Father, into your hands I commend my spirit

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 15 April 2020

Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, Immaculate Conception Seminary chapel, 2014.
It was three in the morning
my day was earlier than usual calling
while kneeling I began praying
I could not believe the words coming
for they are meant before sleeping:
"Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit."
Since the beginning
of this quarantine
there is this feeling
seeping within, asking
what is happening
but scared when answering.
It is reality now biting
reminding me of one thing
that is so intimidating
haunting me ever since
not just of dying
but of being alone.
I know it is the Easter season
but there must be a reason
why this is going on:
I have never felt alone
until I have grown old
when there is nobody home.
When Jesus died on the cross
he was alone but never abandoned
for when he implored 
the Psalm for his farewell song
he added the word "Father" that will lead us on.
Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!
Such was the loneliness of the Lord
but in one word expressed his oneness
and closeness amid the great darkness
a love so immense, so intense
where every life and spirit here on earth commenced.
What a unique invitation
from Jesus to follow him on the Cross
into his Resurrection  
by being lonely and abandoned
so we may pray in his filial way
Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!
It is in calling God our Father
when we are far and lost
that we can truly have that intimacy
with our Maker who breathed into thee
the very spirit that keep us alive
here and in eternity.

Our prophetic mission in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

First Friday, Week IV, Year II, 07 February 2020

Sirach 47:2-11 ><)))*> 0 <*(((>< Mark 6:14-29

Photo from catholicworldreport.com, “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist” (1869) by Pierre Puvis de Chevannes.

Your gospel today, O Lord, is so appropriate and timely: while we were busy, albeit foolishly discussing the novel coronavirus in every fora, a technical committee in the House of Representatives has approved three measures seeking to legalize divorce in the country.

We do not know what have really happened but it is so sad that no one among the Catholic and Christian lawmakers there made a solid stand against these measures like St. John the Baptist who was imprisoned on account of his objection to Herod’s taking of his brother’s wife Herodias.

So many times, Lord, we are so afraid and worried of what others might say against us when we make a stand for what is right and just, for what is proper and decent, for what is right and good, for what is your will.

Worst, O Lord, many of us are like Herodias who have prostituted our very selves in the service of the worldly allures of sex, fame, and wealth, choosing to be silent with all the many immoralities going on in government, in the society, and even in the church!

Give us the same courage, Lord, you have given your precursor St. John the Baptist to be prophets in this modern age, to be a voice in the wilderness, making a stand for what is holy, true, and just.

Like David, may we always seek your ways, ask for your grace to do your will against the giants and monsters of this world who ram into us every modern thought and idea that disregard the sanctity of life, the value of every person, as well as the sanctity of marriage.

Let us not be silent anymore with the growing impunity of many in their arrogant display of authority, throwing their weight around us with their cuss words and fallacious arguments that dignify their truncated egos and pride for the sake of progress and modernity. Amen.

Our “Nunc Dimittis” experience

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 03 February 2020

Detail of the Presentation painting by Italian artist Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) with Mary handing the Child Jesus to Simeon at the temple of Jerusalem (man at the middle Mary’s husband, Joseph).

As we come to close today’s Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, I wish to share with you a Quiet Storm brewing within me which I call “the Nunc Dimittis experience”.

Nunc dimittis is the Latin opening line of Simeon’s Canticle that says “Now you dismiss” when he was filled with joy by the Holy Spirit upon meeting our Lord and Savior on his presentation at the temple.

According to St. Luke’s account, God had promised Simeon that “he would not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord” (Lk. 2:26). Hence, the overflowing joy of Simeon when he finally met the Child Jesus at the temple 40 days after Christmas!

Part of St. Luke’s artistry in his Christmas story is to put songs on the lips of some of its important characters to express their profound joys in their unique experiences of the coming of Christ.

The Nunc Dimittis is the fourth canticle in the Lucan Christmas story: first is Mary’s Magnificat when she visited her cousin Elizabeth who was six months pregnant with St. John the Baptizer; second is the Benedictus by Zechariah when he regained his speech after naming his son John; and third is the Gloria sang by the angels when Christ was born in Bethlehem.

Simeon bursting in joy as depicted by American illustrator Ron DiCianni’s “Simeon’s Moment”. From http://www.tapestryproductions.com

Of these four canticles recorded by St. Luke, Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis sounds the highest level of all, the fulfillment of time within each one of us when we personally recognize and meet Jesus the Christ our Savior like Simeon.

And so often, when we are overjoyed in experiencing Jesus Christ, that is also when we feel like saying “now I am ready to go, ready to die” exactly like Simeon because we have met the Lord.

