Sincerity of God, hypocrisy of human

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday in the Second Week of Lent, 02 March 2021
Isaiah 1:10, 16-20  ><}}}*> + ><}}}*> + ><}}}*>  Matthew 23:1-12
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, at Infanta, Quezon, February 2021.

Thank you, dear God our Father for this wonderful Season of Lent when we are able dwell and contemplate your immense love for us. Despite our many and serious sins that we deserve to be called as “princes of Sodom” and “people of Gomorrah” (Is.1:10) reminiscent of those two cities you have annihilated with fire, you still call us to come to you, ready to forgive us and set things right in our lives.

Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord. Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool.

Isaiah 1:18

How lovely are those lines from you, Father, “Come now, let us set things right” — filled with love and tenderness, so sincere, so true!

Whose heart would not melt with such an invitation, when we should be the one begging you for mercy and forgiveness?

But, here you are, O Father, so concerned with us that you made the move, even willing to adjust so we may be able to start anew. You are so sweet and comforting that you did not mind going down to our level in your Son Jesus Christ to reach us, fix us, and set things right once and for all.

Give us the grace through your Son Jesus Christ to believe in your love, mercy and forgiveness.

Most of all, give us the courage to turn our hearts back to you, dearest God, to be true and humble as who we really are instead of pretending to be somebody clean and perfect (cf. Mt.23:8-12). Amen.

Give, forgive, and forgive.

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, First Week of Lent, 23 February 2021
Isaiah 55:10-11     ><)))*>   +   <*(((><     Matthew 6:7-15
Photo by author, the “Our Father” Church at the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem where Jesus taught his disciples to pray (2017).

Of the many things you have taught us, Lord Jesus, the “Our Father” remains one of the most enigmatic: on the surface it appears so simple but as we dwell and reflect on it, the more it becomes mysterious and fascinating as well that it is rightly called “the Lord’s Prayer”.

Today, I feel so touched, dear Jesus at how you have arranged the order of the prayer in the part of give and forgive:

Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;

Matthew 6:11-12

Give – forgive – forgive.

How amazing at how you have taught us to ask the Father to “give” us only once but asked to “forgive” twice! First to ask the Father to forgive us for our sins and second, that we may be like him to forgive those who sin against us.

There is also something very interesting with giving and forgiving, something deep in meaning and feeling: to give is so simple, as in to grant or bestow or simply, give. But, to forgive in itself is thought provoking, inviting everyone to an inner journey of meanings. Phonetically, it sounds like “four gives” as against just one “give”.

And this is where it gets so beautiful, Jesus: the word forgive is formed from the prefix fore that means first in order or rank or place or time like foreword, forewarn and forward.

We ask Father once only that he may give us our needs for he knows what is best for us.

But, we have to ask him twice to forgive — first that he forgive us for our sins so that we may also forgive others who sin against us.

Teaching them young how to pray (photo by Mr. Red Santiago, 2019).

There is something so deep in forgiving that inspired Shakespeare to write, “to err is human, to forgive is divine.” From the prefix fore, to forgive means to give something first even before you get anything in exchange for whatever you give. And that is what you have done for us, dear Jesus: giving yourself on the cross for us long before we asked forgiveness, long before we give our selves to you in repentance and conversion!

When we ask your forgiveness, what we actually do is claim that forgiveness you have given us without us asking for it!

Here lies the difficult part of the Our Father that makes us divine like you, Jesus: how do we imitate the Father of giving first forgiveness to those who have wronged us even if they have not come to us asking for forgiveness? It is indeed very difficult to follow for how can we give something first even if we have not received anything like a simple sorry in return?

How easy it is to ask you, Jesus, to give us grace to forgive but I think, what we must ask is for you to forgive us so we can forgive. How wonderful to realize that every time you forgive us, you actually give us something fourfold as in “four gives”.

Open our eyes, open our hearts to see this wonder and beauty of forgiving, of giving first even without receiving anything in exchange like the Father. Amen.

