Arise, be whole again in Christ!

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 27 June 2021
Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24 <+> 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15 <+> Mark 5:21-24, 35-43
Photo by author, sunrise at the Lake of Galilee, the Holy Land, 2017.

Once again, we find Jesus crossing the Lake of Galilee this week with a crowd following him to listen to his teachings and experience his healing. What a beautiful image of life in Jesus, of constantly crossing the sea, sometimes in the darkness of the night amid storms.

It was something like what we had gone through last Thursday on the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist when as a nation we crossed history with the inauguration of the new Archbishop of Manila marked with the passing of former President Noynoy Aquino.

We hope and pray that like our gospel this Sunday, our recent crossing will lead us to new awakenings and realizations leading to national healing and yes, a resurrection, a rising from the dead like that young daughter of Jairus brought back to life by Jesus.

When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, he caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. So he went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” And they ridiculed him. Then he put them all out. He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was. He took the child by the hand and said to her, Talitha koum, which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded.

Mark 5:38-42
Photo by author with friends at ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum, 2017.

Examining our faith in Jesus

Notice, my dear reader, how similar is our story of Jesus raising to life the dead daughter of Jairus with that of the calming of the storm while crossing the lake last Sunday. In both instances, we find Mark “exaggerating” some details as if Jesus were somewhat oblivious to what was going on around him.

But again, Mark is not entertaining us with his stories narrating the powers and miracles by Jesus for he is telling us something deeper and very important with those surprising details of his stories. Primary of which is the supremacy of Jesus as the Son of God over nature like the sea and death both symbolizing evil and sin.

Mark affirms this truth today in telling us how Jesus brought back to life the dead daughter of Jairus, that Jesus is the Christ who had come launching a new world order where death and sin are overcome in him through his pasch.

Recall last Sunday how Mark ended his story with the disciples asking, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” (Mk.4:41).

That question is finally answered by our story today that clearly shows Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who is life himself when he brought back to life the dead little girl.

Unfortunately, like during the time of Mark until now, many still doubt the powers of Jesus. Then and now, there is still that crisis of faith among us expressed by people from the synagogue official’s house who arrived and said, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”(Mk.5:35).

If you were in that crowd following Jesus, would you still go with him to enter the house? Would you heed his words like Jairus, “Do not be afraid; just have faith” (Mk.5:36)?

And while inside the house, knowing the little girl was already dead, would you join the rest in ridiculing Jesus who said, “The child is not dead but asleep” (Mk.5:39)?

These are the questions Mark is asking us today like the Christians of his time going through persecution and crisis in the early Church.

It is easy to “believe”, proclaiming with arms raised that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is the Son of God but it is another thing to be truly convinced, to have faith in him when faced with the stark realities of life persistently attacked by sickness and death, of pains and sufferings that make us wonder why God could allow these to happen!

We have all felt our faith shaken when this pandemic struck us last year that took away those dearest to us so sudden, often without seeing them at all before they were cremated.

Like his story last Sunday, Mark’s narration of the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus is filled with many surprising details we find it so true with our own experiences of struggling to avoid or survive COVID-19, of having a sick child or spouse, of trying to make it to another day, of keeping our jobs to pay for food and rent and other needs of our family.

Do we really have that faith in Jesus, convinced that everything will be “okay” like Nightbirde who can brim with all smiles even if saddled with three kinds of cancer with a 2% chance of survival, claiming it is better than zero?

Today’s gospel is more than the revelation of who Jesus Christ is: the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus dares to invite us in examining our faith in God in the face of unrelenting attacks on life by sickness and death especially in this time of the pandemic.

Death and sickness are realities we face daily, that make us doubt God’s love and concern for us which the first reading clarifies with its declaration that

God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who belong to his company experience it.

Wisdom 1:13, 2:23-24
Photo by author, Lake of Galilee, 2019.

