Life will never be the same after Easter 2020

The Lord is My Chef Easter Vigil Recipe, 11 April 2020

Our simple yet meaningful Easter celebration amid Covid-19, 11 April 2020.

A blessed happy Easter to you my dear reader!

What have you been praying for since the start of this Holy Week amid the threat of COVID-19? Aside from being spared by this dreaded corona virus, what have you been praying for?

For almost a month, I have always been praying to God for one special thing: that we may all go back to our “normal lives” soon.

Since the first Sunday of our lockdown last March 22 that happened to be my 55th birthday, until after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, I have been going around our parish with the Blessed Sacrament and Santo Entierro on Good Friday mounted on a truck to bless the people.

And every time I would go around – with strict orders on the people to observe social distancing – I have strongly felt how they were so hungry and thirsty for Jesus, kneeling along the highway, some with lighted candles while others have their little altar in front of their homes.

Photo by Mr. Randy Cajanding, 09 April 2020.

Except for some few people, almost everyone would make the sign of the Cross, take a bow or raise their hands, asking for blessings, praying silently in their hearts.

I really wonder what they were praying for.

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, 22 March 2020.
Photo by Ms. Anne Ramos, 10 April 2020.

Me?

Next to the request that we may all be spared of the corona virus in our parish, I always prayed silently to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and in his Santo Entierro, to please, “bring us back to our previous normal lives Lord… I am will to sacrifice everything, to bear all these pains and hardships… just bring us back to our previous normal lives… magbalik lang kami sa dating normal naming buhay, Lord, lahat titiisin ko po.”

Photo by Ms. Anne Ramos, 10 April 2020.

Easter is moving forward to new life, never a going back

But early this Holy Saturday morning as I prayed, I realized God is not going to answer that special prayer of mine.

God will never bring back our previous normal lives before this time of the corona virus when we take control of everything because Easter is leaving the past behind, the old misconceptions, the old sins, the old ways of life far from God.

Easter is moving forward to Jesus, with Jesus, in Jesus.

Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.”

Matthew 28:5-7

After this time of the corona virus in the year 2020, we shall never go back to our previous normal lives because Easter is a call to renewal, to going back to God, to going back to love and kindness.

Easter is going back to God, centering our lives anew in him because he is our life!

Entrance to our church during our Easter Vigil, 11 April 2020. Photo by Ms. Ria de Vera.

Jesus is inviting us on this Easter 2020 in the time of COVID-19 to come to him in his new life, to leave the previous normal lives when we spend Sundays on our own, when we just pray and celebrate Mass on special occasions or when we have problems or when going through calamities and disasters.

Jesus is inviting us on this Easter 2020 in the time of corona virus to come to him in his new life to renew our ties with our family and friends, to forgive and bridge gaps among us because life is too short, so fragile.

Jesus is inviting us on this Easter 2020 in the time of COVI9D-19 to come to him in his mercy and justice, to leave our previous lives when we take people for granted, especially those in the health sector like nurses or ordinary folks we call like janitors and garbage collectors.

Easter is rediscovering anew the more essential in lives like the value of each person, the value of health and education, the value of wisdom and sound judgement and decisions.

Jesus is demanding us on this Easter 2020 in the time of the corona virus to never go back to our “normal lives” of before when it was normal to be corrupt, to use foul language, to lie and malign others, to kill and disregard human life, to use violence and force.

Never again must we be silent when people and nature are taken for granted.

Jesus is inviting us on this Easter 2020 in the midst of COVID-19 to never go back to our old politics of trapos and vote buying, to rediscover how blessed is our country with great, talented people equally blessed with a country rich in natural resources ravaged by greedy politicians.

Jesus is inviting us on this Easter 2020 in the time of the corona virus to come to him in his new life by working for justice and truth, speaking against violence and disregard for lives, fighting corruption, rejecting the normal things of life of deception and lies in government, in the church, in school, and in our own families.

Photo by author, 02 April 2020.

