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!

Welcoming Jesus who knocks at our door

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Week XXXIII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 17 November 2020
Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22     >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<     Luke 19:1-10
Photo by author, May 2019 Holy Land Pilgrimage.

Your words today, O Lord, are so comforting — after some reprimanding for our sins and misgivings!

And that is how you display your love and mercy and forgiveness that sometimes we fail to see and even recognize.

Despite our being “alive but dead” like the church in Sardis (Rev. 3:1) when we backslide to our old ways of sinfulness as well as our being “neither cold nor hot” like those in Laodicea when we refuse to make a stand for what is true and just, you still come to us, seeking us, trying to bring us back to your fold.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.

Revelation 3:20

Keep us humble, Lord Jesus, like Zacchaeus who openly admitted his “being short in stature” (Lk.19:3-4) that he had to climb a sycamore tree to see you passing by. And when you finally met him and told him of your coming into his home, he welcomed you right into his heart by being sorry for his sins, promising to repay or recompense those he had extorted money from.

A sycamore tree at the world’s oldest city of Jericho in Israel, 2019.

Like the blind man you have healed yesterday and now Zacchaeus, keep us following you Jesus on the middle of the road, leaving our comfort zones, to dirty our hands and garments in doing your works among the poor and needy specially in this time of calamity.

Open our ears to listen to your voice, to be on guard waiting for your coming, to your knocking at our door to welcome you back into our lives.

May we grab every opportunity to welcome you into our lives, Lord Jesus, by turning away from sins and heeding your voice of love and compassion among the poor and suffering. Amen.

When less is truly more

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XXXI, Year II in Ordinary Time, 05 November 2020
Philippians 3:3-8   >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>   Luke 15:1-10
From Google.

So many times I wonder, O God, why do you have to let us go on first with our lives, see and experience and have everything in the world before we realize that less is always more, that in losing that we truly gain?

Thank you for being so kind and generous with us! You are truly a Father who allows us to discover life by ourselves without forgetting to teach and remind us all the important things like faith, hope, and love.

There are times our values are misplaced but you take time before intervening like with the experiences of St. Paul and the other saints. You “let us” get lost only to seek and find us later so we learn your lessons first hand.

But whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Philippians 3:7-8

Yes, dearest God: less is always more when all we have is you in Jesus Christ who had come to fulfill our lives, our longings and our emptiness.

Teach us to appreciate the value and importance of little things, of the small ones we take for granted because in life, they are the ones who complete, who make everything a whole again.

Most of all, one is always too many to lose because each of us is so unique, so special and “irreplaceable”.

May we keep that in mind to be like Jesus the Good Shepherd always seeking and caring for the lost and the sick. Amen.

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, 2018.

Imitating the attitude of Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Memorial of St. Martin de Porres, Religious, 03 November 2020
Philippians 2:5-11  +++ ||| +++   Luke 14:15-24
Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Center for Spirituality, Novaliches, 2018.

Brothers and sisters: Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus. Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Philippians 2:5-6

God our Father, I feel too small, even ashamed before you today as I prayed on your words through St. Paul; it is not just a very tall order but the sad part is the fact that we have all known it all along since our catechism days in school or the parish but rarely put into practice.

We admit it is the fundamental rule of Christian life, to be like Jesus Christ your Son who had come to show us the way back to you is by emptying one’s self for others, to be one with others especially in their pains and sufferings, of being the last, being the servant of all, being like a child.

Unfortunately, we always find it so difficult to learn.

Partly because we lack the very attitude of Jesus Christ we must first imitate according to St. Paul.

And that is the attitude of being small, being the least.

Exactly like St. Martin de Porres:

From Pinterest.com

Such was his humility that he loved them even more than himself and considered them to be better and more righteous that he was. He did not blame others for their shortcomings. Certain that he deserved more severe punishment for his sins than others did, he would overlook their worst offenses. He was tireless in his efforts to reform the criminal, and he would sit up with the sick to bring them comfort. for the poor he would provide food, clothing and medicine.

Homily by St. Pope John XXIII at the Canonization of Saint Martin de Porres in 1962

So often, our attitude is like with those invited by the king to his great dinner: feeling great, feeling so important with themselves that they find no need to be with others that they all turned down the invitation.

Sometimes our arrogance and high regard for ourselves miserably fail us in being like Jesus; hence, we continue to be divided into factions because no one would give way for others that lead to peace and harmony.

Teach us Lord to change that attitude of greatness in us with an attitude of smallness, of leaving a space for others in our lives so we can all work together as one community of believers in you like St. Martin de Porres and all the other saints. Amen.