Arising and being whole in Jesus

Jesus came not to remove sickness and death, pains and sufferings which did not come from God for God is love. He came to be one with us in sickness and death, in our pains and sufferings so that we may rise with him too in his resurrection and be whole again in him.

Notice the words Jesus used in every healing, “your faith has saved you” to show that healing is not just a cure of the disease but making the person whole again. The words health, healing, wholeness, and holiness are all interrelated if we examine their origins and implications. Hence, we see that whenever Jesus would heal, it is not only an eradication of an illness but restoring harmony and balance in the person – physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional aspects.

It is the same in raising the dead young man in Nain and his friend Lazarus: Jesus or the evangelists used the word “arise” as a foreshadowing of Easter when Jesus himself rose from the dead, an indication of his power over death.

All these people in the gospels Jesus had healed and brought back to life eventually died but the good news is that death and sickness are no longer dark and an ending in itself.

Jesus came to bring salvation to the world, a wholeness in life which disease and physical death can no longer control and hold. That is why we need a firm faith to believe in him in spite of the many sickness and deaths now around us. It is faith that will enable us to grasp the full meaning of this pandemic and other sufferings we are going through in life. It is our deep faith in God that will also enable us to explain and show to others especially our loved ones the true meaning of healings and resurrections performed by Jesus who gives us a share in his victory over sickness and death.

May we dwell on the beautiful exposition of St. Paul today about being poor like Christ “that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2Cor. 8:9).

We can only be whole when we share whatever we have because that is when we allow Jesus to work in us, to be in us, to complete us. This happens when we wholeheartedly celebrate the Holy Eucharist where we become poor like Jesus, emptying ourselves of our sins, sharing with others our wealth through our contributions not only to the church collections but also to other charities where some of us share also time and talent aside from treasures.

The experience of the community pantry recently had taught us the value of St. Paul’s call for us to share and be poor like Christ when we were encouraged to take only what one needs and to give according to one’s ability – “kumuha ayon sa pangangailangan, magbigay ayon sa kakayahan”.

Yes, the realities of poverty and hunger remain with us but people are fed, sufferings are alleviated and most of all, the whole nation is united in believing again there is hope amidst the pandemic worsened by the systematic evil that has plagued us for so long.

Faith in God is deepened and strengthened when we become poor and weak like Jairus because that is only when we can arise and be whole again in Jesus Christ who is himself our Resurrection and Life. Amen.

A blessed new week to you and everyone!

Photo by author, Lake of Galilee, 2017.

Walking. And healing.

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Week XII, Year I in Ordinary Time, 25 June 2021
Genesis 17:1, 9-10, 15-22   > + <   Matthew 8:1-4

Photo by author at Petra, Jordan, 2019.
When Abraham was ninety-nine years old,
The Lord appeared to him and said:
"I am God the Almighty.
Walk in my presence and be blameless."
(Genesis 17:1)
What a beautiful call from you,
O God our Father:
to walk in your presence 
and be blameless.
Our lives consist of so many walks
many in a hurry, some very slowly
and maybe the rest listlessly, aimlessly
refusing to move at all.
Teach us, O Lord, 
to walk blamelessly
by walking in your ways
following the path of the narrow gate
learning to prostrate before you
like Abraham when filled with joy
or like the leper who approached Jesus
when deeply in pain and suffering.
When Jesus came down 
from the mountain,
great crowds followed him.  
And then a leper approached, 
did him homage, and said,
"Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean."
He stretched out his hand,
touched him, and said,
"I will do it.  Be made clean."
His leprosy was cleansed immediately.
(Matthew 8:1-3) 
We pray for those who have stopped
walking to you
walking with you, Lord:
let them rise again to walk
blamelessly in your sight.
Heal them and likewise
send them again to walk in your presence
and be agents of your healing.  Amen.

Praying to control anger

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 08 March 2021
Monday, Third Week of Lent, Memorial of St. John of God
2 Kings 5:1-15     ><}}}*>  +  <*{{{><     Luke 4:24-30
Photo by author, NLEX in Pampanga, January 2021.

