Following Jesus in lights and darkness by Caravaggio

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 20 September 2021
Detail of Caravaggio’s painting, “Calling of St. Matthew” from en.wikipedia.org.

That beautiful painting by Caravaggio, “The Calling of St. Matthew” completed in 1600 for the French congregation of San Luigi Francesi in Rome is said to be the favorite of Pope Francis among the many other masterpieces found in the eternal city.

It was through the Holy Father that I have started to fall in love with Caravaggio’s works, promising myself to see them if given another chance to return to Rome. His paintings like the meeting of Thomas Didymus with the Risen Lord and his breaking of bread at Emmaus evoke body movements and inner motions among the characters that lead us to continue the beautiful story of his subject.

And that is what I wish to share with you on this Feast of St. Matthew, a reflection on his sitting, arising and standing to follow Jesus who had called him while at work as a tax collector.

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Matthew 9:9
From shutterstock.com.

Sitting. Many centuries from now, anthropologists and other experts will be studying our generation on how humans have evolved – or retrogressed – with our spending too much time sitting. Doctors warn of the many health risks that result in prolonged sitting like obesity and heart disease. They have recently sounded the alarm anew following a surge in zoom meetings and webinars as well as the new set ups of classes on-line and work from home that entail sitting for long hours.

When the term “couch potato” was coined in the 1980’s, potato growers in the US complained against the association of their beloved crop with those people glued on their seats watching TV, doing nothing at all.

Sitting is an important human movement especially in studying and learning lessons through reading and writing, meeting and discussions. Meals become more satisfying and fulfilling when taken while seated in a leisurely manner whether at the table or even on the ground like picnics in the park or forest. In fact, it is when we are seated at the table for meals we are most peaceful and neutral – nobody eats with weapons laid on the table or while holding a gun or clenching a fist which is the reason why we are not supposed to rest our elbows on the table!

Imagine St. Matthew when he was called by Jesus, while sitting at the customs post: here we find sitting at its worst imagery of being stuck on our seats of comfort and complacency, sins and other vices. Worst is see how in our modern time we have given so much premium on where we sit to insist on our ego trips and sense of territory as well as claims to fame and prominence not realizing that what really matters in life is not where we sit but where we stand (https://lordmychef.com/2019/02/22/it-is-where-we-stand-that-matters-most-not-where-we-sit/).

From en.wikipedia.org.

Following Jesus

Going back to Caravaggio’s painting, we notice everybody seated at the table with St. Matthew dressed in the artist’s period of the 1600’s to show that Jesus continues to come in our own particular time in history.

Most of all, the gospel tells us that St. Matthew was seated at his customs post when called by Jesus but Caravaggio’s painting portrays them to be inside a tavern to tell us that we are also St. Matthew whom Jesus visits and calls daily while we are busy or drunk sitting at our comfort zones, in our vices and sins, in our complacency and mediocrity.

And like St. Matthew, we, too, are invited to rise and follow Jesus right away!


Don't you hear how Jesus is calling you daily, 
asking you, "will the real you please rise up and stand for who you really are"?
See yourself the way Jesus sees you - forgiven and beloved,
precious and loved.  No need for us to look good before Jesus.
Just rise and stand with him!

Standing. Following Jesus demands that we must first rise from our seats to make a stand for Jesus and his teachings of love and kindness, mercy and forgiveness, service and self-sacrifice. Notice how St. Matthew, the fat man at the middle with a black hat like a beret pointing to the man bowed down to the table.

See and feel the hesitancy of St. Matthew – like us – always wondering, asking God, “is it I, Lord?” So many times we cannot believe Jesus really looking for us, wanting us, calling us, believing in us!

And in all that beautiful interplay of light and darkness by Caravaggio in his painting, we feel the eyes of Jesus looking at our beloved apostle as if telling him, “yes, you, Matthew; Follow me”.

Cast all your doubts if Jesus were really calling you, believing in you, trusting you – he does! Jesus always comes to each of us in the most personal manner like with all his apostles, telling us, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit” (Jn.15:16).

