Healing the divisions within and among us

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXIX-A in Ordinary Time, 18 October 2020
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6  ><)))*> + <*(((><  1 Thessalonians 1:1-5 ><)))*> + <*(((><  Matthew 22:15-21
Photo by author, the Walls of Jerusalem, May 2019.

People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.

“I Like You Just Because” by Albert J. Nimeth, OFM

We live in a world with so many divisions of our own making. Most of the time we are divided on the things we possess not only of things like properties and borders, inheritance, and toys but also of persons like in child custody and “trading” players in sports! So many times these divisions have caused harm and destruction among us as nations and as individuals.

Sad to say, these divisions come from within us in our hearts where we always try to divide our lives between God and our very selves, especially in the realm of religion and civic life.

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”

Matthew 22:15-16, 17

When our possessions possess us.

Today and next Sunday, Jesus is confronted by his enemies who have increased their efforts in finding faults against him in his speech to charge him with serious cases and get rid of him; but, more than dispatching his enemies with his brilliant answers to their question, Jesus brought to the fore the real score of the great divide within us.

In our gospel scene today, we can see clearly how divided within were the enemies of Jesus like the Pharisees and Herodians who joined forces to put Jesus down despite their being poles apart in their beliefs: the former who were against the Romans taking control in Israel while the latter were members of a faction supportive of the occupying forces.

As they sought the Lord’s opinion on the perceived deep divisions many still believe to exist up to this day between “Caesar” and God, Jesus brought to the open how divided inside were his enemies after all —- just like us today when we have been possessed by our very own possessions!

Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Matthew 22:18-21

Jesus is not proposing a compromise in his answer but rather trying to heal the false divisions we have created inside us.

Aside from the silly alliance of the Pharisees and Herodians, Jesus bared how divided within they have always been when they gave him a coin used to pay taxes to the Caesar that has an image of the emperor and the inscription that says “son of god” – something that was clearly against the First Commandment of God that in fact, they should have not been carrying at all when in the temple area!

They have been divided inside because they have been possessed by their possessions like money. In telling them, and us today, to “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”, Jesus reminds us that what belongs to Caesar are inanimate objects that are external to the heart of things. When a young man asked Jesus one day to tell his brother to give him his share of inheritance, the Lord stressed that he had not come to settle our disputes about money and properties (Lk.12:13). Today, Jesus is telling us that it is our responsibility and not for him to decide for us how to settle our political and other problems.

Our undivided hearts are God’s alone.

Photo by d0n mil0 on Pexels.com

Jesus clearly points out that what belongs to God is our whole selves, our whole hearts undivided by pride, hypocrisy, and selfishness. While we must give back to Caesar what is due them as further taught by St. Paul and St. Peter in their letters to the early Christians, Jesus directly tells us that our duties to God bind all, everywhere and all the time.

Unlike the image of the Caesar found on coins, we are stamped with the image and likeness of God who created us out of his immense love. It is our duty and moral obligation to always ensure that this image of God in us is never destroyed and always upheld.

Here falls the sensitive – and false issue of “separation of Church and state” in our time like the payment of Roman tax raised by the Pharisees and Herodians. Nowhere does the concept forbid us priests nor the Church as an institution not to speak out when the very image of God is destroyed among men and women with injustice, violence and abject poverty.

What the separation of Church and state forbids is the support and endorsement of a state religion; in a sense, it promotes more harmony and unity among government and religions in their exercise of their true freedom among peoples.

Even God himself works within our own settings in this world to fulfill his plans for us. Trust him because everything works best for those who have believe wholly in God.

In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah we find the most amusing bit of history of how God had used a pagan ruler, Cyrus the king of Persia or Iran today to become his anointed savior or messiah of Israel then in their Babylonian exile. Imagine how God used an outsider, an unbeliever to free his chosen people from one of their darkest moments in history to show us that God is the master of history because everything is his.

May we heed St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians and to us today to never doubt it was God in Jesus Christ who called us out of darkness and sin to be his new chosen people. Everything in our lives specially in our ministries and apostolate are the initiatives of God – may our hearts be undivided in giving him back everything through Jesus Christ, our life and meaning. Amen.

A blessed new week to you!

Photo by the author, view of the hills from Jerusalem temple, May 2019.

Being clothed with Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXVIII-A in Ordinary Time, 11 October 2020
Isaiah 25:6-10     ><)))*>     Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20     >><)))*>     Matthew 22:1-14
Photo by author, Our Lady of Mount Carmel of the Holy Family, Guiguinto, Bulacan (2018).

As we end the series of teachings in parables by Jesus directed to the chief priests and elders of the people, St. Paul concludes his Letter to the Philippians in our second reading with words so moving for a man awaiting trial and sure death, giving us a glimpse at how this great Apostle of the Lord looked at the most ordinary things in life.

Brothers and sisters: I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live in abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:12-14

Wow! Here we find St. Paul at his best and finest, with his mastery of language at the service of his innermost thoughts and feelings, indicating his transformation from the many hardships and difficulties he had gone through as an Apostle and suffered as a prisoner.

Like St. Paul, there are times we experience that perfect balance in life called equilibrium when we are able to bridge the distance between our mind and our heart with Jesus at the center amid so many trials and difficulties.

Most of all, we see in this short passage how St. Paul accepted both living in need and in abundance with calmness and composure because of Jesus Christ who strengthened him!

What an encouragement for us all in this time of pandemic to remind us of learning to adjust to situations, that true peace within comes not from abundance or scarcity of material goods but of letting go and letting God in our lives. St. Paul witnessed to us the centrality of the Lord’s teaching of denying ourselves, taking our cross and following Jesus.

Most of all, in St. Paul we find what is to be clothed in Christ or “to put on Jesus Christ” (Rom.13:14) by accepting God’s invitation to salvation through his Son as the parable of the wedding feast tells us in our gospel this Sunday.

Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants… Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

Matthew 22:1-4, 5-7

Do not ignore God’s invitation; carpe diem (seize the moment).


Photo by Angelo N. Carpio, January 2020.

Jesus continues to direct his parables to the chief priests and elders of the people not really to shame them and expose their sinister plots against him but more in the hope of converting them, of giving them the chance of getting into God’s kingdom in heaven.

That is how great is his love for everyone, especially the sinful even if they would not admit it — just like us!

