Holiness is in the Cross

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Good Friday, 15 April 2022
Isaiah 52:13-53:12  +  Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9  +  John 18: 1-19:42
Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, ICS Chapel, 2016; sculpture by National Artist Ed Castrillo.

Perhaps, today we can truly feel the meaning and gravity of our favorite expression when somebody looks so sad and gloomy, when somebody seems to have been totally lost: “Biyernes Santong Biyernes Santo”.

That is Good Friday for us – so negative in the sense it is so sad and gloomy, so painful and too difficult but, good. 

Good Friday is so negative for us because it means death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Nothing would be more sad than that.

But thanks to this COVID-19 pandemic we have been living inversely or “baligtad” as we say. We would always pray at every swab test for the virus that we be “negative”.

Never has been thinking negative has become so positive, so good, in fact!

And it all began more than 2000 years ago at the calvary when Jesus offered himself for us on the cross.

That is why Good Friday is called “Good”: the cross of Jesus Christ is a sign not of death but of the good news, of the gospel of life, hope, and eternal life.

The cross of Jesus Christ is not a negative sign (-) but a positive sign, a plus sign (+).

We celebrate in the most solemn and unique way because the cross is no longer a sign of condemnation but honor. Before, it was a symbol of death but now a means of salvation. The cross of Christ has been the source of countless blessings for us, illuminating our path with light when our lives are so dark with sins and mistakes, sickness and disappointments. Most of all, the cross of Christ has brought us closer to God again and with one another despite our sins and past, promising us a bright a joyful Easter.

Yes, for some the cross of Christ is so negative: why display the body of the Lord everywhere in our churches and homes, bloodied and defeated, lifeless and dead?

See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted…for those who have not been told shall see, those who have not heard shall ponder it.

Isaiah 52:13-15

Many times in life, and we have proven this, God uses many of our “negative” experiences to lead us to more positive outcome and results.

Yes, we may be Biyernes Santong Biyernes Santo in sadness and fear, even anxieties.

But, we continue to pray and forge on with life’s trials and difficulties because we see the cross of Jesus Christ leading us to light and life, joy and celebration of his Resurrection at Easter.

In the Cross is found holiness. It is on the Cross of Christ when we are filled with God when like Jesus we are able to give up ourselves, when we are finished (Jn. 19:30) for God to start his life and work again.

I have not prepared any specific prayer this Good Friday. Just be silent and if you have a cross or crucifix with you now, let us all kneel and thank God in giving us Jesus Christ who brought out so many positive things in our lives out of the many negative experiences we have had lately in life.  Amen.

Photo by author, 2019.

Images of COVID-19, Images of Hope, Part 2

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 09 April 2021
Photo by author after celebrating “private Mass” first day of lockdown last year, 18 March 2020.

The reality – and gravity – of the lockdown hit me most that Wednesday morning when I celebrated Mass alone. Without the usual faces and voices of our regular Mass goers who greeted me daily upon opening our church door since I came to my former parish in 2011, I just felt something so unique.

And special.

It was as if Jesus was making some “lambing” (tender moments) with me as his priest.

For so long, I have been celebrating Mass on weekdays with at least five people present that there were times it had become mechanical like a routine, sometimes even like a “show” that it has to be good so that I look good, sound good, and everybody feels good.

But on that first day of the lockdown, as I prepared everything from removing the altar cover to bringing out the books and sacred vessels to celebrating “alone” with some birds keeping me company, I somehow felt Jesus most truly present.

Just him and me, at his altar, in his church.

Photo by author, two birds after my private Mass during the lockdown last year.

That was how I realized deep within me the beauty and sanctity of the Holy Mass not in the external things we see and hear but most of all in my intimacy and union with Jesus Christ as his priest.

With or without the congregation, every Holy Mass is the summit of the priest’s life and very existence because that is where his union in Jesus Christ our Eternal Priest is most true.

The way the priest celebrates the Mass – his disposition, his attitude, the way he looks and keep things in order – all indicate his oneness with Jesus Christ. Liturgy flows from the heart of the priest and from that springs our social action and involvement.

How sad when some priests has made the lockdown an excuse not to celebrate the Mass at all.

In depriving himself of the essential union with the Lord and Master, in effect he has deprived his flock the much needed strength from the Good Shepherd.

Even without the pictures and videos of the priest celebrating the Mass sine populo (without the people), that is the most wonderful and most treasured image of COVID-19 only God sees because it is the most sublime image of his Son Jesus Christ present amid this pandemic.

Every word in the Lectionary and the Sacramentary, every moment of that private Mass during the lockdown was like a “cosmic experience” where the eternal and the temporal converge as if time stands still, with these words echoing in the silence of the universe within me:

"...you never cease  to gather a people to yourself,
so that from the rising of the sun to its setting 
a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name."
(Eucharistic Prayer III)

Images of COVID-19,
Images of Hope,
Images of Christ

Two Sundays after the lockdown last year came the Holy Week ushered in by Palm Sunday when we went around the parish blessing the palms and fronds of people who have gathered on the streets after our announcement in Facebook and online Mass.

Skies were overcast that morning that we decided to visit first the other end of our parish, Purok Gulod, where we experienced rains and saw the beautiful rainbow the other Sunday.

Nobody saw the lockdown coming. Most of the people did not have the ready-made palms and instead had branches of leaves and fronds available in their surroundings which we blessed while on board our borrowed Ford F-150 after the Mass that morning attended by a few parish volunteers.

