The joy of Lent

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday after Ash Wednesday, 19 February 2021
Isaiah 58:1-9     <*(((><  +  ><)))*>     Matthew 9:14-15

Today I remember, O Lord, our old days of yore when Fridays were of simple food of all fish and veggies without any meat, of how we were told to remember this day so special because of Good Friday even if it were not the Season of Lent.

Austerity and low key were all over as peg to make your presence, O God, during Lent that the prevailing mood was more of joy than of being somber and serious as most people would think these days of fasting and abstinence as self-inflicted sufferings and pains.

Forgive us this modern age of instants and affluence, fasting has become centered on our very selves, with our “piety” like the Pharisees (Matt.9:14) who questioned Jesus why his disciples did not fast unlike them and the followers of John.

Enlighten us on this first Friday of Lent to realize anew that this is a season of joy and rejoicing because when we fast, we become empty of ourselves, of our filth and sins so we can be filled with your Holy Spirit to become your vessels of justice and love and joy with one another.

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.

Isaiah 58:6-7

How lovely and beautiful the world must be if we shall heed your words, fulfill your longing from us in true fasting more focused only in making you present among us who have gone to choose darkness over light.

O God our Father, give us the wisdom and courage to return to you so we can offer ourselves for others to feel you as we await the great rejoicing of Easter, the very joy of Lent. Amen.

A Lenten Prayer in COVID-19

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Ash Wednesday, 17 February 2021
It is Lent again, Lord;
forty days of prayer
forty days of sacrifices
forty days of good works
forty days of silence and self-control
forty days of preparations for Easter.
Forgive us that we always forget our daily life
is essentially a daily Lent:
a daily exodus of going to the wilderness
filled with temptations 
and calls for fidelity 
to your love and person.
In this time of COVID-19
when so many of us are suffering,
help me, O Lord
not to be carried by feelings
and emotions of the Lenten Season;
give me the courage to see
beyond ordinary things,
to care more and share
even with the least that I have,
to find more reasons
to forgive and understand
most of all, to be fair and just with everyone.
Let me find my way back to you, Lord
in this time when everything and everyone I have
is quickly disappearing or have been gone or lost;
despite the face masks we wear,
let me look more into the eyes
of others to see your image and likeness;
let me wash my hands clean of evil and deceit
as I keep distance from occasions of sins
and most of all, let me empty myself of pride
to realize and experience again
my one and only, first true love is you,
alone, O dearest God.  Amen.
Photo by author, Pulilan bypass road in Bulacan, February 2020.

A real Lent in a time not so real

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Ash Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Joel 2:12-18   >><)))*>  2Corinthians 5:20-6:2  >><)))*>  Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Photo by author, chapel at Franciscan Monastery at Mt. Nebo in Jordan overlooking the Promised Land or Holy Land, May 2019.

Today we begin our annual Lenten pilgrimage with Ash Wednesday in the very different situation and conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic now in its first full year. Although this may be the most unusual, both unreal and surreal Lent since the end of Second World War, this could also be our most real Lent so far.

Being real means getting into the very core of our very selves, focusing on the more essential that are invisible to the eyes. Since the popularity of social media and smart phones, life has become more of a big show than of living that we care more of lifestyles than life itself.

All three readings today invite us to get real, to confront our true selves, stop all pretensions by letting go of our many excuses and alibis. No more ifs and buts. Just our bare selves before God for tomorrow or later may be too late. St. Paul’s words perfectly express the challenge and beauty of Lent 2021:

Brothers and sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 5:20, 6:2

Lent is a journey into inner self 
to reach out to God through others.

The forty days of Lent are a journey characterized by three important acts so central not only to Christianity but also to the other two great faiths of the world, Judaism and Islam. These are fasting, prayer and alms giving. Through these acts, we journey back into our very selves in order to reach out to God through others.

And we start by cleansing our very selves through the putting of dry ashes on the crown of our head instead of the more usual imposition on forehead to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The use of ashes as an outward sign of our inner cleansing beautifully tells us of its being natural cleansing agents long before the invention of chemical solutions. As such, being closest to earth, ashes remind us so well of our mortality, “for dust thou art and unto dust shall you return”!

However, though we are all marked for death as the ashes signify, they are blessed at the start of today’s Mass to remind us too that we die in Jesus Christ because ultimately, we return to God who is our true origin and end.