Don’t you hear how Jesus is calling you daily, asking you, “will the real you please rise up and stand for who you really are”? See yourself the way Jesus sees you – forgiven and beloved, precious and loved. No need for us to look good before Jesus. Just rise and stand with him!


Photo from Facebook of nuns delivering relief goods to people in far-flung areas during the pandemic last year.

Walking. It is not enough for us to remain standing. Making a stand for Jesus means to follow him in his path of justice and love, mercy and forgiveness, being small and the least serving the weak and the poorest of the poor.

To walk in Christ is to be like Christ because Jesus himself is “the way the truth and the life” (Jn.14:6).

Walking in Christ is following the “road less travelled” that leads to the Cross of self-offering and sacrifice, of love and acceptance.

Notice in Caravaggio’s painting how he portrayed Jesus in his own traditional clothes along with Simon Peter – and they are both barefooted!

There seems to be a slight commotion wherein Simon is like warning the man with a sword close to him to be still, to not make any move for they are walking away soon once St. Matthew rises and stands from his seat. Look at the feet of Jesus and Simon; they are all set to walk, as if telling St. Matthew, “come on, let us go!”

But where to?

While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Matthew 9:10-13

We all first walk home with Jesus, right into our hearts to reconcile again with him and be healed of many hurts and aches in the past. Then, we walk with Jesus to our fellow sinners so that they too may experience Christ’s love and forgiveness.

Following Jesus, walking on his path of the cross means going to those forgotten by us and the society, walking to meet those who are not like us – in beliefs and way of thinking, in clothing and appearances, in disposition and backgrounds.

It can be a lonely walk filled with pains and sufferings, and yes, disappointments like the two disciples who walked back to Emmaus on Easter without realizing Jesus was the stranger who had joined them along the way. That is the beauty of walking with Jesus, in Jesus, and to Jesus: you never see him nor recognize him right away but he is always with us, walking with us by our side even if we are going the opposite direction in life!

Walking the way of Jesus is tough and rough. It is not easy but it is the only way we must follow. That is why we need to rest in Jesus, with Jesus who asks us to be seated again as he washes our feet to comfort and console us, and prepare us for longer walks in the journey.


Photo by Ms. JJ Jimeno of GMA-7News, Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, UP Diliman, 2019.

Kneeling. Of all the body movements modern man has forgotten is kneeling. Again, look at Caravaggio’s painting, take a peek below the table and notice the robust knees of St. Matthew, look at the soft throw of light on his right leg and the softer tone on his left.

Caravaggio must be telling us something about the healthy lower body of St. Matthew despite his sitting position. See Caravaggio’s genius in throwing that soft light on St. Matthew’s legs and knees that were made strong not only by long hours of standing and walking with Jesus but with longer time of kneeling and praying after the Lord’s Ascension.

Kneeling is one very important gesture and body movement we must regain to truly follow Jesus and regain order in ourselves and in our nation. It is the best praying position for it signifies surrender and humility before God. In fact, for the Hebrews, the knee is the symbol of strength that to bend one’s knees – to kneel – means to submit one’s self to God the all-powerful.

How sad when people refuse to kneel because their knees or expensive pants and clothes might get dirty. Worst of all is when we have refused to kneel and bend our knees because we feel so strong and able to accomplish a lot that we would rather be pursuing our own interests than following Jesus.

Photo by author, 07 September 2021.

Like Caravaggio’s painting of “The Calling of St. Matthew”, our lives and nation are into a great darkness due to the pandemic and the worsening decadence in every aspect of our society.

It is not a time to be a fence-sitter or a bystander; Jesus calls us to arise and make a stand against the pervading evils, asking us whom are we really following in this journey in history and life.

Amid the gloom are streaks of light bringing hope and reason, truth and goodness, inviting us to learn from the call of St. Matthew to…

Sit and learn more of Jesus
Rise and stand with Jesus
Walk and follow Jesus 
Kneeling always at the foot of his cross 
to truly follow him our Lord and Master.
Amen.

