Fatima in time of COVID-19

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday in the Sixth Week of Easter, Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima, 13 May 2021
Acts 1:12-14   ><}}}*> + ><}}}*> + ><}}}*>   Luke 1:39-47

While this Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima was approaching, I was asking myself – consciously or unconsciously – “how many more Rosaries do we have to pray before this pandemic ends”?

Like you, I have been praying the Rosary primarily for the ending of this pandemic since it started last year. And it is not far-fetched that even before the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared 104 years ago today at Fatima in Portugal, the people were most likely asking God in countless prayers and Rosaries too, to end the First World War that had started in 1914.

See some of the similarities of our time with that time 104 years ago when Mother Mary appeared to the three children of Fatima, asking them to remind the whole world to pray and be converted in her Son Jesus Christ:

  • 1917 was in the first two decades of the new century (20th), just like ours (21st) when COVID-19 was first detected in 2019.
  • In 1917, the world witnessed the fiercest and bloodiest large-scale war to ever happened in human history, World War I until it was followed shortly by World War II; at the start of the 21st century, we witnessed the a different kind of deadly war that is “faceless” and “borderless” with the 9/11 attacks as we continue to live daily under threats by another wide scale war and ongoing pocket wars in various parts of the globe.
  • In 1917, Communist Russia was threatening the world of “spreading its errors”; since 2010 or even earlier, the only remaining “Communist” country of China has been flexing its muscles in Asia and Africa to assert its power and dominance in the world.
The sanctuary of the Parish of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima seen through its glass door at night during the lockdown last year due to COVID-19.

The Relevance of Fatima

Both in 1917 and 2021, God’s response to our cries and pleas is still the Our Lady of Fatima because then and now, mankind had never heeded Jesus Christ’s calls to return to him and be converted: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk.1:15).

It does not matter how many Rosaries we pray or how many Masses we celebrate or how often we go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The problem is not with God but with us who until now refuse to recognize the spiritual dimension of this pandemic.

Whatever solution we eventually find in ending COVID-19, most likely another pandemic or worldwide problem could occur if we continue to refuse in respecting life and every person as an image and likeness of God. Recall that when World War I ended in 1918 as promised by our Lady of Fatima, that same year started the Spanish flu pandemic that claimed about 50-M lives worldwide. Then in 1939, World War II started.

The Spanish flu and the World War II were not punishments from God; he does not punish because “God is love”, nothing evil and bad can come from him. Those things happened after the Fatima apparitions because of man’s refusal to heed Mary’s calls for prayers and conversion of peoples which is happening again in our own time.

Our Lady of Fatima consistently reminds us since 1917 her Son Jesus Christ’s teaching of the centrality of God in our lives through prayers and our daily conversion through humility and being like a child, trusting God completely like her.

More than a century ago, the Lord through his Mother, has been telling us the key to lasting peace in the world and in our very lives lies in our daily conversion, in our conformity to his life intimately united in the Father like the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It is a life of daily fiat – of faith in God, of letting his will be done in us! The Holy Rosary and the Sacraments are the means so we may bear fruits of love and holiness in our faith in God like Mary.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:41-45
Our Lady of Fatima at the National Shrine in Valenzuela, the first locally carved image of Fatima done in circa 50’s to 60’s.

True blessedness

For better and for worst, COVID-19 had truly changed our lives, teaching us that true blessedness is not found in money and things, nor in popularity and influence or other things that have become the benchmarks of everything that is good in this life.

In less than a year when everything stood still as COVID-19 ravaged earth with so many deaths, the pandemic had shown us what our Lady of Fatima has always been telling us since 1917: go back to God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist and Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Mary believed and lived her faith in God. She was the first to receive the Good News of Jesus Christ by setting aside all her plans in life, her wedding to St. Joseph, of what people would say if found pregnant before they were actually married, and many other things to consider.

She abandoned herself to God completely that immediately after Gabriel had left her, she went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the hills of Judea not to help her nor verify her being pregnant but to share with her the Good News she had received (Jesus Christ) to show that God’s plan for them are closely linked even with their sons to be born with John being the forerunner of Jesus.

Thus, Mary became the perfect image and model of discipleship in Christ that at the start of his public ministry, she was the first to believe in his saving work when she interceded at a wedding in Cana.

Mary was also the first to believe in Christ’s Resurrection that she remained standing at the foot of his Cross on Good Friday. Last but not least as we have heard in our first reading today, Mary was the first to believe in the coming of the Holy Spirit that she accompanied the Apostles praying at Jerusalem on Pentecost day.

Our Lady of Fatima procession at the Fatima Shrine in Portugal, 2017. Photo from vaticannews.va.

The Challenge of Fatima in our time

Like Mary who appeared at Fatima in Portugal 104 years ago today, may we grow deeper in our faith in God by believing more in him than believing in the world or with our very selves.

In this time of COVID-19, may we bring unity to our family and community, church and nation, so that like the Blessed Mother we may help in strengthening the faith of one another, in believing in God by submitting ourselves to his holy will.

May we not waste time to avert another catastrophe – not as a punishment from God who does not punish – that when rooted can always be traced back to our selfishness and pride, lack of concern for others, and for playing gods who claim to know everything.

These were some of the reasons Mary appeared at Fatima in 1917 to bring us back to God through his Son Jesus Christ. After all the pains and losses we have gone through in this time of COVID-19, have we not still learned the need to be simple and humble?

Like Mary, let us believe more in God by being kind and charitable with one another so that sooner, we may finally end this pandemic. Amen.

“Breakout” by Swing Out Sister (1986)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music, 09 May 2021
Photo by Roberto Nickson on Pexels.com

A blessed happy Mothers’ Day to all the sweet and hardworking moms! Thank you for bringing us out into this world and most of all, thank you for making this planet a better place to live in filled with love and joy. Like Jesus, you make our joy complete with your kindness and affection, fidelity and dedication.

That is why we have chosen this greatest hit by the Swing Out Sister in 1986, Breakout. Composed by lead singer Corinne Drewery, its video features her former profession as fashion designer who also modeled her creations.

Though she looks formal, Corinne exudes with great spunky spirit in her singing filled with courage and joy that one feels the intense love and passion she has in her art and maybe even life – exactly what the gospel tells us today of the need to remain rooted in the love of Christ so we may bear fruit with much love for him and with others.

Love and joy are closely linked with each other: when there is love, there is joy. Without love, there can be no joy; without joy, clearly there is no love at all (https://lordmychef.com/2021/05/08/let-our-joy-be-complete-in-christ/).

Breakout may not be speaking about love and joy but as you listen to its music and lyrics, it is very affirming of one’s worth as being loved so much by God even by others.

When explanations make no sense
When every answer's wrong
You're fighting with lost confidence
All expectations come
The time has come to make or break
Move on don't hesitate
Breakout
Don't stop to ask
Now you've found a break to make at last
You've got to find a way
Say what you want to say
Breakout

This Sunday, we are so blessed with so much love from God and others. “Breakout” from your negative thoughts and other imprisonments that prevent you from experiencing complete joy in Jesus!

A joyful Sunday to everyone especially to our dear Mothers!

Let our joy be complete in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sixth Sunday in Easter, Cycle B,  09 May 2021
Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48 ><}}}'>  1 John 4:7-10  ><}}}'>  John 15:9-17
Photo by author, December 2020.

Today we come full circle in our readings and teachings of the Lord since Easter, appropriately prepared last Sunday with his discourse being the true vine and we his branches who must remain in him to be fruitful in love.