That is why I call it “the Nunc Dimittis experience”: real joy can only come from that experience and intimacy with Jesus Christ, when we feel so close with him. It does not really matter whether we experience him here in this life or hereafter. What matters most is we feel so close with him, as if embracing him, here and now.

This may be a religious experience like after listening to a homily that really touched us, or after a good confession, or while attending a wonderful retreat or recollection. It may also happen when we feel so loved and accepted, when we are vindicated, or when assured of support and trust and confidence while going through difficult trials in life.

Our Nunc dimittis experience always comes at the end of each day, when we feel despite our failures and shortcomings, we are in God’s loving presence.

Simeon’s Canticle, our Night Prayer

Since the early sixth century during the time of St. Benedict, the “Nunc Dimittis” has been sung in the monks’ night prayer or “compline” from the Latin completorium or completion of the working day. Eventually, it was adopted into the Liturgy of the Hours or the prayers of the Church usually recited by priests and religious. (St. John Paul II had suggested in his encyclical Novo Millennio Innuete after the Great Jubilee of 2000 that the lay faithful also pray the Liturgy of the Hours.)

After the praying of the psalms and meditation of the Sacred Scriptures, there is a Responsory that declares, “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.” Like Jesus before he died on the Cross, we offer to God our very selves. This is takes on a beautiful dimension especially if we have done a good examination of conscience at the start of the compline, before the psalms and readings.

Then, we recite the antiphon that introduces the Nunc dimittis: “Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.”

The antiphon in itself is already a prayer!

It is after the antiphon that we chant or recite Simeon’s Canticle:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.

From the Compline of the Breviary

The antiphon is repeated and immediately followed by the Closing Prayer.

The cross atop our parish church at night with the moon above taken with my iPhone camera, 02 February 2020.

Capping the compline is the blessing at the end that says: “May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death. Amen.”

Usually, a hymn to Mary is sung, then all the lights are turned off and the great silence (magnum silencium) begins until the morning prayers or lauds (Latin for praise).

See how our night prayer or the compline is oriented towards meeting God, or to put it bluntly, towards death.

Yes, it is always easy to say we are ready to die. It is a lot whole different when we are already face to face with death itself.

But, when we come to think of it, we realize that indeed, in death, “there is nothing to fear but fear itself”.

When we die, everything happens so fast. We may not even feel anything at all. And unknown to us, every night when we go to sleep, we rehearse our death, so to speak!

And what a tremendous joy to keep in mind how every night, the Lord fills us with joy and faith within us even if we often forget him. Every night when we sleep, it is automatic within us to entrust everything to God “unconsciously” without even thinking we may never wake up!

It is a “Nunc Dimittis” experience too because most of us go to bed filled with joy, full of hope the following morning would be a better day than today. And that is Jesus still coming to us at the end of the day to assure us of his love and concern, never bothering us at all of this tremendous grace gratuitously given to us.

Next time you sleep, remember how blessed you are to have come to the end of another day, blessed and loved.

Pray, and start experiencing Jesus more from the beginning to the end of each day and forevermore. Amen.

The power of God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

Monday, Week 3, Year 2, 27 January 2020

2 Samuel 5:1-7, 10 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> Mark 3:22-30

Photo by author, sunrise at Camp John Hay, Baguio City, November 2018.

Praise and thanksgiving to you, O God our loving Father in heaven! How amazing we are now at the final stretch of the month of January 2020, passing through many darkness that have cast over us spells of gloom and sadness, disappointments and fears, even hopelessness.

Yet, you never failed to shine upon us the bright lights of love and mercy, power and grace in Jesus Christ our Lord that we are still awake and so alive this Monday morning, ready to face another week of work and school, challenges and trials.

In our readings today, O God, you remind us of the need to be filled with your power and grace to accomplish your will despite many obstacles.

David in the first reading was able to unite all the tribes of Israel and drove away other peoples to make Jerusalem their capital city and your dwelling place. Indeed, in whomever your power rests, nothing is impossible to achieve.

But how unfortunate and tragic when people refuse to recognize your power, O God, resting on your Christ – your Anointed One – Jesus of Nazareth!

Like the scribes of his time, there are still some of us who believe in the power of other men and women than of your power in Jesus we often doubt and refuse to believe in.

The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said Jesus, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”

Mark 3:22-24

Bless us, O God, with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to recognize your power in Jesus Christ by first claiming it in your most holy name. To claim your power, O God, is to submit ourselves to your power to forgive our sins, to cleanse us of all evil, and most of all, to do everything in your glory.