Praying for holy hands

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Memorial of St. John Chrysostom, Bishop & Doctor of the Church, 13 September 2021
1 Timothy 2:1-8   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]*> + ><]]]]'>   Luke 7:1-10
Photo from Google.
Your words today, O God our Father
through St. Paul are so difficult,
so hard to accept:

Beloved: First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:1-4
You know very well 
the kind of leaders and 
people in authority that we have;
however, you know so well too
how they came to power through 
our ignorance and/or arrogance.
Yes, Father, the fault is in us
and that is why we pray also
today that we may be gifted with 
"holy hands that pray without
anger or argument" as St. Paul
instructed Timothy.
Cleanse our hands through
your Son so we may imitate
the centurion in humility,
admitting before Jesus
 that he is not worthy
to have him enter under his roof
that is why he never bothered
to come near him too; but,
with clean and holy hands,
he asked Jesus to only say the word
and his servant shall be healed
and it was granted him! (Lk.7:6-7)
Through the intercession of
St. John Chrysostom whom you
have gifted with "golden mouth"
to speak what is true
following long hours of prayer,
cleanse us of our sins so
we may pray to you with holy hands
and holy lips, without anger or argument
for our leaders.
Amen.

Schooling in time of COVID-19

Homily by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II 
Mass of the Holy Spirit for the College Department
Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City
06 September 2021
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, April 2021.
"Those who seek truth seek God,
whether they realize it or not."
- St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Last August 9 we celebrated the memorial of a modern saint who died at the gas chambers of Auschwitz during the Second World War. She was a German Jew named Edith Stein who became an atheist but later regained her faith as she pursued higher learning in the field of philosophy that was so rare for women at that time.

As she progressed into her philosophical studies working as an assistant to Prof. Edmund Husserl known as the “father of phenomenology”, she converted into Catholicism, eventually leaving her teaching post at a university to become a Carmelite contemplative nun, adopting the name Teresa Benedicta dela Cruz.


Congratulations, our dear students in college who dare to learn and seek the truth by enrolling in this Academic Year 2021-2022.

Students and teachers are both seekers of truth. As St. Teresa Benedicta had experienced, every search for truth leads us to God, the ultimate Truth.

This is a very difficult and trying year for us all but like St. Teresa Benedicta and all the other saints as well as great men and women of history, they all sought for the truth in the most troubled time in history. Trials and hardships in life make learning more “fun” – and an imperative at the same time. In fact, the more we must study and search the truth during critical moments in history and in our lives in order to learn more lessons that are valuable not only to us in dealing with our problems but also with the succeeding generations.

Two important virtues we need to cultivate in seeking the truth, in learning our lessons in this time of the pandemic that I hope you, teachers and students will rediscover this Academic Year: patience and humility.


This pandemic may be considered as another Pentecost, 
teaching us the value of patience, 
of patient waiting for everything, 
reminding us that the beauty of life is best experienced 
by allowing nature to take its course, 
without shortcuts nor rush, to enjoy its beauty as it unfolds before us.

Photo by author, 2019.

Patience is from the Latin “patior” that means “to suffer, to bear with.”

Learning is a process. We cannot know everything right away. It requires a lot of patience on every student and teacher.

This is the reason why Jesus assured his disciples at the Last Supper that he would send them the Holy Spirit he referred to as the Advocate.

“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning… I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.

John 15:26-27, 16:12

In the last 20 years, so much have changed in our lives brought about by modern means of communication.

Great volumes of information have become so readily accessible at great speed, that many in the younger generation have seemed to have lost the virtue of patience. At the snap of your fingers, you can easily have almost everything you need aside from information and music – including food and groceries, clothes and appliances, plants and pets, even medicines and dates!

But life, most especially learning, takes time, requiring a lot of patience in waiting and searching.