Hence, the need to cleanse our very selves by emptying ourselves of all the dirt and filth of sin inside that have marred our image and likeness in God. More than the outward appearance of putting ashes on our heads to signify cleansing is its internal significance of cleansing within by self- emptying through fasting.

In fasting, we cleanse our inner selves by denying ourselves not only of food but also of the usual things that fill us especially in this age of affluence and consumerism. Not only of material things but anything that make us forget God and others, that make us forget that we are mere mortals, weak and imperfect.

By fasting, we empty ourselves of our pride to be filled with Christ’s humility, justice, and love so we realize the world does not revolve around us. That we do not need so many “likes” and “followers” like in social media that inflate our ego but still leave us empty and lost.

And now is the perfect time, as St. Paul reminds us.

When we look back in this past year, so many of our relatives and friends have died, some alone, due to COVID-19 and other illnesses. The pandemic had grimly reminded us of life’s fragility and the need to be more loving always because we’ll never know if we can still be with everyone.

Fasting reminds us who and what are most essential in this life like God, life, and loved ones. Not likes or followers, luxuries, money, fame, or food.

In Tagalog, the word for meat is “laman”; to fast and go without meat literally means “walang laman” which also means “empty”!

When we fast and become empty, then we create space for God and for others.

That is why it is easier to pray and be one with God in meditation and contemplation when our stomach and senses are empty because we become more sensitive to his presence in Jesus. Silence in itself is a kind of fasting, the very key to any form of prayer.

Who needs to look gloomy when fasting when we are filled with the most wonderful and essential in this life who is God as Jesus tells us in the gospel, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites” (Mt.6:16).

In the same manner, whatever we save in our fasting, whatever we deny ourselves, we give and share with others in alms giving. Try opening your Facebook. What fills up your page? Your selfies? Your me-time? Your work and errands? Whatever fills your FB page, most often it always gratifies you for better and for worse. And yes, of course, they all indicate how glamorous and fabulous is your life.

This Lent 2021, so many people have lost their jobs. So many are struggling to make ends meet. Others’ sufferings have become more unbearable not only with financial difficulties but simply due to difficult conditions traveling to undergo chemotherapy or dialysis.

Life has been so unreal, even surreal for all of us since last year. And God is the one most sad of all in what we have been going through in this pandemic. But he cannot do anything for us because we still rely so much with our very selves, with our science and technology that all feed on to our pride and selfishness. Every day we hear of news of all kinds of abuses and lack of kindness going on, even among states and governments in the allocation of vaccines.

The pandemic is not purely medical and biological in nature but something spiritual.

Now, more than ever, is the Prophet Joel’s call more true:

Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.

Joel 2:12-13

If there is anyone who wishes this pandemic to end so we can see and be near with each other without any fear of getting sick, of dying, that must be God. Like St. Paul, let us implore everyone to be reconciled with God right in our hearts by taking our fasting, praying, and alms giving seriously. Amen.

Lent is making God present

40 Shades of Lent, Friday after Ash Wednesday, 28 February 2020

Isaiah 58:1-9 +++ 0 +++ Matthew 9:14-15

Have mercy on us, O God, have mercy… for we are still totally lost on the real meaning of fasting and abstinence. We have lost its spiritual meaning, focusing more on ourselves for vanity reasons like losing weight and looking good, totally forgetting fasting is all about you and others than us!

How unfortunate, dear God, that we no longer fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday but even on Sundays before receiving your Son Jesus in the Holy Communion by making all kinds of excuses with bold claims of having sacrificed so much in doing good deeds for you.

Thus says the Lord God: Cry out full-throated and unsparingly, lift up your voice like a trumpet blast. Tell my people their wickedness, and the house of Jacob their sins. They seek me day after day, and desire to know my ways, like a nation that has done what is just and not abandoned the law of their God. They ask me to declare what is due them, pleased to gain access to God. “Why do we fast, and you do not see it? Afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?” Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers. Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw. This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

Isaiah 58:1-4, 6-7

Make us realize that fasting is not punishing ourselves, of denying ourselves with goods and pleasures of the world that leave us empty, wanting for more but never fulfilled deep inside.

Fasting is actually rewarding ourselves with you, O God, our only wealth and treasure, our only fulfillment.

Help us create an empty space within ourselves through fasting and abstinence so that your Son Jesus may dwell and reign in our hearts, saying from within us, “Here I am!” (Is. 58:9). Amen.