Yesterday in the gospel you were angry, Lord Jesus, when people turned the temple into a marketplace that made you drove them away along with their animals and doves being sold, scattering the coins of money changers who have set up shops in your Father’s house.

Today we find in our readings some people getting angry and we hope to learn some lessons from you regarding this misunderstood emotion in this season of Lent.

First to get angry was King Joram of Israel when he received a letter of recommendation from the Aramean king seeking a cure for Gen. Naaman’s leprosy.

When he read the letter, the king of Israel tore his garments and exclaimed: “Am I a god with power over life and death, that this man would send someone to me to be cured of leprosy? Take note! You can see he is only looking for a quarrel with me!”

2 Kings 5:7

So many times, we burst into anger not really of a present situation before us but of things that happened in the past or worst, things that are mere imaginations or suppositions we have in our minds like King Joram of Israel. Teach us to be open with the present situation before us; make us understand what is being asked of us. Disarm us of our mistrusts and suspicions of others as if people are always seeking a fight with us (when in fact we are the ones who are quarrelsome like the king of Israel).

Then, there was also the famous Syrian general Naaman who got angry when Prophet Elisha did not come out to meet him, feeling being “snubbed” despite his stature:

Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. The prophet sent him the message: “Go and wash seven times in Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean. But Naaman went away angry, saying, “I thought that he would surely come out and stand there to invoke the Lord his God, and would move his hand over the spot, and thus cure the leprosy.”

2 Kings 5:9-11

Much ado about nothing! So often we are like Naaman getting angry more because of pride, of expecting so much from others on how we should be treated with importance.

Forgive us for our fits of anger just because we felt not treated with honor, forgetting the more essential things we need in life like healing than massaging our ego. There are times, Lord, we get angry when we do not get what we expect or demand from others. Teach us openness and humility too. Make us learn to be discerning on the more essential things in life like you, O Lord, the one who truly heals and blesses us!

And lastly, in the gospel we find the people getting angry with you, dear Jesus because you spoke the truth.

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.

Luke 4:28-29
Photo from wikipediacommons.org.

Anger is an emotion that must be released positively like with what you did at the cleansing of the temple, Jesus.

Most of the time, the devil rides on our anger to lead us into sin, even to grave sins like murder or slander because we are “hurt” by truth like those people listening to you at the synagogue. They could not handle the hard truth about their pride and bloated egos that they wanted to kill you after telling them of their lack of faith in God.

Help us get to the roots of our anger, to accept who we are so we may not be overcome by anger and thereby not sin that much anymore.

Let us control our anger and not let anger control us. 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.

Mary in the glory of God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, 11 February 2021
Thursday, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick
Isaiah 66:10-14     >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<     John 2:1-11 
Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago at Lourdes, France, 2018.

Praise and glory to you, dearest God our Father through your Son Jesus Christ who gave us his Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary to be our Mother too as we celebrate today the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick.

From the beginning since Jesus Christ began his ministry to our modern time, Mary has always been with him showing us your great signs of presence, of generosity, and of life first anticipated at the wedding feast at Cana.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. when the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”

John 2:1-5

I cannot help but rejoice at how our evangelist situated the first sign performed by Jesus which is “on the third day”, reminding us of Easter Sunday, the fullness of your coming to us, the fullness of our healing and salvation, the third day after the “hour” of the Lord.

Crucifix on the wall of a chapel at Cana, Galilee.

Both at Cana and at Lourdes there was water, the sign of your life and in both instances, Mary was present interceding for our benefit.

At Cana, water became an excellent wine to prefigure the Lord’s Supper we celebrate each day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as a foretaste of our promised glory in heaven while at Lourdes, water transformed the sick who were healed after they have come to bathe at its springs.