But the most touching images of COVID-19 that Holy Week last year happened on the Good Friday procession of the Santo Entierro we have mounted on a truck, brought around the parish after the Veneration of the Cross at 3PM.

From images of COVID-19 as images of hope, the sights have transformed into images of Christ suffering and dead among the people who knelt and prayed while others cried on the streets during procession.

Since it was a Good Friday when there was no holy water, I brought the crucifix with which to bless the people not only on the streets but also those in their vehicles passing by during the procession.

It was very edifying.

How I felt Jesus described in the gospel while going around preaching the good news to all towns and villages:

At the sight of the crowds,
his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.
(Matthew 9:36)
Passing through Purok Gulod where people lighted candles too.
With Kuya Ver sounding the matraca to alert the people…
With Kuya Leonardo the caretaker of the Santo Entierro. Since I came there in 2011, he always brought along the children from their Purok Gitna to pray the Rosary aloud. After each mystery, we would sing some religious songs with “Kristo” as their favorite, singing in unison, “Kristo, Kristo bakit minsan ka lang nakikilala…”

I can still remember my short homily during that Good Friday’s Veneration of the Cross: I told the people that while we were so sad with what was happening due to the pandemic, Jesus was surely more sad with what was going on in the world, in our parish community.

It was a very meaningful Good Friday after all when as the sun set, God reassured me anew and I think everybody else in our parish that we were not alone. We have him as company, consoling us in this time of the pandemic with the beautiful sights of everyone out in the streets praying.

Yes, they are images of COVID-19 but also images of hope.

Most of all, images of Christ among us, suffering and dying first among us in our community during the pandemic.

Join us again on Monday with more images of COVID-19 as images of hope and images of Christ risen among us!

Have a blessed weekend, everyone!

*Photos by Ms. Ria de Vera and Ms. Anne Ramos.

Good Friday: When “negative” is “positive”

The Lord Is My Chef Good Friday Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 02 April 2021
Isaiah 52:13-53:12  +  Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9  +  John 18:1-19:42
Photo by Marc Angelo Nicolas, January 2020.
"Biyernes Santong Biyernes Santo."
(A popular expression among us Filipinos.)

Perhaps, today we can truly feel the meaning and gravity of our favorite expression when somebody looks so sad and gloomy, when somebody seems to have been totally lost: “Biyernes Santong Biyernes Santo”.

That is how we are today – stuck in our homes, others in hospitals while others almost about to give up as this new wave of COVID-19 gets stronger with about 15000 infections today!

As I have been saying since Palm Sunday, this could be our holiest Holy Week in our lives in this most unholy time of our history when we are given the opportunity to be holy, to be good and kind, to be forgiving and caring with others. Side by side every post in Facebook we find prayer requests for sick family and friends, help for those trying to find a hospital that would admit their sick, or buy much needed medicines and equipment like oxygen.

For the second straight year, churches are empty and everyone is home due to COVID-19 pandemic. Perfect example of “Biyernes Santong Biyernes Santo”… so bad… so negative.

That is often how we think of Good Friday – so negative in the sense it is so sad and gloomy, so painful and too difficult.

Ultimately, Good Friday is so negative for us because it means death. Even of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Nothing would be more sad than that.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2015.

Lately due to this COVID-19 pandemic we have been living inversely or “baligtad” as we say.

We would always pray at every swab test for the virus that we be “negative”.

Never has been thinking negative has become so positive, so good, in fact!

And it all began more than 2000 years ago at the calvary when Jesus offered himself for us on the cross.

That is why Good Friday is called “Good”: the cross of Jesus Christ is a sign not of death but of the good news or gospel of life, hope, and eternal life. The cross of Jesus Christ is not a negative sign (-) but a positive sign, a plus sign (+).

We celebrate in the most solemn and unique way because the cross is no longer a sign of condemnation but honor. Before, it was a symbol of death but now a means of salvation. The cross of Christ has been the source of countless blessings for us, illuminating our path with light when our lives are so dark with sins and mistakes, sickness and disappointments. Most of all, the cross of Christ has brought us closer to God again and with one another despite our sins and past, promising us a bright a joyful Easter.

Yes, for some the cross of Christ is so negative: why display the body of the Lord everywhere in our churches and homes, bloodied and defeated, lifeless and dead?

See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted. Even as many were amazed at him – so marred was his look beyond human semblance and his appearance beyond that of the sons of man – so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless; for those who have not been told shall see, those who have not heard shall ponder it.

Isaiah 52:13-15

Many times in life, and we have proven this, God uses of many of “negative” experiences lead us to more positive outcome and results.

Yes, we may be Biyernes Santong Biyernes Santo in sadness and fear, even anxieties.

But, we continue to pray and forge on with life’s trials and difficulties because we see the cross of Jesus Christ leading us to the light and life, joy and celebration of his Resurrection at Easter.

A very good Good Friday to you. Amen.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2015.