From Google.

Walang laman

Lawiswis Ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, ika-26 ng Pebrero 2020

Mula sa Google.
Mierculés de ceniza
araw ng pag-aayuno at abstinensiya
ngunit tila wala nang nagpapahalaga
ni nakaka-alala.
Marahil ay nalimot na nga
at binalewala mga banal na gawain
tuwing cuaresma na nagpapa-alala
kahalgahan ng Diyos higit sa lahat.
Nagtitiis ng gutom
hindi pinapayagang sayaran 
ng anumang laman ang tiyan
alang-alang sa kaganapan at kabanalan.
Kaya nga kung titingnan
pag-aayuno ay higit pa sa sakripisyo
na kung saan tiyan ay walang laman
upang magkapuwang Tagapagligtas ng tanan.
Ngayong cuaresma sana iyong mabuksan
puso at kalooban tingnan ano ba kanilang mga laman
baka naman mga wala nang kabuluhan
pabigat lamang sa kalooban.
Bigyan ng puwang upang makapanahan
sa ating puso at kalooban si Kristong maasahan
upang ngayon pa lamang maranasan
hatid ng Diyos na kaligtasan sa mga sa kanya'y mayroong puwang.

Lent is about God, not us

40 Shades of Lent, Ash Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Joel 2:12-18 + + + 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 + + + Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

From Google.

We begin today the Season of Lent, the 40 days of prayers and fasting, contrition and alms-giving in preparation for Easter Sunday. It is the only season in our liturgical calendar that starts on an ordinary day, Ash Wednesday when we are reminded of that basic truth in life we have always evaded: that we all die and go back to God.

“Remember man that dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

In this age of social media where many practically live in media making known to everyone everything happening to them from confinement to hospital to drinking coffee somewhere or simply saying “thank you” to someone just beside for a gift they have received, the more we need this blessed season to recover the essential realities in life like our true self and God.

So unlike Adam and Eve who went into hiding after their fall, modern men and women have shamelessly flaunt everything they think they have that actually indicate what they lack – depth and meaning, sense and respect.

Ash Wednesday enables us to find anew our bearings in life that must be centered in God, our very life and meaning of being and existence.

Life is a daily Lent.

From Google.

St. Benedict tells his followers in his Rule that “the life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent”. And this is also very true for every Christian who follows Jesus Christ as Lord and Master.

Our life is a daily Exodus from darkness into light, from sin into grace, from failure into victory, from slavery into freedom when we experience the Paschal mystery of Jesus Christ even if we are not aware of it.

And the sooner we become aware of this reality, the better for us because that is when we find more meaning in life, the deeper our existence becomes.

Pope Francis tells us in his Lenten Message this year that “Jesus’ Pasch is not a past event; rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit it is ever present, enabling us to see and touch with faith the flesh of Christ in those who suffer.”

Life is all about God. This life we live is a sharing in his very life and the more are aware of this reality and link, the more we discover its beauty because we get to know God more in Jesus Christ who have come in flesh and blood for us.

“Brothers and sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

2 Corinthians 5:20

To be reconciled to God is to be one in God in Christ Jesus through daily conversion. This we achieve through the many sacrifices and corporal and spiritual works of mercy during this season. Fact is, these pious practices are meant to be done even outside the Lenten season so we never lose sight that life is all about God, not us.

From Google.

Lent is a journey into our hearts, and into the heart of God, too!

In these 40 days of Lent, we try little by little to “rend our hearts, not our garments to return to the Lord our God” (Joel 2:13) through prayers and sacrifices. These are done not for others to see but primarily for us to find and meet God waiting for us always to experience his love and mercy, his life and his fullness right in our hearts.

Like in our gospels these past two weeks when we reflected on the “education of the heart”, it is the truth of the heart that is being worked out in Lent. It is our heart that must be strengthened and converted by all these religious practices of the season.

It is in our hearts where God dwells and resides though we often try to bury and disregard.

All these fasting and abstinence, confessions and alms-giving as well as other works of mercy are meant to create a space in our hearts for God and for others. Without the proper attitude in our hearts, everything then becomes a hypocrisy that neither deceives God nor fools humans.

See how Jesus in the gospel which is also a part of his Sermon on the Mount which we have been reflecting these past three Sundays of Ordinary Time have painstakingly reminded us to guard against pleasing humans than God.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.”