Fill us with your power and grace, O Lord, so we may accomplish your work this week. Amen.

Photo from Google.

With God at every step of our way

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

Tuesday, Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, 21 January 2020

1 Samuel 16:1-13 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> Mark 2:23-28

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

The Lord said to Samuel: “How long will you grieve for Saul, whom I have rejected as king of Israel? Fill yor horn with oil, and be on your way. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have chosen my king from among is sons.” But Sameul replied: “How can I go? Saul will hear of it and kill me.” To this the Lord answered: “Take a heifer along and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I myself will tell you what to do; you are to anoint for me the one I point out to you.” Samuel did as the Lord had commanded him.

1 Samuel 16:1-4

How many times have I found myself, O God, in the same situation as Samuel? You know very well how I felt so afraid to do your work, so fearful for my reputation and most especially of other people who might harm me in doing your work.

But what really makes it so difficult in obeying you, O God, is when I doubt if you are the one truly speaking to me, when I doubt myself if I get it right from you to do something opposite the way and thoughts of most people.

Oh… how sweet it is to remember those days when I just threw myself to your will, when I just did and say whatever you willed!

It was very scary, Lord, but we did it!

You did it very well, every step of our way!

Thank you, so much, O God! Thank you!

Send us your Holy Spirit to center our lives in your Son Jesus Christ like the disciples “who began to make a path picking heads of grain one Sabbath day” (Mk.2:23) and the Pharisees lambasted them.

Surely, the disciples would have not done that without seeking permission from Jesus. And even if Jesus had allowed them to go and pick heads of grain, I am sure there were some who still doubted him giving the permission to do it!

So nice that they trusted Jesus, like the young and lovely St. Agnes who remained adamantly faithful to him in the face of death. May I be given that same faith and courage today, Lord, to find you in every step I take. Amen.

Of funerals and weddings and Alzheimer’s in between

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 13 January 2020

Photo by my high school seminary friend, Mr. Chester Ocampo, taken at the UST Senior High where he teaches art (2019).

Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone..

John Mellencamp, “Jack & Diane” (1982)

Maybe this is part of getting old, of maturing. Of learning to grapple with life’s mortal realities and still be excited with living. It is a grace that is both fulfilling but also deeply moving and often, chilling.

An uncle and a friend have commented to me in our recent chats how 2020 had come in hard and difficult with so many sickness and deaths in the family.

Some relatives have to fly to Singapore on New Year’s Day to support a cousin whose husband had an office accident that left him in comatose for five days following a brain surgery. He eventually died and had to be cremated a few days later.

December 11 I had to drive to Manila to visit and anoint the father of my best friend from high school seminary who arrived December 2 from the States, fell ill December 4, and had to spen Christmas and New year in the hospital.

Less than 24 hours after being discharged January 3, he died the following morning after talking with my friend based in Chicago, three days short before eldest daughter arrived to accompany him and wife back to New Jersey this week.

Meanwhile last January 2, I had to rush again this time to Quezon City for the wake of our high school seminary classmate Rommel who had died of multiple complications morning of December 31.

He is the third to “rest in peace” in our batch of 18 men who graduated the minor seminary in 1982. We last saw him in our reunion, September 9, 1990 (9-9-90).

Suddenly, I felt myself in some kind of a time warp when everything seemed to be not too long ago, as if we have just graduated recently, or that my dad and their dads have just passed away one after the other these past months.

Death can sometimes be magical when life is lived in love

I realized that when we have so much love for everyone like relatives and friends, including parishioners in the last eight years, time stands still after their deaths. You do not count the days and weeks and months and years you were together and when they have all gone.

They all seem to be still present because you are focused on how those departed have enriched your very life, your very person no matter how fleeting or long ago you were together.

Death can sometimes be magical, most of all grace-filled, when our lives are lived in love.

Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone…

John Mellencamp, “Jack & Diane” (1982)
Photo by author, our sacristy 2019.

Memories and knowledge fade, but love remains

Finally I had the chance to visit my mom – for Christmas! – evening of January 6. It was so good that just before leaving, a cousin arrived with his family to visit also my mother who is the younger sister of his mother, my Tita Celia.

It was only at that evening we have finally confirmed that Tita Celia has Alzheimer’s, the reason why her ways and attitudes have been noticeably erratic in 2019 as she was slowly losing grip of her senses.