Lugaw sa Biyernes Santo

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Biyernes Santo, Ika-02 ng Abril 2021
Larawan mula sa wikipediacommons.org ng “Ecce Homo” ni El Greco.
Kung mayroon mang higit na malungkot
ngayong Biyernes Santo
habang tayo ay muling binalot
saka pinalaot sa gitna ng bulok
at kawalang sistema sa pandemya
noon pa, iyan ay tiyak walang dili iba
kungdi si Hesus na ating Panginoon
at Manunubos; marahil hindi Niya maubos
isipin sa gitna ng masasamang nangyayari sa atin
mas binibigyang pansin ng maraming hangal
sa ating pamahalaan mga bagay-bagay
kay daling isipin habang mga paksa 
nagiging usapin dahil sa pagsisinungaling!
Ngayong Biyernes Santo
araw ng pag-aayuno 
upang ating mapagtanto
Panginoong Hesus ay naririto
sa ating pagtitiis ng kagutuman
nalilinis ang puso at kalooban 
nawawalan ng laman
upang tayo ay mapunan 
ng Diyos ng kanyang kabanalan;
kay laking kahibangan
lalo ng mga nasa kapangyarihan
kalimutan at talikuran tuluyan
mga payak at aba, lugaw ang kumakatawan!
Pinakamalungkot pa rin 
ngayong Biyernes Santo
ang Panginoong Hesu-Kristo
dahil katulad niya noon
patuloy pangungutya sa kapwa
lahat hinahamak at minamaliit
gayong kanilang mga isipan 
ang walang laman, sadyang
mapupurol at makikitid
na hindi nababatid 
ang tao na higit na dakila
hindi masalita, nakikilala sa
busilak ng kanilang puso at diwa.
Huwag nating kalimutan
bago sumapit ang Biyernes Santo
noong gabing ipagkanulo si Kristo
pinili niyang walang hanggang tanda
ng kanyang kapanatilihan sa atin
tinapay na walang lebadura
na alalaong-baga sa atin dito sa Asya
kapantay ay lugaw na siyang inihahain
sa mga panahong alanganin
ito ang kinakain upang maging sapin
sa tiyan na dumaraing sa maraming hinaing
di lamang sa gutom kungdi pati
kawalan ng mga pumapansin.
Alalahanin tuwing ikaw ay kumakain
nitong paborito nating pagkain
lugaw marahil ang hihilingin
ni Hesus na Panginoong natin;
napakadaling pakisamahan
lasap kanyang linamnam
hindi maselang lutuin
walang ulam na aalalahanin
ano man maaring isahog at i-pares
sarap at ginhawang walang kaparis
kaya nakakainis mga nagmamalinis
sana'y umalis na
dahil sila ang mga panis!
Salamat sa mga taong simple at payak, maasahan kailanman tulad ng lugaw: mahalaga at mainam sa katawan!

Good Fridays on Sundays

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 11 October 2020
Photo by Ms. Anne Ramos, Good Friday “motororized procession” of Santo
Entierro in our Parish during COVID-19, 10 April 2020.
Lately I have noticed
since month of August
when we have a spike of the virus
I have felt heavy and serious
as Sundays have become 
more like a Good Friday
with the streets and church seats
both empty;  nobody seems to be happy
or Sundays have become more lazy?
How I miss the people I always see
wondering if they are safe and healthy
or maybe so wary just like me.
Sometimes I still feel
how everything is surreal
will I make it to next year
enjoying life without fear?
I have been wondering
if the Lord is still hanging
or have they crucified him again?
Life in the midst of COVID-19
has become more challenging
listening to silence so deafening
when God does not seem to be caring;
but, deep within
there is that calming
during Good Friday
that Easter Sunday
 is surely coming:
keep on believing, keep on praying
if Sundays look like a Good Friday
this may only mean one thing, that
Jesus is with us suffering COVID-19!

Nasaan ka nang ipako sa krus ng corona virus si Hesus?

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Biyernes Santo, Ika-10 ng Abril 2020

Larawan kuha ng may akda, Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Bagbaguin, Santa Maria, Bulacan, ika-02 ng Abril 2020.
Katulad ng Huwebes Santo
ito na ang pinakamalungkot
at hindi malilimutang
Biyernes Santo dahil binago
ng corona virus ang kalbaryo ng krus
ni Kristo Hesus.
Dama sa buong kapaligiran
pighati at sakit na pinagdaanan
noon sa nakaraan:  mapanglaw ang kalangitan
sarado pa rin mga simbahan
pagdiriwang mapapanood lamang
dahil sa umiiral na lockdown. 
Kaya ang katanungang tiyak
na pag-uusapan sa kinabukasan
nasaan ka nang mangyari ang lockdown
nang manalasa itong COVID-19
na kumitil sa libu-libong buhay
nagpasakit sa buong sangkatauhan? 
Larawan kuha ni G. Ryan Cajanding, 09 Abril 2020.
Nasaan ka nang ipako sa krus si Hesus
nitong corona virus nagpasakit sa mga maliliit?
Ikaw ba yaong nakipagsiksikan, nag-panic buying
lahat ng pagkain inangkin
hinakot mga alcohol at face masks
dahil takot magutom at madapuan ng sakit?
Nasaan ka nang ipako sa krus si Hesus
nitong corona virus na habang lahat ay aligaga
sa pag-iisip ng mga paraan maibsan kahirapan
ikaw naman ang siyang pinapasan 
sa iyong walang katapusang pamumuna
at reklamo, ibig mo ikaw ang inaamo at inaalo?
Nasaan ka nang ipako sa krus si Hesus
nitong corona virus kaya naglockdown
upang maiwasan paglaganap ng sakit?
Nasa chismisan at daldalan
inuman at sugalan tulad ng mga kawal
damit ni Hesus pinagsapalaran?
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, Kuwaresma sa Parokya noong 2019.
Kay ganda at butihing larawan
sa panahon nitong Covid-19
ang dalawang alagad na pinili manatili
sa paanan ng krus ni Kristo Hesus:
si Maria kanyang ina unang nanalig sa kanya
at si Juan Ebanghelista na tunay na nagmahal sa kanya.
Silang dalawa ang kailangan ng panahon ngayon
upang samahan si Hesus sa bagong kalbaryo  
ng pandemiya ng corona virus
tulad ng mga duktor at nurse
lahat ng nasa larangan ng kalusugan
at medisina upang lunasan sakit at karamdaman.
Hindi naman kailangan gumawa malalaking hakbang
mga munting kabutihan na maaring magpagaan
sa labis na kahirapang pinagdaraanan
sapat na at makahulugan pamamaraan
upang samahan sa paanan ng krus si Hesus
na siyang nasa bawat isa nating pinaglilingkuran.