Like the Apostles of Jesus who had to wait for the descent of the Holy Spirit at the Upper Room in Jerusalem.

This pandemic may be considered as another Pentecost, teaching us the value of patience, of patient waiting for everything, reminding us that the beauty of life is best experienced by allowing nature to take its course, without shortcuts, to enjoy its beauty as it unfolds before us.

Let our Lord Jesus Christ be our example in following in the path of patience, of suffering; every trial becomes a blessing, a moment of transformation when seen in the light of Jesus Christ who suffered and died for us on the Cross. His very life tells us that there can be no Easter Sunday without a Good Friday.

This pandemic period is an extended Good Friday but in between those moments of sufferings, we experience little Easter if we try to be patient like what some of you have experienced when you graduated in this time of the pandemic.


Photo by author, January 2020.

The second virtue I wish to invite you to rediscover, teachers and students alike, is humility which is again from the Latin word humus that literally means “soil”.

From humus came the words human and humor.

Man was created from clay, a kind of soil. A person with a sense of humor is one who can laugh at things because he or she is rooted on the ground. We call a person with sense of humor in Filipino as “mababaw” or shallow – not empty but close to the ground or deeply rooted.

It is very difficult to learn anything nor discover the truth unless we first become humble. Pride and ego are the greatest stumbling blocks to any kind of learning. You will find in history, even in our personal lives how many opportunities in the past were lost simply because of our pride or “ego trip”.

Pride was the very sin of Adam and Eve that led to their fall. That is why when Jesus came to save us from effects of that Fall, humility became his central teaching when he demanded us to forget ourselves and, most of all, to become like that of a child so we shall enter the kingdom of heaven.

This humility Jesus himself showed us the path by being born like us – small and helpless.

And that has always been the way of God ever since: the small and little ones, those taken for granted, the unknown and rejected are always the ones used as God’s instruments, the ones always effecting the most far-reaching changes in history and our personal lives.

Even in the story of the Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, we find the centrality of becoming small to become a part of the whole.

It is the exact opposite of the story at Babel when people in the Old Testament dared to build a tower reaching to the skies; because of their pride, God confused them by making them speak different languages that led to the collapse of their tower and ambitions. During the Pentecost, the people were all united as one despite the different languages they speak because everybody was willing to listen, to become small in themselves to give way to others.

Like during the Pentecost, let us allow the “tongues of fire” and the “strong, driving wind” of the Holy Spirit part us of our fears and indifference, pride and ego during this Academic year 2021-2022 to fully realize and learn the important lessons and truth this pandemic is teaching us.

Photo from vaticannews,va, 13 May 2017.

Whenever, and wherever there is a search for truth that leads to the discovery of God through our patience and humility, there springs simultaneously the growth of a community. It is no wonder that wherever there is prayer and worship, there is always learning leading to bonding, or communing.

The first universities – from the Latin term universitas or “community of teachers and scholars” – where all offshoots of the efforts of the monks in their monastery as they evangelized peoples, teaching them not only prayers but also the basics of learning like reading and writing. Eventually monasteries had annex buildings as schools and universities that led to the establishment of towns and cities in Europe that spawned the growth of commerce and trade following the great many interactions among peoples.

Here we find the beautiful interplay of the search for truth that leads to discovery of God that bears fruit into mercy and love among people.

Another learned Saint who sought the Truth, Thomas Aquinas said that the more we learn the truth, the more we become intelligent, the more we must become holy.

How lovely it is, my dear students and teachers of Our Lady of Fatima University that wherever there is Truth which is Veritas, there is also Misericordia, the two mottos of our beloved University.

Amid the threats of COVID-19, amid the difficulties of online learning, let us continue to seek the truth, be patient and humble with one another as we try to build a community of “achievers” by “improving man as man”, “rising to the top” not to be conceited and proud but to be able to offer ourselves in the service of the country and of the world, for the praise and glory of God.

May our Patroness, the Our Lady of Fatima, lead us closer to Jesus Christ who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Amen.