And now, it is almost all gone according to my cousin whose sadness I strongly felt as he narrated to me the deterioration of his mother, of forgetting and losing so many things, of not recognizing familiar people like relatives and friends.

That same night, we also learned from him how our moms’ younger brother seem to be having signs of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease that are very similar with Tita Celia.

Again, I found myself in a “time warp” while they were happily conversing I was silently trying to recall the last time I have seen my mother’s siblings now afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, wondering if they will still recognize me if I visit them later.

Moreover, I also realized how afraid I am with the prospects of getting sick in old age than of dying, sooner or later!

In fact, I was so scared that I had a nightmare that same night: in my dream I found myself lost, apparently with Alzheimer’s as I was searching for my parish rectory, looking for my bedroom, asking people about my parish staff, crying like a child.

What a relief when I woke up Tuesday morning that it was just a dream, that I was in fact in my bed, inside my room, in my parish rectory, so alive and still whole!

It seems it is easier to think and accept of one’s death than of getting sick and incapacitated later in old age. It is something we have to slowly come to terms with while still younger and stronger, and perhaps wiser.

How?

As I recalled our conversations with my cousin Louie that Monday night at home, I was amazed at his great love for his mother, Tita Celia. I remembered how he would always have pasalubong for his mother even upon coming home from school!

Maybe that is why even she had forgotten most of us her relatives, she always remembers Louie her son because he is the one who has truly loved her next to the late Tito Memo, her husband. The same is true with others taking care of their old parents afflicted with Alzheimer’s: they are recognized and remembered because they love.

Our memories and knowledge may be erased but the love we have in our hearts, the love we have experienced always remain even if everything has failed in life. That is why St. Paul declared that “love is the greatest of all gifts of God”.

Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone…

John Mellencamp, “Jack & Diane” (1982)
With my former students at the Cubao Cathedral after the wedding of their classmate. I felt so proud, and old, that afternoon seeing them all with their career and family, of how they have maintained their friendships all these years like brothers, of they love one another. Photo by Peter dela Cruz, one in blue.

To live is to love

December 2019 and January 2020 are perhaps my most “marrying months” in my 21 years of priesthood.

Aside from the weddings of friends and students I have officiated these past two months, three more are coming next month of February.

Again, as I saw friends and especially former students getting married, I could not believe at how fast time had passed.

Should I really be surprised when I find out my former students already in their early 30’s, some with families of their own and children whom they instruct to kiss my hand, calling me Lolo Fr. Nick?

It was a very “existential” experience that they are already old, and most of all, I am really that old after all!

Maybe that is what my married friends are telling me of the joy of fatherhood, of having your kids getting married, of having grandchildren, of the inner satisfaction that you have brought life to fruition.

That you have truly loved and now being loved.

It is perhaps the joy of getting old, of maturing, of dying or even forgetting everything when afflicted later with Alzheimer’s that you start to fade from the scene and hand over the stage to the next generation, thinking that life will still go on after us because you have loved much.

What really matters in the end is how we have lived and loved the people around us, of how we have enriched each other’s lives so that as the young ones discover life’s meaning in love, we who are older find life’s fulfillment still in the love from the relationships we keep.

Here’s a hill-billy rock music about love to drive your Monday’s blues away.

Our “Bestest” Gift of Christmas

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 30 December 2019

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, Carigara, September 2019.

Today we conclude our series on the best Christmas gifts we have received following Christ’s coming more than 2000 years ago: the gift of childhood, of being child-like.

What a joy to keep in mind how God the Almighty chose to become human like us to show us that the path to true greatness and power is in becoming small like an infant, being like a child.

How foolish that we always “play” God to be great and powerful!

The central mystery of Christianity is our transformation from world-wise, self-sufficient “adults” into abiding children of the Father of Jesus by the grace of the Holy Spirit. All else in the Gospel, from the Incarnation of the Lord to his hidden and public lives, his miracles and preaching, his Passion, Death and Resurrection has been for this, of becoming like a child.

The late Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Unless You Become Like this Child” (1991, Ignatius Press)

The child-like attitude of Jesus Christ

The best gift we can have this Christmas is to be child-like, to regain and reclaim our sense of childhood, of attending to that “inner child” within us when we trust more, believe more!

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, Carigara, September 2019.

See how Jesus Christ entrusts himself not only to his Father but most of all to us!

That is the touching message of the Nativity scene, of how our Lord and God, the King of kings through whom everything was created giving himself to us like a baby, asking us to love him, to take care of him, to be gentle with him, to protect and keep him safe from all harm.