When darkness becomes light

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe, Holy Wednesday, 08 April 2020

Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

Tonight is “Spy Wednesday” – the night traitors and betrayers are put on the spotlight because it was on this night after Palm Sunday when Judas Iscariot struck a deal with the chief priests to hand them over Jesus for 30 pieces of silver (Mt. 26:14-16).

The “Tenebrae” is celebrated in some churches when candles are gradually extinguished with the beating of drums and sounding of matraca to evoke silence and some fear among people as they leave in total darkness to signal the temporary victory of evil in the world for tomorrow we enter the Paschal Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil of the Lord.

From Google.

Darkness generally evokes evil and sin, uncertainties and sufferings. But, at the same time, darkness preludes light!

That is why Jesus Christ was born during the darkest night of the year to bring us light of salvation.

Beginning tonight, especially tomorrow at his agony in the garden, we shall see Christ entering through darkness reaching its climax on Friday when he dies on the cross with the whole earth covered in darkness, rising on Easter in all his glory and majesty.

Our present situation in an extended Luzon-wide lockdown offers us this unique experience of darkness within and without where we can learn some important lessons from the Lord’s dark hours beginning tomorrow evening of his Last Supper.

St. John gives us a glimpse into how we must deal with life’s darkness that plagues us almost daily with his unique story of the Lord’s washing of his disciples’ feet on the night he was betrayed.

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over. So, during supper… he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter…

John 13:1-2, 4-6
Photo from aleteia.org.

It is very interesting to reflect how Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter dealt with their own inner darkness on that night of Holy Thursday when Jesus was arrested.

Though Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter are poles apart in their personalities, they both give us some traits that are so characteristic also of our very selves when we are in darkness. In the end, we shall see how Jesus turned the darkness of Holy Thursday into becoming the very light of Easter.

Getting lost in darkness like Judas Iscariot

Right after explaining the meaning of his washing of their feet and exhorting them to do the same to one another, Jesus begins to speak of Judas Iscariot as his betrayer.

When he had said this, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me …It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I had dipped it.” So he dipped the morsel and handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. After he took the morsel, Satan entered him… and left at once. And it was night.

John 13:21, 26-27, 30
Photo from desiringgod.org

The scene is very dramatic.

Imagine the darkness outside the streets of Jerusalem in the stillness of the night and the darkness inside the Upper Room where they were staying.

More darker than that was the darkness among the Apostles not understanding what Jesus was saying about his betrayer because they thought when Judas left, he was being told to buy more wine or give money to the poor!

Most of all, imagine the darkness within Judas.

To betray means to hand over to suffering someone dear to you.

That’s one darkness we always have within, of betraying Jesus, betraying our loved ones because we have found somebody else to love more than them. Satan had taken over Judas. The same thing happens to us when we sin, when we love someone more than those who truly love us or those we have vowed to love always.

And the darkest darkness of all is after handing over our loved ones, after dumping them for something or somebody else, we realize deep within the beautiful light of truth and love imprinted in our hearts by our betrayed loved ones – then doubt it too!

The flickering light of truth and love within is short lived that we immediately extinguish it, plunging us into total darkness of destruction like Judas when he hanged himself.

See how Judas went back to the chief priests because “he had sinned”, giving them back the 30 pieces of silver to regain Jesus.

Here we find the glow of Jesus, of his teachings and friendship within Judas still etched in his heart — the light of truth and love flickering within.

Any person along with their kindness and goodness like Jesus, our family and true friends can never be removed from one’s heart and person. They will always be there, sometimes spurting out in our unguarded moments because they are very true.

That is the darkest darkness of Judas – and of some of us – who think we can never be forgiven by God, that we are doomed, that there is no more hope and any chance at all.

See how the evangelist said it: “Judas left at once. And it was night.”

And that is getting lost in darkness permanently, eaten up by darkness within us because we refuse to believe in the reality of a loving and forgiving God who had come to plunge into the darkness of death to be one with us so we can be one in him. What a loss.

Groping in the dark into the light like Peter

Photo by author, Church of Gallicantu, Jerusalem where the cock crowed after Peter denied Jesus the third time, May 2017.

Of the Twelve, it is perhaps with Simon Peter we always find ourselves identified with: the eager beaver, almost a “bolero” type who is so good in speaking but many times cannot walk his talk.

“Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”

John 13:6-8

Here is Peter so typical of us: always assuming of knowing what is right, which is best, as if we have a monopoly of the light when in fact we are in darkness.

See how during the trial of Jesus before the priests, Peter denied him thrice, declaring he never knew Jesus while outside in the dark, completely in contrast with Jesus brilliantly answering every question and false accusation against him inside among his accusers!

Many times in our lives, it is so easy for us to speak on everything when we are in our comfort zones, safe and secured in our lives and career. But when left or thrown out into the harsh realities of life, we grope in the darkness of ignorance and incompetence, trials and difficulties.

