Growing in Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Week XXIX, Year II in Ordinary Time, 24 October 2020
Ephesians 4:7-16     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Luke 13:1-9
Motorized procession or “Paglilibot” of the Blessed Sacrament around our Parish last summer at the height of COVID-19.

Praise and thanksgiving to you, God our merciful Father for the grace of some bit of good news these past few days with the declining number of COVID-19 infections specially in the National Capital Region. We are still far from controlling the spread of corona virus but that is enough for us to rejoice! Thank you, dear God!

As we come to close this week and inch closer to the penultimate month of 2020, we pray like St. Paul that we may live holy and righteous lives worthy of our dignity in Jesus Christ your Son.

Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole Body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the Body’s growth and builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:15-16

Make us grow in you, dear Jesus: let us see and find you in things and events in our lives.

Make us see ourselves first of all in need of seeking your forgiveness and mercy for our many sins to cleanse ourselves of any claims to self-entitlement as you have warned the people in today’s gospel.

Most of all, may our lives bear fruits like in the parable of the fig tree wherein we keep in mind, always aware of our identity in you, dear Jesus so that we may live accordingly in the grace of the Father through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Human situation, Divine response: multiplying our blessings

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XVIII, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 02 August 2020
Isaiah 55:1-3 >><}}}*> Romans 8:35, 37-39 >><}}}*> Matthew 14:13-21

Remember our reflection last Sunday? Of how parables teach us that “less is always more” because to have the kingdom of God – Jesus Christ himself – we have to learn to appreciate the little things in life?

Beginning this Sunday until August 16, our gospels will start telling us who is Jesus Christ by showing us his powers and abilities that are exactly opposite the way we see and understand them. This new series of stories are so relevant to us in this time of pandemic, giving us wonderful insights into God’s ways of responding to our human situations.

St. Matthew now leads us with Jesus to the wilderness after teaching us in parables to experience his power in transforming us like the five loaves and two fish to feed more than five thousand people.

Multi-layered story of the multiplication of bread

All four evangelists have recorded this story of Jesus Christ’s multiplication of the loaves of bread with their particular focus and stress, showing us that it truly happened and was a major event in the Lord’s ministry.

Very unique with St. Matthew’s version of this miracle story – which has not one but two! – is his economy of words in narrating it like a straight news as if it were a developing story or a “breaking news” unfolding before us, calling us to follow its updates and details due to its multi-layered meanings.

When Jesus heard of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Then he said, “Bring them here to me,” and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over — twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21
Photo from iStock/Studio-Annika.

The consolation of Jesus.

Our situation in this time of the corona pandemic is so similar with that of Jesus. With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, it has finally hit us hard, so close to home with news of those we know getting infected and worst, dying from this disease.

Like Jesus upon hearing the death of John the Baptist, we are all saddened that we wish to withdraw away from everyone.

We want to mourn but there are more people in need of our presence and help in this time of pandemic like the countless medical frontliners and health workers who must be so tired – even sick, physically and emotionally – by now with the growing number of COVID-19 patients and yet have chosen to remain in their posts.

And there are still the other casualties of this pandemic like those who have lost their jobs, those evicted from their rented apartments, those stranded and separated from their loved ones, those begging for food, and those afflicted with other sickness going through dialysis and physical therapy.

Jesus knows so well the “wilderness” we are all going through and he is right here with us, one with us in our sufferings, in our fears and anxieties, and in our exhaustion.

To be one with us is consolation, from the Latin “con” or with + “solare” or alone, to be one with somebody feeling alone.

Jesus did not remove our pains and sufferings, even our death; he joined us to be one with us in these that he can call us to “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give your rest. Take my yoke upon you… For my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt.11:28-30, 14th Sunday, 05 Jul 2020).

Compassion of Jesus.

Still with Christ’s reaction of being “moved with pity” at the sight of the crowds who have followed him to the wilderness, we find something more deeper with his being one with us, in consoling us that he had forgotten all about himself, his tired body that he went on to heal the sick among them.

To be moved with pity is more than a feeling of the senses but a response of his total person.

You respond for help, you reply to a call.

Ever wondered why we have the “responsorial psalm” after the first reading in the Mass? Because those words from the Psalms express our total assent and commitment to God, involving our total self like body, mind, heart and soul.

Photo by Dra. Mai B. Dela Peña, Carmel Monastery, Israel, 2016.

God cannot suffer because he is perfect.

