Jesus in our siblings

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

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

Praying for respect and paying respect

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
First Friday in the Fifth Week of Easter, 07 May 2021
Acts 15:22-31   <'(((><  +  ><)))'>   John 15:12-17
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, April 2020 at Infanta, Quezon.

Today, O Lord, you give us some lessons about respect. And so, I pray first for the grace of respecting others and secondly that I learn to pay respect to the highest order of all, to you our Lord and our God!

Jesus said to his disciples:
"You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves, 
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard 
from the Father."
(John 15:14-15)

Thank you dear Jesus in taking us as your friends, as having a special relationship with you that is deeply personal, for bringing us closer to the Father too.

How I love to think in this part of your teaching the word friend: if you remove the letter “r”, what is left is the word “fiend” or enemy. For me, the letter “r” stands for “respect” that literally means in Latin to “look again” or “re specere” (from specere came spectacles, spectacular).

Whenever we look again at the other person, we remember he/she is a brother/sister; failure to look again is when we disrespect, when we refuse to recognize him/her as a brother or a sister or a loved one. And that is when sins occur: infidelity, betrayal of trust and everything.

Teach me to respect always at all times like you, to always look again, and again and again at the other person as a friend, a beloved with honor and dignity, who must be held with respect and esteem because everyone is an image and likeness of God.

If I cannot look at the other person as a friend or a brother or a sister, then, let me see you, dear Jesus, in him/her so I may be respectful like your Apostles in the first reading when they decided “not to place on the gentile converts any burden beyond what is necessary” (Acts 15:25). The apostles looked again and again to finally see your face, O Lord, among the gentiles being your friends and beloved too!

This is the highest respect we can pay to everyone – to see you dear Lord in their face, in their person so that like the Apostles, we may be respectful to God, especially to the working of the Holy Spirit among us.

How lovely were the apostles to recognize and paid their highest respect to you when they declared “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us” (Acts 15:28).

It is the highest respect to see the hand of God in our every endeavor.

And this I ask and pray from you, Jesus, in the same manner that you have told us everything from the Father. Amen.

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, April 2020 at Infanta, Quezon.

Road trip in time of corona, part 1

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 21 January 2021
The Church of Baras, Rizal first built by the Franciscans in 1595; present church was completed in 1686.

It was a road trip that took us three years of planning. Though it just covered a little more than a hundred kilometers east of Metro Manila done in 12 hours, it was a road trip beyond maps and GPS as it turned out into some sort of a personal journey within.

Sometimes in life, the most wonderful trips are those made at the spur of the moment – “biglaan, nagkaayaan lang” – when an Invisible Hand guides us, sometimes purposely allowing us to get lost along the way with many detours leading to so many discoveries.

That exactly happened with this road trip with my kinakapatid Dindo (Fernando Alberto, Jr.) last January 07, 2021. It was his idea that we go on a road trip so we can share more of our many common interests like Steely Dan music, singing like crazy Kid Charlemagne’s, “Is there gas in the car?” that has become like a password in our conversations as well as in our chats.

And so, two weeks ago with a tankful of “gas in the car”, I left my parish in Bulacan at 5AM and headed south to pick up Dindo almost exactly an hour later reaching the Church of Baras via Sumulong Highway in Antipolo a little past 7AM.


"Reeling in the Years":
the charm and beauty of Baras Church

If you are looking for a good, old church near Metro Manila that has remained faithful to its past, then go to this Church of Baras town that has retained its quaint Spanish period Baroque architecture.

Set on top of a hill still surrounded by forests, its simple facade is “so cool” and very comforting at first sight that gives every pilgrim a sense of serenity and silence, so welcoming especially to those tired and confused in life.

What struck me first were the beautiful patches of mosses and fronds growing right on the steps all the way up to the bell tower made of adobe bricks exposed without plasters. I have always been amazed with mosses and fronds because they remind me of how life continues to thrive even in the most difficult and harsh situations while their luminous green color look like natural carpets ready to absorb whatever shocks and weight you may be carrying.

From afar, the Baras church looks like an oasis tucked in a lovely corner not far from the busy highway outside. Everything is green and so refreshing. Just looking at this church from the patio dotted with yellow spots for social distancing during Masses, one may already conclude upon arrival that it was worth the trip.