Keep in mind that Christ speaks always in the present and this parable is also meant for us who feel “entitled” in may ways like the chief priests and elders at that time. Interestingly, today’s parable to a large extent has to be taken in the context of the Sunday Mass, the prefiguration of the wedding feast in heaven to which we are all invited.

But how can we get to the wedding feast in heaven if we feel so sure like the chief priests and elders that we refuse to accept God’s invitation?

The Eucharist is the summit of our Christian life where we receive Jesus Christ in words proclaimed, in his Body and Blood, and among the people gathered. Every day Jesus is inviting us to partake in his Sacred Meal to be nourished and get our bearings in life through him like St. Paul.

See how before the pandemic, people refused to celebrate Mass and other Sacraments; but, when quarantine measures were implemented with the suspension of public Masses, everybody wanted to go to churches and receive the Sacraments, specially Holy Communion and Baptism, as well as Confession and Anointing of the Sick!

Photo from Shutterstock/Aleteia.

After seven months of pandemic, many of us have learned to adjust to the new situation but sadly, many have gone back to totally ignoring the Sunday Mass. Worst is at how some have considered online Masses as “video-on-demand” making Jesus Christ a “commodity” anyone can have when most convenient. Pope Francis had reminded us last summer that online Masses are not the norm but a response to the pandemic. Nonetheless, we still have to dispose ourselves properly when celebrating with online Masses like in actual live Mass in a Church and strive to be punctual and avoid doing other things during the online celebration.

In giving us these modern means of communications, God continues to invite us to come to him and gather in his name as a family in our homes for the Sunday online Masses and other liturgical activities that nourish our souls so essential in these trying times. Like the king in the parable today who had to invite guests thrice to his son’s wedding feast, God gives us all the opportunities and chances to celebrate in his gift of salvation through Jesus in the Eucharist which is the summit of Christian life.

May we not miss every opportunity!

When I was assigned to our diocesan schools during my first ten years in priesthood, I used to tell my students that God’s mercy and forgiveness are unlimited but there are acts that can have irreversible consequences like getting involved in a murder, getting pregnant outside marriage, or being caught in a video scam. I would tell them that God will surely forgive you and give you many chances in life while people like your family and friends including those you may have hurt may also forgive and accept you; however, you cannot escape the consequences of those acts that will surely limit your freedom and change forever your situations in life. Bottomline is, do not let yourself be missed out in accepting God’s invitation to his feast of life and salvation by following the path of holiness that beings in the Holy Mass.

The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah directs our attention to “that day” when God would save us and welcome us into heaven symbolized by the feast or banquet with great food and drinks. The good news is we are all invited to his feast, assured with a seat and it would only be our fault to not make it there, either by refusing it or not getting dressed properly.


Being properly dressed is always a sign of maturity.


Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images, 09 February 2020, Baclaran Church.

“The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, good and bad alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

As is often the case in his parables, Jesus pulled a surprise when he added another parable to this parable of the wedding feast that could have easily ended in the annihilation of those who rejected the king’s two earlier invitations.

God is the king who was so good that he never tired of inviting guests thrice to the wedding feast of his son, and this time he opened it to everyone! And here lies the clincher: though everyone is invited, guests were expected to come in proper attire.

We have learned at a very young age of getting properly dressed in an occasion. In fact, dressing properly is a sign of maturity. Some people especially in this age always claim what matters is the inside of the person not the outside appearance like clothes; but, they forget that the outside also indicates what is inside of us!

Clothes speak a lot of who we are and what we are that even St. Paul used several times the metaphors of clothes like “putting on the Lord Jesus” or being “clothed in Christ” as we have cited earlier.

See how the king went to meet the guests not just for pleasantries but for inspection that immediately his eyes caught the man not dressed in a wedding garment. The king was even courteous addressing the man as “my friend” when asked why he came not in a wedding garment.

Try to imagine the scene with that man “reduced to silence” meaning, he was guilty of not putting on a wedding garment even if he knew that was the occasion he was going to. He had been remiss of his duties and obligations, just like the wicked tenants last week or the merciless servant last month.


"Many are invited, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14) 

St. Matthew never failed to remind us these past weeks that our faith has no value if not translated into actions, if it does not bear fruits. Today, he reminds us to be properly dressed to become a part of the wedding feast of the Lord, of the need to be clothed in holiness, in charity, and kindness with others.

Moreover, with just barely two months to go before we end the liturgical year to usher in Advent in preparation for Christmas, Jesus tells us today to never feel so sure, even “safely assured” of getting into heaven like the chief priests and elders of his time that even if we celebrate Sunday Masses weekly, online or actual, nothing is final yet in this life until we all get into the hall of the wedding feast in heaven when we are judged for our good deeds.

For the meantime, let us not miss joining the “rehearsals” for that feast – the Sunday Mass we celebrate weekly when he invites everyone to come. Be sure to be properly dressed for the occasion, literally and figuratively speaking. Amen.

A blessed week to everyone!

Photo by author at Silang, Cavite, 22 September 2020.

Trees are “shaken” to get its fruits

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXVII-A in Ordinary Time, 04 October 2020
Isaiah 5:1-7     ||+||     Philippians     ||+||     Matthew 21:33-43
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

To all the plantitos and plantitas: happy feast day this Sunday, the fourth of October which is also the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron of those in the green movements.

Part of the grace of this pandemic is the new awareness and interests of many among us for all kinds of plants borne out of the prolonged quarantine periods these past seven months. I remember growing up in our barrio where fences were all plants like santan, San Francisco and gumamelas whose flowers we used to mix with Tide to play bubbles. Who would have thought that after several decades those plants we used to take for granted like the gabi varieties and others along with cactus found almost everywhere would cost a fortune today?

But what I really miss and hope the plantitos and plantitas will be able to revive and bring back are the fruit trees every home used to have even in vacant lots like guava, santol, atis, aratiles, mabolo, achesa, duhat, kamias and of course, mango. Whenever me and my cousin would trek to the mini forest at the back of our compound called “duluhan” near a swampland to shoot birds and everything with our slingshots (tirador), we always had some fruits to munch in our little adventures.

And part of that adventure was to “shake” until we break branches of trees to get fruits and local beetles called salagubang (on mango trees).