How often we are like Peter refusing Jesus to wash our feet because we could not accept the Lord being so humble to do that simply because he is the Lord and Master who must never bow low before anyone.

And that is one darkness we refuse to let go now shaken and shattered by the pandemic lockdown! The people we used to look down upon are mostly now in the frontlines providing us with all the comforts we enjoy in this crisis like electricity, internet, security, food, and other basic services.

Bronze statue of the call of Peter by Jesus. Photo by author, May 2017.

We have always thought of the world, of peoples in hierarchy, in certain status where there are clear delineations and levels of importance, totally forgetting the lessons of Jesus of being like a child, of service and humility: “whoever wants to be great must be the least and servant of all.”

According to Matthew and Luke, Peter realized his sins – the darkness within him – of denying Jesus thrice after the cock crowed that he left the scene weeping bitterly, feeling so sorry. Eventually after Easter, Peter would meet Jesus again on the shores of the Lake of Tiberias, asking him thrice, “do you love me?”

Peter realized how dark his world has always been but in that instance when he declared his love that is so limited and weak did he finally see the light of Christ in his love and mercy!

Unlike Judas, Peter moved out of darkness and finally saw the light in the Risen Lord right in the very place where everything started when he was called to be a fisher of men, in his humanity as he was called by his original name, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?”.

Human love is always imperfect and Jesus knows this perfectly well!

The best way to step out of darkness within us is to be like Simon — simply be your imperfect self, accepting one’s sins and weakness for that is when we can truly love Jesus who is the only one who can love us perfectly.

Overcoming darkness in, Jesus, with Jesus, through Jesus

Though the fourth gospel and the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke differ in providing us with the transition from the Upper Room of the Last Supper into the agony in the garden, the four evangelists provide us with one clear message at how Jesus faced darkness: with prayer, of being one in the Father.

Even on the cross of widespread darkness, Jesus spoke only to pray to the Father.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress.

Matthew 26:36-37
Photo by author, altar of the Church of All Nations beside the Garden of Gethsemane, May 2017. The church is always dimly lit to keep the sense of darkness during the Agony in the Garden of Jesus.

Before, darkness for man was seen more as a curse falling under the realm of evil and sin; but, with the coming of Jesus, darkness became a blessing, a prelude to the coming of light.

We have mentioned at the start of our reflection that Jesus was born during the darkest night of the year to show us he that is the light of the world, who had come to enlighten us in this widespread darkness, within us and outside us.

As the light of the world, Jesus was no stranger to darkness which he conquered and tamed in many instances like when they were caught in a storm at sea and in fact, when walked on water to join his disciples caught in another storm.

But most of all, Jesus had befriended darkness and made it a prelude to light.

How? By always praying during darkness. By prayer, it is more than reciting some prayers common during his time as a Jew but as a form of submission to the will of the Father. Jesus befriended darkness by setting aside, forgetting his very self to let the Father’s will be done.

Bass relief of agony in the garden on the wall of the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane. Photo by author, May 2019.

This he showed so well in two instances, first on Mount Tabor where he transfigured and second in Gethsemane before his arrest.

In both events, Jesus showed us the path to overcoming darkness is always through prayers, of being one in the Father.

It is in darkness when God is most closest to us because it is then when we get a glimpse of himself, of his love and mercy, of his own sufferings and pains, and of his glory.

This is something the three privileged disciples – Simon Peter, James and his brother John – did not realize while being with Jesus at both instances until after Easter. We are those three who always fall asleep, who could not keep with praying in Jesus, with Jesus, and through Jesus.

It was in the darkness of the night when Jesus spent most of his prayer periods, communing with the Father up in a mountain or a deserted place.

On Mount Tabor, Jesus showed his coming glory while in Gethsemane he showed his coming suffering and death. But whether in Gethsemane or on Mount Tabor, it is always Jesus we meet inviting us to share in his oneness with the Father, in his power in the Holy Spirit to overcome every darkness in life.

And the good news is he had already won for us!

Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News of Mt. Samat with the Memorial Cross across the Manila Bay following clear skies resulting from the lockdown imposed since March 17, 2020.

In these extended darker days of quarantine period, let us come to the Lord closer in prayer to. experience more of his Passion and Death, more of his darkness so we may see his coming glory when everything is finally cleared in this corona pandemic.

Prayer does not necessarily change things but primarily changes the person first. And that is when prayer changes everything when we become like Jesus in praying.

Jesus is asking us to leave everything behind, to forget one’s self anew to rediscover him in this darkness when we get out of our comfort zones to see the many sufferings he continues to endure with our brothers and sisters with lesser things in this life, with those in total darkness, with those groping in the dark.

Now more than ever, we have realized the beauty of poverty and simplicity, of persons than things.

And most especially of darkness itself becoming light for us in this tunnel.

May Jesus enlighten us and vanish all darkness in us so that soon, we shall celebrate together the joy of his coming again in this world darkened by sin. Amen.

A blessed and prayerful Paschal Triduum to you.

Hosanna in the time of corona

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe for the Solemnity of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, 05 April 2020

Isaiah 50:4-7 >>+<< Philippians 2:6-11 >>+<< Matthew 26:14-27:66

Photo by author, altar of Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan, Palm Sunday 2020.

“Hosanna!” is the song of the day and despite the ongoing lockdown now entering its penultimate week, we have every reason to praise God this Solemnity of Palm Sunday in the Lord’s Passion.

Let us continue to sing “hosanna” even if our churches are closed due to threats of COVID-19 because even with all the difficulties arising from this enhanced community quarantine, it also gives us much needed time and space to reflect on the meaning of our Holy Week celebrations.