Yes, love is the only fruit expected of us by God in Christ Jesus. When we die, it is the only thing the Lord would ask us, “gaano ka nagmahal” (how much have you loved)? It is the origin and the end of everything in this life, the only one that would remain in eternity (1Cor. 13:13).

God created us because of love, and because of that love as the second reading tells us, saved us by sending us Jesus Christ whose very life, words and actions are all rooted in his love for the Father and for us. That is why in our gospel today, Jesus spoke of love at every turn during the last supper to emphasize centrality of love that is rooted in God.

Jesus said to his disciples:
"As the Father loves me, 
so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments, 
you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father's commandments
and remain in his love.
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy may be complete."
(John 15:9-11)
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, February 2021.

Love and Joy

God alone really knows what love is because “God is love” (1Jn.4:16). Notice how Jesus spoke of love in the gospel today by linking it closely with joy as he tells us that when there is love, there is also joy. Without love, there can be no joy and without joy, clearly there is no love at all!

In its truest sense, joy – like love – is more than an emotion. It is a conviction deep within us borne out of faith that no matter what happens to us, there is God who truly loves us, remaining faithful to us until end when everything and everyone is gone.

Joy is deeper than happiness that is always coming from the outside when lips smile or laugh at something or someone funny and happy. Joy is always coming from within when the heart smiles even when you are in the midst of pain and sufferings. Recall those moments when during a major setback or a struggle in life you still managed to feel joy within through a deep sigh after seeing a beautiful sunrise of sunset or a lovely flower. There is always that feeling of comfort and relief so assured that you have somebody by your side — Jesus who assures us of his love this Sunday, asking us to remain in him “so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (Jn.15:11).

Photo by author, ICSB-Malolos, 26 April 2021.

When joy is not complete and not in Christ


Our joy is not complete, not in Christ 
when we refuse to love because we feel unloved.

So many times in life, we cannot experience true joy when we refuse to love another person whom we feel not loving us at all. We “hate” them because we feel they do not love us, they do not care for us, that they take us for granted.

I have seen this happening to me so many times when I suspect other people of being angry with me, of being biased against me and worst, of being “insecured” with me!

But too often, I do not have bases in believing so.

Most of all, I have realized in life that we cannot force people to love us or even like us inasmuch as I do not want being coerced to do the same too! What is most true in my experience is that when some people do not seem to love me, the challenge for me is to love them more. Not hate them or not love them.

I know this is easier said than done but try to understand that it is only in loving those who do not love us or do not care for us or even hate us when we truly love because when we do so, that is when we let God intervene to make his love work in us, through us, and with us.

When we love those who do not love us, we surrender ourselves to God which is an act of self-giving like Jesus Christ on the cross, letting him fill in whatever is lacking in us to truly love. It is the truest love we can have when our love is not reciprocated by another, thus enabling us to rediscover God, our very selves and others. In the process, we begin to experience joy because we have started truly loving without expecting anything in return by loving those who do not love us nor care for us at all.

Photo by author, 2019.

Our joy is not complete, not in Christ
when we love only those like us.

Only God can love us perfectly. Human love is always imperfect as we always have that tendency to go only with those like us – in our looks and bearing, beliefs and tastes in almost everything. In that case, we limit ourselves with the people we interact with that in the process, we never grow in love and never really become joyful because we do not love at all!

Love is always outward in movement, always to another person as we mature. As a matter of fact, we love because we want to be become like the one we love who is always someone we look up to and admire. That is why love becomes more wonderful and fulfilling when we love somebody not like us or totally different.

There lies the problem with our kind of love, especially those portrayed in the movies, television, and modern music where we love only those like us that is very selfish because we only love ourselves.

We will never experience joy completely if in our loving we seek only those who are like us or worst, twist others to become like us, fitting them into our own image so that whom we love is not them but us found in them!

Crazy but it happens so many times when we manipulate others to become like us than let them be free to become their true selves.

“Love is our true destiny.We do not find meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another. We do not discover the secret of our lives merely by study and calculation in our own isolated meditations.The meaning of our life is a secret that has to be revealed to us in love, by the one we love.”

Thomas Merton, “Love and Living”

The surest sign that we have truly loved is when we have found another person to love more than our very selves.

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD at Rhode Island, April 2021.

Our joy is not complete, not in Christ
when we refuse to forgive those who have hurt us,
especially those we have loved so much.

It is easy to claim that we love if we do not really love at all. No matter how hard we profess that we love, its lack cannot be denied in the absence of joy in our selves, in our lives because we have been hurt by those we love.

This is more difficult than the first when we refuse to love because we feel we are not loved that may not be true at all; this is evidently clear, somebody had hurt us, had betrayed us, had been unfaithful to us.

And the saddest part of it despite all the denials is that we still love deep within us those who have hurt us! Is it not? Kaya masakit kasi nga mahal pa rin natin.

I am not talking here of a disordered or foolish love; this is something like the love of a husband or a wife to one’s partner who had fallen into infidelity for some reason. Or a prodigal son or daughter who had gone wayward in life.

This kind of love is the most difficult, but once overcome is the most sublime, the loftiest of all because the very reason why we are aching and hurting inside is because we still love. This is the kind of joy that would surely burst in fulness and completeness if we learn to forgive and let go.

Again, easier said than done but such is the power of love: the more we love, love is perfected in us that we slowly get a glimpse of God in others, and the more we become like Jesus his Son (1Jn.4:12).

So many times in life, we need to imitate St. Peter in the first reading by simply allowing God’s irresistible initiatives overtake us that while he was explaining things to the household of Cornelius, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening that he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:44, 48).

When we love, love freely!

Let that love flow, do not hold it, just let it go like what mothers do most of the time: even if they are hurting inside, even if they feel not loved and cared for, even if sometimes they seem to be so hard on us insisting on their own ways, they just love, love, and love.

And that is the secret of true love rooted in Christ: when we love, we can do nothing but good. Then our joy is complete.

A joy-filled week to everyone! And happy Mothers’ Day too.

Photo by Dr. Mai B. Dela Peña, Carmel at Israel, 2014.

Remaining in Christ, the True Vine

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fifth Sunday in Easter, Cycle B, 02 May 2021
Acts 9:26-31  ><}}}'>  1John 3:18-24  ><}}}'>  John 15:1-8
From Facebook of Fr. Marlito G. Ocon, SJ via GMA News, 30 April 2021.
"Ang lungkot, Father.  
Wala na akong asawa na mauuwian, 
abo na ang asawa ko."

This broke my heart last Friday evening from a post by Jesuit Fr. Marlito G. Ocon of a woman who came by herself to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) to deliver her baby. Her husband had just died of COVID-19 while she and her baby are both COVID positive. Worst, she has not informed her parents-in-law about the death of her husband because they are also in critical condition in the province for COVID-19.

“Ang lungkot, Father. Wala na akong asawa na mauuwian, abo na ang asawa ko. Hindi man lang kami nagkausap. Hindi ko man lang maibalita na may second baby na kami. Hindi man lang sila nagkita ng anak namin.” (“It is so sad Father. I do not have a husband anymore to come home to, he’s all ash now. We did not even have the chance to speak to each other. I cannot even tell him the news we have our second baby. He did not even get the chance to meet our new baby.”)

Fr. Ocon is one of the chaplains at the PGH, the largest public hospital in Metro Manila. He said, “I have no words because I know any word can’t explain enough why horrible things like this happened. But I realized that it is in our deep, deep silence and it is when we run out of words, and when theology can’t explain enough, that our faith can speak louder.”

Very true.

Lately I have noticed a shift in prayer requests by relatives and friends, from the usual healing prayers for those afflicted with COVID-19 to prayers for their and loved ones’ emotional and psychological well-being.