From Facebook.com/fatima.university.

Strengthen our hearts, Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XXI, Year I in Ordinary Time, 26 August 2021
1 Thessalonians 3:7-13   ><]]]]'> ><)))*> ><]]]]'>   Matthew 24:42-51
From inquirer.net, 20 August 2021.
Strengthen us, O God
in this trying time of the pandemic;
keep our body healthy and strong
to fight the virus and most especially
to take care of the sick among us.
Strengthen our hearts, loving Father
by cleansing it of our sins, taking away
our pride and filling it with your Son
Jesus Christ's humility, justice and love
that always have a space for those 
with less in life, to those most in need
like the sick, the children and elderly.
Strengthen our hearts, O God,
so that as St. Paul had reminded the
Thessalonians, we may "be blameless 
in holiness before you our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ"
(1Thess.3:13) by being "faithful and prudent"
like the wise servant in the parable today.
Strengthen our hearts in Christ Jesus
so we may consistently seek and serve him
among one another at every moment
of our lives.  Amen.

Mary, mirror of God’s greatness

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 15 August 2021
Revelation 11:19-12:1-6,10 ><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 15:20-27 ><}}}*> Luke 1:39-56
Photo by author, December 2020.

We take a break this Sunday from our readings in the bread of life discourse in John’s gospel to celebrate on this date the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary following Pope Pius XII’s dogma in 1950 that at the close of her earthly life, Mary was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.

Without telling the manner or the circumstances of time and place of the Assumption, its dogma forms part of the deposit of our faith received from the Apostles as attested by its long line of traditions since the Pentecost. It is so important that its celebration supersedes the liturgy of any Sunday because it invites us all to see in Mary raised to heaven the image of the Church and of all the faithful on our way to eternal glory with God.

It is a very timely celebration while we are in the midst of another lockdown due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, giving us hope and inspiration to persevere in all these difficulties and trials to become better disciples of Jesus like his beloved Mother.

Photo by author at the Assumption Sabbath, Baguio City, 2019.

Mary, a type of the Church

Our first reading today presents us with two images of a woman that seem to contradict each other with scenes that anti-climactic, flowing in the reverse mode. It could have been better as in most cases that the first scene depicting the woman in all glory should have been last instead of the woman in childbirth pains and dangers that comes in second. Is it not the sorrowful always comes first leading to glory?

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems.

Revelation 12:1-3

It is easy to see the Blessed Virgin Mary in that woman depicted in John’s vision especially if we continue reading on to find the title and authority attributed to her child as our Savior Jesus Christ. But modern biblical studies go deeper than that simplistic view: the scenes speak more of the birth of Christ among us his disciples. It is “painful” because it takes place amid many evil and sins like persecutions and temptations symbolized by the red dragon; but, amid all these, Jesus remains among us, leading us, protecting us, and blessing us. Hence, the woman in this passage becomes a symbol of the Church in the glory of God following Christ’s Resurrection while at the same time in the midst of many earthly battles.

Of course, no other woman can best fit that image than Mary who gave birth to Jesus, who has always been in the most intimate relationship with her son as disciple among all humankind. And because of her role in relationship to her Son, to us his disciples also his Body as community, Mary is the image or type of the Church still giving painful birth to believers like in this time of the pandemic while we are already assured of glory in heaven as children of God. Vatican II perfectly expressed it in declaring:

“By reason of the gift and role of divine maternity, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with His singular graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united with the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ.”

Lumen Gentium #63

With that, Mary has also become the mirror of God’s greatness in all time, the very reason we venerate her as first among the saints and angels because it is also the same call of holiness to us all as children of the Father and disciples of Christ. It is in this framework that we celebrate her Assumption, especially when we profess every Sunday: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of body and life everlasting. Amen.”

Photo by author, Nazareth, 2019.