Shaking of tree. Exactly the same thing that Jesus did today in his next parable addressed to the chief priests and elders of the people who would soon have him arrested, tried, and crucified: after telling them parable of the wicked tenants who killed the servants and the son of the owner, Jesus shook and shocked his listeners who later realized the parable was about them!

“What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes?’ Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

Matthew 21:40-43

We are the vineyard of the Lord


From Google.

Jesus had already entered Jerusalem and was teaching at the temple area. Among his audience were the chief priests and elders of the people trying to gather evidences against him for his arrest and execution. Unknown to them, Jesus knew what was in their hearts.

Last Sunday the parable was directed to them so they may realize how wrong they have been in regarding them so highly above the publicans and prostitutes who repented for their sins and went to receive the baptism by John the Baptist.

Today, Jesus “shook them” with this second parable taken from a well known song and lament of a beloved to his vineyard by the Prophet Isaiah which we have heard at the first reading.

Vineyards are very common in Israel as in the rest of the Mediterranean and Europe where grapes and wine symbolize life. Hence, the vine is always considered as a highly prized plant that biblical authors have taken as the image of the people whom God cultivates and from whom he expects beautiful fruits.

In the first reading, we find God lamenting why after investing his vineyard with the best of everything, the grapes it produced were so bad that it had to be burned. It was a very strong warning against Israel who have gone wayward in its ways of living that aside from worshipping idols, they also killed the prophets sent by God.

Notice the transition by Jesus using the same imagery from the Old Testament of the vineyard as the people of God but this time bearing fruits at harvest time. By that time, the chief priests and the elders of the people felt they were better than their ancestors who had the prophets killed. In fact, they felt proud that they have been faithful to God, and therefore, fruitful — thinking they were a far cry from Isaiah’s lament. Unknown to them, Jesus could read their hearts, how they were all planning to kill him like the son in the parable so they can have the vineyard, the people and lord it over them!

Everything fell into right places at the end of the parable when Jesus asked them:

“What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.”

Matthew 21:40-41

Try to imagine the scene with Jesus face-to-face with the chief priests and elders of the people – and with us – discussing the present time, not the past.

Here is Jesus Christ shaking us all to find whatever fruits we have, telling us that this parable is about me and you (see v. 45), asking us, why are you trying to remove me from the people? Why are you easing me out, creating all these cults around yourselves like celebrities, getting the people’s money and approval for your own sake?


Sometimes we need to be shaken – even shocked – to bring out our fruits


Photo by author at Silang, Cavite, 22 September 2020.

See again my dear Reader the beauty of the Lord’s parables wherein he invites us to be involved with it to see how we felt with certain situations like in the merciless debtor and early workers at the vineyard; today, Jesus is asking us our opinion on what the vineyard owner must do against the wicked tenants.

He knows what to do and wants us to realize that we could be those tenants too because like the chief priests and elders, we easily see the sins and shortcomings of others, the fruitlessness of others without realizing our own darkness within, even our sinister plans to dominate.

See how the chief priests and elders of the people called the tenants “wretched men” deserving “wretched death”, not realizing that the more we talk of other people, the more we actually talk of ourselves!

Every parable by Jesus is always set in the present moment with sights set to the future, to eternal life.

Sometimes, God has to shaken us, even shock us so we may bring out and give him his share of harvest of fruits like our faith, hope and love that will build the community in him, not take people away from him. Problem with us is like with those tenants and the chief priests and elders: “masyado tayong bumibilib sa ating sarili”, that is, we believe too much on ourselves that unconsciously we feel like God, forgetting we are mere stewards or tenants of his vineyard.

St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that we strive to imitate Jesus, be like Jesus so that people may find in us a model in following Jesus. Very clear with St. Paul: nobody is replacing Jesus Christ whom we must all imitate.

This time of the pandemic is a time of harvesting, of showing others our fruits like love and kindness so we may lead more people to God, not to ourselves or anyone else trying to lord over us.

This is the time we are asked to feel more than think more like those tenants, a time to lead people back to God who truly owns us, his vineyard (see https://lordmychef.com/2020/10/02/on-being-kind-and-loving-during-covid-19/).

When shaken by the Lord, will there be fruits found in us to share with others?

Have a blessed Sunday and brand-new week ahead! Amen.

“Coming Around Again” (1986) by Carly Simon

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 27 September 2020
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, at Katmon Harbor Nature Sanctuary in Infanta, Quezon, March 2020.

It’s Ms. Carly Simon again in the house four weeks after featuring her 1972 classic “You’re So Vain” in August. This time we pick her 1986 hit single “Coming Around Again” she had written for the movie Heartburn starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.

Coming Around Again is an aptly titled work by Ms. Simon that kickstarted the resurgence of her career at that time with the song peaking at number 18 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 5 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, not to mention the warm reception it had received from around the world.

We find this song suited well with our Sunday gospel on the parable by Jesus of a father who asked his two sons to work in his vineyard; the elder one refused but later changed mind and went to the vineyard while the younger son said yes without really going there. Jesus used the parable to drive his message that we shall all be judged by our actions, not by our words.

Most of all, Jesus narrated the parable to warn those who highly regard themselves as good and upright, looking down on others like sinners as less important. The Lord is asking us today to soften our hearts especially to those difficult to love, that we must constantly examine ourselves lest we fall into the trap that despite our being “clean” and upright, we could end up more evil than those we find as sinful (https://lordmychef.com/2020/09/26/soften-our-hearts-lord/).

Anyone who truly loves is always humble, willing to empty one’s self and go down for the sake of a loved one that is exactly opposite to the way of the world which is to be always on top as the most popular, the most powerful, the wealthiest.

I know nothing stays the same
But if you’re willing to play the game
It’s coming around again
So don’t mind if I fall apart
There’s more room in a broken heart
And I believe in love
But what else can I do
I’m so in love with you

To better appreciate this song is of course see Heartburn which is the semi-biographical account of its writer, the late Nora Ephron’s marriage to Watergate scandal investigative reporter Carl Bernstein.

Like Bernstein, Ephron was also a writer and a journalist before eventually becoming a filmmaker after Heartburn. She was nominated thrice for an Academy Award for Best Writing in three other films she wrote, Silkwood (1983), When Harry Met Sally (1989) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993).