More and more people have been coming to me for counseling via Zoom and Messenger apps as they hurdle so many crises in marriage, work, livelihood and self since the pandemic started last year. We have resumed yesterday in our parish our weekly confessions and everyone who came cried not only for their sins but most of all for their emotional baggages either triggered or worsened by this pandemic.

And like Fr. Ocon, I could not say anything at all except to pray and tell them to hold on to God, to never let go of him, “kapit lang at huwag bibitiw sa Diyos”, exactly what Jesus is telling us this Sunday:

Jesus said to his disciples:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own 
unless it remains on the vine, 
so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him
will bear much fruit because without me you can do nothing."
(John 15:1, 4-5)

“Remain in me.”

In St. John’s vocabulary, “remain in me” is one of the key phrases he used 68 times in his writings (gospel, three letters and the Revelation), 11 times in this whole discourse in John 15:1-17, and if you have listened attentively, that phrase was mentioned eight times in eight verses!

In its strongest sense, “to remain in me” speaks of the intimate bond of the Father and the Son, of the Son and the Spirit that only St. John recorded for us during the Lord’s discourse at his last supper found in John 14-15. Most of all, “to remain in me” follows that great revelation by Jesus as the Christ in the fourth gospel like “I AM the bread of life”, “I AM the good shepherd”, “I AM the way, the truth and the life” and now “I AM the true vine”.

To remain in the Lord is to live in him in faith even if nothing seems to happen like during this pandemic when God seems to be silent and even distant from us.

It is first of all a call to prayer life. Not just recitation of prayers we have memorized since childhood but to cultivate a deep and personal relationship with God when we do not have to speak at all but simply be in his loving presence.

There are times we feel nothing is happening with our prayers but unknown to us, that is precisely when something is actually happening because prayer does not change the situation but the person!

As we grow and mature in our prayer life, we become more aware of God and of the other persons that we become less focused with our very selves. And that is when we change, when we realize our mistakes and sins, our weaknesses, teaching us to be humble, patient and persevering. It is worth keeping in mind this four-letter word PUSH – Pray Until Something Happens.


Most of the time, 
we do not see things in our lives the way God sees them.  
He tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9 that his ways are not our ways, 
his thoughts are not our thoughts for God is totally different from us!  
We have to trust him and remain in him 
"for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything" (1Jn.3:20).  
And that is for sure - as we have proven so many times in our lives.

Photo by author, 27 April 2021, ICSB-Malolos city.

Remaining and being fruitful

Remaining in Jesus means being faithful especially when things get worse, when even in bad times, we consistently stay in the Lord in silence.

Remember how we have been so sullen in March, wondering if God has forsaken us with the deadly surge of COVID-19 cases amid the glaring incompetence of this government when suddenly our hopes were raised high by this community pantry movement?

Who would have thought of Ms. Patricia Non in the quiet street of Maginhawa in Quezon City would rally the whole nation with her “Community Pantry” now helping so many people going hungry?

Not only that. The most beautiful thing Ms. Patricia Non had done is her bringing out the best in every one of us, rich and poor alike, young and old to share whatever we have for our suffering brothers and sisters!

Most of the time, we do not see things in our lives the way God sees them. He tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9 that his ways are not our ways, his thoughts are not our thoughts for God is totally different from us! We have to trust him and remain in him “for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything” (1Jn.3:20). And that is for sure – as we have proven so many times in our lives.

In the first reading we find the very difficult and almost impossible situation of St. Paul following his conversion: nobody would believe him and everybody suspected him of possible sinister plots against them! But, St. Paul remained consistent in his prayers and studies in Tarsus until Barnabas introduced him to the apostles who gave him the opportunity to preach in Jerusalem. Despite his dark past, St. Paul won so many converts in his preaching in the name of Jesus that eventually, he was sent to missions abroad that led to the growth of the early church.

That is remaining in the Lord – allowing God to work in us and through us like St. Paul so that we become fruitful, not just successful.

Fruitfulness is the result of remaining in the Lord, of letting God do his work in us. Most often, this leads to pains and failures as Jesus tells us of the need to be pruned like the branches of the vine to be more fruitful. But, despite these failures and defeat in our lives, we experience that sense of fulfillment within us because we have grown and matured in the Lord. We have not really failed at all because we have become fruitful.

On the other hand, being successful means relying more on our human efforts like our strengths and intelligence that is usually measured in tangible things like money and popularity. But, we have also experienced or heard many successful people still feeling empty and lost, that despite their fame and wealth, they have no peace and joy within, feeling nobody truly loves them for who they really are.

Many times in life we have experienced that even if we feel safe and sufficient, that is when we feel so empty, something is missing. As we usually say, parang may kulang pa.

This Sunday, Jesus our Good Shepherd reminds everyone of us to remain united in him who is our true vine. It is only in him can we find life and meaning amid the many sufferings and trials going our way especially at this time of the pandemic.

Only in remaining in Jesus is the surest path to fulfillment despite our pains and sufferings, as well as losses in life. Just stay and remain in him as he is always doing something beautiful for us. Amen.

A blessed and fruitful week to everyone!

Posted by Jean Palma on Facebook, 18 April 2021 with the caption: “All these community pantries in four days, and counting. What a powerful movement.” #CommunityPantry

Beloved children of God led by the Good Shepherd

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourth Sunday In Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday and 
World Day of Prayer for Vocations, 25 April 2021
Acts 4:8-12  ><)))">  1 John 3:1-2  ><)))">  John 10:11-18

After listening to the Easter stories by John and Luke these past three weeks, we are now initiated into the implications of Christ’s Resurrection as the Father’s beloved children belonging to him led by Jesus our Good Shepherd.

Jesus said:
"I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me
and I know the Father; 
and I will lay down my life for the sheep."
(John 10:14-15)
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, March 2021.

Image of shepherd pasturing the weak

Since Easter we have been reflecting on Jesus as our Lord and Savior who comes as our invisible guest in almost every aspect of our lives especially in the Holy Eucharist where he appears, speaks and shares meal with us despite the lockdowns due to COVID-19 pandemic.

In our country where the sheep is only beginning to be known as an excellent food, better than pork and beef especially Abes’s lamb adobo, the image of the shepherd is hardly known, even irrelevant for many especially for those in urban areas.

But, it is important that we try to bridge this gap even a little to appreciate and understand Jesus Christ’s words this Sunday being the Good Shepherd.

One very important aspect we have to keep in mind with the imagery of a shepherd in the Near East region where Israel is located is its symbolism of the relationship between the king and his subjects. Pasturing sheep was clearly an image of the task of every king in the region in ancient times not only in Israel but even in the pagan kingdoms of Babylonia, Assyria, and Sumer. This is the reason we find books in the Old Testament teeming with many references to God as the true king and shepherd of Israel, taking care of the people, leading them in green pastures and clear waters.

When the kings including the priests of Israel abused their roles, forgetting their mission to pasture especially the weak and the poor as they turned to pagan gods like Baal, God became so angry with them that he vowed to come himself to shepherd his flock fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ.

This decadence of the image of the shepherd continued in the time of Christ when shepherds were looked down and typecast as thieves and trouble-makers who belonged to the lowest level of the poor who could not even afford to attend temple worship due to their poverty.

Here we find the stage perfectly set for Jesus to restore and fulfill this degeneration of the beautiful and noble image of the shepherd while teaching after his healing of the man born blind that created a very big stir among peoples and temple authorities at that time in Jerusalem.