Even after we have missed its main entrance after the small bridge in the poblacion, our peg remained chillax after being welcomed by its sacristan mayor named Alvin who right away opened the main door for us so we can pray inside. And, voila!

Inside the Baras Church. Its pastors have done a great job in keeping the church intact all these years unlike other old churches that have fallen prey to disrespect of its heritage and roots.

Upon entering, one’s sights are directed upwards to its exposed wooden trusses supporting the roof. It has no ceiling like most old churches in Ilocos, exuding with that sense of freedom and openness as if the heavens were rent apart by God to assure that He listens to every prayer said by anyone who comes to this church.

One thing I appreciate in this church as a priest is the prevalence of that sense of coherence, of wholeness from which the word holiness came from. So unlike many churches these days that have become more like a hodge-podge of so many things and colors that distract you away from God.

Baras church is a rarity where that old maxim in liturgy is still kept so many priests ignore: noble simplicity. Nothing kitschy or baduy like tarpaulins and what-have-you that inhibit silent meditation and contemplation with enough room for God and His saints. And you.

The adobe bricks without plasters give you an impression of a relaxed life, safely and securely ensconced inside to rest in the Lord, literally and figuratively speaking. Nothing artificial, so natural is the feeling inside without the ubiquitous giant ceiling fans and flatscreen TV’s. Touch the walls and you can still feel the whispered prayers of the faithful long dead still reverberating!

Sauntering to the sanctuary to pray while feasting my eyes with the ancient wood carvings at the side walls, it was only then when I realized how blessed is this road trip, so timely to have happened that day, not earlier or even later.


"We find that after years of struggle 
we do not take a trip;
a trip takes us." 
-John Steinbeck

Lo and behold! When Alvin turned on the lights of the retablo, I felt so blessed when I recognized St. Joseph is the Patron of this church, the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus Christ, my personal patron saint since seminary days!

What a tremendous blessing indeed that our first stop in this road trip is a parish dedicated to St. Joseph on the first month of the Year of St. Joseph as declared by Pope Francis last December 8, 2020 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church.

Most of all, it was a time in my life I was feeling so afraid, even scared and bothered almost like St. Joseph after finding out Mary was pregnant with a child not his that he decided to silently divorce her until an angel appeared in his dream, explaining everything. In my case, I have just received my new assignment as chaplain of a university and hospital in our diocese. Aside from that fearful feeling going into a new field of ministry, I was wary of the hospital setting in time of COVID-19.

But there before the altar of the Baras Church as I knelt praying, I felt the very same reassurance of God through St. Joseph, as if telling me, “Nick, do not be afraid to take that new assignment for I shall be with you always.”

After saying our prayers, I told Dindo the significance of our first Church that happened to be dedicated to St. Joseph.

And that’s when we realized how along the way we were sharing about our own beloved fathers now both gone to heaven, of their impact on us while growing up in their old-school brand of discipline and parenting that have molded us into who we are today weathering so many storms in life, never giving up, always fighting, always standing for what we firmly believe as true and good.

While there, I prayed to St. Joseph for all the fathers I know, including those priests who have blessed me and nurtured my vocation, deceased and still living. In a special way, I prayed for all dads silently crying in pain because of their great love for their children; dads never understood by their wife, always deferring for them for the sake of balance and peace at home; and, most especially, for dads who are sick after laboring for so long in raising their family.

At the left side of the nave is displayed prominently the original cross used in the church by the Jesuits who administered the parish from 1616 to 1679. Above that is a wood carving of Santiago de Compostela or St. James the Great, patron of Spain and elder brother of St. John the Beloved, the patron of my parish for nine years and seven months. The parish of Baras was originally dedicated to him. Why they changed it to St. Joseph, nobody could tell us.

But, Dindo and I at that time knew, this stop was meant for us both a father and for our own dads who are still cumpadres on a different trip in heaven. We had our light breakfast prepared by Dindo being a great cook himself who was part of the original Mandarin Hotel officers in Beijing three decades ago.

Join us next week at our next stop in Tanay where we met St. Joseph’s wife, Mary.

And along the way, we proved that rock and roll has always been a way of life since the time of Jesus…

Original cross venerated in the Baras Church with a relic from the true Cross of Jesus found in Jerusalem by St. Helena; above that is a woodcarving of St. James the Great, the first patron saint of Baras.