That is why he became human like us in Jesus Christ to be one with our suffering and death so that we would one with him in his glorious Resurrection.

In the wilderness, Jesus stayed with the people, not allowing them to leave as suggested by the Twelve because he was moved with pity with the crowd because he wanted to suffer with them.

That is compassion, literally means to “suffer with” from cum + patior. Here in the wilderness, Jesus showed his compassion for the people which will reach its highest point in giving himself on the Cross on Good Friday.

Have we “responded” to God’s call to serve, to a call of duty, and to a plea for help from the poor? Have we truly given ourselves to somebody without ever thinking our own comfort or rewards? Or, are we running away from his Cross?

What a shame in this time of pandemic there are some among us who rejoice at the losses of others like the Twelve who wanted the crowd to be sent home because they were afraid of responsibilities, of taking care of the suffering people.

Consolation and compassion are the two most needed from each of us in this time of crisis.

Our scarcity mentality, the God of plenty.

We now come to the miracle of the feeding of five thousand. According to the late Fr. Henri Nouwen, this story is an example of our “scarcity mentality” when we think of not having enough, of finding what we have as too little, always looking for more; hence, our tendency to hoard everything.

The Twelve were thinking more of themselves, afraid they could go hungry with the five loaves of bread and two fish they have. They were so afraid of difficulties ahead of them in their situation where to find and how to feed those great number of people.

They were focused on what was lacking than on what they have, and who was with them, Jesus Christ! They were hungry for food in the stomach than for food to the soul unlike the crowds who have followed Jesus.

Worst of all, the Twelve got “mad” upon seeing the crowds who have followed them to the wilderness when in fact, it was Jesus who needed most to rest to mourn John’s death!

But through all these, Jesus patiently bore the people’s woes and the Twelve’s selfishness to teach them all in a very nice way something so essential in our response to every human suffering and extreme situation: opening and entrusting our selves totally to God.

And that was actually the greatest miracle that happened that day.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In doing it, Jesus simply asked the Twelve what they have, never asking how much they have or its condition. Just whatever they have to give everything to Jesus like those five loaves and two fish that he took, and while looking up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the Twelve to distribute to the crowd.

And everyone was satisfied with a lot of left overs too!

Matthew nor any of the other Evangelists ever explained how it happened because it does not really matter at all. What is most important is what are we willing to give up to Jesus so he can transform us into better persons.

That is what we continue to do this day in every celebration of the Holy Eucharist- whatever we have, even not the best or the worst and littlest we have, when given to Jesus becomes holy and multiplied!

The power of God is immense, without doubt. But, in this miracle of the feeding of five thousand, Jesus is showing us that his power is not meant to satisfy our material or bodily needs but our deepest desires that lead to our fulfillment in him as prophesied by Isaiah in the first reading.

Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.

Isaiah 55:2-3

Amid the pandemic worsened by our government officials’ inanities, irresponsibilities, and sheer lack of compassion with us in this wilderness, the Lord assures us today that he is with us for “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ” (Second Reading) if we are willing to give him all that we have.

It is our spiritual transformation first that leads us to our material blessings. We can all have it if we are willing to give everything to Jesus and believe in him always. What do you have for miracles to happen?

A blessed August ahead for you! Amen.

Photo by Dra. Mai B. Dela Peña, Carmel, Israel, 2016.

The temple in our hearts

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest, 31 July 2020
Jeremiah 26:1-9 >>><)))*> >><)))*> ><)))*> Matthew 13:54-58
Photo by author, Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, May 2019.

Praise and glory to you, O God our Father for another week and month about to close before us. And still here we are, alive and safe, making through the many trials and difficulties as we all continue to bear the sufferings of this COVID-19 pandemic.

Thank you for sending us your Son our Lord Jesus Christ who have made our hearts your indwelling.

Unfortunately, like his neighbors, so many times we fail or even refuse to recognize his coming to us.

Jesus came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue. They were astonished and said, “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son?” And they took offense at him.

Matthew 13:54-55, 57

So many times, many things run in our minds and in our hearts that we always fail to see and recognize you, sweet Jesus.

Teach us through St. Ignatius your faithful servant who gave us your wonderful gift of discerning the spirits.

Teach us to lay bare ourselves before you, to be true to our thoughts and feelings so that we may sift through all of these to find your holy will, Lord.

Teach us to “omit nothing” as you commanded Jeremiah in the first reading from your words so that we may be able to discern properly what you want from us.

