of just 25 verses he planted the seeds for its destruction when he stressed that Onesimus is Philemon’s “brother in the Lord”.

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD at Katmon Harbor nature Sanctuary, Infanta, Quezon, 29 August 2022.

Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.

Philemon 15-17

Many times in life, we realize that fidelity to the gospel can be entirely unreasonable like when we have to be like Philemon whom Paul had asked to believe in the sincerity of the conversion of Onesimus his slave when it seemed to be more of convenience or merely circumstantial. Most of all, how could we receive another as a “beloved brother in the Lord” to whom we owe nothing at all when in fact who had hurt us in the first place! Conformity and fidelity to the gospel is beyond morality because it is an adherence to the person of Jesus Christ, of our communion with him and in him as his disciples.

Are we willing to go that far, of leaving everything behind, even our loved ones, our very selves for Jesus like what the gospel asks us today?

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

Luke 14:25-27
Photo by author, Stations of the Cross, Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Chapel, SM Grand Central, Caloocan City, June 2022.

It is already September and we have only about 12 weeks to go before closing this liturgical year to prepare for Christmas with the Advent Season. Jesus is fast approaching Jerusalem and great crowds were already following him.

However, Jesus was very much aware too of the mixed crowd following him where many were simply curious, some were interested, still searching for more proofs perhaps while a few of them were already committed.

How about us today?

See how Luke presented Jesus resolutely journeying to Jerusalem when he turned to face the crowd that includes us today to issue two important lessons about discipleship, hating those dearest to us including our very selves and, second, carrying our cross.


There comes a time in our lives 
when the only explanation, 
the only justification, 
and the only reason 
why we do something unthinkable 
even foolish is because of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus is not asking us to literally hate our family and friends or even our very selves; the word hate in this passage refers more to action than emotion, of doing something that others would surely hate like when we do not give in to their requests to support them in a lie or something not fair and just, or simply sinful and evil. We have experienced how it is actually more difficult to being good Christians doing God’s will, doing what is right and good that are exactly not what our family and friends are doing and would want us to also do. And that is why, when we do not go with them and their whims and caprices, they think we “hate” them.

Following Jesus means putting him first always, even above our loved ones that they always misinterpret as our lack of love and concern for them.

But more difficult than that is hating our very selves, doing a Philemon for the many Onesimus in our lives. There comes a time in our lives when the only explanation, the only justification, and the only reason why we do something unthinkable even foolish is because of Jesus Christ. And that is when we have to hate our selves like when we forgo vengeance, let go of some debts, forget all about technicalities and legalities because we love Jesus. It is really foolish by world standards that sometimes one comes to hate one’s self too for letting go and letting God.

Photo by author, detail of Seventh Station of the Cross in the Parish of San Ildefonso, Tanay, Rizal with a man wearing shades, January 2021.

Meanwhile, to carry one’s cross is more than patiently accepting our human conditions of suffering and sickness, weakness and trials in life. This understanding of carrying one’s cross implies passivity as if the difficulty we are into is something that just happened and fell on our lap or shoulder that we simply have to accept them in the name of Christ.

That is very good and highly commendable but, Jesus wants a more active participation from us. To carry one’s cross is to voluntarily choose and accept a difficulty in life as a direct consequence of our conviction in and commitment to Jesus Christ our Lord and Teacher!

This is the reason Jesus presented us with two parables after sounding his call to discipleship, that one of building a tower and of a general going to war. The two men in these parables had to calculate the cost of their efforts, of how much they have to sacrifice and give to be successful in their endeavors lest they become laughing stocks in the community. The same is true with each one of us today as disciples of Jesus.

“In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce his possession cannot be my disciple.”

Luke 14:33

Of course, Jesus gives us the grace to become good disciples but grace builds on nature; how much are we willing to sacrifice, to renounce even our very selves to truly follow Jesus through and through?

Kaya mo ba?

Photo from gettyimages.com.