Another lovely film to her credit is You’ve Got Mail that also starred Tom Hanks. Her last film was Julie & Julia (2009).

Looking back to the story of Heartburn and its soundtrack Coming Around Again, one finds in this woman’s path of self-emptying as perhaps the key to her success as a movie scriptwriter and a playwright.

A blessed Sunday to you!

Provided to YouTube by Sony Music Entertainment.

Soften our hearts, Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXVI-A in Ordinary Time, 27 September 2020
Ezekiel 18:25-28   |+|   Philippians 2:1-11   |+|   Matthew 21:28-32
Cross of San Damiano before which St. Francis of Assisi prayed and received Christ’s commission to rebuild His Church. Photo from wikipedia.org.

Brothers and sisters: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others. Have in you the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:1-8

We priests and religious pray this beautiful hymn by St. Paul every Saturday evening. It is also proclaimed on Palm Sunday to show us Jesus Christ’s self-emptying (kenosis in Greek) to offer himself for our salvation. It is the most important text of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians that has played a vital role in the discussions of Christ’s preexistence.

Seen in the light of the gospel this Sunday, it is also part of St. Paul’s moral exhortation to the Philippians and us living today to be united as one in Jesus by following his pattern of kenosis that is similar with his teachings that “the first will be last, and the last will be first, that the greatest is the servant of all.”

It is the fundamental model of Christian life, the very essence of following Jesus by denying one’s self and taking up one’s cross but also the most difficult to learn and put into practice as it is exactly the opposite of the way of the world – “upward mobility” — of being rich and famous, of being in control that had divided us with massive walls of indifference, hate, and antagonisms making peace and joy more elusive.

Christ’s kenosis is the only way up in life to be back in God that leads us to unity, peace, and joy.

In this time of the pandemic when we are supposed to be more united and kind and nice with everyone, St. Paul’s call to imitate Jesus Christ’s kenosis is very timely and relevant, calling us to soften our hearts by emptying ourselves of our pride unlike the chief priests and elders of Israel to whom the Lord addressed his parable this Sunday.

Photo by author, wailing of Jerusalem, May 2017.

Our sense of entitlement

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”

Matthew 21:28-31

Beginning today in three successive Sundays, Jesus teaches us again in parables to soften our hearts and let go of our pride that we are better than others, that we deserve more than what is due us like those early workers to the vineyard in last week’s gospel.

In a sense, today’s gospel tells us that there are too many works to be done in God’s kingdom that we have to keep going, imitating Jesus and be careful of falling into the same trap of those workers in last Sunday’s parable who felt entitled to more pay because they worked longer than others.

Notice how Jesus directly addresses his parables in these three Sundays to the same crowd of “chief priests and elders of the people” who have always felt favored by God for being of his “chosen people” since Abraham’s time. They always looked down at others specially the “tax collectors and prostitutes” considered as sinners.

They are not just people from the past who have lived during Christ’s time more than 2000 years ago. Even among us today, there are still chief priests and elders who continue to live and exist!

And here is the rub — among these people who may really be good in faithfully keeping the commandments of the Lord, praying and doing all kinds of devotions and charities are also the worst. Their religiosity are tied only to themselves and never to God, without any love at all.

Keep in mind that every time we feel entitled like the chief priests and elders of the people, it means our hearts have gone hard and cold like the elder son of the merciful father of the parable of the prodigal son or the early workers hired to the vineyard last week.

Photo by author, Mt. St. Paul Spirituality Center, La Trinidad, Benguet, March 2020.

So many times it happens that those who are supposed to be on higher moral grounds turn out to be without any roots and grounding in God at all, becoming harsh and judgmental of others, more sinful than the ones they condemn.

Like the chief priests and elders of the people in the crowd listening to Jesus, they start as the vida only to end up as the contravida like when there is a “black sheep” in the family or a “rotten tomato” in class, that instead of helping them rise from their sinfulness, they who are the ones who condemn and sink others deeper into their holes!

That is why God questions, stirs their hearts through the prophet in the first reading,

Thus says the Lord: You say, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?

Ezekiel 18:25

Always examine our hearts for we must all be converted again and again.

We must keep on praising and thanking God for his mercies like in our responsorial psalm this Sunday because he gives us all the chances in life to change and become better persons. Here we find a semblance with the gospel the other Sunday why we must forgive without limits because God’s love for us is infinite.

Actions, not intentions, judge us

Last Monday we celebrated the feast of St. Matthew, the tax collector called by Jesus to become one of his Twelve Apostles who also wrote one of the four gospels. It is very interesting to know that in all gospel accounts, tax collectors and prostitutes are always grouped together because they are the worst sinners at that time.

Tax collectors not only enriched themselves with excessive collections from the people but were seen as traitors who worked for the Roman colonizers of Israel at that time. Prostitutes, on the other hand, have always been considered very low because as women supposed to give birth for the awaited Messiah, they have “dirtied” their womb. Together, tax collectors and prostitutes were seen as the worst sinners in Israel because they have sold their souls to the devil; hence, they were considered beyond redemption, beyond hope, a scourge to their families and to the community that nobody would want to deal with them.

And so, it was very radical, out-of-this-world and totally unimaginable for everybody then when they heard Jesus telling them how “tax collectors and prostitutes” were entering the kingdom of God before the chief priests and elders of the people who were considered very holy at that time!

It was a serious warning to them and us today from the Lord who reminds us that our actions judge us. The parable is an echo of his warning that “not everyone who calls him ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter heaven” (Mt.7:21). St. Matthew is very particular in his gospel account of the complete jibing together of what we say and what we do, of “walking the talk”.

We have so many sayings expressing this important lesson of today’s parable by the Lord like “A single act of good deed is always better than the grandest and best intention” and “Actions always speak louder than words.”

Photo by author, sunset in the parish, August 2020.

In this time of the pandemic when church attendance is limited and we are advised not to sing and reply aloud in the Mass, it is best that we examine how we have become mechanical in our celebrations without realizing the gravity of things we say like when we acclaim after the gospel proclamation “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!”: do we really work hard in his vineyard or are we like the other son who said yes but did not go? When at the end of the Mass we are told “Go in the peace of Jesus Christ” and we say, “Thanks be to God”, do we really go home at peace or still having that festering anger or dislike to someone?