Knowing and belonging are interrelated:  
one knows because he/she owns like when we claim things as ours.  
When we possess, we know because we have.  
But, Jesus is speaking here not of owning and taking control an object or any material thing.  
Jesus and the Father know each other as they belong to each other as one 
in a perfect relationship but never because they "own" nor "possess" one another.

Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza, Malolos Cathedral, 12 June 2019.

Knowing God, belonging to God

When Jesus declared “I am the good shepherd”, notice that he goes beyond simile: he did not say “I am like a good shepherd” but declares emphatically, repeating thrice the words “I am the good shepherd” – twice in verse 11, and again in verse 14.

His knowledge of the sheep is not from casual nor in-depth observations and study of the sheep but from a totally different and transcendent order when he declared, “I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father”.

Here, Jesus is clearly re-establishing our lost relationship with God as our Father and we his children that is emphasized in our second reading, “Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are” (1Jn.3:1).

Unlike the monarchs of the world, Christ our King is the Good Shepherd because his relationship with us is based on love and concern especially for the weak and the lowly as the Father had intended since the beginning! Jesus is the good shepherd because his is a relationship of unity in God as our Father.

Knowing implies relationship because it connotes belonging.

Knowing and belonging are interrelated: one knows because he/she owns like when we claim things as ours. When we possess, we know because we have. But, Jesus is speaking here not of owning and taking control an object or any material thing. Jesus and the Father knows each other as they belong to each other as one in a perfect relationship but never because they “own” nor “possess” one another.

To illustrate, we belong to our parents, we belong to a church or a community, we belong to an organization. There is always a degree of knowledge in every belonging not because we are possessed or owned in the same way we own our house, our car, or any gadget for that matter. Owning, possessing or having persons and even pets are of higher degree of knowing and belonging, of something deeper about invisible links that tie us with someone we believe “belongs” to us.

Is it not funny that sometimes we claim how our possessions also seem to be like persons that try to get to know whoever is using it as in “nangingilala” wherein if somebody borrows our car or any thing, sometimes they do not function well? And we say, maybe because the car or the thing did not know who’s driving or using it!

Pope Francis last year mentioned a very beautiful trait of St. Joseph that speaks so well about this very positive kind of “possession”, of knowing and belonging like his relationship with Jesus Christ and Mary. The Pope described it as St. Joseph’s being “a father in the shadows”.

In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way… Being a father entails introducing children to life and reality. Not holding them back, being overprotective or possessive, but rather making them capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities. Perhaps for this reason, Joseph is traditionally called a “most chaste” father. That title is not simply a sign of affection, but the summation of an attitude that is the opposite of possessiveness. Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, is it truly love. A possessive love ultimately becomes dangerous: it imprisons, constricts and makes for misery. God himself loved humanity with a chaste love; he left us free even to go astray and set ourselves against him. The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the centre of things. He did not think of himself, but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.

Pope Francis, “Patris Corde” (08 December 2020), #7

What a beautiful way of describing this sense of knowing and belonging – like St. Joseph and very much like Jesus our Good Shepherd!

See that Jesus never forces us into being one with him nor in following him. He simply calls us, inviting us to follow him, to be one with him. That is why we heard him also telling us today that he has “other sheep that do not belong to this fold” that he must lead and care too.

Jesus is the shadow of the Father who leads us back to him as his beloved children. He does not coerce us nor demands us even though he “owns” us as his sheep. In his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, Jesus had shown us how he had become the foundation, the cornerstone we have always rejected in many instances in our lives now pasturing us back to greener pastures.

To know and to belong in the light of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is for us to regard one another as a family, as a brother and a sister we love and trust, allowing them to be free and faithful to God and one another instead of manipulating people like what some parents do to their children or dictators in the government and military.


Knowing and belonging like the Good Shepherd 
is less of controls and more of trust with one another 
because you see them as brothers and sisters in Christ 
perfectly expressed in the Community Pantry dictum, 
"magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan" 
(give whatever you can, take only what you need).

Knowing and belonging like the Good Shepherd is less of controls and more of trust with one another because you see them as brothers and sisters in Christ perfectly expressed in the Community Pantry dictum, “magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan” (give whatever you can, take only what you need).

What Ms. Ana Patricia Non and her followers did was become like Jesus the Good Shepherd when she said this community pantry is “not about charity but more of mutuality like helping the needy” which is about seeing each other as a brother and a sister belonging to one family under God our Father. Charity happens where there is first a relationship of persons respecting one another.

No wonder, she had perfectly called her effort as “community pantry” because every home has a pantry where everyone goes when hungry. And what is more, her community pantry has become a steady source of kindness and tenderness we have missed so much during this pandemic!

How beautiful that a shepherdess from Maginhawa Street led us to realize that we are one big family – brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ and beloved children of the loving and merciful Father in heaven.

May this be the start of a beautiful journey for our country when we see more our belonging to one nation, one country we collectively “own” and therefore, we must ensure its bright future by seeing each other in the light of Christ our Good Shepherd – not us possessions to be manipulated or even sold for personal interests alone.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Posted by Jean Palma on Facebook, 18 April 2021 with the caption: “All these community pantries in four days, and counting. What a powerful movement.” #CommunityPantry

Jesus in our midst

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Third Sunday in Easter, 18 April 2021
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19  ><)))*>  1 John 2:1-5  ><)))*>  Luke 24:35-48 

After listening to the accounts of the beloved disciple John, we now reflect on Luke’s story of the Resurrection which is a continuation of the gospel proclaimed in the afternoon of Easter, the Road to Emmaus.

Recall how the two disciples did not recognize the Risen Lord when he joined them on their way back to Emmaus saddened with his death, doubtful of his resurrection. Upon reaching home, they invited the Lord for a meal when after breaking the bread, they recognized it was Jesus who had then vanished from their sights!

Both hurried back to Jerusalem to tell the rest of the disciples of their encounter with the Risen Lord.

While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” But they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.

Luke 24:36-43
Painting by Caravaggio of the Emmaus Meal from commons.wikimedia.org.

Many times in life
 we feel it more "fearful" in the positive sense 
to believe in God than in ghosts 
because God is very real 
when ghosts are not true at all.

Jesus appearing, speaking, and sharing meal

Both evangelists John and Luke consistently tell us in their Easter stories the three manifestations of the Risen Lord to the disciples: appearing, speaking, and sharing meal. All three acts belong together as one to remind the disciples of what transpired during their Last Supper, fulfilled on Good Friday.

But, there is something deeper in the dynamics of these three acts when seen from the perspective of Luke. And we have to look back to the beginning of this story on the road to Emmaus where we find Luke using a pattern of presenting an outward sign of Jesus appearing, speaking and sharing meal with the disciples who were then led to an inner recognition of the Risen Lord.

Notice that outwardly while walking, the disciples did not recognize Jesus as the man walking with them, speaking to them about the scriptures. Inwardly, something was happening with them: Then they said to each other, “Were not our hears burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

This pattern of outward signs and inner recognition becomes strongest when Jesus shared meals with the disciples: And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:30-31).

Exactly the same thing happened in this manifestation we now have in Jerusalem: the outward signs of the Risen Lord appearing to the disciples, showing them his hands and his feet. The disciples were amazed, could not speak at all upon seeing Jesus Christ alive, speaking to them, reminding them of his teachings before and most especially, shared meal with them by eating a baked fish to prove he is not a ghost.

Then, he spoke again to remind them of his earlier teachings of the scriptures being fulfilled in him through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, leading to the inner recognition by the disciples: Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45).

Painting by Frenchman James Tissot “Appearance of Christ at Cenacle Room” from commons.wikimedia.org.