To be loved is to be touched by God

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Sixth Week in Ordinary Time, Year B, 14 February 2021
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46  >><)))*>  1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1  >><)))*>  Mark 1:40-45

The word “touch” is a very touchy one…

It can either be literal or figurative but can mean both at the same time like when we experience that proverbial “pat on the shoulder” – we feel it literally speaking but deeply within we feel so touched that we feel so good, we feel affirmed.

We say “we are touched” by words, by gestures and sights, by acts of kindness and love, by persons, by music, by poems, by so many things that touch both our senses and innermost being.

Touch can be fleeting, sometimes so brief but its impact can last a lifetime. Experts say that 30 seconds of touch is equivalent to more than 300 words of encouragement. That is why in our liturgy and sacraments, we employ the sense of touch extensively in imitation of Jesus in his many healings and interactions with everyone during his time.

And even up to our time, Jesus continues to touch us with his words, with his Body and Blood in the Holy Mass and through our family and friends, even strangers he sends us so we may experience his love through his healing touch, his merciful touch, his tender, loving touch.

Today we hear a very touching story on this Valentine’s day of how Jesus touched a leper and touched his life forever!

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.

Mark 1:40-42
Photo by author, Lake of Galilee, May 2019.

Leprosy: a terrible disease, an image of sin

After healing Simon’s mother-in-law and those who were sick last Sunday, Mark told us how before dawn the following day Jesus went to a deserted place to pray then left Capernaum with his four disciples to preach and heal throughout the whole of Galilee.

As they were walking, a leper came to meet Jesus and begged him to be healed. This scene is very unusual for lepers were not supposed to get near anybody during that time. They have to warn people of their presence so they can be avoided lest others get infected.

But more than the fear of contagion, the first reading tells us why people were not supposed to interact with lepers because leprosy was seen so terrible as an image of sin that anyone afflicted must see the priest first, short of saying a leper was also a sinner. See how Moses described the wounds that evoked memories of those festering boils and lesions that afflicted the Egyptians and their cattle before the Exodus. Such was the gravity and seriousness of this sickness that those afflicted were totally separated from the rest of the populace, literally and figuratively speaking.

In this scene, we find not only a glimpse of another typical day in the life of Jesus but most of all, we see his very person filled with love and compassion for the least in the society like the leper. Here again is the Lord going to unknown territories to find and heal – to touch – the poorest of the poor.

And that is precisely the good news Mark is telling us this Sunday: Jesus wills our well-being, wants to touch us to be cleansed and healed from all our infirmities whether physical or spiritual or emotional.

Like the crowds following Jesus at that time, we also have to follow the Lord in his preaching to be healed from our sickness and be cleansed from sins. Anyone who believes in his power to heal like that leper must rely in his kindness and mercy because Jesus had removed all barriers that prevent us from meeting him, touching him.

See how Mark described Jesus being “moved with pity” which is more than an emotion or feeling but a stirring within called “miserecordia” in Latin and Spanish that means to move (miseor) the heart (cor) or do something with what he had seen and felt.

Do not be afraid or shy to come to Jesus; he is very approachable, no need for appointments like us humans as he welcomes us all, very open to us all, so willing to meet and be with us in our joys and sorrows, victories and defeats, triumphs and miseries.

Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”

Mark 1:43-44
Photo by Jenna Hamra on Pexels.com

Jesus is our Savior.

More than a healer, an exorcist, and a doer of miracles, Mark presents to us for the third consecutive Sunday the very person of Jesus Christ as our Savior. One thing we shall notice in Mark’s gospel is his extensive use of the so-called “Messianic secret” wherein he reports Jesus warning those he had healed and exorcised not to tell it to anyone, to keep it a secret lest people regard him as a miracle worker or provider of every human needs.

And that is because who Jesus Christ is really is — our Savior who gave himself up for us all to be healed by sin symbolized by leprosy. His touching and healing of that leper vividly shows us that this Jesus is the Christ who came to renew and bring us back to God as his beloved children. It is the most touching image of God becoming human like us, getting so close to us to touch us and be one with us so we can be cleansed from all dirt of sin and evil because that is how much he loves us.