Discipleship in Christ is being devoted to him in the same manner he is devoted to the Father toward whom he is drawing us. There is no other Way but Jesus alone. Therefore, to be his disciple means to prefer nothing to Christ who is our very life, our being, our end.

There is no room for mediocrity in being his disciple. We have seen in history and in our very lives how superficial discipleship had caused more damages to the Church and to each one of us when we fail to be committed to our calls. Despite our long years of seminary formation, many of us priests miserably fail in our discipleship with the many scandals that plague the Church these days, not to mention the endless complaints by people of how their pastors do not prepare homilies nor celebrate Mass daily and worst, refuse to answer sick calls! On the other hand, many families and most especially children have been destroyed by the separations of many couples who have refused to learn of letting go of themselves to let God work in their relationships. Then, there are the siblings who fight simply because they cannot let go of their principles and egos and wealth that matter most to them than their brother or sister, or even parents!

This Sunday, let us pray for God’s counsels, for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit as expressed in the first reading from the Book of Wisdom so we may not simply know what is good but most of all lead holy lives by experiencing God daily as his disciples. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Jesus as friend and family

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Memorial of Sts. Mary, Martha, & Lazarus, 29 July 2022
Jeremiah 26:1-9   ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>   John 11:19-27
An icon of Jesus visiting his friends, the siblings Sts. Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Photo from crossroadsinitiative.com.
Glory and praise to you,
O Lord Jesus Christ who 
had come to us not just a 
family but most especially
as a friend you have stressed
during the Last Supper 
(cf. Jn.15:14-15).
And even before that evening
of Holy Thursday came, you have
been a friend to the siblings 
Mary, Martha and Lazarus so 
dear to you, visiting them often,
sharing not only in their meals but
in their lives and death, joys and
pains; what a beautiful imagery 
not only of friendship but of the
neglected ties that bind brothers
and sisters in this time when
family is being destroyed 
by new emerging thoughts
and ways of life.
In this time of the pandemic
you know how, dear Jesus,
we have finally come together 
as families free from all excuses 
of work and studies, of being far and away; 
but sadly, many have ignored and missed
the opportunities to bond together
and mend many gaps long festering
among siblings; instead of fighting and 
rivalries, may brothers and sisters
in every family emulate the love and 
respect among Saints Martha, Lazarus and Mary. 
We pray for all siblings to gather anew
as one family in prayers before you, Lord, 
like Saints Martha, Lazarus and Mary;
help them create a space anew for God in our
lives, the surest bond among us despite 
our many differences as we open our ears 
and hearts like St. Mary to your words,
to heed and fulfill them unlike the people 
of Judah who cursed your prophet Jeremiah 
when he spoke to them
of the truth.
“The Raising of Lazarus”, 1311 painting by Duccio de Buoninsegna from commons.wikimedia.org
Most of all, give us the grace
to be the presence of Jesus Christ
when our siblings are sick and burdened 
with all kinds of sufferings and miseries 
like Martha and Mary present to each other
awaiting Christ’s coming after Lazarus had died:
Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died."  Jesus told her,
"I am the resurrection and the life; whoever
believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me
will never die.  Do you believe this?" (John 11:21, 25-26)
Like St. Martha, and most likely
her siblings, too, St. Lazarus
and St. Mary who may not have
understood fully your words and teachings,
keep us open to your coming,
to your visits, sweet Jesus;
make our hearts like theirs
filled with warmth and hospitality
to let you stay and reign inside us;
most of all, like the three holy siblings
let us share with others the gift of kindness,
of being a kin to everyone in you, with you.  Amen.