When feeling helpless

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Week XXX, Year II in Ordinary Time, 31 October 2020
Philippians 1:18-26     >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>     Luke 14:1, 7-11
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

It is the end of another month, of another week as we brace ourselves for a super typhoon directly hitting our region. And yes, God our loving Father, we are scared, we are worried, we feel helpless most specially for our little brothers and sisters, those who have always been suffering in life like the poor, the elderly, the sick, the marginalized.

But if there is one thing we have learned from COVID-19 these past eight months is to wholly entrust everything to you, O God, to completely surrender and rely on you alone.

Let us grow deeper in faith, more fervent in hope and be unceasing in our charity and love for others so that the Gospel of Jesus your Son may always be proclaimed.

Help us imitate St. Paul, though imprisoned and almost certain of facing death, no trace of helplessness is found in him; on the contrary, he was so full of power coming from his deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

My eager expectation and hope is that I shall not be put to shame in any way, but that with all boldness, now as always, Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.

Philippians 1:20-21

Enable us in the power of the Holy Spirit to humbly submit ourselves to you, dear God, confident that you always have a specific place and seat, a role to play for us — if we can learn to first stand up for you like in today’s parable by Jesus.

May the coming typhoon be an opportunity for us to let our faith be expressed in words and in deeds. Amen.

Praying for humility and gratitude

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Week XXIX, Year II in Ordinary Time, 21 October 2020
Ephesians 3:2-12     >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>     Luke 12:39-48     
Photo by author, Baguio City, 2018.

God our loving Father in heaven, teach us to accept that you love us, that you trust us, and that you believe in us so that we can finally be grateful and humble before you.

Yes, dear God – one reason we find it so hard to be grateful and humble before you is because we have hardly accepted nor appreciated your love and trust in us. Teach us to see ourselves as you see us, like St. Paul despite our sinfulness.

To me the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for all what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things.

Ephesians 3:8-9

What a wonderful attitude by St. Paul, expressing such gratitude to you God in calling him and entrusting him the “stewardship of your grace” (Eph.3:2) for others to experience you and your love!

Remind us, dear God, that everything we have is not simply a grace and blessing from you but a sign of your trust in us – whether as a husband or wife, mother or father, brother or sister, or, whatever profession and vocation we follow – they all mean you believe us, that we are responsible enough and most of all, we can all accomplish our mission in Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

May we heed your Son’s warning in today’s parable that

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

Luke 12:48

And to do so, let us humbly and gratefully accept your gifts always. Amen.

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, Quezon, 2020.

We are God’s favorite!

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
First Friday, Memorial of Guardian Angels, 02 October 2020
Exodus 23:20-23   | + |  >><)))*>   | + |   Matthew 18:1-5, 10
Photo by author, dome of the Malolos Cathedral, December 2019.

Praise and thanksgiving to you, O God our loving Father! In your great love for us, you did not only give us your Son Jesus Christ to redeem us but also sent us guardian angels who guide and protect us in this journey in life.

What an honor in making each one of us truly your favorite child!

May we always heed the guidance and leading of our guardian angels so we may always follow and do your Holy Will, O God.

May we be respectful, devoted and grateful to our guardian angels who function as our protectors, keeping us safe from all harm and dangers.

Lastly, give us the courage and banish our fears, Lord, for we have our guardian angels always beside us, sometimes ahead of us to prepare our paths.

Let us “follow them, stay close to them so we may dwell under the protection of God’s heaven” (St. Bernard). Amen.

Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, January 2019.

“Coming Around Again” (1986) by Carly Simon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A blessed Sunday to you!

Provided to YouTube by Sony Music Entertainment.

Soften our hearts, Lord

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

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

Philippians 2:1-8

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by author, wailing of Jerusalem, May 2017.

Our sense of entitlement

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

Matthew 21:28-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ezekiel 18:25

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

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

Actions, not intentions, judge us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a blessed Sunday and week ahead!

Being servants and stewards of Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
First Friday, Week XXII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 04 September 2020
1 Corintians 4:1-5 /// Luke 5:1-11
Photo by author, Lent in our parish 2020.

Dearest Jesus Christ:

Your words today through St. Paul are very edifying but also demanding, even scary and frightening.

But, I would rather have it that way than get them into my head.

Brothers and sisters: Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.

1 Corinthians 4:1-2

Yes, it is an honor to be chosen as your servant, Lord, and a steward of the mysteries of God.

It is so pleasant to the ears and so flattering to one’s self to be a steward of the mysteries of God, of his wisdom – of Jesus Christ crucified.

Keep me lowly and humble, Lord. Remind me always that everything is about you and never about me. Keep me faithful to you and your call that whatever others may say about me, let me be concerned solely with your words and with your judgment. At the same time, keep me silent too, never to brag of my mission and most of all, never to judge others for that resides in God alone.

Keep my mind and my heart open to you always, Lord, so I may always be like a fresh wineskin to be poured on with new wine to mature and grow spiritually in you. Amen.