To be touched by Jesus is to be loved by God. And anyone touched and loved by God becomes a brand new person who finds himself whole and one anew with others around him, sharing with them his newfound love and joy and meaning in life. That is the surest sign of being touched and being loved; hence, the command by Jesus to the leper to present himself to the priests to be reintegrated to the community and eventually commune again with others.

But the leper could not contain his joy that according to Mark, “The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter, spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly, remaining outside in deserted places as people kept coming to him from everywhere” (Mk.1:45).

By his very life, the healed leper gave glory to God as admonished by Paul in our second reading today. For Paul, to glorify God in whatever we do is to imitate Jesus Christ (1Cor. 10:31) by dealing with or resolving conflicts and issues among us in the most personal manner instead of theoretical principles.

During that time, the early Christians in Corinth and elsewhere for that matter were confused if the consumption of animals offered by pagans to their idols and later sold in the market constituted their participation to idolatry.

Paul explained that idols are nothing and therefore, the sacrifice of animals in the sanctuaries does not give the meat sold in the markets any particular qualification. Those who can understand this can it eat without scruple but— if it can cause scandal among those weak in faith and understanding, they must renounce this freedom.

For Paul, morality and propriety must have their origin and motivation in God, not just any precepts or standards that sometimes difficult to accept. Again, here we have to consider sensitivity – the touchiness of certain acts and things so that when we give glory to God, even the weakest among us may be encouraged to do the same.

There is no “middle ground” as the wokes are implying these days in the US especially in that recent Super Bowl Jeep commercial with Bruce Springsteen, implying America can only be a ReUnited States through “compromises”.

Love is not like politics or diplomacy that seek detente among different parties of people as Jesus warned us to “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’. Anything apart from this is from the evil one” (Mt.5:37).

To love is to be touched by someone, especially by God. When we love, when we touch, there are no ifs nor buts, no middle grounds nor compromises because it is either you love or do not love. That is what Jesus showed us when he touched and healed the leper who came to him along the road.

That is also what Jesus showed us later by dying on the Cross for us so we may be cleansed from our sins and be new again so we can reach out to touch others with his immense love that is full of joy.

On this most joyous day of hearts we call Valentine’s, get real with our love by touching someone with the love of Jesus in the most concrete way of kindness and care, mercy and forgiveness. Not with flowers and chocolates that are very temporary. A blessed week to you!

Photo by author, 07 February 2021.

Prayer to enter God’s rest

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Friday, Week-I, Year -I in Ordinary Time, 15 January 2021
Hebrews 4:1-5, 11  >><)))*> >><)))*> + <*(((><< <*(((><<  Mark 2:1-12
Photo by author, sunrise at the Lake of Galilee in Israel, 2017.

Let us be on guard while the promise of entering into his rest remains, that none of you seem to have failed… Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:1, 11

Thank you, dear God this Friday with Your words reminding us of “entering Your rest”, Your Sabbath!

But what is Your “rest”, God our Father?

More than a particular day of the week, it is first of all Your very presence like in paradise that our first parents have lost due to their pride and disobedience to You.

May we heed and learn from the reflections of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews of how Your chosen people, the Israelites, disobeyed you, dear God, while in the wilderness that prevented them from entering Your rest in the Promised Land of Israel, spending 40 years wandering in the desert.

Sadly, all these continue to happen in our own time when we are supposed to be disciples of Your Son Jesus Christ.

Help us O God to resist the temptations and strive hard to see you, feel you, and experience you.

Help us to be like those men carrying the paralytic who sought ways and means to see Jesus Christ, our only true hope and inspiration and consolation in times like these. It is in Jesus Christ’s coming that we are able to enter Your rest freely and truly, dear God, to experience Your love and mercy, kindness and compassion we have all taken for granted.

But, more than a place and a day, Your rest, O Lord, is heaven, Your very presence, that very moment when Jesus healed and forgave the sins of the paralytic, astounding everyone, glorifying You, saying, “We have never seen anything like this” (Mk.2:12).