Let us make this Holy Week holy indeed so we may discover God anew in our sacred celebrations and right in our very hearts in this time of the corona pandemic.

The “ascent” to Jerusalem

Photo by author, ancient city of Jerusalem from the Church of Dominus Flevit (The Lord Wept) where Jesus came from towards the holy city via the eastern gate as prophesied in the Old Testament, May 2019.

Geographically speaking, to go to Jerusalem is to go up, to ascend to higher level as it rises to 754 meters above sea level (2,474 feet) compared with Galilee from where Jesus spent his three years of ministry which is just 209 meters (686 feet) above sea level.

Jesus Christ’s “trip to Jerusalem” was both literally and figuratively speaking an “ascent” in all aspects: he went up to Jerusalem to offer himself on the Cross to replace temple worship so people can finally worship in “truth and spirit” as he had told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well three Sundays ago.

More than the outward sign of ascending Jerusalem is the inner sign of Christ’s ascent in his outpouring of love for the Father and us.

That is the beautiful imagery of his triumphant entrance to Jerusalem which will reach its climax on Good Friday capped by the glorious Easter.

Every day, Jesus invites us to welcome him and most of all to join him in his ascent to Jerusalem, to the Father by forgetting one’s self, taking our crosses, and following the Lord in giving of self in love.

Now is the perfect time to sing “hosanna” – to welcome and follow Jesus in our inner ascent when everything and everyone is “down” due to COVID-19. The only way to rise again from this misery of the corona pandemic is to ascent in Jesus, with Jesus, and through Jesus.

For so long, we have been following the upward path of “social mobility” measured in income and material things without considering the emotional and spiritual imbalances that result in these worldly pursuits. In our rat race for higher productivity, more money and less costs, we have become distant from persons especially family. Now, we have to practice social distance not only to stop spread of virus but most of all, to realize anew that above all is always the human person.

And the best route to encounter each person is in Jesus Christ who leads us from Jerusalem to the Cross and into Easter; hence, the liturgies this Holy Week are the oldest and simplest we have in the Church so that we can truly sing “hosanna” and focus only to Jesus ever present to us.

Death and Love

Photo by author, parish altar, Lent 2019.

Now playing at Netflix is the fourth part of its hit series “Money Heist”. I had the chance to watch its first episode that opened with a scene of the professor escaping police in the forest with a narration by “Tokyo” trying to control the situation in the bank they have taken over. She said, “His (the professor) heart held two words that should not be together: love and death.”

Perfect sound bite for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – “two words that should not be together: love and death” when in fact, its opposite is the exact reality! For love to be very true, it must be willing to suffer and die as the Lord Jesus Christ had shown us more than 2000 years ago.

Love and death are always together! That is why we have a Holy Week leading to Easter!

It is a basic reality we have always tried to negate and escape that have only left us more empty and lost within. The undeniable sign of love is when we are able to love somebody more than our very self – and that includes willing to die for the beloved!

We can never ascend, never arise for as long as we have too much of self, like the characters opposite our Lord Jesus Christ this Holy Week.

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests, and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

Matthew 26:14-16

Selflessness and silence of Jesus, Selfishness of man

Palm Sunday in our parish 2020.

One distinct characteristic of Jesus throughout his life that is most especially clear from Palm Sunday to Good Friday is his selflessness and silence in the face of too much pressure and suffering.

Rather than being a sign of weakness, it is Jesus Christ’s shining moment of mastery and control as we have noted last Sunday when he cried in meeting Martha and Mary at the tomb of Lazarus who had been dead for four days.

This becomes more evident starting this Sunday reaching its highest point on Good Friday to be capped by his glorious Resurrection on Easter.

See how during his entrance and ascent into Jerusalem, Jesus was silent. Because he knew what was going to happen! He was even looking forward into it.

His entrance into Jerusalem to assert his being the Christ by offering himself on the Cross is the culmination of what St. Luke had noted in his account early on at Caesarea Philippi that “when the days of his going up to heaven was nearing completion, Jesus resolutely journeyed to Jerusalem.”

Despite the dangers and the certainty of death, Jesus did not balk nor even thought of backing out. He resolutely went into his death because of his immense love for us and the Father. He never cracked under pressure!

Even during his trials first before the Sanhedrin and before Pontius Pilate, there was the mastery and surety of Jesus very evident in his silence. He was totally composed, wholly entrusting himself in total obedience to the Father in heaven.

How about us these days of lockdown in the face of the growing threats of COVID-19?

What a shame that our officials and their families finally revealed their true colors as the modern Judas Iscariots seeking VIP treatment for COVID-19 testing! So afraid of dying because love they have none whatsoever for the country and the people but for themselves alone.

From a Facebook post of my friend .

Like Judas, they think only of themselves, keeping their loot of more than 30 pieces of silver, looking for the opportune time to betray us again, totally quiet in the comfort of their homes when thousands are facing hunger and uncertainties.

They are the modern Pontius Pilates who mumble in public, who could not make a definitive stand on anything at all, more at home in accusing and blaming others for the confusions and lack of order, always washing their hands, without guts to humbly accept lack of foresight despite the grave dangers that did not happen overnight.

Most of all, look inside ourselves too for those moments we think more of “what we can have” than “what we can give or do” in these trying times? Do we hoard and panic buy? Do we cower in fear by hiding it with our anger and demands for assistance and relief goods?