Greatness of God, lowliness of Mary

As we have mentioned at the start, the dogma of the Assumption of Mary does not go into details how it took place. What matters most is the fact of the Assumption of Mary, body and soul. Like with her Immaculate Conception, there are no direct nor explicit biblical references to her Assumption; however, from the collective meditations and contemplations in the Church, we find vast and rich sources in reflecting the beauty and wonder of the Blessed Mother’s unique place in our salvation history.

For the Mass of the day of the Solemnity, we contemplate on Mary’s canticle called Magnificat which she sang after being praised by her cousin Elizabeth during the Visitation.

And Mary said:
"My soul proclaims 
the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generation will call me
blessed:  the Almighty has done 
great things for me, and holy is his Name."
(Luke 1:46-49)

It was the first proclamation of the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ whom Mary first received and shared first with her cousin Elizabeth in a town in Judah. See how in the Visitation Elizabeth praised and admired Mary, becoming the first to call her “blessed among women” because “she believed the word spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk.1:45). Instead of giving back her praise and admiration to Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist at that time despite her old age and being barren, Mary sang praises to God like the other great women in the Old Testament after experiencing God’s extraordinary acts in their personal lives and in Israel’s history.

Though we may never have the same personal experiences of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as members of the Church she represents, we can always look through her Magnificat the extent we have also become the mirror of the greatness of God especially at this time when everybody seems to doubt his loving presence in this time of the pandemic.


 It is the reason why we also sing the Magnificat 
during our evening prayers in the Church because 
before we can ever praise God for his kindness and majesty, 
we must first allow him to work in us by being lowly before him like Mary.

See how the Magnificat sings of the depths of Mary’s soul and her faith, of her perfect obedience to the word of God and the mission entrusted to her. Very clear in its lyrical expression, the focus and center is God, not Mary. It is the reason why we also sing the Magnificat during our evening prayers in the Church because before we can ever praise God for his kindness and majesty, we must first allow him to work in us by being lowly before him like Mary.

Have we truly been God’s lowly servant like Mary, allowing God to work his great wonders through us?

Three things I wish to share with you on Mary’s lowliness that enabled God to work his wonders through her:

First is her openness to the word of God like in the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus. Mary had a prayer life, a discipline of making time with God, setting her self aside for the Lord. Prayer is always the start of every relationship with God. That is when we truly become humble to lose control of ourselves, to forget our selves and let God in the Holy Spirit dwell into us. Even in the darkest moments of our lives, there will always be that glimmer of hope because the Holy Spirit enlightens us in our paths.

Second is Mary’s saying “YES” to God. She does not merely listen to God; she says “be it done unto me according to your word.” From the very start, Mary never doubted God in his wisdom and plans that she always said yes. One most beautiful expression by the evangelists of Mary saying yes to God is whenever Mary would “treasure in her heart” words of Jesus and of others.

But Mary’s greatest yes happened at the Cross, in her sharing in the Paschal Mystery of her Son Jesus Christ, being the only other disciple who remained with the Lord until his death. No wonder, it was to her based on tradition that the Risen Lord first appeared on Easter.

Third is Mary’s fidelity to God, her yes was not just a one-shot deal but an everyday yes to Jesus even after he had ascended into heaven. The Acts of the Apostles tells us explicitly how Mary was among the disciples present inside the upper room at Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost. Throughout the ages in her numerous apparitions, Mary said yes to God delivering Jesus Christ’s call for us to penance and conversion, to prayers and the Holy Eucharist especially at Fatima in Portugal.

“The Assumption of the Virgin” by Italian Renaissance painter Titian completed in 1518 for the main altar of Frari church in Venice. Photo from wikidata.org.

Mary went through many hardships and difficulties in her life and in the history of Israel, coming from an obscure town that was a butt of jokes of their time like when Nathanael asked Philip who claimed to have found Jesus Christ, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? (Jn.1:45)”.

In this time of the pandemic, the vision of John in the first reading becomes more real when people refuse to recognize the spiritual dimension of COVID-19, of the need to be converted and to again nurture that relationship with God following decades of affluence and materialism. Like Mary, let us be humble to accept we are not the masters of this world nor of our own life but God almighty.