Many times in life we feel it more fearful in the positive sense to believe in God than in ghosts because God is very real when ghosts are not true at all. “Mas nakakatakot maniwala sa Diyos kesa multo kasi ang Diyos ay totoong-totoo habang ang mga multo ay hindi.”

Amid the many outward signs we see unfolding right before our eyes, we could not help but believe as we are overwhelmed with God’s presence, with his love and mercy for us in the most personal way. The German Lutheran theologian Rudolf Otto called it as “mysterium tremendum” and “mysterium fascinans” when we feel so small like a tiny speck of dust in this vast universe yet so special, so loved by the almighty God.

There is that realization of our sinfulness, of our shortcomings before the Lord and yet still loved and forgiven like what Peter taught the people in his teaching after Pentecost at Jerusalem. Four times in four verses Peter spoke to the people with the second person pronoun YOU to stress their complicity in the crucifixion of Jesus, “you handed over and denied (v.13); you denied the Holy (v.14); you put to death (v.15)”; and finally, the saving declaration:

“Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did; but God has thus brought to fulfillment what he head announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer.”

Acts 3:17-18

Whenever we commit sins. when we refuse to love others, we become that “YOU” of Peter who hand over and deny Jesus, putting him to death whenever we reduce persons into things or take God’s blessings like food for granted.

From the Facebook page of artist Mr. Dengcoy Miel, 01 April 2021.

The “essential” table fellowship

Aside from proving to his disciples that he is risen, Jesus Christ’s appearance, speaking, and sharing of meals with them continues to our time in the Holy Eucharist where he brings us to a new covenant in the table fellowship with him and the Father in heaven.

In the Holy Eucharist, Jesus gives us a share in his very life, allowing us to participate in his Resurrection through the purifying power of his Passion and Death.

From the days of the Apostles up to our own time, the celebration of the Mass had gone through many changes and reforms but its very essence has always remained as the Real Presence of Jesus Christ among us in outward signs perceptible to our senses like the proclamation of the Word, the sharing in the Lord’s Body and Blood, and the communion of members of the community gathered in every celebration.

Like the disciples of the Lord during that Easter evening, we continue to experience an inner awakening within us of his presence, of his very self.

That is why Vatican II as well as St. John Paul II had always insisted that the Eucharist is the summit of our Christian life, that everything in our lives and in our parish especially must flow from the Eucharist. This is the reason that even with the COVID-19 lockdowns, Masses continue to be celebrated by priests even in private without the congregation because it is our source of nourishment especially in these times of crisis.


These community pantries now sprouting 
are in itself extensions of table fellowship with Jesus as the unseen guest - 
appearing, speaking, sharing meals with us - 
literally giving us food for the stomach, delighting our souls.

  It is another Easter and Pentecost happening in our midst, 
of Jesus coming to us, 
truly alive in the Holy Spirit among people 
gathered in loving service for one another, 
a perfection of the love of God in us!

Photo from Elijah San Fernando, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 16 April 2021.

See the recent “miracles” happening lately about this “community pantry” that started in Maguinhawa Street in Quezon City now fast spreading to other areas in Metro Manila with some farmers from the provinces giving their share of farm produce.

What a beautiful proof of the fulfillment of John’s words in our second reading today: “But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is perfected in him” (1Jn.2:1-5)!

These community pantries now sprouting are in itself extensions of table fellowship with Jesus the unseen guest – appearing, speaking, sharing meals with us – literally giving us food for the stomach, delighting our souls.

It is another Easter and Pentecost happening in our midst, of Jesus coming to us, truly alive in the Holy Spirit among people gathered in loving service for one another, a perfection of the love of God in us!

Photo by Toots Vergara, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 16 April 2021.

This Sunday, let us experience Jesus our guest right in our family, in our homes as we gather in our table without our gadgets and prejudices against each other, having only our very presence and fellowship in love and mercy, kindness and care as we feed our bodies as well as our souls. Amen.

*Please say a prayer for me and my six other classmates today as we celebrate our 23rd year of ordination to the priesthood (18 April 1998, Malolos Cathedral by Abp. Rolando J. Tria-Tirona).  Salamuch and God bless you all!  fr nick

Easter, the intensity of Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), 11 April 2021
Acts 4:32-35  >><)))*>  1John 5:1-6  >><)))*>  John 20:19-31

Today’s gospel shows us the unique intensity of Easter wherein God broke through human limitations by conquering death to open for us new realms and vast expanse of realities never before imagined (https://lordmychef.com/2021/04/04/breaking-into-new-realities/).

More than the “resuscitation” of a dead person, Jesus Christ’s Resurrection opened us to a new dimension and new possibilities of human existence that leads us all to a new kind of future now.

At Easter, Jesus broke out into an entirely new form of life with his glorified body that it is not just an event in the past we remember but something that continues up to now (cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Part II, page 244; Ignatius Press, 2011).

On the evening of that first day of the week, 
when the doors were locked, 
where the disciples were, 
for fear of the Jews, 
Jesus came and stood in their midst 
and said to them, "Peace be with you."  
When he had said this,
 he showed them his hands and his side.  
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  
(John 20:19-20)
Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

Easter is not an ending 
but a beginning still continuing 
in our lives, in our time.

The Intensity of Easter

Easter is not an ending but a beginning still continuing in our lives, in our time. It is a reality so intense that even now we feel deep within us especially in the darkest moments of our lives like during this COVID-19 surge proving to be more dangerous and fatal than last year.

Its intensity comes from the Risen Lord Jesus himself who had conquered death and sin for our salvation. Such is the meaning of his ability to enter the room where his disciples gathered on that Easter Sunday night, despite their doors and windows were all locked for fear of the Jews outside.

This is also the reason that even the evangelists did not have to record so much his every appearance but remain simply noble and grand in their stories because adding details did not matter at all. Most important for them especially to the beloved disciple was the inexpressible intensity of the Lord’s appearances which he mentioned twice, first at the end of this episode and at the conclusion of his gospel account.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.

John 20:30-31; 21:25

Many times in our lives, the Lord is not asking us to be intense like him.

Only Jesus can remain that intense in his love and mercy for us. He only wants us to be there always, even if we come in late like his apostle Thomas Didymus.

Like Thomas, what we really need are silence and adoration before the Lord who remains with us, comes to journey with us amid the darkness and gloom that envelop us like these days of the pandemic as we now see with everybody posting on Facebook the need to be silent, to be contemplative in spirit.

Thomas Didymus, balance and harmony

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
 and Thomas was with them.  
Jesus came, although the doors were locked, 
and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you."  
Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, 
and bring your hand and put it into my side, 
and do not be unbelieving, but believe."  
Thomas answered and said to him, 
"My Lord and my God!"  
Jesus said to him, 
"Have you come to believe 
because you have seen me?  
Blessed are those who have not seen 
and have believed."  
(John 20:26-29)

First, let us not take the doubts of Thomas negatively. Some accounts claim that his name Didymus or “Twin” in both Aramaic and Greek may refer to his twin characteristics of having doubts and faith at the same time.

Thomas was not an unbeliever when he doubted the news told by his companions that the Lord had risen. In fact, when he said he will not believe them unless he sees and puts his hands into the mark of the nails in the Lord’s hands and side was already an expression of his faith in Jesus. He already knew at that time that the Lord can only be recognized by his wounds from the cross and not by his face which is the usual and ordinary way of knowing another person.

Here we find Thomas having deep faith in Jesus though not so intense. When Jesus told him “do not be unbelieving, but believe”, he was not reproaching Thomas but more of exhorting him to cling more in that faith in him. And that exhortation applies to us to this time too!

Caravaggio’s “Doubting Thomas” from en.wikipedia.org.