Through the example of faith by Mother Mary, our human efforts now encounter the gift of God in Jesus to create the feast of joy of communion, of healing, of fulfillment that can only be made possible by God’s presence and his gift of self in Christ.

At Cana and on to Lourdes and wherever we may be, every day is God’s coming, the “hour” of Jesus in every “here” and “now” when we experience the sign of God’s overflowing generosity to us all who are so tired and exhausted in this life especially the sick in this time of the corona pandemic.

Thank, loving God our Father in fulfilling your promise through the prophet Isaiah that you would send us a mother who shall comfort us in moments of sickness and darkness.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes help us get through these tough times and lead us closer to Jesus her Son who is our true Peace and Joy by doing whatever he tells us like the servants at Cana. Amen.

The Cross of Christ atop the church of our Lady of Lourdes in France. Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago taken September 2018.

Embracing our pains

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, 03 February 2021
Wednesday, Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr
Hebrews 12:4-7, 11-15     <*(((><<   +++   >><)))*>     Mark 6:1-6
Photo by author, sacristy table, December 2020.

O God our Father, thank you for enlightening us today about the sufferings we are going through especially at this time of the pandemic. Forgive us for those times we have doubted you and your love for us when we go through many sufferings, forgetting that these are a part of our lives you have allowed to happen so we may grow and mature.

Forgive us when at the slightest sign of pain and sufferings, we balk at taking the path of the Cross of Jesus Christ, choosing to commit sin than being faithful to you.

Help us realize that when we suffer, the more you are nearer to us truly as a Father who lets his children go through trials and hardships to make him better and stronger in the future.

Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.

Hebrews 12:7, 11-13

We pray, O Lord, for those going through so much sufferings today especially those undergoing chemotherapy, dialysis, and physical therapy; those who have lost loved ones, who have lost their jobs.

Most specially, we pray for those suffering from rejection like Jesus when he came home to his native place and people took offense at him after hearing him spoke at the synagogue and healed so many sick people in other places.

It is one of the most painful sufferings anyone can go through, of being rejected by family and relatives, co-workers and colleagues, friends and neighbors.

Like St. Blaise, may we bear all pains and sufferings in life so we may strengthen the weak among us and offer healing to those who are sick and afflicted.

Most of all, like St. Blaise, as we accept the pains and sufferings coming our way, may we strive hard to never be the source of pains and sufferings to others. Amen.

Praying for those living in isolation

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Monday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, 01 February 2021
Hebrews 11:32-40     >><)))*> + >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>     Mark 5:1-20
Photo of Mang Dodong who was detained at a Navotas quarantine area for almost 30 days last summer for not having a quarantine pass while buying fish there that he would resell in Caloocan to earn much needed income during the lockdown. It was also during that time of his detention when a senator and a police general were caught violating more serious health protocols but were neither punished nor even reprimanded.

As we all go back to work and studies this Monday, so many of our brothers and sisters are staying home, some are remaining in the hospitals while many others are in some form of living in the territory of Gerasenes like in today’s gospel living in isolation, cut off from our human community.

I pray for them, dear God our Father.

I pray for those living in isolation due to various reasons like severe sickness and disability including old age, poverty and other social illnesses that have left them with marks and stigma that cut them off from the rest of our human community.

The man had been dwelling among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain. In fact, he had frequently been bound with shackles and chains, but the chains had been pulled apart by him and the shackles smashed, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.

Mark 5:3-5

So many people today are suffering loneliness and isolation, Lord, the plague of our modern age when we are supposed to be more mobile and connected with everyone due to modern means of communications and transportation.

Worst, the pandemic had cut them off so painfully from others as life gets more difficult for everyone these days.

Increase their faith, remind them like the author of Hebrews, of how men and women in the Old Testament trusted in you and overcame all obstacles in life.

Help us discern concrete steps we may take to reach out to those living in isolation so we may welcome them back to our community to experience again the joy of companionship especially in critical moments of sickness and difficulties.