Make our hearts your temple, O Lord, dwell inside and reign over us so that we may understand fully the meaning of “positive indifference” taught us by St. Ignatius:

“We should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. . . . Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.”

Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius

Let our thoughts and actions always begin and happily end in your greater glory, Lord.

Amen.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us!

A clay- and fish – worthy in the Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, 30 July 2020
Jeremiah 18:1-6 ><)))*> >><)))*> >>><)))*> Matthew 13:47-53
Photo by author, Third Sunday of Lent, 15 March 2020.

How amazing O God on this day as we celebrate the Memorial of St. Peter Chrysologus who spoke eloquently of the Incarnation of your Son in one of his homilies, your Prophet Jeremiah today also spoke something of our being clay in the potter’s hand.

He who made man without generation from pure clay made man again and was born from a pure body. The hand that assumed clay to make our flesh deigned to assume a body for our salvation. That the Creator is in his creature and God is in the flesh brings dignity to man without dishonor to him who made him.

Why then, man, are you so worthless in your own eyes and yet so precious to God? Why render yourself such dishonor when you are honored by him? Why do you ask how you were created and do not seek to know why you were made?

St. Peter Chrysologus in his sermon on the sacrament of Christ’s incarnation, Office of Readings

Thank you, dear God, for this enlightenment from St. Peter Chrysologus also known as the “man of golden speech” for reminding us the great honor of being created by you… from worthless clay!

Help us to reflect more on why you have created us than ask how we were created, and transformed like in the potter’s hand.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done? says the Lord. Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.

Jeremiah 18:5-6

Teach us, sweet Jesus, to be pliant and docile to the Father who continues to form us like clay in the potter’s hand — that no matter how painful life can sometimes be, even difficult, may we also see and appreciate the Father’s wonderful plans for our transformation in the future.

Help us to go through the pains of growing up and maturity so that when judgment day comes, may we all turn out to be good fish to be collected than bad ones that are thrown according to your parable of the net. Amen.

Photo by author, 2018.

Listening to God, Speaking for God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XIII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 02 July 2020
Amos 7:10-17 >><)))*> >><)))*> >><)))*> Matthew 9:1-8
Photo by author, Bible Sunday, January 2020.

Again, O God our loving Father, we pray that you send us prophets especially in this time of so many “spokespersons” who do not know how to listen, like Amaziah the priest at Bethel and the scribes in Capernaum.

Like many of our public figures and even some of us priests who speak a lot in public these days, we all claim to be speaking the truth, speaking for you.

But to speak is always a gift from you, a sharing in your power that whatever you speak happens like in creation and in Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh presented today in the gospel healing a paralytic by simply speaking the words of forgiveness and then telling him to rise and walk.

How funny that in your words today, dear God, are two groups of people claiming to be speaking for you and yet too far from your words and realities, Amaziah and the scribes; and on the other hand, another group, that of Amos and Jesus, claiming nothing for themselves but doing everything in your name.

Teach to be like Amos and Jesus your Son, to speak and do only your Holy Will.

Amos perfectly explained the giftedness of being your prophet:

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor have i belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'”

Amos 7:14-15

Make us realize, Lord, that to speak for you, we must first listen to your voice, wait and listen to your words.

To be your prophet or spokesman is to never harbor evil thoughts on others.

And most of all, like Amos and Matthew, to be your prophet means to leave everything behind especially fame and honor in order to follow you — even to the Cross! Amen.

All in God’s hands

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Week XII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 26 June 2020
2 Kings 25:1-12 >>)))*> >>)))*> >>)))*> Matthew 8:1-4
Photo by author, Assumption Sabbath, Baguio City, 2019.

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

Nothing happens in this life without you fully knowing all about it, Lord God almighty. From the air that we breathe, to the rising and the setting of the sun, to everything —- you fully know them all, Lord and you choose to let them work in our favor despite our turning away from you in sins.

Praise and glory to you, God, and we thank you for your goodness to continue to will what is best for us despite our sinfulness.

May we keep this always in our minds and hearts that nothing escapes you; that sometimes, you just let us go on with our lives so we can finally have a taste of what we choose in this life.

And we seem to never ever learn as we continue to be proud before you, refusing to be humble that until the end, we are forced by our wrong and sinful decisions to eat us up, to shame us like Jerusalem that was almost annihilated by the Babylonians after her fall.