Yes, it is not enough to see in order to believe for there are times that it is in believing that we are able to see.

But in this episode with Thomas, we are reminded that our faith lies more in our personal acknowledgment of Jesus Christ alive in us, is risen among us. Even if we can enumerate so many reasons for believing in him along with the proofs by other reliable witnesses attesting to us, what is most crucial is always our own, personal conviction that Jesus Christ is “my Lord and my God.”

That is the giftedness of our faith that John tries to tell us in the second reading: all of our sight and faith in God beginning with the commandments rest in Christ Jesus affirmed to us daily by the Holy Spirit as we slowly inch closer to our future glory in heaven with him in the Father.

Through the Holy Spirit, our faith in God in Jesus Christ is led onto the horizontal dimension of our relationships with one another in love as a “community of believers of one heart and one mind where no one claimed any of his possessions as his own, but had everything in common” (Acts 4:32).

On this eight day of Easter that signifies the continuation of Easter, may we experience the intensity of our Risen Lord Jesus anew in his Divine Mercy working in us, working through us.

We are not asked to be intense like Jesus who can break every barriers in life. He knows our weaknesses and limitations, especially our doubts and insecurities.

In his Divine Mercy, Jesus comforts us amid the grave sufferings we are going through in this pandemic surge, encouraging us to persevere in our faith, hope, and love in him.

Let us imitate the Apostle Thomas to always strike that balance and harmony of our faith and doubts, joys and sadness, glory and sorrows so that we keep ourselves awake and responsive to Christ’s calls to share in his wounds and healing especially in this time of the pandemic. May we keep the commandments of God, walk in the truth of the Spirit and live in faith and love of Jesus for others. Amen.

Stay safe and have a blessed week ahead!

Breaking into New Realities

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Easter Sunday of the Lord's Resurrection, 04 April 2021
Acts 10:34, 37-43  +  1Corinthians 5:6-8  +  John 20:1-9
Photo by author, Paschal Candles outside the Lord’s tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, 2017.
Clear out the old yeast,
so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, 
inasmuch as you are an unleavened.  
For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.  
Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with old yeast, 
the yeast of malice and wickedness, 
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  
(1 Corinthians 5:7-8) 

A blessed, happy Easter to everyone in this most unholy time of the COVID-19 pandemic! I know, many of us are at a loss at how can we truly celebrate and experience Easter of the Lord’s Resurrection from the dead when those among us are dying or have actually died in this recent deadly surge of corona virus infections.

Unlike Christmas which we could easily identify with the signs and symbols of birth and babies plus the cool climate of December, Easter has always been a problematique especially among us Filipinos now in the heat of the dry season. Making matter worse this year is the pandemic and its ECQ.

Christmas is always delightful. We are always drawn and attracted to the idea and reality that God became a child, making so many things great for us humans.

But, unlike Easter which is so different in the sense that here, God did not enter a familiar stage and state in our human life and existence. On the contrary – which is also its biggest plus factor and enigma – God broke through all human limitations to enter a new realm, a vast expanse of unknown realities that are beyond the most dreaded thing of all which is death!

That is why Easter to much extent is difficult to celebrate because it is hard to comprehend and explain or grasp with our limited reasons and yet, at the same time, it is so real, so true as something we have experienced deep within us!

More than those egg hunts and bunnies now gone – hopefully forever – due to the pandemic, Easter 2021 calls us for a deep, inner renewal of our selves. As we have been saying since Palm Sunday, this may be the holiest Holy Week of our lives in the most unholy time in history as it gives us many opportunities to pray and reflect this great mystery of Jesus risen from the dead.

If we truly wish to find the Risen Lord in our lives in this unholiest time of the pandemic with deaths and sufferings surrounding us, we need to go inside our selves as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, to commit ourselves anew to Christ in the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist where we share his Body under the sign of bread.

Recall how last Thursday we were reminded how Jesus perfected and fulfilled the Jewish Passover with his very Body given to us on Good Friday. This Easter after having risen from the dead, Jesus our Bread of Life calls us to discard the old bread that is corrupted and spoiled; Christ has given us himself as our new yeast, new leaven penetrating the dough to make rise in us a fresh and wonderful bread even in the midst of this pandemic!

We have to discard the old leaven – our old selves and way of life in sin – to break new realities in Jesus and through Jesus. Easter is a passing over, a pasch when like Jesus Christ, we dare to cross and pass over life’s challenges and risks to achieve not only we are wishing for but sometimes, we have never even imagined – like the Lord’s rising from the dead!

“The Three Marys” by Henry Ossawa Tanner, from womeninthebible.net.
On the first day of the week, 
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, 
while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.  
So she ran and went to Simon Peter 
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, 
and told them, "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, 
and we don't know where they put him." 
(John 20:1-2)

A few days before Ash Wednesday in February, we moved into our new assignments just in time for the start of the Lenten Season or 40-day preparation for this great feast of Easter. I have been assigned as chaplain to Our Lady of Fatima University and the Fatima University and Medical Center in Valenzuela plus its five other branches at Quezon City, Antipolo City, San Fernando City, Cabanatuan City and Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

I have been conducting my ministry basically “on-line” like Masses and talks and recollections.

And lately, praying over our sick and dying patients especially this past week with the surge of COVID-19 cases.

Due to the situation at the hospital and in compliance with the health protocols, we have devised a plan where the nurse on duty would text me for those requesting prayers for the sick with details of the patient and telephone number of the guardian. I would then call the guardian to ask him/her to bring the phone near the patient’s ear so I can pray aloud, and most of all, give the much needed absolution and commendation of the dying. Each nurse station is provided with a bottle of Holy Water for the guardian to sprinkle the patient at my signal.

After that, I pray over the guardian and bless him/her.

So far, for the past month since we have been doing this, nobody had called me what have happened to their patients, if they survived or not. I have stopped following up on them because usually, when I asked the guardian how was their patient, they would always tell me “buhay pa po siya” (he/she still alive), as if I were waiting for their death.

However, there were times some of the guardians have called me back to express their gratitude, telling me how they were relieved knowing their loved ones have been prayed for by a priest.

Last Holy Thursday at the height of so many COVID cases, I prayed over two patients successively.

That was very amazing and inspiring for me. They were “little moments of Easter” as people experienced deaths so close to home these days, even in the most surreal way, still believing, still hoping. We too have felt it one way or the other with requests for help and prayers by relatives and friends with patients sick with COVID and with other ailments lately when we felt so helpless, with nothing else to do and contribute except pray and worry.

That is the grace of Easter so abounding in this pandemic. Let us hope that with ongoing inner renewal among us of hoping against hope that love after all conquers death. Always and certainly as we have seen lately.

Like Mary, there are times we see nothing at all and say things we hardly think or process.

We feel at a loss, almost about to give up yet a tiny sparkle of faith and hope keeps us running to others for help whom we think could do something, maybe used by God to change or remedy our “lost” cause or situation.

That is where the grace of Easter is found every day: something very true and real within us keeps us believing in life and meaning, in God through Jesus Christ when all is gone and even lost.

Why still go to the tomb at all like Mary? If Jesus were already dead, what is the use of going to anoint him with oil and perfumes? Was Mary feeling something even so little, so tiny like hope against hope that Jesus could still be alive?

It was beyond her that she was terrified and ran to Peter upon seeing the empty tomb! She had felt that what was deep inside her was true after all, that there is a greater life beyond this that exists – exactly like what we believed – that there is Resurrection of the dead in Jesus Christ because he himself we can feel deep inside us!