Make your joy complete. Ask Jesus to soften your heart. Take a step backwards like the first son though at first he seemed so bad to disobey his father in refusing to follow his command, do not be ashamed to take back your words and do what is right.

Be careful not with your words but with your actions for which the Lord would judge us in the end.

Find solace in St. Paul’s beautiful hymn this Sunday: the lower we go down, the higher we are lifted up like Jesus. Nobody had ever gone wrong and lost in life going down, of being humble. Many men and women have gone to oblivion, lost and forgotten when their ivory towers collapsed, burying them in the rubble.

Have a blessed Sunday and week ahead!

“Take A Look Inside My Heart” by David Benoit (1982)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 20 September 2020
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD at Infanta, Quezon, April 2020.

Lately I have been reflecting more about the heart courtesy of our daily scripture readings for the Masses these past two weeks. When you are “quarantined” in the past six months except for a few essential trips outside, such is a grace-filled moment of this pandemic that we are able to pray and reflect more about our lives and the people we love.

Last Sunday in our gospel, Jesus asked us to forgive from the heart because we are all brothers and sisters in God our Father who forgives us without limits for our many sins.

Today in our gospel, Jesus is asking us to give from the heart, that is, be generous because we are brothers and sisters in God our Father who blesses us abundantly with everything we need.

Generosity is from the heart where we find Jesus dwelling, giving us peace and joy amid the many pains and sufferings of this life because only him suffices that we are willing to let go of everything (https://lordmychef.com/2020/09/19/generosity-comes-from-the-heart/).

David Benoit’s lovely piece called “Take A Look Inside My Heart” from his 1982 album Stages offers us a unique perspective on this looking into our hearts to reflect on God’s love for us and how we share – or selfishly keep – that love with others.

Benoit is one of the most loved jazz artist in the country who performed more that twice in the past. His music is so natural and light, but intense in meaning yet so balanced as in “tamang timpla” or “tamang tama” that is not so slow and sad but not so fast and punky. Listen and see how his lyrics speaks from a loving heart.

It isn’t easy to show you what you mean to me
I’m not that kind with all the moves
The way I’m feeling goes beyond what you can see
I’m crazy ’bout you, crazy ’bout you
I haven’t tried to impress you by the things I do
That isn’t really how I am, hmmm…
I’d rather let my dreams be opened up to you
So you’ll understand, you’ll understand
Take a look inside my heart and you’ll see
I have so much love to give beLieve in me
Take a Look inside my heart share my Love
Take a Look in my heart… yeah…

Imagine God is David Benoit singing these words to you… And yes, like in the gospel, we sometimes complain to him at how he could let injustice continue despite our efforts to work hard and honest like those workers hired early in the parable by Jesus.

Nobody ever is perfect even if they try
There may be times I’ve let you down
But when I do I hope you’ll turn my heart around
By reachin’ inside, reachin’ inside
Take a look inside my heart and you’ll see
I have so much love to give beLieve in me
Take a Look inside my heart share my Love
Take a Look in my heart…

The song tells us of the immense love of the man to his loved one, assuring her of his faith and dedication that she need not worry when things are not going on as planned. Like Jesus telling us today in his parable to be more loving, more generous with his love for others for it is then that we truly experience inner joy and peace.

I wanna promise you honestly I’ll always care
That’s what my Love has come here for
And every time I smiLe you know there’s something more
I’m waiting to share, wanting to share
Take a look inside my heart and you’ll see
I have so much love to give beLieve in me
Take a Look inside my heart share my Love
Take a Look in my heart…

Have a blessed Sunday and week ahead.

And share a generous serving of God’s blessing especially to someone in need of his love.

Uploaded to YouTube by My70s80sjazzcorner, 18 April 2020.

Generosity comes from the heart

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXV-A, Ordinary Time, 20 September 2020
Isaiah 55:6-9   >><)))*>   Philippians 1:20-24, 27   >><)))*>   Matthew 20:1-16
Photo by the author on the way to Petra in Jordan, May 2019.

There was something amusing I realized while praying this Sunday’s gospel of how in our time we no longer hear or use the word “generous” anymore — except when the topic is about food like in the expression “generous servings”!

We all love and enjoy “generous servings” of food and drinks whether in restaurants or at home or at parties because it means something more than what we pay for or come for. And that is the essence of generosity: the giving of more than what is required and just. It is love in the real sense like the prayer for generosity by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Dearest Lord:
Teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not heed the wounds,
To toil and not seek for rest,
To labor and ask not for reward, except
To know that I am doing your will.  Amen. 
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

Generosity bonds every community in Christ

Sorry if I have to start our reflection through the stomach because today is our “Pistang Pasasalamat” (Thanksgiving) in the Parish…

Going back to our reflection, my dear reader, recall how in the past two weeks we have heard Jesus teaching us important lessons how our relationships must be based on mutual love through fraternal correction and forgiving of those who have sinned against us.

This Sunday through another parable, Jesus teaches us the importance of generosity as a wonderful expression of love we forget most in our relationships and dealing with others.

Generosity is the glue that keeps our ties stronger and keeps us filled with joy because it is thinking more of the other person than of self. It is love at its finest – charming and elegant as in suave – but so disarming and revealing when overlooked as we shall see in this parable.

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for is vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them… You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them i reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?'”

Matthew 20:1-15

Notice how Jesus again elicited our feelings to drive home his lesson today about love as basis of our relationships. Last week we totally agreed with the king in punishing the merciless servant whose debt he had forgiven but was unmerciful to a fellow servant and debtor.

This Sunday, with whom did we take sides with? Be honest. Did you side with the workers hired in the morning and worked all day only to receive a pay exactly the same with those who worked only for an hour? Did we also feel treated unfairly like them?

But, why are we reacting the same way as those workers who toiled under the sun? What is our complaint? Are we envious because the owner is generous?

Recall our reflections last month about the parable as a simple story conveying deeper truths about life and our selves. From the French parabolein -along the way – Jesus is inviting us to read anew this parable we have heard so many times in the past so we may enter into a dialogue with him to purify and cleanse us to get its whole picture. And hopefully, become generous too.

Nuns bringing goods to the poor during the height of the Luzon-wide lockdown last summer.