We are called to persevere with Mary, to be strong in our faith and charity that God will never forsake us so we can be present among the poor and marginalized including those spirits weakened by the prolonged quarantines.

With Mary, let us believe the words of St. Paul how all will come to life again – body and soul like Mary – in the final end of time that begins right now, right here in the midst of all these trials and sufferings. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Praying to be bridges, not walls

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Memorial of St. Clare, Virgin, 11 August 2021
Deuteronomy 34:1-12   ><)))*> >><)))*> ><)))*>   Matthew 18:15-20
The Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco during the wildfires across California last year. Photo from MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images; 10 September 2020.
God our loving Father,
today we pray that we become
bridges among people, bringing 
them together, closing their gaps
instead of becoming a wall who
prevent unity and harmony.
As we end our readings from 
the Book of Deuteronomy with
the death of Moses by recalling
his greatness in the history of Israel
and of the story of our salvation,
we remember his great role
of reconciling people with you,
O God our merciful Father;
Moses was indeed another prefiguration
of your Son Jesus Christ who came 
to unite and reconcile in you mankind
separated by sin and evil. 
"Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth
shall be bound in heaven, 
and whatever you loose on earth
shall be loosed in heaven.  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 to them by my heavenly Father."
(Matthew 18:18-19)
As we remember today
St. Clare who was a collaborator
of the great St. Francis of Assisi
and foundress of the Poor Clares,
she is most remembered too
in reconciling warring families and
kingdoms in Italy during her time;
in her life of prayer and austerity,
she had lived bridging people
with one another and with God,
exactly what we need these days
of the pandemic and social distancing.
We pray, dear God
with the intercession of St. Clare,
may we take this time of quarantine
to bridge our gaps with one another
especially with our family and friends
so that at the end of this pandemic,
we may start afresh anew
in Jesus Christ, working together
for a better world where we can live
in peace and harmony,
justice and freedom in the spirit
of humility and reconciliation.  Amen.

When people malign us

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Week XVIII, Year I in Ordinary Time, 03 August 2021
Numbers 12:1-13   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   Matthew 14:22-36
Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA7-News, Batanes, September 2018.
Dearest God our Father,
you are just, always demanding 
us to be fair and just like you,
to never malign and bear false
witness against one another
especially those serving you.
We pray, loving Father
for those among us buffeted
with nasty talks, malicious
stories and gossips especially 
fake news that besmirch one's name
just to make them or their masters look good.
Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses
on the pretext of the marriage he had
contracted with Cushite woman.
Now, Moses himself was by far
 the meekest man on the face of the earth.
So at once the Lord said to Moses and 
Aaron and Miriam, "Come out,
you three, to the meeting tent."
Then the Lord came down
in the column of cloud,
and standing at the entrance of the tent,
called Aaron and Miriam.
When both came forward, he said,
"Now listen to the words of the Lord:
Why, then, did you not fear to speak
against my servant Moses?"
So angry was the Lord against them
that when he departed, and the cloud
withdrew from the tent, there was
Miriam, a snow-white leper!
(Numbers 12:1, 3-6, 8-9)
Please, Lord, keep us
 and those being maligned
 to be meek like Moses,
 remaining kind to those
who speak ill about us, especially those
supposed to be closest or dear to us.
Jesus said, "Come."
Peter got out of the boat
and began to walk on the water
toward Jesus.  But when he saw
how strong the wind was
he became frightened; and,
beginning to sink, he cried out,
"Lord, save me!"
(Matthew 14:29-30)
Give us, O God, the courage
and strength to withstand the fierce
winds of criticisms and lies hurled
by our detractors, unlike Peter
let us never doubt the love and mercy
and protection of your Son Jesus we follow.  
Amen.