Let us “rest” in You, dear God by returning to You, of being renewed in You with Your whole creation in Jesus. Amen.

Photo by author, sunset somewhere in Pampanga, 13 January 2021.

Praying to keep love alive

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XXIV, Year II in Ordinary Time, 17 September 2020
1 Corinthians 15:1-11     ///     Luke 7:36-50
Photo by author, Church of the Our Father, outside Jerusalem, May 2019.

I have noticed lately, Lord Jesus, how your words are so relevant with how things are going in our lives as individuals and as a nation in this time of the pandemic. How sad that until now we still do not get the full meaning of this pandemic, of how our morals are being put into test, our faith and beliefs challenged to be more authentic, and be real with the love you have poured upon us.

Like the Corinthians, we are so concerned with our trivial pursuits for things that are selfish and self-centered, forgetting the heart of the gospel the Church proclaims since the time of the Apostles: your saving death and resurrection, O sweet Jesus, that has been faithfully handed on from believing generations to the next.

Maybe if we believers focused more on this saving message and its implications, there would be less divisions among us in the Church because we would be more loving to one another, especially to fellow sinners trying to rise from sinful lives.

Like in the gospel scene where the Pharisees were so concerned with the sinfulness of the woman who poured oil and perfume on your feet, Lord. So often, we forget we are all forgiven sinners, becoming arrogant, feeling better and higher than the rest.

Jesus said to him in reply, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed 500 days’ wages and the other owed 50. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?” Simon said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Luke 7:40-43

Let us always remember, Lord, that faith in you, in your Passion, Death, and Resurrection is a call for us to be more loving with others. Let us be concerned in sharing this love in words and in deeds like your Jesuit St. Robert Bellarmine who labored so hard for the Church in keeping your love alive during his time. Amen.

From Wikipedia Commons.

Panalangin laging alalahanin

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-17 ng Setyembre 2020
Huwebes, Ika-24 na Linggo sa Karaniwang Panahon, Taon II
1 Cronica 15:1-11   ///   Lukas 7:36-50
Larawan kuha ng may-akda sa Mirador Hills, Baguio City, Enero 2018.
O Diyos Ama naming butihin
sa panahong ito ng COVID-19
aming dalangin huwag naming limutin
bagkus palaging alalahanin 
ang lahat ng pagsubok ay aming malalampasan din.
Lagi nawa naming tandaan aral na iniwan
ng mga Apostol na siyang paalala ng sulat 
 ni San Pablo sa mga taga-Corinto 
  na ang sentro nitong Ebanghelyo
ang muling pagkabuhay ni Jesu-Kristo
na nagpakitang totoo sa mga alagad at mga tao
upang tiyakin sa aming lahat ngayon 
Kanyang pagbabalik sa wakas ng panahon.
Habang Ikaw ay aming inaabangan, O Panginoon,
turuan mo kami manalig at pakatandaan
pamumuhay na marangal aming pa ring makakamtan
kung kasalanan aming tatalikuran
mauupo sa Iyong paanan
upang mga aral mo ay pakinggan
tulad ng babaeng iyong ginawaran ng kapatawaran.
Ito sana aming laging tandaan, alalahanin
huwag lilimutin upang Ikaw ay makapiling.
Amen.

“Every Kinda People” (1978) by Robert Palmer

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 13 September 2020
Entering through the narrow door of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, the Holy Land, May 2019.

Above is a photo I have taken of some pilgrims entering through the small door of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem last year. I have always loved the story why this entrance door is so small as it leads to a huge and very important church where the site of Jesus Christ’s birth is located.

According to tradition, pilgrims used to bring even their animals inside the church whenever they would come to worship at the site of the Lord’s birth. The priests and monks were so kind that they could not tell them to leave their horses outside to keep the church clean; and so, they built another entrance into the church with a door so small that even pilgrims have to bow in order to get inside.

Eventually, the small door taught everyone especially pilgrims the important lesson that to experience the coming of the Son of God to the world, one must learn to be humble, to bow or get low to get inside the Church of Nativity.