Above is a nice guide I found on my friend’s Facebook, indicating three zones to show where are in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. It can be very useful too in indicating where we can meet Jesus in ascending and entering Jerusalem to fulfill his mission and our mission too.

Entering Jerusalem, entering Jesus

My daily Mass attendees since the lockdown.

When the Luzon lockdown started last March 18, I cried on my first Mass: it was simply unbelievable – until now – for me celebrating Mass without people because a Mass always presupposes people and community to celebrate Christ’s presence!

But now, everybody is gone.

Except me. And the birds who keep constant company for me.

Every morning after pealing our bell as I celebrate Mass alone, I bow before the giant crucifix looming above our altar and look on the metal engraving of the Lamb of God on the cover of our Tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament of Jesus is kept.

This week as I looked more often onto the lamb during prayer periods, I felt it to be looking at me too. That’s when I realized how the lamb perfectly signifies Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem, the “Suffering Servant” of God prophesied by Isaiah in the first reading today. But what struck me most is the song’s latter part not included in our first reading, referring to Jesus Christ:

Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.

Isaiah 53:7

That lamb is indeed Jesus Christ, coming to us day in, day out in the Holy Eucharist we priests continue to celebrate even if our churches are closed. Every day especially in the Mass, Jesus invites us to ascend with him to the Father, little by little with our selfless acts of charity and kindness to others.

Looking into that lamb of our Tabernacle, I see the eyes of Jesu telling me how much he loves me, how much he has forgiven me from my sins despite his knowing me through and through.

And that is Jesus Christ: always silent, gazing with his eyes full of love, full of knowledge about us and what’s going to happen next, inviting us to join him, to come with him to ascend to our higher selves especially in this time of crisis. All despite his knowing our sins because he sees us too with eyes full of mercy!

These my dear readers are more enough reasons to sing “hosanna” today despite the many difficulties and uncertainties around us because Jesus is with us and will never leave us especially when we reach the cross. Amen.

A blessed holy week to you!

Our tabernacle, Palm Sunday 2020.

Darkest hour, Finest hour

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe for Good Friday, 19 April 2019
Isaiah 52:13-53:12///Hebrews 4:14-16;5:7-9///John 18:1-19:42
Jerusalem at dawn. Photo by author, April 2017.

Yesterday I saw the Maundy Thursday letter of Archbishop Soc Villegas to us his brother priests. I have never had a death threat in my life but have experienced being the subject of a fake news on being dead in 2005. And like the good Bishop Soc, I also asked “why me for doing what is right?”

It was one of the darkest hours in my entire life. I was then assigned at our diocesan school for boys in Malolos when I initiated an investigation on two married teachers allegedly having an affair following a tip from some faculty members. Our school principal who was well-respected by everyone headed the board. After a few days into the investigation, the teachers concerned resigned after realizing the overwhelming evidences their accusers have gathered against them. We were so glad the case was peacefully and easily resolved.

A week later, a teacher woke me up very early morning with a call, asking if the text message they have received was true that I have died of a heart attack past midnight. My immediate response to the teacher was, “why did you call me if I have died already?” She was crying and was so concerned as I listened to her on the phone. Then I asked her to send me the text message, but, later I changed my mind, telling her “what if it were true?”

I was never able to get back to sleep that morning because everybody was asking about the fake news that spread so quickly. I had to call my family to assure them I am very alive and well. By eight o’clock I realized the gravity of the matter: nuns were praying and masses have been offered for my “untimely death” that some priests have in fact came to see me in the school. I tried to brushed it aside, taking it lightly with my usual jokes. I even held my classes that whole day, telling my students that even if I die, I would always come to teach them.

Things became so different later that day for me. Especially when I prayed first in our chapel that evening and later in my room. Alone, I cried, feeling a deep pain within, asking myself what have I done wrong to deserve such a fake news? It was a pain so different, something you could really piercing through one’s self, slashing and shredding every bit of my being. That night I felt I have finally grasped all those existential absurd and pessimistic stuffs by Abert Camus and Soren Kierkegaard. Like what young people would say these days, “gets ko na sila”.

Crucifixion at the altar of the Betania Retreat House, Tagaytay. Photo by author, 2017.

It did not stop there. The “mystery texter” eventually texted me, threatening me of so many things, cursing me that I would suffer so much before I die. With that, I sought help from my friends in the news who referred me to a text scam investigator whom I never met but was so kind to help me for free. With his technical skills plus my news background as well as pastoral psychology, I was able to eventually identify my mystery texter who was a co-teacher of the accusers of the teachers in the illicit affair. It turned out, she was so broken-hearted after being dumped by the male teacher for another co-teacher who was prettier and lovelier than her. And she’s also married! She thought I was protecting the accused male teacher who happened to be an ex-seminarian but later we learned he was notorious in having illicit affairs among his married co-teachers.

She eventually resigned from our school in 2006 along with her group of co-teachers who all end up miserable in life. Their leader got separated from her husband who was caught in the act in another school banging an employee in a vacant room during summer break. Another was widowed. The third just got uglier. And she? She went to teach abroad in 2007 but had to go back home after learning her husband’s extra-marital affairs. She was able to go back to our old school because I never told my rector my findings. After a year and a half, she was fired from our school when the wife of our school driver caught them having an affair. I have never seen her nor her group since I left our school in 2010.

The Cross of Christ atop the church of our Lady of Lourdes in France. Photo by my former student Arch. Philip Santiago during his pilgrimage in 2018.