Like Peter on that Pentecost Sunday, we may not go on a discourse explaining what had happened because we have not witnessed the Resurrection like him but we speak out, we believe because we experienced life bursting forth amidst deaths and losses. Like Peter, we have witnessed so many other things, little moments of Easter that showed us signs of God’s abiding presence and love.

Like the light of the new day piercing through the darkness, there is the Risen Jesus touching us, assuring us, loving us and telling us that Easter is not an ending in itself for it continues now and shall continue until the end when Christ comes again to definitively put an end to death when we live eternally with him in the Father in heaven. Amen.

Blessed happy easter!

Photo by author, Mirador Center of Spirituality, Baguio City, January 2019.

Holiest week in most unholy time

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, 28 March 2021
Isaiah 50:4-7  +  Philippians 2:6-11  +  Mark 14:1-15:47
Photo by Mr. John Karol Limjuco, Parish of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 26 March 2021.

For the second straight year, we are again celebrating our holiest week in the most unholy time of our lives in this COVID-19 pandemic. The timing could not escape everybody’s suspicion of something so sinister, if not diabolic, that religious gatherings are again limited.

But on a closer look and deeper reflection, we find what is happening right now is something similar with what Jesus went through that made these days so holy.

Notice that the official designation of our celebration today is “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion” when Vatican II fused the two earliest preparations by the Church for Easter: the palm procession by Christians at Jerusalem in the fourth century and the proclamation of the long gospel of the Passion of the Lord in Rome by the Pope in the fifth century.

Both ancient celebrations set our sights to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus beginning this Sunday stretching it through this whole week to remind us of the triumph and tragedy, of darkness and light, of death and life. These contrasts shall be most pronounced when we enter the Triduum of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection on Holy Thursday evening, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil.

Then everything becomes light and pure joy in Easter!

And the key to understanding, appreciating, and deeply imbibing the meaning of all these confluences of mixed emotions and feelings, colors and hues like our situation while under this time of the corona is to have the same attitude of Jesus Christ expressed so beautifully by St. Paul in our second reading:

Have among yourselves the same attitude (mind) that is also yours in Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, he 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 2:5-8
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The mind and heart of Jesus Christ

Having the mind and heart of Jesus Christ is opening ourselves to the Father by trying to see everything in his light as we go through life especially during this pandemic. It is what Jesus has always reminded us of “reading the signs of the times”.

God is telling us something in this pandemic but we are not listening to him as we continue to see it as a medical and social issue, refusing to recognize its spiritual and moral implications. In a lot of senses, this pandemic and quarantine we are undergoing is similar with situation when Jesus entered Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago when Israel under Roman rule and life was so difficult but nobody recognized him as the Christ and Savior!

In his entire life here on earth, Jesus always saw everything in the light of his Father in heaven. He never got involved into politics and other temporal concerns or subject but throughout the course of history since then until now, his teachings remain relevant in addressing our social issues and problems.

Seeing things and events in our lives and history in the light of God demands that we have the same attitude of Jesus of opening ourselves to be empty of our pride, of our plans and agenda, of our self-interests as well as of our illusions and insecurities in life.

We will never see God nor find him when we are filled with our selves, especially with our bloated egos when we think we know everything, when we presume we are always right, when we play gods.

Like the people who welcomed Jesus entered Jerusalem holding palms, singing “Hosanna in the highest!”, soon we would also be shouting “Crucify him!” unless we get emptied of ourselves and be filled with God.

St. Paul could eloquently present the mind and heart of Jesus in this beautiful hymn because he himself went through a process of kenosis, of self emptying. He had experienced in himself how when Jesus emptied himself and went down to his lowest point obediently accepting death on the cross, that is also when he was at his closest union with the Father who raised him to his highest glory at Easter.

That is why St. Paul called it the “scandal of the cross” for when we empty ourselves and offered everything to God out of love for him and for others that we are willing to go down to our lowest point in life, that is when God raises us up to “meet” him, to be one in him that miracles begin to happen, when things change for the best not only for us but also for others and those around us.

Hence, while we are in the most unholy period of our history, the Lord is giving us every chance to have the holiest Holy Week of our lives by examining our very selves in this time of quarantine to cleanse and empty ourselves of sins and evil to be filled with God of his holiness and grace through Christ’s cross.

Photo by author, St. Joseph Parish, Baras, Rizal, 15 January 2021.

The logic of the Cross

As we go to another Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) or lockdown like last year, I am convinced that while we are sad at how things are going on, it is actually God who is most “sad” of all as we go through all these pains and difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

God cannot suffer because he is perfect; but, he can suffer with us that is why he sent his Son Jesus to become human like us to join us in all our sufferings including death and thus, “console” us in Christ.

“To console” is from the Latin terms “con” (with) + “solatio” (solace/comfort) that means not only to comfort or delight those in suffering but to also “strengthen” or make strong those weakened by trials and difficulties which is the literal meaning of cum fortis, with strength.

And here lies the “logic” of Christ’s Cross: Jesus died by the hatred of others so that we may live again by his love. Only God can give us the evidences of his love to render us capable through Jesus Christ to forge on amid our pains and sufferings, hoping against all hope that love is always stronger than suffering, death, and sin.

When we persevere in our sufferings, especially in silence for the sake of others out of love, imitating the self-emptying of Jesus, that is when God showers us with more of his love and mercy, strength and vigor to overcome everything in Christ.

This he had promised and fulfilled in Christ who is the “Suffering Servant” we heard in the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah:

The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Isaiah 50:4-7

See how everything Isaiah had written was fulfilled in Jesus as we heard in the gospel today when at the praetorium “They clothed him in purple and, weaving a crown of thorns, placed it on him. They began to salute him with, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and kept striking his head with a reed and spitting upon him. They knelt before him in homage” (Mk.15:17-19). It went on up to the calvary when “They gave him wine drugged with myrrh, but he did not take it. Then they crucified him…” (Mk.15:23-24).

In my reflections this Lent, I have been dwelling lately on tenderness and compassion as mercy of God in action, as mercy of his hands. To be tender and compassionate is to be one with the suffering even if you are suffering too – just like our medical frontliners who risk not only their very lives but even their families.

Last Friday I was asked to give a talk via webinar about development of compassionate teachers and staff at Our Lady of Fatima University where I serve as chaplain. A doctor asked if there is such a thing as “over compassion” wherein she can already feel chest pains in seeing and hearing all the sufferings of their patients in this time of the pandemic.

I was so touched by her question because I felt it too; I told her she is not alone feeling that way when I also feel overwhelmed with the sufferings of the people but cannot do so much. I told her it is a grace to feel that way, that she had to find ways how her mercy in the heart can flow to mercy of the hands while ensuring safety protocols as a doctor.

But that is where the grace of God works fullest, when we believe and trust more in Jesus Christ when the chips are already down, when we feel defeat is inevitable that we just surrender everything to Divine grace and intervention.

“Ecce Homo” by Murillo from wikipediacommons.org.

That is the meaning of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion when we see life in its total weakness and even wreak, whether in our selves or among others, and yet we continue to persevere, to hope against hope because deep in us we know God is with us, God is working in us, and God will save us.

French poet Charles Péguy wrote in one of his great poems at the turn of the century that hope is God’s favorite virtue because “hope surprises him”.

Péguy described hope like the end of a play or a movie in our time; we know the show had ended but we stay on refusing to leave the theater because we believe that something is still coming up like a preview or a surprise scene!

See how St. Mark tells us at the end of his Passion Story when everything was so dark after Jesus had died when “he breathed his last” that the centurion standing there believed that “Truly this man is the Son of God!” (Mk.15:39)

Sometimes in life, God becomes clearest and most truest when we have lost everything, including what is most precious and dearest to us.