Prayer for Mothers, and Motherland

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Mother’s Day, Second Sunday of May
Fourth Sunday in Easter, 08 May 2022
Photo by author, 2019.
O God our loving Father,
when you sent the Archangel Gabriel
to the Blessed Virgin Mary
to announce her becoming the
Mother of your Son Jesus Christ,
she was greeted “Hail, favored one! 
The Lord is with you" (Lk.1:28).
On this second Sunday of May,
I thank you for the gift of all mothers,
especially my Mom and all the other 
Moms so dear to me:  they are 
your favored ones, being chosen  
to bring life and us into this world,
enabling us to experience you, O God,
in them for you are always with every Mom
in all their love and kindness and tenderness, 
including their vast knowledge and wisdom 
in knowing almost everything; 
you know how we disliked them so much in 
acting like Google and Wikipedia rolled into one
but, lo and behold! - most of the time they
they were proven right with what they knew.
Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, 2019.
Thank you, our loving Father,
in giving us a glimpse of your beauty 
and majesty in our Mothers; most of all, for being
our first teacher and catechist who taught
us how to love and care, respect and obey
others and most especially you, God
in prayers and spirituality.

Thank you for our Mother's patience and 
perseverance, for their being the best
economists who taught us how to save
and invest not only money and tangible
wealth but most of all with virtues and 
values that give us fulfillment and joy
in your Son Jesus Christ.

Thank you most of all for our Mother's
mercy and forgiveness like you:  
you know, dear Father, how many times
we have hurt our mothers, how we have 
disappointed them but despite all these,
they have remained most loyal and faithful to us,
ready to forgive us, giving us with countless
chances that many of us have abused.
Photo by author, 2017.
O God, take care of our dearest Mothers,
ease their pains and sufferings not 
only in body but also in heart and soul;
heal them of their sickness,
assure them of your presence and
providence so that they may not worry
so much; lighten their loads and burdens
in life and most of all, fill their hearts with
your Son Jesus Christ's peace and joy,
fulfilling their wishes and prayers 
not only for themselves but also for their
loved ones; likewise, we pray for all Mothers
who have gone ahead us - please grant them
eternal rest in your Divine Presence.
Lastly we pray for our dear Motherland,
the Philippines:  tomorrow we vote for
our next leaders; let us express our love 
and gratitude to you and our dear Motherland
by choosing candidates closest to being like
your Son Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd
who values life and every person, 
values Mother Nature and most all,
values family - leaders with that beautiful virtue
of Motherhood of nurturing and caring 
of every person and family,
not those who will promote death in all forms
and destruction of family through divorce or 
same sex union.  Amen.
Photo by author, 2018.

Prayer for adults to find the Child Jesus again this Christmas

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday, Feast of the Holy Family, 26 December 2021
1 Samuel 1:20-22. 24-28 ><]]]*> 1 John 3:1-2. 21-24 ><]]]*> Luke 2:41-52
“The Finding of the Savior at the Temple” painting by William Holman Hunt (1860) from en.wikipedia.org.
Dearest Lord Jesus:
It is still your birthday 
and how sad that people
insist that Christmas is just
for kids, forgetting there won't be
Christmas at all without adults
like Mary and Joseph,
Elizabeth and Zechariah.

but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at is understanding and his answers.

Luke 2:45-47
Teach us, dear Jesus, 
to go back to Jerusalem -
to go back to prayer and
simplicity and humility,
to go back to God as adults
to find you again this Christmas;
so many of us have been so
busy with so many other things
in life like career and earning a 
living, or this season when we were
so caught up with the rush and 
madness that we have forgotten 
about you found first in the family.
Yes, Lord Jesus, 
you willed in your becoming
human to dwell among us
that you be born in a family,
in the husband and wife of 
Joseph and Mary;  we pray for
couples going through crises
in their relationships or have 
separated already by choice or
circumstances; we pray for families
where everyone is forgetting one's
role, losing respect for one another
that they can no longer find you
in the love they must have for
each other; we pray for children
who refuse to honor their mother
and father in words and in deeds.
Let us find you again, dear Jesus
like a child in our sense of wonder 
and awe among our family members'
daily and simple acts of kindness
and love; let us find you again, dear
Jesus in our being our true selves
as children of the Father belonging
to one family; and most of all, let us
be grateful again for our families
for their gifts of life and presence
despite our many imperfections for
it is only with a grateful heart that we 
truly remain like children at heart,
always believing and trusting in God
who is our life and meaning.  Amen.