Email me at <lordmychef@gmail.com>.

Advent is renewing friendship with Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of St. Francis Xavier, Missionary, 03 December 2020
Isaiah 26:1-6 >><}}}*> >><}}}*> >><}}}*> Matthew 7:21, 24-27
Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son while praying in our Parish, November 2019.

Thank you very much, God our loving Father in continuing to keep us, in gathering us together as family, as friends, as a community despite our many sins and failures, most especially in the midst of these trying times.

Like the remnants of Israel thrown into exile in the first reading, you have gathered us in Jesus Christ as our “strong wall and rampart” (Is.26:1), protecting us, blessing us, befriending us.

Let us not make same old mistake again like your chosen people thrown into Babylonian exile who worshipped you only with lips:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven.”

Matthew 7:21

In this Season of Advent, let us rediscover you anew, Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Help us renew our friendship in you by cultivating a prayer life that is consistent because friends always communicate, they always listen and speak to each other.

Sorry, Lord, for ignoring your words for so long, listening more to empty words of media than to your words that are performative or life-changing as Pope emeritus Benedict XVI used to say.

Most of all, friends not only talk and listen — they love each other.

Teach me to be truly wise, dear Jesus, to love more in deeds than in words.

Teach me to have my life founded on you, rooted in your love like St. Francis Xavier whose memorial we celebrate today for having accomplished so much against all odds because of his love for you and for people scattered in the Far East, hungry for your words.

Fill my heart with your love so that like St. Francis Xavier, I may be “stirred to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to me… that I may forget my own desires, my own human affairs and give myself over entirely to God’s will and choice that my heart would cry out: Lord I am here! Send me anywhere you like!” (adapted from a letter by St. Francis Xavier to St. Ignatius).

St. Francis Xavier, pray for us! Amen.

On leaving and living

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 09 November 2020
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 30 October 2020.
I have always believed
life is more on coming
than on leaving 
because 
whenever we leave,
we also come.
But, 
there is something
about leaving 
that makes 
it strongly felt 
than coming:
from the pain of leaving
follows emptiness -
the angst of still living
when someone is missing.
Most painful part of leaving
is when you are the one left behind;
it is the one who leaves
who actually comes
to somewhere else
while the one left
bears the scars
of leaving,
like grappling
with the unseen
presence
of nothing
but memories
gone 
with the one who had left
who might never come again.
But, I think
it is when leaving 
is truly hurting
that it turns into a coming -
an arrival 
of blessing
of opening 
to a new lease on life 
and living when we discover 
somebody anew
filling what's missing within 
not necessarily seen
that together we spin
a new thread in life again.
The other person
gone is never replaced
by a newfound one;
that's the beauty
of every leaving
and coming
when we leave
in order to come
creating a space
for a new one
until it leaves again
to come another one
until finally
we become one in the Only One.

Friendships should depend on nothing like TIME and SPACE. Remove TIME and what we have is NOW; remove SPACE and what we have is HERE. Don’t you think we could meet once or twice between NOW and HERE?

Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970)
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 07 November 2020.

Basta may panlasa at pang-amoy, ayos na!

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-21 ng Agosto 2020
Larawan kuha ni G. Jim Marpa, 2019.
Ngayong panahon ng COVID-19
sumagi sa akin mga turo ng dalawang pari
na napakalapit at mabuti sa akin:
Una ay si Padre Nanding 
malimit sabihin sa akin
"Pinakamasarap makasama
tao na mayroong panlasa";
"iyong iba," aniya, 
"pakanin mo ng buong baka,
hindi pa rin masaya!"
Ikalawang paring butihin
ay si Padre Johann 
madalas ako paalalahanan
"Biyaya ng Diyos ang ganang kumain
dahil ibig sabihin
wala kang sakit na dapat intindihin
di tulad ng ibang hindi makakain."
Nakatutuwang isipin at malayin
kung paanong noong panahon natin
mga mumunting butil ng pagkain
pinahahalagahan upang huwag sayangin;
ngayon naman ating alalahanin
itong ating panlasa at ganang kumain
mga biyayang hindi napapansin;
magdildil ka man ng asin o 
maalat man o maasim ulam na inihain
huwag nang punahin o laitin 
sapagkat iyong nalalasap pa rin
ang pagkain at walang COVID-19!
Sa hapag ng pagkain
mga samahan at ugnayan natin
nabubuo, tumatatag at tumitibay
kaya sa ating buhay
masarap kasabay
sa paglalakbay
mayroong panlasa
at maganang kumain,
basta huwag lang sasairin
at uubusin ang sinaing 
baka iba hindi na makakain
dahil ikaw pala ay sakim!
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
Ito naman ang habilin na galing sa akin:
basta nakaka-amoy ng masarap na lutuin
maski hindi sa iyo ang pagkain
matuwa ka na rin, wala ka pang COVID-19;
gayun din naman, 
iyo nang kalimutan hindi man kagandahan 
 ilong na ngayon ay natatakpan
makaamoy man ng alimuong
makalanghap man ng masansang
at masamang hangin ay mabuti pa rin:
nakakahinga ka ng malalim
wala kang COVID-19!
Larawan kuha ni G. Jim Marpa, 2019.