Have a heart with a lot of faith, hope and love that this may be the holiest Holy Week in our lives because it is the most unholy period in our history like when Jesus entered Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago. Amen.

Keep safe, be blessed, and be a blessing to others!

Our body like the Body of Christ

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, 25 March 2021
Isaiah 7:10-14, 8:10  +  Hebrews 10:4-10  +  Luke 1:26-38
Photo by author, Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel, 2017.

Last Monday I celebrated my 56th birthday in quarantine after having a close contact with a person with COVID-19. The health officers were both smiling in disbelief as they took my swab test that morning after finding out after my interview it was indeed my birthday.

Between that morning and its eve – in fact since Saturday when I went on quarantine – I felt like in another scene of the Annunciation as I awaited the “good news” with my whole world standing still in animated suspension.

Earlier that morning, I celebrated Mass in my room when I looked back to my birthday last year. It was a Sunday, the first week of the lockdown when public Masses were suspended. After celebrating the Mass alone in our Parish church, I borrowed a truck and mounted the Blessed Sacrament at the back and went around our parish that afternoon to bless the people who knelt on the road with some were crying.

This year, I felt the Lord wanted me to celebrate my birthday in quarantine to be alone with him again to realize the rich meaning of this Solemnity in relation with our lives, especially with me as his priest.

Photo by Ms. Ria de Vera, 2020.

Brothers and sisters: It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins. For this reason, When Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight. Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.'” By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:4-7, 10

The mystery of Christ’s coming

Notice that in Mass today at the proclamation of the Creed, we are asked to genuflect at the words “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary” to remind us that the Incarnation of the Son of God is the fundamental mystery of our faith which the Church has always proclaimed since the beginning.

This is the gist of our short but rich reflections by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews of how Jesus truly became human born by the Blessed Virgin Mary in the power of the Holy Spirit without losing any of his divinity in the process in order to save us and make us new again before God our Father.

In his reflection, the author of the Letter mentions how the Old Testament worship was more symbolic and a preparation to the perfect offering made by Jesus on the cross.

Photo by author, Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, 2019.

In the Old Testament, priests offered animals for atonement of sins with the blood symbolizing life. They offered three animals: first for their sins so they may be cleaned before God in making the sacrifices for the people for whom the second animal stood for. The third animal was usually a goat to cover all the other sins of the world from which we got “scapegoat” as term for one who takes all the blame.

Jesus Christ came to perfect the temple worship in his very body when he told the Pharisees and scribes after cleansing the temple, “Destroy this temple and in a three days I will raise again” (Jn.2:19).

By dying on the cross, Jesus fulfilled his words to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well that someday, people would no longer worship in just one place because through his “hour” of glory – his crucifixion – people will be able to “truly worship the Father in Spirit and truth” (Jn.4:23).

On the cross, Jesus made himself the perfect sacrifice to God by atoning for our sins. The word atonement was coined by a Protestant translator of the bible to convey the idea of salvation as being one again with the Father, or “at-one-ment”.

Following the reflection by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, we find that the very coming of Christ announced by the angel to Mary was in fact directed toward this paschal sacrifice of Jesus.

In the gospel today we have seen the angel telling Mary to name her child “Jesus” that means “God is my savior”. The angel was more explicit in the Annunciation to Joseph who was instructed, “you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt.1:21).

It was from this celebration of the Annunciation of Christ’s birth that we have the tradition of praying the Angelus every 6am, 12noon and 6pm to make our day holy, reminding us of this great mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus who became both “the gift and the giver” when he offered himself on the cross for us which we remember and make present in every celebration of the Mass.

Photo by author, chapel at the site of annunciation, Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, 2019.

The life of obedience in Christ

From that beautiful story of the Annunciation of Lord we find how in the coming of Jesus Christ from the very start – from heaven to its coming on earth to Mary’s virginal conception at Nazareth – the mystery of his Incarnation has always been characterized by obedience.

In being obedient to the Father, Jesus consecrated us through him in offering his body once and for all that opened for us an avenue to a life of holiness through obedience to God. And the first to have this distinction is his Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:38

Next to Mary is her husband, St. Joseph whose Solemnity we celebrated last week. His “yes” to following the angel’s instruction upon waking up from his dream echoed the Blessed Mother’s obedience to God’s plan and will for everyone through Jesus Christ.

Here we find Mary and Joseph, two righteous people who allowed themselves to be instruments in the fulfillment of the divine plan in Jesus Christ, relying more in the power of God, believing in his words spoken by the angel to them.

Photo by author, Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, 2019.

On this Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, we are challenged and invited to be open and obedient to God, to his words we hear proclaimed in the celebration of the Mass and in our personal prayers.

Jesus is the word who became flesh and dwelled among us, present among us because of the obedience and faith of Mary and Joseph.

It is always very tempting to be like King Ahaz in the first reading, when we rely more in ourselves, in our wisdom and intelligence, expertise and experience that we sometimes feel it no longer needed to bother God at all for directions especially with “earthly” things and concerns like the economy or defense of the country.

Or, pandemic.

This is the saddest part with COVID-19: a year after it started and wreaked havoc on this planet, we still continue to consider it as a medical and social issue, refusing to see its spiritual meaning.

This pandemic is an annunciation moment when God is telling us something very important for our salvation like with Mary over 2000 years ago.

God has been sending us messengers since the start of this crisis to welcome his Word, Jesus Christ so that he can work in us to bring us back to the Father and with one another through our loving service especially with the weak and most needy.

It is easy for God to send us solutions right away to end this pandemic. In fact, he had blessed us with at least six vaccines that took only a year to develop unlike the normal course of 3-5 years.

But vaccines will not entirely solve and end this pandemic. This we can see right in our country where spas and gyms and malls are seen as more essential than religious gatherings. Its worst part is how we have modern King Ahaz so confident with themselves in addressing the issues from the pandemic. Incidentally, the main sin and mistake by King Ahaz during the time of Isaiah was his aligning himself with the superpower Assyria that eventually conquered Israel – something so similar with our dealings and reliance with China, the origin of this virus and pandemic!

How sad at how this government pinned all its hopes last year in the discovery of vaccines without working hard in other aspects of mitigating the effects of the pandemic when now that there are vaccines available, it is still at a loss in making any progress in the vaccination program especially with those most vulnerable like the medical frontliners who are doing a life of offering like Jesus Christ.


Early this year, we had our major revamp in our parish assignments in almost nine years. It was an Annunciation event for us priests as it directed us to new challenges in the ministry to continue proclaiming the mystery of Incarnation.

I was assigned as chaplain of Our Lady of Fatima University (OLFU) and Fatima University and Medical Center (FUMC). At first, I was afraid like Mary in going to a new ministry at the forefront of facing the pandemic. But like Mary, I gave my fiat to God, joyfully coming to my assignment with so many plans and dreams.

And just when I was starting to heat up in my ministry, I was suddenly sent on a quarantine. That was when I realized the meaning of this Annunciation of the Lord to me: becoming like the Body of Christ to be offered too for many.

As I heard news of more people including friends and relatives getting COVID-19, I promised God in my prayers during my “quarantined” birthday that whatever may be the result of my swab test, I will still serve him with same enthusiasm in my previous assignments.

Like the Blessed Virgin Mary, may we say yes to God everyday, relying more than ever in our relationships with him and with others in Christ than in the hopes of things getting better; should things get worst like Jesus dying on the Cross, like Mary, may we hold only on God’s loving mercy and presence in this world marred by sin. And pandemic. Amen.

Photo by author, Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, 2019.