Thank you for bearing with me with my long story. It is the first time I have shared it with anyone except with one good teacher I have kept as a friend. Since yesterday I have been telling you about the “hour” of Jesus Christ, his passion that started at the Last Supper, culminating at his crucifixion. We said the darkest hour of Jesus Christ is also his finest hour because of his immense love. In the end, it was his love that triumphed over sin and evil. And that is why we call this Friday as Good.

When I recall that episode in my life, I thank God. You know when I was being attacked then by that mystery texter, that was the same year God gifted me my first trip to the US when my Ninang’s daughter got married. Life has become harder for me since then but has become “betterer”.

Of course I was scared at that time, checking on everything I was doing. Everything in my life has to be planned and calculated; I hate surprises that is why I am not fond of gifts, that I do not readily open them. But, was I angry or mad? No. Even at that time. I even pitied our teacher for being fooled. There is still pain in my heart when I remember those people behind those things but overall, I have transcended the episode. And I feel I have been transformed by it. The incident made me more resolved to be good and better as a person, as a priest. Most of all, it had taught me that like Jesus Christ, we always have to make a stand for what is true, what is good, what is just. It is always painful, lonely and scary to be on the cross. But it is on the Cross of Christ where we shine and share in his glory. It is only at the Cross of Christ where we are truly transformed into better persons because of love. It is only on the Cross of Christ where we realize the value and beauty of this gift of life, of every person in our lives that we start living authentically. At the Cross of Christ, we are assured always of a bright new day to get better and stat anew in life. A blessed weekend to you!

The Crucifix by National Artist Napoleon Abueva at the Holy Sacrifice Parish at UP Diliman. Here we find Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Death and Glory of Christ always together, a hairline apart from each other. See also the long arms of Christ that seem to be disproportionate to his body. According to a story, the UP Chaplain who commissioned that crucifix, the Jesuit Fr. John Delaney asked Abueva to make the arms of Christ longer than usual to show Jesus welcomes everyone; there’s a room for everyone in the Lord’s Cross, especially those suffering. Photo from Google.

Praying And Dying with Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Good Friday Recipe, 19 April 2019
Isaiah 52:13-53:12//Hebrews 4:14-16;5:7-9//John 18:1-19:42
Crucifix at the Fatima Square in Portugal. Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, October 2018.

The Evangelists tell us that Jesus died on the Cross on a Friday at about 3:00 PM. And they tell us too that our Lord died praying, exactly what most of the Seven Last Words have expressed.  But from the gospel we have heard this afternoon written by the beloved disciple John, we discover something very beautiful: Jesus was very calm and peaceful in his prayer unto death.

After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.”  There was a vessel filled with common wine.  So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.  When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.”  And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

John 19:28-30

When we are deep in suffering, in severe pain like Jesus on the cross, what do we usually pray? 

Most often, we pray that the terrible ordeal we are going through would finally end or be finished.  And sometimes, due to desperation, we even pray for death, of how we wish God would finally end our life to be free from all the problems and pains we are going through. And we feel death is the solution.

One of the things I have realized about death came from the 1990’s movie “House of Spirits” when the mother played by Meryl Streep told her daughter played by Winona Ryder that “you do not pray for death because death surely comes.” I always tell that to patients I visit who are in deep pain and suffering. I know it is easier than done. But when we reflect on the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, we discover how he had made death an offering, a gift of self in love. Clearly we find here that his darkest hour is also his finest hour because of love.

Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches. Photo by author, 2016.

In the original Greek text of St. John, the word used to express Jesus Christ’s final prayer “It is finished” is “tetelestai” from the root word “telos” meaning the final end and direction.  It is not just an ending but a direction too. At the start of this year’s Lenten season, we have reflected that life is more about direction than destination. Direction leads to growth and maturity because it is about persons. Destination is just about place and location. 

From the very start, Jesus was clear with His mission, of how it would be accomplished.  He has always been sure of himself, of who he is.  Notice how St. John repeated many times in his account of the Last Supper how Jesus was “fully aware” of everything that was going to happen: he was so composed and serene that he even gave bread to his betrayer Judas Iscariot during their supper.  Last night we heard how Jesus knew everything was coming to end that he washed the feet of his disciples.

When his “hour” had come, Jesus was “fully aware of everything” that he was never left to the whims and powers of his enemies when he went through his Passion, calmly and courageously facing his death on the Cross. He always had the upper hand that he was able to pray “It is finished” because he was so sure of his Resurrection on Easter. In praying “It is finished,” Jesus consecrated not only himself but also all humanity to the Father so that we are able to bear and face death squarely like him.   

Mt. St. Paul Retreat House, Baguio. Photo by author, June 2017.

In the Mass after the consecration of the bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood, we proclaim “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.” We call it as “the mystery of our faith” because when we say “Christ has died,” we admit that truly, the Son of God went through all kinds of sufferings in life we all go through like betrayal, rejection, loneliness, sickness, hunger, thirst, and yes, even death.  And His sufferings continue as we suffer more in this world marred by evil and sins, making us cry, asking when would these end and be finished. And there lies the mystery of our faith on the Cross that led to Easter: when we look at Jesus Christ on His Cross, we see our own pains and agony as God’s pains and agony too.  Jesus joined us in our anguish and death so that we could experience all the more his immense love for us.  Without Jesus and his Cross, we would never be able to bear or even face the many deaths we go through daily.  May we recognize God’s immense love for us again this afternoon when we venerate the cross and see it as the merging point of human and Divine suffering.  Keep praying with Jesus who has the final say with death at Easter. Amen.

*This is an updated version of my Good Friday reflection last year.