The vessels of God’s grace to us

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 08 December 2021
Genesis 3:9-15, 20 ><}}}*> Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12 ><}}}*> Luke 1:26-38
Photo by Rev. Fr. Gerry Pascual at Santuario di Greccio, Rieti, Italy in 2019.
Praise and glory to you,
O God our loving Father
in giving us a Mother in Mary
who gave birth to your Son Jesus
in order to save us from our sins!
Indeed, nothing is impossible 
with you, dear God as you willed
Mary to be conceived immaculately
free from any sin to be pure and
clean to receive Jesus in her womb.
Because of that, she is rightly
called as our "advocate of grace"
and "model of holiness" for through
her, your life and blessings overflowed
upon us in Christ's coming.
And so, we pray to you, Father
in the name of Jesus our Lord
for all the people who have been
channels of your grace to us
like Mary:  our beloved mothers and
fathers who brought us forth into this
world and nurtured us in your love,
still patiently bearing all of life's
beatings and sufferings for our own
good and comfort; we pray for our
siblings, especially our elder brothers
and sisters who have faithfully acted as
our parents too after they were gone
who ensured our safety and well-being,
our sources of joy when life is rough;
we pray for our friends who have remained
faithful by our side through thick and 
thin, still believing in us despite our sins
and failures; we pray for our employers
and superiors and colleagues at work
who give us the chance to earn our
living with dignity and honor so we can 
keep ourselves and loved ones warm and
secured specially in this time of the pandemic.
Most of all, we pray for your Holy Spirit,
dear Father, to always enlighten our
minds and our hearts so that like Mary
we may always be open to Christ's
coming not only to share him with 
others but most of all like Mary his Mother,
we too may be conformed in him
our Savior as you have willed since
the beginning.  Amen.

Jesus in our siblings

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of Sts. Martha, Mary and Lazarus, Siblings and Friends of the Lord, 29 July 2021
Exodus 40:16-21, 34-38   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   John 11:19-27
An icon of Jesus visiting his friends, the siblings Sts. Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Photo from crossroadsinitiative.com.
What a tremendous grace from you,
dearest God our Father through
Pope Francis that we now celebrate
the Memorial not only of St. Martha 
but also of her brother St. Lazarus and 
sister St. Mary who were all dear friends 
of Jesus Christ he frequently visited in 
their home at Bethany.  
Finally, a beautiful imagery not only
of friendship in the Lord but most of all,
the oft-neglected and taken for granted
relationships of brothers and sisters.
In this time of the pandemic
you know how, O dear God,
we have finally come together 
as families free from all excuses 
of work and studies, of being far and away; 
but sadly, many have ignored and missed
the opportunities to bond together
and mend many gaps long festering
among siblings; instead of fighting and 
rivalries, may brothers and sisters
in every family emulate the love and 
respect among Saints Martha, Lazarus and Mary. 

“The Raising of Lazarus”, 1311 painting by Duccio de Buoninsegna. Photo by commons.wikimedia.org
We pray for all siblings to gather anew
as one family in prayers before you, Lord, 
like Saints Martha, Lazarus and Mary;
help them create a space for your Son 
Jesus Christ who is the surest bond among us
despite our many differences; like the children of 
Israel in the wilderness, may all siblings be
animated and moved by your presence, God our Father:
"Whenever the cloud rose from the dwelling,
the children of Israel would set out on their journey.
But if the cloud did not lift, they would not go forward;
only when it lifted did they go forward." (Exodus 40:36-37)
Most of all, give us the grace
to be the presence of Jesus Christ
when our siblings are sick and burdened 
with all kinds of sufferings and miseries 
like Martha and Mary present to each other
awaiting Christ’s coming after Lazarus had died:
Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died."  Jesus told her,
"I am the resurrection and the life; whoever
believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me
will never die.  Do you believe this?" (John 11:21, 25-26)
Photo by author, Mirador Jesuit Hills, Baguio City, 2018.
Yes, dearest Lord Jesus,
I believe you are the resurrection and life;
whoever believes in you not only lives
but most of all becomes your very presence
especially among those going through
various forms of darkness in this life;
give me the grace to bring your light
and your life, your joys and your hopes
to those heavily burdened
 so they may believe like St. Martha
that "if you, Lord, had been here,
my brother would have not died."
Like St. Martha, and most likely
her siblings, too, St. Lazarus
 and St. Mary who may not have
  understood fully your words and teachings,
keep me open to your coming,
to your visits, sweet Jesus;
make my heart like theirs
filled with warmth and hospitality
to let you stay and reign in me;
most of all, like the three holy siblings
let me share with others the gift of kindness,
of being a kin to everyone in you, with you.  Amen.