Matthew 6:1

It is not that we are encouraged to give alms, pray and fast to get rewards from God that Jesus is telling us to practice these pieties but in order to be more focused with the Father. Ultimately, getting into heaven is the reason why Jesus came to save us, to assure us of this reward of being with the Father eternally. There is nothing else greater than that.

This is why Lent is all about God, not us.

From Google.

In our journey to him this season, both as an individual and as a community, Lent enables us to free ourselves from our strong individualistic drives within so we can truly experience conversion in the midst of a community of believers.

The more we see God, we see our sinful selves, and that is when we are converted and renewed in Christ.

This is always marked with a deep realization that we are not alone, that there are also others suffering with whom we must share with God’s rich mercy and love rather than keep these for ourselves alone.

That is what that ash on our forehead reminds us, of God who loves us all, dwelling within each one of us, renewing us, loving us, and most of all, forgiving us. Amen.

A prayer to be one in Christ Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

Friday, Week XXII, Year I, 06 September 2019

Colossians 1:15-20 ><}}}*> ><}}}*> ><}}}*> Luke 5:33-39

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, Atok, Benguet, 01 September 2019.

Brothers and sisters, Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible… all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the Blood of his cross through him whether those on earth or those in heaven.

Colossians 1:15-16, 17, 19-20

What a lovely hymn in your honor, O Lord Jesus Christ! Truly in you we have experienced and proven indeed there is a God who loves us so much, and most of all, a personal God who relates with us, engages himself with us, one with us.

What a wonderful way to celebrate the first Friday of September 2019, a week of praying for important virtues we have forgotten in this modern world like the need to console those alone, to encourage so others may be whole again as a person, to be grateful for the person not the favor received, and to have knowledge to see God in everything by embracing the truths of faith.

In this age when God is just posited as a footnote in our daily lives, as a safety feature just in case things get off-hand or bad, you remind us to draw to you closer than ever in prayers, the Eucharist, and most of all, in fasting — something modern men and women frown upon and totally disregard.

Give us the grace O Lord Jesus to empty ourselves, to create a space within us for you to stay and dwell, and reign most of all.

We live today in the most trying times: everybody wants to be in control of everything, everybody wants to be heard and be seen alone as right with their twisted points of view about life and realities.

Bless us, Jesus, to find our way back to you, to be one with you again for you are the very reason why we are here. You are not just a person who had lived in the past we remember but the very reason of creation and redemption in whom the fullness of God is found. Amen.

Lent is docility to the Holy Spirit

40 Shades of Lent
Week I, Year C, 10 March 2019
Deuteronomy 26:4-10//Romans 10:8-13//Luke 4:1-11

Our gospel story on this first Sunday of Lent about the tempting of Jesus at the desert sets the prevailing mood and disposition we must have on this holy season: docility to the Holy Spirit.

Docility is obedience. A docile person is an obedient one who is also attentive which is the literal translation of the Latin root docilitas. On the other hand, “obedience” is also from two Latin words “ob audire” that literally mean to listen intently. Here we find that Lent is a season that invites us to be attentive God and with others. Most of all, Lent is the season that calls us to recover this beautiful trait of docility and obedience by submitting and surrendering our selves to God and those above us like our parents.

How ironic and unfortunate that in our highly advanced world, we have become inattentive with persons and more attentive with things and gadgets. We have not only become less obedient but even less caring and kind with others because we no longer care at all with persons next to us. We cannot listen intently to parents and teachers, friends and almost everybody because our ears are always plugged with earphones while our eyes are fixed on screens! And maybe that explains why we always find ourselves into so many disastrous situations in our lives that could have been prevented had we been more attentive with our selves, with others and with God. According to a study in 2015, the average attention span of audience is 8.25 seconds while a goldfish has 9 seconds. This maybe the reason why looking at fish in an aquarium can be therapeutic… at least a goldfish can spare you with more attention than anyone!

Going back to our gospel this Sunday, we sense this spirit of docility of Jesus in the introduction and conclusion of Luke’s version of the temptation in the desert that follows right after His baptism at Jordan.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.

Luke 4:1-2

“Filled with the Holy Spirit.” What a beautiful expression to describe Jesus after His baptism at Jordan and in going to the wilderness to pray and fast, later to be tempted by the devil!