If you have listened to our readings, from the story of the creation to the time of Abraham and Moses and then Jesus, people were blessed materially and spiritually because they never went back to old ways of lives but always moved forward in God, in selfless giving of self in service to others.

Without any doubt, Holy Week 2020 is the most unforgettable – even unbelievable we have ever had in our lifetime or even in recent history. And with the extension of the ECQ until the end of April, that makes our Holy Week 2020 as the longest one too!

But, it is not that bad at all.

Holy Week is “Mahal na Araw” in Filipino: mahal means valuable that is why it is the same word we use for expensive. Most of all, mahal is the root of pagmamahal or love because to love is to value another person.

Extended lockdown, extended Holy Week means longer “Mahal na Araw” — that is, more time to love God, others, and self.

So, it is still a blessed Easter to everyone!

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, Easter Vigil in our parish, 11 April 2020.

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.

Mas malungkot si Hesus

Lawiswis Ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Huwebes Santo, Ika-09 ng Abril 2020

Ulan katanghalian ng Huwebes Santo, ika-09 ng Abril 2020. Kuha ng may-akda.
Mula pa pagkabata
ipinamulat na ng aking ama at ina
na tuwing Semana Santa
bawal ang magsaya
dahil Panginoong Hesus ay
nagpakasakit para tayo ay sumapit
sa langit na dating ipinagkait.
Kaya nga sa aking pagdarasal
iisang tanong sa akin ang bumabalong: 
sino nga ba mas malungkot 
ngayong Huwebes Santo 
habang sarado mga simbahan
tigil mga tao sa tahanan 
dahil sa lockdown?
Katanghalian habang nagninilay
bumuhos malakas na ulan
bagama't sasandali lamang
sa aking pakiramdam sinagot
aking katanungan:
higit na malungkot 
sa ating katayuan si Hesus ating kaibigan.
Larawan kuha ni G. Jay Javier, Quiapo, Maynila, ika-09 ng Enero 2020.
Batid natin mga pangyayari
pagkaraan nilang maghapunan
hinugasan ni Hesus paa ng mga kaibigan
ngunit anong saklap ng kapalaran
isa sa kanila Hudas ang pangalan
pinagkatiwalaan upang maging ingat yaman
pagmamahal at kapatiran, sinuklian ng kataksilan. 
Hanggang ngayon sa ating panahon 
nauulit ang masaklap na kapalaran
na sa kabila ng kanyang kabutihan
nagagawa pa rin natin siyang talikuran;
alalahanin at balikan, salitang binitiwan
ni Hesus sa Huling Hapunan
nang tanggihan ni Simon paa niya ay hugasan.
Ang sabi ng Panginoon kay Simon
paalala sa ating mga makasalanan
huwag kalilimutan binyag na ating tinanggap
na siyang tinutukoy niya:
"maliban sa mga paa,
hindi na kailangan hugasan ang naligo na
dahil malinis na kayo ngunit hindi ang lahat" aniya.
Tuwing nagkakasala tayo
naghuhudas din tayo:
nakapaligo at nahugasan na sa kasalanan
ngunit ulit-ulit narurumihan 
si Kristo ay iniiwan, tinatalikuran 
sa tuwing tumatanggi tayo
sa pagmamahalan at pagkakapatiran.
Larawan kuha ng may-akda bago magsimula Misa ng Huwebes Santo 2020.
Hindi nga natin malilimutan
kalungkutan sa pagdiriwang
nitong Semana Santa sa panahon ng corona:
walang tao sa Misa 
walang paghuhugas ng mga paa
walang bihilya
walang Visita Iglesia.