You never punish your people; you only will what is good for us — to be healed, to be cleansed, to be saved in Jesus Christ your Son!

May we always come to you, Lord, asking your will and plans for us, as we readily submit to you. Amen.

Lobby of the Assumption Sabbath in Baguio City, 2019.

Misyon sa Panginoon

Lawiswis Ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, ika-21 ng Abril 2020

Pananampalataya 
ang simula kaya tayo 
ay kaisa ng Maylikha;
Pananampalataya sa kanya
kaya tayo nagkakaisa
nabubuklod bilang kanyang 
katawan na siyang pinagmumulan
nitong ating katipunan
na Kanyang sinusugo
para sa misyon at dakilang layon.
Sa tuwing ating nakikita
ating misyon sa Panginoon
hindi malayong makita rin
mismo ang Panginoon 
sa lahat ng sitwasyon
at pagkakataon.
Kaya manatiling nakatuon
sa ating misyon mula sa Panginoon
hindi magtatagal mararating
at matutupad natin iyon 
sa Kanyang takdang panahon!

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.

Choosing Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

Wednesday, Memorial of St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr, 22 January 2020

1 Samuel 24:3-21 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> Mark 3:1-6

Cross atop our Parish church, 19 January 2020. Photo by Gelo N. Carpio.

Dearest Lord Jesus:

Today I realized something new, something different: that biblical term “hardness of the heart” may not be totally wrong at all.

It sounds negative but may mean two things also like of hardness of the heart for God or a hardness of the heart against God and others.

Hardness of the heart for God: When King Saul was trying to dissuade the young David from facing the Philistine giant Goliath, David explained:

“The Lord, who delivered me from the claws of the lion and the bear, will also keep me safe from the clutches of this Philistine.”

1 Samuel 17:37

Would it really matter, O Lord, if we face a great or little obstacle in life if we have that complete faith and trust in you, if like David we would have such heart so hard for you?

David was very insistent on fighting Goliath – he knew and was convinced that no matter what, God will fight his battle! He had a hard heart for you, O God. Very adamant in fact.

When we have total faith and trust in you, O Lord, there is no one or nothing we should be afraid of.

Hardness of the heart against God: When Jesus confronted his enemies during a sabbath at the synagogue regarding the healing of the man with a withered hand there, they chose to be silent than make a stand for what is good and right.

Then Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good on a sabbath rather than do evil, to save life rather than destroy it?” But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored.

Mark 3:4-5
St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr,
pray for us!

Lord Jesus Christ, remind us always of the beautiful imagery of your Cross, of you always standing in our midst, presenting yourself before us to always choose you, side with you in making choices in life.

Give us the grace and courage like with St. Vincent, the first martyr of Spain who bore all forms of torture with silence and grace, remaining faithful to you.

Give us that grace to give you a chance to work in us.

Harden our hearts for you.

Incline our hearts for you. Amen.

Blessed be God forever!

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe, 24 December 2019

2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16 ><)))*> <*(((>< Luke 1:67-79

Marker on the Church where St. John the Baptist is believed to have been born in Ein Karem, Jerusalem. Photo by author, May 2019.

At last!

These are most likely the two words we must be saying today on this ninth day of our Simbang Gabi.

Finally, we have completed the nine day novena to the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ for tonight will be Christmas.

But, more than being the last day of our novena, today is also the beginning of better days ahead for us all starting with Christmas!

From this day on, let us imitate Zechariah in his new found faith, hope and love in God expressed in his song of praise and thanksgiving after recovering his sense of hearing and speaking after nine months of forced silence.

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.”

Luke 1:68-69
Sunrise at the Lake of Galilee, the Holy Land. Photo by author, May 2019.

Three canticles of praise, three prayers of faith

Popularly known as the Benedictus from its Latin opening verse “Blessed be God”, this is the second of the three canticles St. Luke tells us Zechariah had sang after naming his son “John”.

The other two songs are the Magnificat by Mary during her Visitation of Elizabeth and the third is the Nunc Dimittis by Simeon upon seeing the child Jesus during his presentation at the Temple of Jerusalem.

These canticles or songs make up the beautiful Christmas story by St. Luke who put them onto the mouths of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon to signify their being filled with the Holy Spirit in experiencing the coming of Jesus Christ: Mary sang “my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” during the Visitation in response to the praises by Elizabeth (Lk.1:46-55) while Simeon the prophet prayed to God to “let him go in peace” – to die – after seeing the coming of the Savior (Lk.2:29-32).