Human justice, Divine kindness

The parable is not about social justice and just wages: it is about the immense love of God for us all. Jesus said it at the start, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…” – it is a parable about God and his kingdom.

See the great love of the landowner who went out five times during the day, even at late afternoon so people may have a job to earn some money for the day. We have to keep in mind that the workers were hired because the owner is kind. Period.

The owner is like the good shepherd Jesus described as who would leave the rest of his flock to search for one missing sheep.

How many times have we acted like those early workers, complaining to God when we feel “shortchanged” for our work and efforts, or being better and more good perhaps than others?

It happens so many times when we question him even in the Church and specially in the society and government when we cannot understand how God who is supposed to be just and fair is allowing all injustices and evil to happen like during this time of COVID-19.

The first reading reminds us that to think that way as if we know everything is dangerous because we could be very wrong and mistaken after all. God sees and knows everything that in the end amid all the twists and turns in history and in our personal lives, it is always his will that prevails which proves best for us and mankind. In times like these, we need to have faith in God and trust him more through prayers and reflections.

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near… As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:6, 9
Photo by author, Jaffa in Israel, May 2017.

We keep on saying that one immediate fruit of having a prayer life is the heightening of our sensitivities when we see more of God in others than more of ourselves. The problem with those workers hired earlier in the day that instead of thanking God for his kindness in hiring them, they even wanted more in their pay than what they have agreed upon — so selfish and feeling so entitled like some among us!!!

God as the landowner is teaching us not only to be thankful for the blessings we have received from him but also to rejoice when others aside from us are also blessed. As everyone would say these days, “sana all” are blessed, not only a selected few.

Again we find here a similar situation in the parable of the prodigal son where the father told the elder one that “everything I have is yours” (Lk.15:31) when he refused to come home to celebrate the return of his younger brother, citing how he had obeyed the father all his life without being given a young goat to feast with his friends.

Like that loving father of the prodigal son, God is reminding us this Sunday in this parable to rejoice that others have been blessed, instead of grumbling and complaining, demanding for more than what we have, forgetting everything is out of God’s goodness, never because of our merits.

Looking inside our hearts

My dear friends, this time of the pandemic invites us to be generous by looking deep into our hearts, of seeing God more and others than just our self. At this time when life is so difficult and death is so closest to home with everyone, the best thing we can do is to thank God for his gift of life to us each day and to deepen our faith in him.

Lately I have been praying to God to grant me St. Paul’s clarity of mind and purity of heart as we find ourselves in his similar situation of being imprisoned: him for the gospel, us due to COVID-19.

See the faith of St. Paul in God that even in prison with his death approaching each day, he continues to rejoice and experience peace within because he had realized that the success of the gospel is not on human efforts but in Jesus whom we cannot box in our little worlds and beliefs, rites and rituals. In fact, he was so confident that even with his death, the more the gospel would spread.

Photo by Dra. Mylene A. Santos at Katmon Harbor Nature Sanctuary, Infanta, Quezon, March 2020.

Brothers and sisters: Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death… conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Philippians 1:20, 27

Last Sunday, Jesus taught us to forgive from the heart, that is, to see one another as a brother and sister in God our Father who forgives us without limits for our many sins.

Today, Jesus is asking us to give from the heart – to be generous – not for anything else but because we are brothers and sisters in God our Father who blesses us without limits despite our sinfulness.

Generosity comes from the heart when in that heart is Jesus whom we find dwelling, giving us peace and joy no matter how much suffering we go through because him alone suffices that we are willing to let go of everything.

Share a generous serving of God’s blessings today to someone in need. Amen.

A blessed Sunday and week to you!

Forgiving from the heart

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXIV, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 13 September 2020
Sirach 27:30-28:7     >><)))*>   Romans 14:7-9   >><)))*>   Matthew 18:21-35
Photo by author, dusk in our parish, July 2020.

This Sunday we go deeper into the lessons gathered by Matthew from Jesus regarding love as the basis of our relationships. Last week we were told how mutual love is the sole reason why we correct brothers and sisters going stray in life.

But, more sensitive and delicate, not to mention most difficult than fraternal correction is the question of forgiving.

How many times should we forgive?

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a kind who decided to settle accounts wit his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before hm who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all is property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

Matthew 18:21-27

Forgiving is always difficult because it is from God, calling us to be one with him, one in him, and be like him as that saying perfectly summed up, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” It is beyond human abilities, reserved only for God until he became human like us in Jesus Christ who made us share in his greatest expression of love which is forgiveness. Hence, every time we forgive, we also become like God, divine and holy that unfortunately, we refuse and even hate!

Yes, it is very difficult because like love, forgiving is the nature of God. In fact, any kind of love is best expressed when it is forgiving. The good news is that we now share in this great love of God in forgiving others like him as we shall see in today’s parable, keeping in mind also that it was the Risen Lord’s commission to his disciples when he appeared to them on that Easter evening (John 20:22-23).

Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, January 2018.

Forgiving like God our Father

The beauty of forgiving is that it is always a grace from God freely given to us. It is doable in Jesus Christ. The problem is when we refuse to let God work in us, when we refuse to level up our relationships to that of brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

There is always that pride in us exhibited by Peter at the start of the gospel today when he asked Jesus how many times he must forgive his brother. Must it be seven times?

Of course, seven being a “perfect number” does not specify a numerical figure of times to forgive except that it gives enough room to let go of a sinner or an offender. However, it still connotes some form of “counting” or taking tabs at how many times must one forgive, implying a limit.

But Jesus pushed it further when he told Peter to forgive “not seven times but seventy-seven times” — that is, twice the perfect number he had cited!

The Lord is telling Peter, and us today, to forget all about keeping tabs, of counting how many times you must forgive because God forgives us without limits which his parable tells us.

The king or master in the parable is God, so wealthy that he could lend sums exceeding the normal level of what one can borrow. Most surprising is like God, the master lent so much amount beyond the debtor’s ability to pay!

That is how rich our God is — so rich in love and mercy, giving us with so much even beyond our ability to pay him back in return. Exactly what we have in the responsorial psalm: “The Lord is kind and merciful; slow to anger and rich in compassion.”

And when that servant prostrated before his master, then the more we see in that religious gesture the deeper meaning of the parable: the rich mercy of God forgiving us for our debts even after we have lost everything like that debtor with nothing enough to pay his loans, not even his wife and children.