Ngunit itong ating mga kalungkutan
wala sa kalingkingan ng kalungkutan ni Hesus:
mas malungkot si Hesus para sa mga frontliners
nahaharap sa maraming panganib;
mas malungkot si Hesus para sa mga maysakit
at sa mga namamatay sa panahong ito;
mas nalulungkot si Hesus sa mga kinakapos, naghihikahos.
Mas malungkot si Hesus 
ngayong Semana Santa
sa mga mag-asawa nagkakasawaan na 
o marahil ay naghiwalay na;
mas malungkot si Hesus 
sa mga magkakapatid na kanya-kanya
magkakaibigan na nagkalimutan na.
Mas malungkot si Hesus
sa mga gumagawa ng kasamaan
may tinatagong relasyon
mga addiction at bisyo na hindi matalikuran;
mas malungkot si Hesus sa mga naliligaw 
nawawala at lalo sa mga bigo at sugatan
pati na rin mga kinalimutan ng lipunan. 
Pinakamalungkot si Hesus ngayon
dahil tuwing tayo ay nasasaktan
higit ang kanyang sakit nadarama
kaya kung tunay na siya ay ating kaisa
sa mga pagdurusa at kalungkutan niya
atin sanang makita at madama
sakit at hinagpis ng iba
na sana'y ating masamahan, aliwin, at patatagin
upang sa gayon sama-sama tayong bumangon
sa Pasko ng Pagkabuhay ng Panginoon.
Kuha ng stained glass sa likod ng aming simbahan ng pagkabuhay ni Hesus kasama mga alagad.

Are we ready and empty?

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe, Holy Thursday, 09 April 2020

Our altar is ready
the tabernacle is empty
but are we also hungry
or thirsty for Thee?
O Lord have mercy
and please empty 
our hearts of pride, 
fill us with your humility,
justice and love
so we may say to Thee 
on this Holy Thursday
"Lord, I am not worthy 
to receive Thee but only
say the word and I shall 
be healed."

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.

Aral ng anino ni Kristo

Lawiswis Ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, ika-07 ng Abril 2020

Minsan sa aking pananalangin sa takip-silim
hindi kaagad namalayan sa gitna ng dilim
nakamasid pala sa akin
si Kristong nakabitin nang
sa krus namatay para sa atin.


Nang siya ay aking tingalain
ako'y namangha sa tanawin
sa kanyang mga anino
sa akin ay nagpapaalala
huwag mangamba, kasama siya tuwina.


Noong mga bata pa tayo
itong ating mga anino
ang siyang lagi nating kalaro
dahil lagi tayong sinasabayan
kailanman hindi tayo iniwan.


Kaya naman nang aking pagmasdan
larawan nina San Juan at Birheng Mahal
sa magkabilang pagitan ng krus na pinagpakuan
ni Hesus na ating katubusan
kakaiba ang aking naramdaman:


Katiyakang hindi iiwanan
kapag ako'y laging nasa kanyang paanan
nananalangin, nananampalataya
handa na siya ay tularan at sundan
lahat ay iwanan alang-alang sa pagkakaibigan.

Prayer of the Lord’s servant

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe, Holy Monday, 06 April 2020

Isaiah 42:1-7 ><)))*> +++ 0 +++ <*(((>< John 12:1-11

Photo by author, Tabernacle of Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Bagbaguin, Santa Maria, Bulacan, 05 April 2020.

In the midst of this most trying time in our modern world while we get into the holiest days of the year, grant me, O Lord Jesus Christ, the grace to be like you, a servant of the Father, filled with the Holy Spirit, “not crying out, not shouting, not making my voice heard in the street” (Is.42:1-2).

Teach me the path of non-violence when brute force is preferred by those in authority, to strive for what is just so that there may be peace and joy throughout the land as well as healing and health among the sick.

A bruised reed he shall not break, a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

Isaiah 42:3-4

Help me O Lord, to bridge the gaps among people separated by pains and hurts in their past, differences in beliefs and color and status in life.

Give me the strength to grip and steadily hold those about to give up on life, in God, in their family, and in humanity.

May I open the eyes of those blinded by worldly possessions to see beyond material things, most especially the warmth of your loving face found in every child and persons we meet trying to make ends meet.

In my own struggles may I set free the many prisoners of sins and addiction as I try to bring your light, dear Jesus among those in darkness especially the poor who have always been with us but we have always forgotten. Amen.

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.