Agere contra (acting against)

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Week XIV, Year I in Ordinary Time, 09 July 2021
Genesis 46:1-7, 28-30   ><)))*> + <*(((><   Matthew 10:16-23
Photo by author, Malagos Garden Resort, Davao City, 2018.
Praise and glory to you, 
God our loving Father;
thank you for another week
thank you for this brand new day
thank you for this gift of life
and thank you for 
reassuring us of your love 
and saving presence.
Then he said:
"I am God, 
The God of your father.
Do not be afraid
to go down to Egypt,
for there I will make you 
a great nation.
Not only will I go down to Egypt
with you; I will also bring you back here,
after Joseph has closed your eyes."
(Genesis 46:3-4)
Many among us, dear Lord
are like Jacob moving to Egypt:
lives are disrupted
routines are broken
due to sickness and other trials in life;
assure them too of your presence
and please, bring them back home
 safe and well.
Keep us faithful to you, Father.
When trials and difficulties come,
we are always shaken
and tempted to find the easy way out;
worst is when things become unbearable,
we plead to you for an end of sufferings
without realizing that is when you are closest
to us in your Son Jesus Christ. 
Jesus said to his Apostles:
"Behold, I am sending you 
like sheep in the midst of wolves;
so be shrewd as serpents
and simple as doves.
You will be hated by all
because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end
will be saved."
Please grant us the wisdom
and humility to live our lives 
in true freedom to you, dear God;
to let go of our false securities and 
comfort zones, the "agere contra"
according to St. Ignatius of Loyola
so we may grow truly in you 
who has the final say on everything.  Amen.

Keeping our eyes open

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday in the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time, 29 May 2021
Sirach 51:12-20     <*(((><  +  ><)))*>     Mark 11:27-33
Photo by author, Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto chapel, Baguio City, 2019.

Let me join Ben Sirach in praising you today, O God our loving Father as I take his parting words in his beautiful book as my prayer to you too on this blessed and beautiful Saturday:

I thank the Lord and I praise him;
I bless the name of the Lord.
When I was young and innocent,
I sought wisdom openly in my prayer.
I prayed for her before the temple,
and I will seek her until the end...
In the short time I paid heed,
I met with great instruction.
Since in this way I have profited,
I will give my teacher grateful praise.
(Sirach 51:12-14, 16-17)

O dear God, how sad at how so many people these days seek wisdom and knowledge outside of you. They think you have nothing to do with it, without realizing you are all-knowing and truly the fount of wisdom and knowledge.

May we imitate Ben Sirach and all the saints and wise men of the world who found and learned much wisdom and knowledge from you in prayers.

How sad at how some people supposed to be learned and yet still blind to the reality that so many times in this life, not everything can be planned nor calculated nor be fool proof. There are so many other things that can happen in our lives, for better or for worst, without us really knowing and so prepared how to deal with the severe blows and beatings we receive especially from others whom we trust and expect so much.

It is only your Divine wisdom that can truly teach us how to deal and go on with life’s many questions and difficulties we might never answer nor understand.

Give us the grace of humility to come to you through Jesus Christ your Son in our prayers to cultivate a spiritual life which is a relationship centered on you, not on us or anybody else. Give us the grace of humility most especially to keep our eyes wide-opened to your coming, to your prodding, and to your words of wisdom that run contrary to what we think and believe as true.

Help us not to fall into the shameful errors of the chief priests, the scribes and the elders of Jerusalem who were so blinded with pride and intellectual arrogance that they have refused to open their eyes to your working and coming in John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.

Photo by Emre Kuzu on Pexels.com

Jesus said to them, “I shall ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin? Answer me.” They discussed this among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘Of heavenly origin,’ he will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” — they feared the crowd, for they all thought John really was a prophet. So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.” Then Jesus said to them, “Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Mark 11:29-33

Have mercy on us, dear God especially on those who continue to insist on their arrogance and pride because their ego have been badly hurt and bruised that no light of reason can open their eyes to see the bigger beauty of life you offer in following your “unconventional wisdom”. Amen.

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.