What a friend we have in Jesus!

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Wednesday, Easter Week VII, 27 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 20:28-38 ><)))*> 000 + 000 <*(((>< John 17:11-19

Jesus praying at the garden of Gethsemane. Photo by author, Church of All Nations beside Gethsemane in the Holy Land, May 2019.

What a true and great friend we have in you, O Lord Jesus Christ! You are not only faithful and loving to us but most of all, so true to us that you pray for us that the Father may always keep up.

Every day we pray to you asking for so many things because you are life yourself.

We pray for our family and friends because we love them, and you surely love them too.

And here you are, dearest Jesus, praying for us to the Father!

Thank you so much for thinking of us always.

Forgive us Jesus for the many times we have turned away from you, when we have refused to love you in others.

Enlighten our minds and our hearts, Lord, about your prayer consecrating us in the truth, the word of the Father, when you are in fact, the Word who became flesh.

Baby Jesus in our Parish last Christmas 2019 on a bed of white roses.

Grant us the grace to be like St. Paul in the first reading who can sincerely proclaim to everyone his fidelity to your words and mission that was attested with the deep love of the presbyters of Ephesus who were deeply saddened when he bid them goodbye.

In this time of COVID-19 when life is so uncertain with so many people dying, may we give some precious moments of prayer and reflection with the life you have gifted us, you always prayed for.

Give us the courage to examine the kind of life we are leading, if we can have the sincerity of St. Paul in boldly declaring how we have lived and toiled among others.

Pray harder for us, dear Jesus that we may be always one with you in the Father and the Holy Spirit through others. Amen.

Aral sa atin ni Kobe Bryant

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-28 ng Enero, 2020

Larawan mula “nappyafro”, 27 Enero 2020
Gaya ng karamihan
ako ma'y nagulantang
nang mabalitaan
biglang pagpanaw ni Kobe Bryant.
Hindi makapaniwala
tumutulo mga luha
pilit inuunawa
malagim na balita. 
Aking binalikan 
kahusayan at kagalingan
nitong si Kobe Bryant
hindi lamang basketball tatak na kanyang iniwan.
Larawan mula sa theplayerstribune.com
Hindi ko maubos maisip noon 
nang siya'y paratangan 
pang-aabuso ng isang babaeng
kawani ng hotel na kanyang tinuluyan.
Sadyang narumihan kanyang pangalan
kaya't sinikap niyang iyon ay lampasan
pumili ng bagong pangalan - Black Mamba -
taguri sa kanyang katauhan. 
Ngunit mga kaguluhan
hindi siya nilayuan
pagkatalo ng kanyang koponan
pati kanyang kasal nalagay sa alangan.
Larawan mula sa we the pvblic.
Ngunit sadyang mahusay lumaro sa buhay itong si Kobe Bryant
kanyang mga salita pinatunayan, pinangatawanan 
na ano mang negatibo, kaguluhan o kahirapan
daan at pagkakataon ng pagbangon.  
Nang siya ay mamatay
makulimlim daw ang panahon
kadiliman muli siyang sinundan
upang bumangon sa piling na ng Panginoon.
Sa kanyang paglisan wala siyang sinabi ano man
at marahil kaya tayo nasaktan at luhaan
kanyang mga aral ay ginintuang katotohanan
tagos sa ating puso at kalooban.
Larawan mula sa The New Yorker
Pamilya at mga kaibigan
pahalagahan at mahalin ng lubusan
sapagkat itong buhay walang nakaaalam
kung hanggang kailan.
Gayun din naman
sa buong buhay ni Kobe Bryant
malinaw niyang sinabuhay
itong katotohanan:
Sa buhay palaging mayroong kadiliman
ngunit nasa ating mga kamay pagpapasya 
kung mananatili sa kapanglawan o 
tatahakin landas ng kaliwanagan!