Tayo ba’y Palabas o Paloob?

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-20 ng Abril 2019
Larawan mula sa Google.
Ano nga ba ang kabuluhan
Nitong mga panata na sinasakatuparan
Kung wala namang kahulugan
Maliban sa ito'y nakagisnan?
Inyong pagmasdan itong ating mga nakagawian
Na pawang puro kaluhuan
Puro palabas wala na sa kalooban
Kaya nawala na sa atin ang kahulugan.
Pagkakataon sana upang ating masalamin
At mapaglalim mga minanang kaugalian natin
Ngunit nagiging isang malagim na tanawin
Karima-rimarim na pag-uugali ng marami sa atin.
Larawan mula sa GMA News.
Isang kabataan nadismaya sa nakita
Nang gawing malaking basurahan simbahan nila
Ng mga nag-visita iglesia na walang pakundangan 
Nilapastangan at sinalaula tahanan ng Diyos.
Hindi lamang iyan sa Antipolo
Kungdi maging mula Aparrri hanggang Jolo
Eksenang ganyang kagulo
Ng mga Katolikong sira ang ulo.
Larawan mula sa Google.
Anong uri nga ba ng pananampalatay mayroon tayo
Mga Filipino diumano Katoliko sarado
Hindi mababago anila pagiging Kristiyano
O sarado isip at puso sa katotohanan ni Kristo?
Ngayong "nakahimlay" Panginoon natin
Suriin mga pagkukulang natin
Kung bakit mga pagdiriwang at gawain
Sa simbahan nawalan ng taginting.
Mga simbahan ba natin maituturing na bahay dalanginan pa rin
Kung punung-puno ng mga palamuti, walang katapusang mga pagawain?
Puro flat screen at tarpaulin mga dingding
Lahat na lamang naka-recording, ang Diyos wala nang dating. 
Nasaan na ang marubdob na pakiramdam
Kung ang simbahan mistulang tindahan
At ang masaklap na katotohanan minsan o palagian
Kay Father walang maramdamang kabanalan.
Madalas nating mapakinggan itong kasabihan
Kung ano ang gobyerno, ganoon din ang mga tao;
Huwag nating kalilimutan ang katotohanang iyan
Sa simbahan ma'y matatagpuan una doon sa mga kaparian.
Larawan mula sa Sandigan-Diocese of Malolos.

Our life of leaving and loving

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe, Holy Thursday of the Lord’s Passion, 18 April 2019
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14///1 Corinthians 11:23-26///John 13:1-15
Altar at the Carmelite Monastery in Israel with a unique Crucifix. Photo by Dra. Mai B. Dela Pena, 2011.

Today I am celebrating my 21st year in the priesthood. This is the first time our ordination anniversary falls on a Holy Thursday when we celebrate the institution of the two Sacraments most closely linked with us priests and the Church, Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders.

When we were ordained by Archbishop Rolando J. Tria-Tirona 21 years ago at the Malolos Cathedral, there were so many things going on in my mind and in my heart. But there was one thing that had remained very clear with me since that day: I am being ordained priest at the age of 33, the very same age Jesus was crucified on the Cross. From then on until now, I have kept in my heart that priesthood is suffering and dying on the Cross in Jesus and with Jesus centered on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

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.

John 13:1

Of the four evangelists, it is only St. John who repeatedly mentions the expression “hour of Jesus” in his gospel account. For him, the very life of Jesus is a journey and preparation to his “hour” which is his crucifixion and death. The hour of Jesus is his passion. The word passion is from the Latin verb patior that means to undergo, to pass through, evoking some form of suffering and pain.