I know Christmas is still four months away but that is one reality we always forget, the we are all brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. That is the meaning of Christ’s call in today’s gospel to “forgive from one’s heart” son we can forgive without limits because we are all brothers and sisters in God the Father who loves and forgives us all (https://lordmychef.com/2020/09/12/forgiving-from-the-heart-2/).

It is for this reason that we have chosen for our Sunday music “Every Kinda People” by the late English singer-songwriter Robert Palmer. It was his first top 40 hit released in 1978 that was rereleased in 1992 climbing the charts again for its beautiful music and superb lyrics that convey love and respect for every person.

Though the word forgiveness is nowhere to be found in the lyrics, it is implied because after all, the best expression of any love as shown to us by Jesus Christ is also the ability to forgive others and forego any revenge.

There’s no profit in deceit
Honest men know that
Revenge do not taste sweet
Whether yellow, black or white
Each and every man’s the same inside

What really hurts us most that we find it difficult to forgive those who have sinned against us is not only the injustice done to us but our being disrespected as a person who is a family like a spouse or a wife, a brother or a sister, a son or a daughter, a father or a mother, a kin or a friend, a confidant.

Our offenders thought only of themselves and forgot all about us, our love and kindness to them. Our oneness with them.

That is the unkindest cut of all, my brothers and sisters.

Have a blessed Sunday and a week ahead, keep loving and forgiving even if others do not. At least we remind them of that basic reality of every kinda people…

Music video by Robert Palmer performing Every Kinda People. (C) 1978 Universal Island Records Ltd. A Universal Music Company.

Forgiving from the heart

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXIV, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 13 September 2020
Sirach 27:30-28:7     >><)))*>   Romans 14:7-9   >><)))*>   Matthew 18:21-35
Photo by author, dusk in our parish, July 2020.

This Sunday we go deeper into the lessons gathered by Matthew from Jesus regarding love as the basis of our relationships. Last week we were told how mutual love is the sole reason why we correct brothers and sisters going stray in life.

But, more sensitive and delicate, not to mention most difficult than fraternal correction is the question of forgiving.

How many times should we forgive?

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a kind who decided to settle accounts wit his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before hm who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all is property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

Matthew 18:21-27

Forgiving is always difficult because it is from God, calling us to be one with him, one in him, and be like him as that saying perfectly summed up, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” It is beyond human abilities, reserved only for God until he became human like us in Jesus Christ who made us share in his greatest expression of love which is forgiveness. Hence, every time we forgive, we also become like God, divine and holy that unfortunately, we refuse and even hate!

Yes, it is very difficult because like love, forgiving is the nature of God. In fact, any kind of love is best expressed when it is forgiving. The good news is that we now share in this great love of God in forgiving others like him as we shall see in today’s parable, keeping in mind also that it was the Risen Lord’s commission to his disciples when he appeared to them on that Easter evening (John 20:22-23).

Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, January 2018.

Forgiving like God our Father

The beauty of forgiving is that it is always a grace from God freely given to us. It is doable in Jesus Christ. The problem is when we refuse to let God work in us, when we refuse to level up our relationships to that of brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

There is always that pride in us exhibited by Peter at the start of the gospel today when he asked Jesus how many times he must forgive his brother. Must it be seven times?

Of course, seven being a “perfect number” does not specify a numerical figure of times to forgive except that it gives enough room to let go of a sinner or an offender. However, it still connotes some form of “counting” or taking tabs at how many times must one forgive, implying a limit.

But Jesus pushed it further when he told Peter to forgive “not seven times but seventy-seven times” — that is, twice the perfect number he had cited!

The Lord is telling Peter, and us today, to forget all about keeping tabs, of counting how many times you must forgive because God forgives us without limits which his parable tells us.

The king or master in the parable is God, so wealthy that he could lend sums exceeding the normal level of what one can borrow. Most surprising is like God, the master lent so much amount beyond the debtor’s ability to pay!