See the contrast of the king moved with compassion echoing the same attitude of Jesus so often like in the wilderness where he fed more than 5000 people and that servant so lost with nothing else left but still forgiven.

The parable could have stopped there but Jesus went on to continue what happened next to teach us the deeper truth of forgiving, which is imitating God our Father because we are brothers and sisters in him.

From Google.

When this servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him… but he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger is master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

Matthew 18:28-35

Forgiving from the heart

After hearing the second part of the parable, we all felt like the master, angry and indignant with that merciless servant whose action was very shameless and scandalous. But, more than being like the king who properly judged the conduct of that merciless servant, Jesus is also inviting us to probe deeper into our hearts the realities why we felt like the king in the parable?

How many times have we felt so angry and frustrated during this pandemic period at the many occasions when we heard news of injustices and abuse of powers against the little ones like Mang Dodong or the Marawi verteran shot to death in Quezon City? Of those punished in violating the protocols when its chief implementor got away free after attending a mañanita party?

The list goes on specially in our country where laws favor the abusive rich and powerful, those with connections while ordinary citizens with lesser violations, even without any crimes at all suffer the same fate as the servant with lesser debts.

Photo by author, “patak-dugo”, 2019.

We all feel so angry and very sad because more than the injustices and lack of mercies committed by those in powers, they have forgotten we are brothers and sisters in one God our Father. Parang sila lang ang anak ng Diyos…

We feel like the king in the parable because we felt left out, disregarded, and disrespected despite our kindness and mercy with others.

Forgiving from the heart means to forgive others not because we are fellow servants but most of all as brothers and sisters of a loving and merciful Father who forgives us always from our unpayable debts of sin and evil against each other.

This is the very thing St. Paul is telling us in the second reading, that “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself” (Rom.14:7). Sometimes we need to be in control of our lives but the truth is, when we try to live St. Paul’s message that our lives belong to one another in Christ, the more we become truly free and happy.

It is the same reminder from Ben Sirach in the first reading telling us how we must avoid anger and resentment specially revenge because it is contrary to our faith in God. Most of all, we also know so well that we need the mercy of God in forgiving our countless sins.

The example of St. John Paul II about forgiving like God

I know what I am telling you are easier said than done. And I confess that I also find it so hard to forgive people who have wronged me, specially those I have loved and helped. Allow me to end this reflection with this beautiful bit of history that happened in our lifetime.

We were in high school seminary when Mehmet Agca shot and almost killed St. John Paul II at St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981. We were shocked, so sad for him and very angry with Agca. But, two years later after Christmas in 1983, we were more shocked in disbelief while at the same time in tears with joy when news came out that St. John Paul II came to visit Agca in his cell to forgive him!

It was a major news that landed on TIME magazine the following year with the cover story so relevant with our gospel today:

From Pinterest.

Those who do not forgive are those who are least capable of changing the circumstances of their lives…

Not to forgive is to be imprisoned by the past, by old grievances that do not permit life to proceed with new business.

Not to forgive is to yield oneself to another’s control. If one does not forgive, then one is controlled by the other’s initiatives and is locked into a sequence of act and response, of outrage and revenge, tit for tat, escalating always. The present is endlessly overwhelmed and devoured by the past. Forgiveness frees the forgiver. It extracts the forgiver from someone else’s nightmare. “Unless there is a breach with the evil past,” says Donald Shriver, “all we get is this stuttering repetition of evil.”

Lance Morrow, TIME Magazine, 19 January 1984

As I searched for photos of the assassination attempt on him by Agca, I came across this photo below of their meeting with an accompanying report that made me admire and love St. “JP2” more than ever.

It said that while recuperating in the hospital, St. JP2 learned from the news how people hated Agca, prompting him to ask everyone to “pray for my brother (Agca)… whom I have sincerely forgiven.” That is how holy is this great Pope of our time! Long before visiting Agca in 1983, St. JP2 had already forgiven him, calling him a “brother” despite the evil and sin done to him.

What a great Amen!

Have a blessed and wonderful week ahead, brothers and sisters in Christ!

From https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/pope-john-paul-mehmet-agca-1983/.

“Where Is the Love?” by The Black Eyed Peas (2003)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 06 September 2020
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, April 2020 at Infanta, Quezon.

The most severe test of our being Christian lies in our being able to love one another specially when it is so difficult to love them, when the one we love like a brother or a sister or a friend sins (https://lordmychef.com/2020/09/05/presence-and-love-of-christ/).

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you… If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector… Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Matthew 18:15-16, 19-20

In our Sunday gospel today, Jesus is asking us to have love as basis of our relationships, whether at home or in the community, in the church or in the society. When there is love, there is Jesus, there is order, there is peace and harmony. Even when there is imperfection and sin, when love prevails, life and its struggles become bearable, even fulfilling. But when there is no love, there is always disorder and chaos and life becomes more difficult.

And that is why we go back to Black Eyed Peas’ 2003 hit “Where Is The Love?” for our Sunday music today which is very timely and relevant in this time of the pandemic.

People killin’ people dyin’
Children hurtin’, I hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preachin’?
Would you turn the other cheek again?
Mama, mama, mama, tell us what the hell is goin’ on
Can’t we all just get along?
Father, father, father help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me
Questioning
(Where’s the love)

Of course, we all know our kababayan apl.de.ap is part of this group and one of the composers of this smash hit that was also the largest selling record of 2003, earning a nomination to the Grammy the following year for Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung collaboration. From their third album Elephunk, “Where Is the Love?” gave Black Eyed Peas its first commercial success that also put them onto the mainstream music scene. Not mentioned at its single release was the back-up vocals rendered by Justin Timberlake who showed support to the group even though he was from another record label.

Very interesting is the last stanza which I just realized while reflecting on the song relating it to the gospel this Sunday: our problem is not really the corona virus but a disease within us when we refuse to accept and share that love freely given us by God.

I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders
As I’m gettin’ older y’all people gets colder
Most of us only care about money makin’
Selfishness got us followin’ the wrong direction
Wrong information always shown by the media
Negative images is the main criteria
Infecting the young minds faster than bacteria
Kids wanna act like what they see in the cinemas
What happened to the love and the values of humanity?
(Where’s the love)
What happened to the love and the fairness and equality?
(Where’s the love)
Instead of spreading love we’re spreading animosity
(Where’s the love)
Lack of understanding leading us away from unity
(Where’s the love)

Some people have been asking me this early how would Christmas 2020 be?