These eventually became part of the prayers of the Church (Liturgy of the Hours) we priests and religious are obliged to pray day in, day out:

  1. Benedictus in the morning to show how willing are we to face the new day by making our Savior Jesus Christ present in our lives like St. John the Baptizer, his precursor;
  2. Magnificat in the evening to praise and thank God in working his salvation in us through Jesus Christ;
  3. Nunc Dimittis at night before bedtime to signify our readiness to die and finally be one with God in Jesus Christ.

They are our “spiritual vitamins” that fill us with the Holy Spirit to strengthen and deepen our relationship with the Father in Jesus Christ which every Christian may pray too to experience and be one with God daily.

Pilgrims waiting outside the Church of St. John the Baptist in Ein Karem, Jerusalem. On the walls are the translation into different languages of the world, including Filipino, of Zechariah’s Benedictus. Photo by author, May 2019.

Why God is blessed according to Zechariah

The Benedictus signifies Zechariah’s coming to full circle after nine months of forced silence after doubting the angel’s message that he and Elizabeth would finally have a son.

Our sacristy, Advent 2019.

In singing the Benedictus, Zechariah did not only recover his power of speech but most of all showed the fruits of his nine months of silence and prayer preparing for the birth of his son John as well as, ultimately, for Christ’s coming (his song indicates it).

Finally, Zechariah has been healed of his pains and hurts that prevented him in experiencing God, in believing in his powers again, giving him more reasons to hope and be joyful.

This is the reason we also have the Advent Season when we try to dispose ourselves more to Christ’s coming to us not only at Christmas but everyday in our lives.

Zechariah mentions three powerful verbs why he praised God: for he has come to his people, set them free, and has raised up a mighty Savior.

God has come to us

Zechariah first experienced God coming to him when the angel announced to him John’s birth while incensing at the temple during the Day of Atonement. Unfortunately, he was “absent” at God’s “presence” that he questioned how Elizabeth would bear a child.

Everything now changes not only because he had seen his own son but he himself experienced God’s coming in his life.

Sometimes, our pains and hurts, frustrations and disappointments, defeats and failures blind us, numb us that we cannot see, we cannot experience God coming to us in every brand new day he gives us, through the people we meet with their smiles and greetings, with our family and friends who have have stayed with us in good times and bad.

Every morning we wake up to reminds us God has come to us. Rise and meet him in joy, entrust the new day to him, and ask for the grace to remain in him!

God has set us free

Every time God comes, there is always freedom – freedom from evil and sin, freedom from the past and all its pains and hurts, freedom from guilt feelings, freedom everything that prevents us from being truly free to be our own, good sel, to be free and faithful to love and forgive others too.

Carmelite Monastery, Guiguinto, Bulacan. Photo by author, November 2019.

Literally speaking, Zechariah felt free again to speak and express himself fully. But more than that is the experience to go and live fully in God.

We can never experience Christmas if we cannot assert this freedom Christ had won for us when he died on the Cross. Forget all those “hugot” lines and move forward with life.

The name of God is “I AM” because he is always in the PRESENT, never in the past nor in the future.

That is why each new day is a gift, a present from God who as set us free from yesterday’s mistakes and failures and sins.

Go and be free for God!

God has raised up for us a mighty Savior

Christmas is not a date but an event, a person we experience in Jesus Christ who is a dialogue himself according to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Jesus is always communing with us, inviting us to be one in him in his love.

In his Benedictus, Zechariah is also professing the saving work of God in Jesus Christ who became human like us in everything except sin. God is so blessed because of his great love for us, he chose to enter, or intervene into human history to bring us into eternal life by faith in Christ Jesus.

To raise up is a strong term also indicating the Paschal mystery Christ will go through, the ultimate communion of God into our own lowliness of suffering and death to bring us into the glorious victory of his resurrection.

Every morning, every day we are reminded by Zechariah of the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary regarding the birth of John: nothing is impossible with God.

And Zechariah had experienced this first hand when his barren and old wife Elizabeth conceived their child John.

May we have a renewed faith, hope and love in God at the closing of our Simbang Gabi this year. Like David in the first reading, rest be assured of God’s plan for each of us. Let us be patient to wait and prepare always for his coming like Zechariah even in his old age. Amen.

Birthplace of St. John the Baptist at Ein Karen, Jerusalem. Photo by author, May 2019.