That is how rich our God is — so rich in love and mercy, giving us with so much even beyond our ability to pay him back in return. Exactly what we have in the responsorial psalm: “The Lord is kind and merciful; slow to anger and rich in compassion.”

And when that servant prostrated before his master, then the more we see in that religious gesture the deeper meaning of the parable: the rich mercy of God forgiving us for our debts even after we have lost everything like that debtor with nothing enough to pay his loans, not even his wife and children.

See the contrast of the king moved with compassion echoing the same attitude of Jesus so often like in the wilderness where he fed more than 5000 people and that servant so lost with nothing else left but still forgiven.

The parable could have stopped there but Jesus went on to continue what happened next to teach us the deeper truth of forgiving, which is imitating God our Father because we are brothers and sisters in him.

From Google.

When this servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him… but he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger is master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

Matthew 18:28-35

Forgiving from the heart

After hearing the second part of the parable, we all felt like the master, angry and indignant with that merciless servant whose action was very shameless and scandalous. But, more than being like the king who properly judged the conduct of that merciless servant, Jesus is also inviting us to probe deeper into our hearts the realities why we felt like the king in the parable?

How many times have we felt so angry and frustrated during this pandemic period at the many occasions when we heard news of injustices and abuse of powers against the little ones like Mang Dodong or the Marawi verteran shot to death in Quezon City? Of those punished in violating the protocols when its chief implementor got away free after attending a mañanita party?

The list goes on specially in our country where laws favor the abusive rich and powerful, those with connections while ordinary citizens with lesser violations, even without any crimes at all suffer the same fate as the servant with lesser debts.

Photo by author, “patak-dugo”, 2019.

We all feel so angry and very sad because more than the injustices and lack of mercies committed by those in powers, they have forgotten we are brothers and sisters in one God our Father. Parang sila lang ang anak ng Diyos…

We feel like the king in the parable because we felt left out, disregarded, and disrespected despite our kindness and mercy with others.

Forgiving from the heart means to forgive others not because we are fellow servants but most of all as brothers and sisters of a loving and merciful Father who forgives us always from our unpayable debts of sin and evil against each other.

This is the very thing St. Paul is telling us in the second reading, that “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself” (Rom.14:7). Sometimes we need to be in control of our lives but the truth is, when we try to live St. Paul’s message that our lives belong to one another in Christ, the more we become truly free and happy.

It is the same reminder from Ben Sirach in the first reading telling us how we must avoid anger and resentment specially revenge because it is contrary to our faith in God. Most of all, we also know so well that we need the mercy of God in forgiving our countless sins.

The example of St. John Paul II about forgiving like God

I know what I am telling you are easier said than done. And I confess that I also find it so hard to forgive people who have wronged me, specially those I have loved and helped. Allow me to end this reflection with this beautiful bit of history that happened in our lifetime.

We were in high school seminary when Mehmet Agca shot and almost killed St. John Paul II at St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981. We were shocked, so sad for him and very angry with Agca. But, two years later after Christmas in 1983, we were more shocked in disbelief while at the same time in tears with joy when news came out that St. John Paul II came to visit Agca in his cell to forgive him!

It was a major news that landed on TIME magazine the following year with the cover story so relevant with our gospel today:

From Pinterest.

Those who do not forgive are those who are least capable of changing the circumstances of their lives…

Not to forgive is to be imprisoned by the past, by old grievances that do not permit life to proceed with new business.

Not to forgive is to yield oneself to another’s control. If one does not forgive, then one is controlled by the other’s initiatives and is locked into a sequence of act and response, of outrage and revenge, tit for tat, escalating always. The present is endlessly overwhelmed and devoured by the past. Forgiveness frees the forgiver. It extracts the forgiver from someone else’s nightmare. “Unless there is a breach with the evil past,” says Donald Shriver, “all we get is this stuttering repetition of evil.”

Lance Morrow, TIME Magazine, 19 January 1984

As I searched for photos of the assassination attempt on him by Agca, I came across this photo below of their meeting with an accompanying report that made me admire and love St. “JP2” more than ever.