Come, Lord Jesus Christ, come and set us free from the chains and shackles that bound us away from each other; heal us of our illnesses that separate us so that we may be cleansed anew to proclaim your glory of living together as a community. Amen.

Photo by author at Shambala, Silang, Cavite, September 2020.

Welcoming Jesus

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 28 December 2020
Photo by author, 28 December 2020.

“Welcoming Jesus”.

It is not really the title of this piece but the name of this image of the baby Jesus above.

See His smiles and open hands with eyes exuding with warmth and joy to anyone who sees Him. Even with the dusts and cracks held intact by scotch tapes, it is one of my most loved and cherished possessions I would never trade for anything.

Given to me by a brother priest in Christmas 2017, Welcoming Jesus measures about eight inches and seems to be Mexican or African inspired with his dark skin and lively colorful design of baby dress. I have always loved this Baby Jesus who seems so alive that I have kept Him on my desk, giving me so many inspirations and “kicks” in my studies in the past three years.

Small and handy, and so fragile, I have always imagined Him to be just like the infant Jesus when He was born in Bethlehem more than 2000 years ago.

As I turned off my lamp last night before retiring, I saw Him, smiling and yes, “welcoming” to remind me of a story I have read ten years ago about St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India when one of their patients threw to her a crucifix in a fit of tantrum. After pacifying the patient, St. Mother Teresa picked the crucifix and pieced together with a scotch tape an arm of Jesus that was broken. She then gave it to one of her nuns with instructions to hang it again on their wall with a note that says, “Let me heal your broken arm”.

In the same manner, as I looked onto my little image of “Welcoming Jesus”, I felt it my Christmas message for 2020 as we celebrate Holy Innocents’ Day: “Let me show you tenderness, Baby Jesus.”

If there is one thing we all need at this time of the pandemic, this Christmas 2020, it must be tenderness. Like the tender compassion of God, His mercy.

Tenderness is being merciful, being soft in the heart in a very positive sense. Some people think that being tender, being merciful and forgiving is a sign of weakness; on the contrary, it is pure power and strength.

The former US President Theodore Roosevelt who was a military officer before getting into politics used to tell that in any argument or discussion, the first to use one’s fist is always the one with less intelligence, less power who resort to force because they have ran out of reasons to argue.

Very true! Exactly with that off-duty cop who brutally shot and killed mother and son in Paniqui, Tarlac whose tiny brain could not control his humongous body much less understand everything that was going then.

Mercy and tenderness, like courage, are movements within the heart. The Latin word for mercy perfectly captures its meaning: misericordia or a stirring of the heart, a moving of the heart. More than a feeling, it is taking concrete actions to bow down and be one with those suffering.

That is why the Son of God became human, chose to be born as an infant like everybody else, to be one with us, to suffer with us, that is, compassion from cum and passio, to suffer with.

The eminent theologian Fr. Hans urs Von Balthasar, a good friend of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, wrote before he died that “the central mystery of Christianity is our transformation from a world-wise, self-sufficient ‘adults’ into abiding children of the Father of Jesus by the grace of the Holy Spirit. All else in the Gospel – the Lord’s Incarnation, his hidden and public lives, his miracles and preaching, his Passion, Cross, and resurrection – has been for this” (Unless You Become Like This Child).

A baby is always welcoming to almost everyone, and vice versa, anyone even the most hardened criminal would always welcome and be moved by the sight of a baby or a child.

How sad that until now, there are still King Herods among us who are insecured with children and infants. Worst are those who abuse and molest children, the single most damning crime by some in the clergy this century because it is directly opposite the central theme of Christ’s teachings and warning – “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father” (Matt.18:10).

Photo by Mr. Marc Angelo Nicolas Carpio, Baby Jesus in our Parish, Christmas 2020.