The hour of Jesus started in his Last Supper. It was a very long hour so to speak. And very dark. However, it was also the finest hour of Jesus when he poured out his immense love and mercy for us. Beginning at his supper when he washed the feet of the Apostles to his agony in the garden when he perspired with blood to his arrest reaching it darkest point in his crucifixion and death, the darkest hour of Jesus is also his finest hour when he was able to bear all sufferings and insults, including death because of love. Jesus showed us that in fact, love is the very process of passing over, of going beyond our means and capacity in order to transform and become better persons. That is why our darkest hour is also our finest hour when we are transformed in Jesus because precisely that is when we truly love. It is also for this reason that the Eucharist is called an agape which is the Greek word for the highest form of love that does not expect anything in return. That is the love of Jesus Christ. And supposed to be the love of us priests.

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.

Jesus washes feet of Apostles. From Google.

Msgr. Epitacio Castro, one of our retired priests, has a favorite expression with his being a priest: “pinag-uubra lang ako ng Diyos”. True. God is just making do of us as priests because nobody is worthy of being one. We are the worst men around! We are also sinners like you, even more sinful than most of you. In the Eucharist, we priests experience that great love of Jesus Christ when he tries to make us fit as his priests, transforming us into men like him. It happens every time we are one with him in his hour of suffering and death. Priesthood is a life of leaving and loving, of passing over and transformation. The day we were ordained, our Last Supper began, our passion began because that is also our hour in Jesus Christ. Every time we celebrate the Holy Mass, we priests are reminded that our hour had come to pass, challenging us to love more. Pray for priests who no longer love the Eucharist; something is terribly wrong with them.

I am a sinner. But it is a tremendous grace of God through the Eucharist that I continue to leave and pass over, from sin to holiness and grace, from darkness to light, from selfishness to selflessness, from desperation to hope, from grief to joy. And all because of the power of love of God overflowing in the Eucharist. How can I resist to love and to forgive, to let go and move on, to be patient and to persevere when right in the Eucharist I could feel Jesus truly present, entrusting himself to me who is so untidy with sins and weaknesses? How could I not believe in him when Jesus is the first to believe in me despite my many self doubts? Every celebration of the Eucharist is an imitation of Christ when we priests go down to wash and kiss the feet of the people we serve whom we also hurt and hurt us too!

They say the darkest nights are the longest nights. Very true especially for us priests. Be patient with us when we forget so many things, when we change so often in our plans because every time there are celebrations, our hour goes over time too. Bear with us, pray for us when we sometimes become irritable even grouchy because aside from your many problems and burdens we help you carry, we have our own struggles and problems too. That hour of Jesus remains with us even after every Mass when you all go home to your own family while we priests are left alone in our parish thinking about the next celebrations. The hours are long and the nights are so dark and all we have is that flickering light of faith, hope, and love in Jesus in our hearts.

But, though the darkest nights are the longest nights, they also say that only the brave who dare walk the darkness can see the brightness of the stars above. Courage does not mean having no fear but the ability to face our fears. And, oh! We priests have many fears too, including the fears of rejection, of being misunderstood, of being boxed, and most of all, of failing. We are what you call as “warrior is a child” — “They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down. They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around. I drop my sword and cry for just a while, ‘Coz deep inside this armor, The warrior is a child.

In the Eucharist, we priests truly share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ because that is also when we feel transformed in his love, when we pass over with so much pains from the many experiences we have in our very selves and with others. Indeed, without the Eucharist, we are not priests! Every time I raise Christ’s Body and Blood, I pray that Jesus may make me whole in body, mind and heart, that he may wash me of all my sins, doubts and fears. Nobody else in the Mass perhaps, except us priests who truly feel the meaning of praying these words before receiving communion, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my shall be healed.”

Maybe you have all seen the photos after the fire that razed the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris this Holy Tuesday. Intact were the altar table with the huge cross beaming with light. What a beautiful reminder to us all, especially us priests, that in this life, our darkest hours are also our finest hours when we are one with Jesus Christ. No fire nor anything can ever destroy us because Jesus had overcome every evil even death for us. Every destruction and darkness are a prelude to the light and new creation of Easter Sunday that begins right here in the hour of the Eucharist of Jesus. Let us remain in Christ in love in passing over, in leaving behind the pains and hurts of the past with much love in our hearts to move on in this life. Amen.

Photo from Yahoo.news.