And the key to claiming this great gift of being like a child is for us to learn again how to trust more and fear less like Jesus who showed us by example, not only with words his being child-like.

His constant acknowledgement of God his Father always speaking and doing his will tells us how Jesus from childhood into is adulthood remained like a child by entrusting his total self to God, reaching its highest point on the Cross when he cried out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk.23:46).

Trust more, fear less

To be like a child according to the example of Jesus Christ is to always trust God and others, and fear less.

Like us, Jesus experienced fears, getting afraid of death but unlike us, he courageously faced death by trusting the Father by “resolutely” going to Jerusalem to be crucified!

When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, Jesus resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.

Luke 9:51

It is normal to have fears, to be afraid.

Fear is not totally negative; it has its good effects that have actually led mankind to every great progress in life like the discovery of new lands and territories, new medicines, new inventions and other things. 

Fear becomes a liability when it prevents us to trust more like little children. 

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

Kids and young people are often “positively” fearless because they trust so much nobody would hurt them or no one would forsake them. 

As we age, our fears increase because our trust decreases:  we fear so many things because we are afraid of losing the little we have, we are afraid of getting hurt, we are afraid of starting all over again.

We are afraid of getting old, of getting sick, and of dying. 

What an irony how we started in life fearing almost nothing as babies and kids that we grew up so fast but as we aged and matured, we fear so many things that we have stopped growing and stopped living even long before we actually die.

The other day, December 28, we celebrated “Niños Innocentes” or “Holy Innocents” to remember those male children below two years old ordered killed by King Herod for fears of the “newborn king of Israel.” 

Herod lived in constant fears of being deposed in power that he ordered the killing of his three sons and ten wives after suspecting them of trying to overthrow him.

We may not be like Herod with the way we react with our many fears but like him, we end up with same effects like death of friendships, death of love, death of everything, the end of life and adventure.

Maybe that explains why somehow as we get older, we “mellow” and become like children again, realizing we cannot control everything in life, that it is always best to act than to react in every situation.

Do not miss out this great gift of Christmas of becoming like a child.

Trust Jesus Christ who called on us not to be afraid for he is with us always!

Fighting the “beasts” among us

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

Friday, Week XXXIV, Year I, 29 November 2019

Daniel 7:2-14 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> Luke 21:29-33

Praise and glory to you, O God! Thank for this blessed Friday, the last working day of November 2019. Most of all, thank you for keeping us safe always in your protection despite our sins and being stubborn.

Like the vision of Prophet Daniel in the first reading, so many “beasts” have tried destroying us. In fact, these “beasts” are so “horrible” that so many people have come to believe them, accepting them and all their lies and malice.

Red Wednesday 2019, Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Bagbaguin, Santa Maria, Bulacan.

There are times that we lose hope, fearing that everything is going to nothing.

Sometimes, it is so difficult to find meaning in life at all amidst all the sufferings and miseries around us and even within us!

May we always trust in your Word, Jesus Christ who became flesh to be with us.

In the many trials and tribulations that come our way, may we always hold on to his assurance:

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Luke 21:33

Keep our sights fixed always to you, Jesus.

To never lose hope, to always trust you.

Most of all, to always follow you.

Amen.

Prayer to take away our fears

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

Monday, Dedication of the Basilicas of Sts. Peter and Paul, 18 November 2019

Acts of the Apostles 28:11-16, 30-31 ><)))*> Matthew 14:22-33

High Altar of St. Peter’s Basilica

My dearest Lord Jesus:

It is again the start of work and studies.

How I pity Monday!

It is perhaps the most hated day of the week primarily because of the many fears it brings upon us.

Inner and outer fears that lead us to doubt our selves, our talents and abilities, even people around us.

And worst, of doubting YOU.

There are times we are like the Apostles who could hardly see you coming to us in times of darkness and storms in life.

Though you keep on calling us, assuring us of your presence, to be not afraid, we still choose to be afraid that we sink deeper into sin and evil.

Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:31

Hardly a day passes in our lives, Lord, without our experience of so many fears, doubts, apprehensions, and anxieties that drain us of so much energies to do more good things for you through others.

Some of us have long been held captive by this dark power of fear within and without that we hardly experience true freedom!

As we celebrate the dedication of the two Major Basilicas in honor of your two great Saints and Apostles, Peter and Paul, teach us to come home to your dwelling place of love and freedom, not of fear and doubts.

Teach us to be at home with you, to always find you even in the midst of darkness and giant waves of uncertainties. Amen.

St. Paul with a sword in front of the Basilica in his honor in Rome. From Google.