Reaching out

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Memorial of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, 16 July 2021
Zechariah 2:14-17   >><}}}'> M <'{{{><<   Matthew 12:46-50
Photo by author, Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Family, Guiguinto, Bulacan 2018.
And stretching out his hand
toward his disciples, he said,
"Here are my mother and brothers.
For whoever does the will of my
heavenly Father is my
brother, and sister, and mother."
(Matthew 12:49-50)
Praise and glory to you,
our dear God and Father in heaven
for always reaching out to us
your sinful children.
Since the Fall of Adam and Eve,
you have never failed to be the
first to reach out to us 
who always flee and hide from you.
In the fullness of time,
you reached out to us in the most 
unique way by sending us your Son
Jesus Christ who was born of the
Blessed Virgin Mary, our dear
patroness of the beautiful Mt. Carmel
where many hermits have sought refuge 
as they intensely reached out to you in prayers.
How wonderful it is, O Lord,
that when the Carmelites led by
St. Simon Stock asked for a sign
so they may continue with their mission,
the Blessed Mother appeared to him,
stretching her hand, reaching out 
to give him the scapular as a sign
of divine protection in this life to eternity.
When your Son Jesus Christ
offered himself for us on the Cross,
he stretched out his hands, too
reaching out to you, Father,
for us your beloved children;
when his Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary
appeared to us on many occasions
she also stretched out her hands to us.
What a beautiful gesture,
dear God our Father,
by your Son Jesus Christ and his Mother
to always stretch their hands
reaching out to us who keep on
turning away from you to sins;
teach us, O Lord through Mary
to stretch out our hands too to you
in praise and thanksgiving
and most especially to others
in our loving service and care for the needy
as a sign of our reaching out to you, O God,
who wants us all to reach you in heaven.
Amen.

Praying to be delighted

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
First Friday of the Month in the XIXth Week in Ordinary Time, 04 June 2021
Tobit 11:5-17     ><)))'> + ><)))'> + ><)))'>     Mark 12:35-37
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

What a delightful first Friday today, O God our loving Father as we continue with our novena to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus your Son. St. Mark noticed something so special in the gospel today that made me focus my prayer on his little note.

The great crowd heard this with delight.
(Mark 12:37)

To be delighted is to be pleased, to be filled with joy.

Nothing else in this world can ever please us, give us pleasure and joy except you, O God through your Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

Too bad the scribes and your other enemies at the temple area at that time were not delighted but even irritated with your teachings and claims because they refused to accept you, not knowing you are the Lord of all they are challenging.

The great crowd were filled with joy with your words, Lord Jesus when you quoted the Book of Psalms to remind the scribes including us today who refuse to recognize you as the Christ that you are not just the descendant of the great King David but also his “lord”.

What a delight indeed to hear you speak among us and with us, O dear Jesus. Nothing else can satisfy us – nothing suffices – except you, sweet Jesus.

And so, we pray for the grace for us to imitate that great crowd with you who were delighted with your teachings: like them, may we not look far beyond and find you in our selves and among those closest to us like family and friends.