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.

“Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories” are recipes for troubled hearts and lonely souls

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 20 November 2019

A chef is basically a person who loves people. And that is why for any chef, cooking is both a passion and an art. His menu are not only meant to feed the body but most especially enrich the heart and soul of every diner.

Welcome to Netflix original series “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories”!

Each episode is exactly like every recipe the main character called “Master” dishes out to his patrons and customers who come from all walks of life with their unique burdens and story to share and eventually, resolve after tasting his fresh and easy to cook meals.

Midnight Diner is as Japanese as the ramen and sake the Master serves his guests. Everything is in Nihongo with English subtitles that demand one’s total attention to understand the conversations briefly interspersed with first person accounts by the Master.

At the opening, the Master gives us the warm and nice ambience of the series set at midnight until seven in the morning for people who do not wish to go home straight after their office hours.

It turns out that they are not only looking for good food but for warm company as well which the Master ably provides with his total attention and communion.

Very interesting to note that the Master is a celibate, reason why he can devote himself wholly to his diners, listening to their joys and sorrows, victories and defeats. So far, from what I have seen in its two seasons, he has no love interests although it won’t be surprising if in the third season he turns out to be a character from one of Murakami’s novels or short stories.

Though he is a fictional character, he is rightly called “Master” for his commanding presence that is not intimidating but so warm and gentle, so unlike the celebrity chefs we see on TV.

The Master can cook anything, including fancy corndogs and pancakes that are very American. He always has a “menu of the day” as title of each episode.

Should anyone ask for any kind of dish, he willingly prepares it subject to availability of ingredients that turns out he always has or sometimes, like a true chef, finds other alternatives just to fulfill a customer’s cravings. In one episode, a patron comes nightly with his own three pieces of bread so the Master can make him “yakisoba sandwiches” — exactly how we Filipinos eat pancit with another carbohydrate!

What makes the series so good is that the Master is more than a chef — he is the Tokyo counterpart of Paris’ Cafe Anglais famed lady chef “Babette” of the 1987 Danish film “Babette’s Feast” and James Taylor’s 1977 hit single “Handy Man” rolled into one.

More than the food he passionately serves, the Master delights and comforts every troubled heart and lonely soul longing for love and relationships, forgiveness and kindness they finally find in his Midnight Diner.

Most of all, neither the Master nor his food is the main focus of each episode but the story of every customer who comes to his diner at the most unholiest hours – between 12 midnight and seven in the morning – searching for food for their souls!

Mainstays of the Midnight Diner.

Helping the Master in processing every customer are his interesting mix of characters of regular patrons: LGBTQ members, career ladies mostly single, retirees, professional gamblers and of course, Yakuza gang members.

They are the Master’s “secret spices” who bring out all the flavors and aroma of every customer’s life story like a widowed lawyer searching for his lost step brother to a nightclub stripper sought and saved from miserable life by her high school teacher suffering the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes they act like the Master’s garnishings, adding taste and beauty with some sprinklings of life lessons to lost customers.

Though most stories are understandably peculiar to Japanese culture, they all touch a common chord within us for our basic need of acceptance which the Master warmly provides like his steaming hot dishes.

Unlike most TV series, Midnight Diner’s pacing is so fast and without any pretensions that prevent it from becoming dragging and boring. In less than 30 minutes, each episode is deftly resolved just as magically how the Master came out with a superb meal from his limited resources and tiny kitchen.

But the best attraction of the show is how the viewer eventually finds one’s self warmly welcomed into the diner, laughing or crying, sympathizing or objecting to whatever situation is presented by every guest.

It is a very lovely series that transcends language barriers and cultures because it nourishes and warms our soul that never rest nowadays due to the demands of modern living. Somehow, inside the little Midnight Diner, there is always a space welcoming everyone including us viewers to unwind and be fulfilled with good food, nice people, and meaningful conversations.

Hoping for the next season soon.

Irasshaimase!