It said that while recuperating in the hospital, St. JP2 learned from the news how people hated Agca, prompting him to ask everyone to “pray for my brother (Agca)… whom I have sincerely forgiven.” That is how holy is this great Pope of our time! Long before visiting Agca in 1983, St. JP2 had already forgiven him, calling him a “brother” despite the evil and sin done to him.

What a great Amen!

Have a blessed and wonderful week ahead, brothers and sisters in Christ!

From https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/pope-john-paul-mehmet-agca-1983/.

Presence and Love of Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXIII, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 06 September 2020
Ezekiel 33:7-9 /// Romans 13:8-10 /// Matthew 18:15-20
Photo by Mr. Gelo N. Carpio, January 2020.

For the next three Sundays beginning today, our liturgy directs our gaze to the nature of the Church as the mystical Body of Jesus Christ. For today we hear from Matthew how we as a church or a community of believers are signs of the presence and love of Jesus Christ.

Recall how two weeks ago at Caesarea Philippi Jesus called Simon as “Peter” (“Rock”) to head his “church”, giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven that whatever he binds on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever he looses on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Mt.16:17-19).

Matthew is the only evangelist so particular in using the term “church” that he devoted chapter 18 of his gospel on its nature, collecting and giving some of the Lord’s teachings about community life to his own group of disciples or early church.

And off he went to start with the most important part of community life:

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you… If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector… Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Matthew 18:15-16, 17, 19-20
Photo by author, dome of the Malolos Cathedral, 2019.

Presence of Jesus in the love and unity of community

In a very short teaching taking a step by step method, Jesus tells us today how our mutual love shall always take precedence above all in our community life as his disciples and sign of presence.

Though we do not find in our gospel this Sunday the word “love”, it is clearly the Lord’s lesson for today: it is mutual love for one another that must guide everyone specially in the delicate matter of fraternal correction when one is going wayward in his/her path of life.

This explains why Jesus spelled out step by step how we correct others primarily because we love, not because we are better than them or that we have such authority or task and duty. Paul beautifully says it in our second reading:

Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8, 10

But of course, we need to clarify that all these lessons of love from the Lord and Paul are based on the love of Jesus Christ who clearly mandated us during his last supper how we must love:

I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

What makes this loving one another a “new commandment” is loving like Jesus Christ, unlike the pagans in ancient times that are still imitated to this day even by many among us who are also Christians. So often we find specially in media how love is portrayed as mere feelings like physical attraction that always leads up to sex, devoid of any sanctity and inner beauty at all.

St. Augustine called it “disordered love” when we become self-centered and selfish, directing our love solely to attaining what pleases us that we use persons and love things like money.

Love is not just a feeling but a decision, a choice we make and affirm every day specially when times are very rough and tough for us like when we are not loved in return.

Most of all, love is when we find somebody else we can love more than ourselves (Thomas Merton). This is the kind of love that Jesus and Paul as well as all the other saints speak of: the self-sacrificing love Christ showed us when he offered himself on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Monastery of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem where the Holy Family hid before fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s order to massacre the Holy Innocents, May 2019.

Love of Jesus builds, not destroys

Applying the law of love to our community is the most severe test of our being disciples of Jesus when we are challenged to be sincere in our love by hating what is evil and holding on to what is good like blessing those who persecute us, foregoing vengeance against those who have wronged us along with other expressions of mutual love in our community that Paul tells us in Romans 12:9-21.

In teaching us mutual love for one another in a step by step manner, it may seem to be a duty that one must follow in the church. It may even sound as contradictory that Jesus seems to be commanding us to strictly follow his law of command because no law can ever impose love.

However, when we try to reflect the ending of his teachings today – “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” – we find Jesus not ordering us to love but asking us our love because he loves us. He comes to us, grants our prayers because he loves us; therefore, when we love, when we gather as his disciples, we become his presence. And that is when our prayers are most effective because Jesus is in our midst!