I could just imagine the great delights of Anna and Tobit when their son Tobiah returned home. More than anything else, it was having their son back again that truly mattered to them. Fulfilling his mission of finding a wife and a cure to Tobit’s blindness were just added features. Help us to value our family like Tobit and Anna.

Then Anna ran up to her son, threw her arms around him, and said to him, “Now that I have seen you again, son, I am ready to die!” And she sobbed aloud.

When Tobit saw his son, he threw his arms around him and wept. He exclaimed, “I can see you, son, the light of my eyes!”

Tobit 11:9, 13-14

How delightful are the scenes of Tobiah reunited with his parents, all so delighted being together again.

And so, we pray, dear God our Father through Jesus Christ your Son to open our eyes, cleanse our hearts, clear our minds that you first come to us through our family – through every husband and wife, every father and mother, and most especially, children.

We pray for couples and families separated by circumstances and by choice to find time to be reunited even for a while to experience you again. We pray for those living alone to be delighted even with a simple call or text of a loved one.

Delight comes only from you, Lord, who comes day in and day out in us and through us.

Please, delight the heart of the one reading this, remove the darkness and sadness looming above him/her. Amen.

Celebrating family in COVID-19

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 30 December 2020
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Trying to relax a day after Christmas, I felt so good watching the limited BBC series at Netflix called “JAPAN with Sue Perkins”. It is so unique that it presents the Land of the Rising Sun in a different perspective by this spunky and bubbly British journalist not afraid to admit her prejudices then be rectified in this short documentary.

At the same time, Ms. Perkins presents us with the latest trends in Japan, others are good while others are not so good especially its aging population with falling birth rates and many Japanese men delaying or not getting married at all.

One solution the ingenious Japanese have found are “wives for hire” – a growing business that offers women who act as wives to unmarried men who present to their aged parents as their “wives”. One man explained to Ms. Perkins how his elderly mother enjoys more in spending time together with a “family member” like a “daughter-in-law” than just with a care-giver. They tend to converse more freely and joyfully about so many things as a “family” — at least for a day.

That is how important a family is! That is why it is called the basic unit of the society from which springs forth life itself – biologically, emotionally, and spiritually.

That is why Vatican II rightly inserted in the Christmas Season the Feast of the Holy Family to remind us of the deep character of the mystery of the Incarnation that the Son of God came into the world to save us through the family, through the husband and wife of Joseph and Mary.

It is a great reminder to us in this time when family is quickly disintegrating and maybe in a funny twist, we have in the COVID-19 pandemic a great opportunity for us to go back to our family.

Photo by author, entrance to the Flight to Egypt Cavern Church in Cairo, 2019.

Human family a creation by God, a call from God

Since the very beginning, men and women have always banded together not only as a family we know of today, a nuclear unit of father, mother, and children. It was really more of an extended family like a clan or a kin who lived together as siblings and cousins, uncles and aunts along with neighbors who all would have been in and out of the house.

Some peoples like the Hebrews do not really have the term cousins where everyone is a brother or a sister, a kin; hence, we find in the gospels Jesus being told of having brothers and sisters.

To understand this is to think of our own concepts and terms in our extended Filipino family. Like the word pinsan for cousin. When I was in kindergarten until elementary, every summer some cousins would come home to the province for vacation. We would all sleep together on the sahig (floor) with banig (local mat) like puppies or kittens together — that is, magkakapisan usually in the old house or bahay na matanda of our grandparents.

My nieces, 2017.

On the other hand, uncles and aunties refer to their nephews and nieces in Filipino as pamangkin, from the expression “para namang akin” that literally means “just like my own child”.

Both pinsan or cousin and pamangkin or nephew/niece express togetherness, of being one as a family.

But in the Bible, we find something deeper in this banding together of peoples as families sharing joys and sorrows, work and play but also coming together as a creation by God as well as a call from Him.

See how in the Ten Commandments that only the fourth commandment carries a promise from God to underscore the importance of family life and of our parents: “Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you” (Ex.20:12).