Due to COVID-19 pandemic, for the first time in our churches, the traditional kissing (pahalik) of the image of the Baby Jesus is scrapped. Perhaps it is a good reminder to us all to meditate more in our hearts the meaning of Jesus being born an infant – so weak, so dependent to adults like us.

It is a call for us too to do something concrete about the many sufferings children have to go through in this time, on one end those denied of basic goods and services while on the other extreme are the children with all the material needs except the warmth and love of their parents.

One saint I have discovered before our ordination more than 20 years ago is St. Charles de Foucauld, a French priest who lived among the Tuaregs of the Sahara desert in the early 20th century. In his room, he always had a baby Jesus and an altar for the Blessed Sacrament to adore daily.

His core value is founded on “littleness” – of finding Jesus among the little ones, of being little before the Lord.

Have that tender care that expresses itself in the little things that are like a balm for the heart… With our neighbours go into the smallest details, whether it is a question of health, of consolation, of prayerfulness, or of need. Console and ease the pain of others through the tiniest of attentions. Be as tender and attentive towards those whom God puts on our path, as a brother towards brother or as a mother for her child. As much as possible be an element of consolation for those around us, as soothing balm, as our Lord was towards all those who drew near to him.

St. Chrales de Foucauld

What a beautiful reminder of the Child Jesus this Christmas and hereafter. If we can be tender with one another in the most minute detail like Jesus, then we can truly experience His coming to us, fulfilling us with His presence and love which is the spirit of Christmas. Amen.

Priesthood is loving Jesus first

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II on the occasion of 
the First Year Anniversary of Ordination 
to the Priesthood of Rev. Fr. Howard Tarrayo
Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
Malolos City, 10 December 2020
Photo by author of Lake Tiberias (Galilee) at sunrise, May 2019.

This preaching should have been last year.

Fr. Howard was the very first person to have invited me to be his predicador at his Primera Missa Solemne while still a seminarian — and that is why I think he was delayed for almost two years before getting ordained exactly a year ago today!

That gospel scene you have chosen for this occasion at the shores of Lake Tiberias is something that happens everyday in our lives as priests, from day one of ordination way into our old age in with Jesus asking us, like, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” (Jn.21:17)

Priesthood is essentially loving Jesus Christ first of all. That is why Jesus had to ask Simon Peter thrice with the same question, “Do you love me?” because we have to love him first before we can truly follow him.

When the priesthood or the Call becomes the very core and center of our lives and not Jesus our Caller, sooner or later, we replace Christ that we become the Lord and Master in our parish, in our ministry.

Today, we are celebrating Fr. Howard your remaining in love with Jesus, of loving Him first, a year after your ordination and we pray that every year, it will always be the very reason you celebrate your ordination anniversary.


When they had finished breakfast,
Jesus said to Simon Peter, 
"Simon, son of John, do you love me
more than these?"
He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know 
that I love you." 
He said to him, "Feed my lambs."
(John 21:15)

Loving Jesus first is growing deeper in our prayer life in him. People who love are always together; they have a ritual or a schedule that like the fox telling the Little Prince, an hour before their appointed meeting, his heart is already beating for him, excited with his presence that he is coming.

Photo by author, parish sacristy, 05 December 2020.

It is my hope that during this pandemic we priests have rediscovered the value and beauty of having that seminary schedule during our formation years that must have ingrained in us discipline. Like schedules, prayer is a discipline. Love goes through a process, it matures, becomes more disciplined. That is why a disciple is not only a follower but also a disciplined one, a true lover!

It is good to bond with brother priests and friends and family once in a while but not every night or every other night that we have practically made every Starbucks outlet a parish or even a diocese where 1/3 of the clergy get together religiously (pun intended)! Any loving husband would always be home at night to be with his wife. The same is true with every priest — be home at night in your parish to be with Jesus at prayer. He awaits you, He misses you!