Jesus and his love always build people and community; without him and his love, all we have is destruction and divisions. Hence, love is the only debt we owe to anyone. Love as a debt and “duty” is never paid back because the more we love, the more we have love, the more we are indebted to Jesus. It is the only debt that is never burdensome; in fact, the opposite happens when we refuse to love – we are burdened, life becomes heavy and so difficult.

This is what Ezekiel is telling us in the first reading: we are a “watchman”, a brother’s keeper of everyone. St. Pope Gregory the Great wrote a beautiful homily on being a watchman:

Note that a man whom the Lord sends forth as a preacher is called a watchman. A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming. Anyone appointed to be a watchman for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight.

Office of Readings, Memorial of St. Pope Gregory the Great, 03 September
Photo by author, sunset inside our parish, 25 August 2020.

In the Church, those designated as watchman of the flock of Jesus is the Bishop or episkopos in Greek that means watcher or overseer. It is the bishop’s duty to always be above others in the loving service of the Church that sometimes out of love for Christ, he has to discipline those going astray as instructed in our gospel today, “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector”, that is, excommunication or suspensions and other measures not meant to punish but to convert and correct the sinner.

Next Sunday, Matthew deepens our lesson on mutual love when he presents us the teachings of Jesus on how often we must forgive our brother or sister who repeatedly sins against us.

See my dear reader, how after presenting to us who is Jesus Christ last month, in how much he loves us and seeks us, these following Sundays we are challenged by the Lord to be like him – loving and merciful – to truly keep our relationship with him.

It is the first Sunday of September, the -ber months that tell us Christmas is around the corner. But, it seems we are still in a long haul in this pandemic. Having a vaccine will not totally eradicate COVID-19 nor guarantee us this won’t happen again in the future because the disease that is truly plaguing us until now is our refusal to love and live as brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us give it a try. Slowly. Jesus is not rushing us. All he is asking us is be open to his words expressed earlier in our responsorial psalm: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Have a heart and have a blessed, lovely week, everyone!

Rebellious people, merciful God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of Sts. Pontian and Hippolytus, Martyrs, 13 August 2020
Ezekiel 12:1-12 >><)))*> |+| >><)))*> |+| >><)))*> Matthew 18:21-19:1
Photo by author, Mt. St. Paul Spirituality Center, La Trinidad, Benguet, 2018.

Praise and glory to you, our merciful Father always waiting for us to come home to you. Thank you for being patient with us who always rebel against you, turning away from you to be on our own.

Sadly, whenever we rebel, it is not you whom we hurt and inflict pain with but those dearest to us like our family and friends who truly love us. We are like the people of Jerusalem who have become callous and indifferent, cold and distant from you, O God, who truly cared for them.

The word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, you live in the midst of a rebellious house; they have eyes to see but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious house.

Ezekiel 12:1-12

So many times, loving Father, we have become like that debtor in Christ’s parable whose debts were written off by his master and yet could not do the same to a fellow debtor who owed him with a lesser amount.

Both that debtor in the gospel and the rebellious house of Israel in the first reading share the same sin and evil attitude of refusing to recognize your goodness and mercy you have given them that we are equally guilty of today.

So many times in our lives, Lord, this same attitude of being rebellious and unmerciful are the main reasons that destroy our many relationships because we have separated ourselves from others.

Teach us through Jesus Christ to always live grateful to your abounding love and kindness, mercy and forgiveness to us, Father, so we may always share these same blessings with others.

Touch our hearts like you have moved the first anti-pope, St. Hippolytus who sought forgiveness from the Pope he had earlier rebelled against, St. Pontian after they were both sent to hard labor on the island of Sardinia during the persecution by Maximus Thrax.

What a beautiful twist of fate that you still brought them together, Lord to share in witnessing to your truth and mercy.

We pray today for those who have rebelled against you, O God, uttering all kinds of blasphemies against your most Holy Name not realizing that the more they rebel against you, the more they have become distant from us the people they are supposed to serve.

Open their eyes and their ears so they may see and hear the sufferings of the people in this time of pandemic. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News, May 2020.