We need not read the news for we can feel and readily see around us the bleak prospects of this coming Christmas — financially and materially speaking. But I am filled with hope that Christmas 2020 amid the pandemic will most likely be one, if not the most meaningful Christmas we shall ever have because when we have less of the material things, that is also when we have more of the spiritual things in life, more of love, more of kindness, more of the person next to me, and most of all, more of Jesus. All we have to do is honestly answer the question, “where is the love?”

Have a blessed Sunday everyone!

Music video by Black Eyed Peas performing Where Is The Love?. (C) 2003 Interscope Geffen (A&M) Records A Division of UMG Recordings Inc.

Presence and Love of Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXIII, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 06 September 2020
Ezekiel 33:7-9 /// Romans 13:8-10 /// Matthew 18:15-20
Photo by Mr. Gelo N. Carpio, January 2020.

For the next three Sundays beginning today, our liturgy directs our gaze to the nature of the Church as the mystical Body of Jesus Christ. For today we hear from Matthew how we as a church or a community of believers are signs of the presence and love of Jesus Christ.

Recall how two weeks ago at Caesarea Philippi Jesus called Simon as “Peter” (“Rock”) to head his “church”, giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven that whatever he binds on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever he looses on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Mt.16:17-19).

Matthew is the only evangelist so particular in using the term “church” that he devoted chapter 18 of his gospel on its nature, collecting and giving some of the Lord’s teachings about community life to his own group of disciples or early church.

And off he went to start with the most important part of community life:

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you… If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector… Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Matthew 18:15-16, 17, 19-20
Photo by author, dome of the Malolos Cathedral, 2019.

Presence of Jesus in the love and unity of community

In a very short teaching taking a step by step method, Jesus tells us today how our mutual love shall always take precedence above all in our community life as his disciples and sign of presence.

Though we do not find in our gospel this Sunday the word “love”, it is clearly the Lord’s lesson for today: it is mutual love for one another that must guide everyone specially in the delicate matter of fraternal correction when one is going wayward in his/her path of life.

This explains why Jesus spelled out step by step how we correct others primarily because we love, not because we are better than them or that we have such authority or task and duty. Paul beautifully says it in our second reading:

Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8, 10

But of course, we need to clarify that all these lessons of love from the Lord and Paul are based on the love of Jesus Christ who clearly mandated us during his last supper how we must love:

I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

What makes this loving one another a “new commandment” is loving like Jesus Christ, unlike the pagans in ancient times that are still imitated to this day even by many among us who are also Christians. So often we find specially in media how love is portrayed as mere feelings like physical attraction that always leads up to sex, devoid of any sanctity and inner beauty at all.

St. Augustine called it “disordered love” when we become self-centered and selfish, directing our love solely to attaining what pleases us that we use persons and love things like money.

Love is not just a feeling but a decision, a choice we make and affirm every day specially when times are very rough and tough for us like when we are not loved in return.

Most of all, love is when we find somebody else we can love more than ourselves (Thomas Merton). This is the kind of love that Jesus and Paul as well as all the other saints speak of: the self-sacrificing love Christ showed us when he offered himself on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Monastery of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem where the Holy Family hid before fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s order to massacre the Holy Innocents, May 2019.

Love of Jesus builds, not destroys

Applying the law of love to our community is the most severe test of our being disciples of Jesus when we are challenged to be sincere in our love by hating what is evil and holding on to what is good like blessing those who persecute us, foregoing vengeance against those who have wronged us along with other expressions of mutual love in our community that Paul tells us in Romans 12:9-21.

In teaching us mutual love for one another in a step by step manner, it may seem to be a duty that one must follow in the church. It may even sound as contradictory that Jesus seems to be commanding us to strictly follow his law of command because no law can ever impose love.

However, when we try to reflect the ending of his teachings today – “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” – we find Jesus not ordering us to love but asking us our love because he loves us. He comes to us, grants our prayers because he loves us; therefore, when we love, when we gather as his disciples, we become his presence. And that is when our prayers are most effective because Jesus is in our midst!

Jesus and his love always build people and community; without him and his love, all we have is destruction and divisions. Hence, love is the only debt we owe to anyone. Love as a debt and “duty” is never paid back because the more we love, the more we have love, the more we are indebted to Jesus. It is the only debt that is never burdensome; in fact, the opposite happens when we refuse to love – we are burdened, life becomes heavy and so difficult.

This is what Ezekiel is telling us in the first reading: we are a “watchman”, a brother’s keeper of everyone. St. Pope Gregory the Great wrote a beautiful homily on being a watchman:

Note that a man whom the Lord sends forth as a preacher is called a watchman. A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming. Anyone appointed to be a watchman for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight.

Office of Readings, Memorial of St. Pope Gregory the Great, 03 September
Photo by author, sunset inside our parish, 25 August 2020.

In the Church, those designated as watchman of the flock of Jesus is the Bishop or episkopos in Greek that means watcher or overseer. It is the bishop’s duty to always be above others in the loving service of the Church that sometimes out of love for Christ, he has to discipline those going astray as instructed in our gospel today, “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector”, that is, excommunication or suspensions and other measures not meant to punish but to convert and correct the sinner.

Next Sunday, Matthew deepens our lesson on mutual love when he presents us the teachings of Jesus on how often we must forgive our brother or sister who repeatedly sins against us.

See my dear reader, how after presenting to us who is Jesus Christ last month, in how much he loves us and seeks us, these following Sundays we are challenged by the Lord to be like him – loving and merciful – to truly keep our relationship with him.

It is the first Sunday of September, the -ber months that tell us Christmas is around the corner. But, it seems we are still in a long haul in this pandemic. Having a vaccine will not totally eradicate COVID-19 nor guarantee us this won’t happen again in the future because the disease that is truly plaguing us until now is our refusal to love and live as brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us give it a try. Slowly. Jesus is not rushing us. All he is asking us is be open to his words expressed earlier in our responsorial psalm: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Have a heart and have a blessed, lovely week, everyone!