In the assigned first reading for the Feast of the Holy Family from the Book of Sirach we find the author elaborating and reflecting further on this beautiful nature of the human family that is divine in origin and orientation. We find at its first part the emphasis on children honoring and obeying their parents, the father and mother. This instruction is then capped by a touching reflection on the solemn duty of taking care for an aging parent with all the respect and patience due him/her. Likewise, we find at its conclusion something that echoes God’s covenant, of the need to be kind and merciful to everyone especially those in need.

Kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins — a house raised in justice to you.

Sirach 3:14

In the second reading, we find several challenges to every family to be kind, merciful, forgiving and peaceful because we are “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (Col.3:12). That is our identity as children of God our Father, making us members of His one, big family.

This is something many families have seemed to have forgotten due to so many concerns in life like the need to earn money, pursue one’s career that is interspersed with breaks that sometimes costly to family members like separation or migration, by choice or by circumstances.

This is one value that we hope to recover at this time of the pandemic when most parents and children are all working and studying from home. May families take this opportunities to renew their ties with one another, to pray anew together and renew or adjust their visions and dreams where they may all grow to maturity in Christ.

Photo of my mom with my two nieces, 2017.

Purifying our family in Christ

One beautiful thing that is so outstanding with the Holy Family is the fidelity of Joseph and Mary to God through temple worship, of how they sincerely and dutifully strive to fulfill all obligations stipulated by the Laws that we find reflective of Jesus in his adult life when He would come to attend synagogue worship.

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord… and to offer sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance wit the dictate of the law of the Lord. Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon… and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary is mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted — and you yourself a sword will pierce — so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Luke 2:22-25, 34-35

Part of the good news of this feast is for us to realize too that the Holy Family was not spared of problems and trials just like us. In our gospel today, Simeon assured Mary of her heart being pierced with a sword, of facing trials and conflicts to happen like when Jesus was lost only to be found a day later in the temple when he was 12 years old. It must have caused too much stress and worries to Mary and Joseph.

Or when Jesus finally left home to begin His public ministry when people, including relatives thought he had lost his mind in His preaching!

And finally, when He was crucified. It must have been a terrible experience for the Blessed Virgin Mother.

No family is so perfect to escape trials and conflicts but the Holy Family teaches us something so perfectly valuable that can help us resolve our many imperfections in our family — of remaining in God, of being rooted in Him who is our identity as family, as a person.

The Presentation of Jesus by Mantegna from wikipediacommons.org.

It is in the family where we first encounter and experience God, both His presence and His “absence” if we may call that.

There are times when we feel so close, so near with God especially when everything is going so well with our lives when we have everything; but when the going gets rough and tough, sometimes that is when we feel too far from God or He is totally nowhere around us.

What a paradox that it is both in the family where we first experience love and care but at the same time where we also first taste our pains and hurts, and disappointments.

But between those two extreme realities of life, that is also when we find the conviction that God is real, Who is one with us in our joys and sufferings, never leaving us.

It is during those moments when the sword pierces our hearts when we discover who is inside us really, the ones most valuable to us, the ones we look up to, the treasures we have always kept and cared.

Sometimes, it is only when the heart is pierced by the sword do we find the treasures we keep inside.

This Christmas amid a pandemic, may we find anew the more important we need in our hearts — not things but persons we care most, who remind us of our identity as blessed and beloved. This pandemic period is the most opportune time for families to resolve conflicts, face trials in the light of Jesus Christ through prayers and openness to one another. Let us not take it for granted. See it as a blessing in disguise when we are finally able to heal all those festering wounds in us that have eaten us up as persons, families and Christians.

How sad that families often compete for material things that can always be easily superseded; but if we compete for kindness, for understanding, for love, for forgiveness, then nobody loses, everybody wins.

Sometimes, true peace in the family happens when we are willing to disarm ourselves of our natural defenses so we can carry or hold Jesus into our arms like Simeon, or like Mary when our heart is pierced with the Word to expose Jesus within who is love and mercy. Amen.

Photo from Aleteia.com.