Docility in the Spirit is being filled with the Holy Spirit we first received in our Baptism, in Confirmation, in the Holy Communion and the sacraments. Every day like Jesus during His baptism at Jordan, we are filled with the Holy Spirit upon waking up because we are all beloved children of the Father. We have to claim the Holy Spirit who fills us, comes to us day in and day out. Docility in the Spirit is being attuned with God like a radio or any communication device that must be “connected” to a power or signal source. This is the reason we have to fast and do some sacrifices as well as pray during Lent so that we may be empty of our selves to be filled with the Holy Spirit and be docile to God. Without the Holy Spirit, there can be no docility.

Docility in the Spirit is entrance into the very person of Jesus Christ who is the beloved Son of God. The five Sundays of Lent are like doors that lead us closer into the innermost room of God. It is a journey that begins in our hearts. It is a journey we said last Ash Wednesday that is more about direction than destination. We enter the person of Jesus Christ, just like when He entered the synagogue at Nazareth to proclaim the reading from Isaiah that said “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Lk.4:14-21). The people were amazed at Jesus because He was so filled with the Holy Spirit that they really felt the part of the scripture fulfilled in His proclamation. Recall also the gospel last Sunday when Jesus said “from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Lk.6:45) to remind us that whatever good or evil comes from us comes from what is in our hearts, from the kind of spirit that fills us.

Jesus was consistently filled with the Holy Spirit up to the end, was consistently docile to the Father that reached its summit at the Cross because he was also continuously tempted on many occasions by the devil up to His crucifixion. That final temptation at His crucifixion was first heard in the wilderness when the devil said “if you are the Son of God” very similar with the words of the bystanders at the foot of the Cross. Most of all, that final temptation at the crucifixion was foreshadowed in the desert when the devil led Jesus to parapet of the temple in Jerusalem, teasing Him to throw Himself down for the angels would surely support Him.

Every time the devil tempts us to sin, his intention is not only for us to sin but for our lives to be destroyed by making us turn away from God signified by jumping from the top of the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus knew this so well that is why from the desert to the Cross, Jesus remained docile to the Father, remained filled with the Holy Spirit by relying on the powers of God than of Himself or of anyone else. And that is always the temptation we also encounter daily: to abandon God, to rely on ourselves and various forms of human powers. Every temptation faced by Jesus was always a temptation to abandon God’s plans, to be ordinary, to remain stuck in the level of the of the world.

The good news is not only that Jesus had overcome every temptation from the devil but most of all, enables us to do so by filling us with the Holy Spirit. Like Moses in the first reading, remember how God saved us in the past. He will never forsake us for as St. Paul reminds us today, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom.10:13). May we be attentive to the Holy Spirit always. Amen.

The imagery of the wilderness every Lent invites us to be docile, i.e., literally attentive in Latin, to the Holy Spirit, to the things of God and of the more sublime than merely human and material. Photo by author, Holy Land, April 2017.

Becoming a presence of God

40 Shades of Lent 
Friday after Ash Wednesday, 08 March 2019
Isaiah 58:1-9///Matthew 9:14-15

God our loving Father, in this 40-day journey of Lent in and with your Son Jesus Christ, help us to imbibe anew the value of “fasting”. How unfortunate that in this age when we have made everything so fast and quick, we have forgotten or totally disregarded the other meaning of that word “fasting” that seemed to have been stuck with the past.

We have ceased to fast not only during Ash Wednesday and Good Friday but even before receiving the Holy Communion in the Sunday Mass, making all kinds of excuses with bold claims of having sacrificed so much in doing good deeds that we need not fast from food anymore.

And if ever we fast these days, we repeat the very same mistakes of the people in the Old Testament of having themselves as the focus of their fasting rather than you, O God, through others. 

“Why do we fast, and you do not see it?  Afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?”  Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers.  Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw.  Would that today you might fast so as to make your voice heard on high!”

Isaiah 58:3-4

In this age of superabundance of almost everything in the world like food, clothes, money, gadgets and other things except YOU, teach us to let go of some comforts and pleasures to be one with those in suffering.

Most of all, let us fast to be empty of our very selves so we can create a space for you and for others. Fill us with your Self to become your very presence here on earth:

“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am!”

Isaiah 58:9

What a joy it would be if more people experience you, O Father, through us. Amen.

All images are from Google.