Whenever people ask me what is the most difficult part of priesthood, I always tell them it is praying every day. And I mean real prayer when we have to strip ourselves naked before God in our truest selves. Kaya sabihin man nila walanghiya o salvahe ang sino mang pari, pero kung araw-araw lalo na sa gabi siya ay nananalangin, mabuting pari pa rin siya kasi maski minsan, nagiging totoo siya sa sarili at sa Diyos. And masama kapag hindi na siya nagdarasal nang tunay, iyon ang simula ng pagkaligaw ng sino mang pari.

Whatever is the fruit of our prayer, that is our homily and that is when all tests happen: the moment we deliver a homily, people measure us if we “walk our talk”. The priest is the homily himself. When a priest stops celebrating Mass, most especially refuses to give homilies, maybe Father is no longer praying. Baka may iba na siyang mahal kesa kay Jesus.

Remaining in love with Jesus is being a man of prayer.


He then said to him a second time,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
He said to him, 
"Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
He said to him, "Tend my sheep."
(John 21:16)

Loving Jesus first means keeping in mind that everything is a gift from Jesus, that whatever we have, whatever we share, whether material or spiritual things, is always from Christ. We have nothing except Him. Even if sometimes we feel bad in our ministry like going on a sick call when we are so tired or blessing a dead cat or hearing confessions of a parishioner who have maligned you, just do it! Whatever you give them, it is not yours but Jesus’!

Photo by author, parish sacristy, 05 December 2020.

Huwag maging maramot, Father. Maging mapagmahal, matulunging, maunawain, mapagpasensiya, mapagbigay, mapagpatawad — kasi ano mang pagmamahal, tulong, pang-unawa, pagpapasensiya, kapatawaran o ano mang ating maibibigay kanino man ay hindi naman talagang atin kungdi kay Kristo at Kristo pa rin!

Here lies the danger when we are so focused with our call or vocation when we feel the one who must be understood and cared for — we turn the ones being served instead of the one serving! Kasi feeling natin magaling tayo kaya tayo naging pari! Para tayong artista at politiko na “FGLG”: feeling guapo, looking gago. Parang lahat may utang na loob sa atin. Kaya kung magmayabang tayo: ako nagpagawa niyan, ako nakaisip niyan, ako, ako, ako…. Nasaan si Jesus? Nandun sa tabernakulo, nabuburo.

I wish to share with you a prayer I have written during our retreat with a Cenacle sister at the Theologate when we were in third year: “Lord Jesus Christ, you have given me with so much and I have given so little; teach me to give more of my self and more of You to others. Amen.”


He said to him a third time, 
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was distressed that he had said to him
a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him,
"Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep."
And when he had said this, he said to him,
"Follow me."
(John 21:17, 19)

Father Howard, we have learned in Holy Matrimony that a man and a woman marries not only each other but also their families; the same is very true in priesthood. Loving Jesus first means the priest’s family must love Jesus more than their priest son and Kuya Pari or Tito Pari.

Profession of faith by Rev. Fr. Howard with his mother and sister before Bishop Dennis, 10 December 2019.

Nanay Nelia and Mary Grace… kung mahal ninyo si Father Howard, mas mahalin ninyo si Jesus. Ang pagmamahal ng pamilya sa kanilang anak o kapatid na pari ay naroon din sa kanilang higit na pagmamahal kay Jesus. Kapag si Jesus ang minahal ninyo una at higit sa lahat katulad naming mga pari, manalig kayo lalong mamahalin ni Jesus si Father. Hindi siya pababayaan.

We are told that after this third question by Jesus “Do you love me?”, Simon Peter was distressed because he remembered how he had denied the Lord three times after His arrest on Holy Thursday evening.

What can be more distressing especially at this time of the pandemic for us priests than be caught between our family and ministry?

You were still preparing for your Diaconal ordination last year, Father Howard when your mother had a stroke, then followed by the death of your father. It must have been so difficult, so painful. But looking back, did God ever forget you, Father?

Ate Nelia and Mary Grace, give Father Howard to Jesus. Huwag ninyo siyang hahanapan. Magkusa na kayo sa inyong sarili kasi iba piniling buhay ni Father. And I address this to every parent, brother and sister, relatives and friends of Fr. Howard and every priest. Huwag ninyo siyang hanapan. Kung mayroon man kayong hahanapin palagi kay Father Howard, iyon si Jesus. Always Jesus, only Jesus.

There is still something more “distressing” for us priests with our family that I wish to share with you, Father Howard. When Jesus told us to leave our father and mother, brothers and sisters behind to follow Him, he never meant to turn our backs from them. We still have to love them but more on a different level as silent witnesses of Christ.

The most difficult part of our ministry is ministering to our own family with all our biases and past histories before us. We are so familiar with each other that inevitably, these would surely show on many occasions when least expected. Be on guard, for the pendulum swings to extremes when we sometimes become so lax or so harsh with them.

Most “distressing” is when Jesus asks us “Do you love me?” while we continue to hold on to the pains and hurts, frustrations and disappointments our families have inflicted on us.

It is in our own families when we are asked to be more like St. Francis of Assisi, of preaching the gospel, speaking only when necessary.

Father Howard, be the first to understand and to embrace the strains and the past in your family; Jesus called you despite your imperfect family to make you perfect and eventually, through your life of total love for Him, perfect your family too.

It is very difficult to love, most especially our Lord Jesus, Father Howard. How I wished you have never asked me to do this because so many times I have failed Jesus. And continues to fail Him, not loving him that much.

But that is exactly what happened at the shores of Tiberias that morning after breakfast when Jesus asked Simon Peter three times, “Do you love me?”

Don’t worry, Father. Jesus knows everything how much we love Him. You are never alone with Jesus and us. Let us keep saying “yes, Jesus, I love you” with our brother priests every day, specially during anniversaries like this. Amen.

God bless you more, Father Howard!

Our obedience in authority, our authority in obedience

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Memorial of St. Martin of Tours, Bishop, 11 November 2020
Titus 3:1-7     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Luke 17:20-25
Photo from blog.obitel-minsk.com.

Glory and praise to you, O God our almighty Father, the Supreme Authority over the whole universe. As we celebrate the Memorial of St. Martin of Tours, one of your most glorious saints of the fourth century, we are reminded today by this former soldier of the important relationship of obedience and authority.

St. Paul in the first reading tells us:

Beloved: Remind them to be under the control of magistrates and authorities, to be obedient, to be open to every good enterprise.

Titus 3:1

Teach us, O God, how obedience and authority always go together, never apart from each other. May we see that obedience is not a virtue when authority is taken for granted and not rooted in you, our loving Father. At the same time, authority is corrupted when exercised without obedience to higher authority.

Your Son Jesus Christ had taught us so well that he spoke with authority, even the evil spirits obey his words; however, he had always insisted though that even if all authority has been given to him, all his life is a YES and obedience to you, God our Father.

Like St. Martin of Tours who had lived obedient to you O God all his life through his superiors and the people, may we live our obedience in authority in Jesus Christ our Savior while at the same time, may we live our authority in obedience to him by trusting in you alone.

We pray that we do not fall to the trap of the nine lepers healed by Jesus who obeyed him to present themselves to the priests after being healed; they were obedient but were not rooted in God, so mechanical in their obedience, unmindful of the authority of Jesus who healed them.

Instead, may we imitate the Samaritan who upon realizing his healing, returned to thank Jesus: here is a man whose obedience is not only rooted in you, O God, but most of all, whose exercise of authority will surely be in obedience to you for he is full of gratitude.

From being a soldier of the State into being a soldier of God, pray for us St. Martin of Tours to remain rooted in God so that in our obedience to authority as well as exercise of authority in obedience, may we begin and end in him. Amen.

Photo of St. Martin of Tours from St. Martin of Tours Parish, Bocaue, Bulacan.