God saves

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion, 02 April 2023
Isaiah 50:4-7 > + < Philippians 2:6-11 > + < Matthew 27:11-54
Photo by author, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion 2019, Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.

We now enter the holiest week of the year, the height of our Lenten preparations for Easter. What we have today are two ancient celebrations merged by Vatican II in 1963: the blessing of palms practiced in Jerusalem as early as the fourth century and the papal tradition of proclaiming the very long gospel of the Lord’s Passion in Rome about year 500. Hence, the title “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion”.

And it is a beautiful innovation in our liturgy showing us so many truths in our lives like we begin Holy Week with the triumphal entry of Jesus to Jerusalem, leading to the Holy Triduum of Passion and Death on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday into the bursting joy and glory on Easter.

That for me is life itself.

We come into this world in triumph like Jesus with everybody rejoicing with our birth until we grow up, going through a lot of pains and sufferings with little deaths right in the hands of those supposed to love us but always, there is the joy of maturity, of fulfillment in Christ with many Easter moments of triumphs and consolations. Today’s celebrations remind us that while there will always be the disappointing manifestations of sin and evil in life, overall, there is always the immense and immeasurable love of God expressed in Jesus Christ dying on the Cross.

“Ecce Homo” painting by Vicente Juan Masip (1507-1579) from masterapollon.com

Our gospel is very long even in its shorter version. Let us focus on the Lord’s silence from his arrest to His crucifixion.

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. 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, 6-7

Jesus is the fulfillment of the so-called Suffering Servant of God in the Book of Isaiah. What is striking is how he claims to have been given with a well-trained tongue but He rarely spoke when tried and crucified, choosing to be silent in the midst of great sufferings. What a great display of love for us!

In a world drowning in a cacophony of sounds and noise with everyone and everything speaking like elevators and cellphones, the more God is silent, waiting for us to stop and listen to Him in Jesus Christ who speaks within us. From Pilate to the soldiers to the Pharisees and priests with their rabid packs of demagogues who ceaselessly mocked Jesus even while slowly dying on the Cross, Jesus remained silent.

Because He loves us.

Because He waits for us to stop and listen.

Because life is more true and fulfilling in silence, not in sounds and noise.

Last Monday we celebrated the Feast of St. Joseph where we heard in the gospel how an angel told him to take Mary as wife with the specific task of naming her child “JESUS” which means “God saves”. See how God gave that specific mission to the most silent man in the Bible, St. Joseph who must have taught Jesus the value of silence!

That is how God saved us in Jesus by remaining silent even on the Cross. If ever He spoke, it was mostly to pray the psalms. In Jesus, God saves us in silence while we are in the din of noises of sin. Oh how we speak a lot these days against God, still putting Him on trial, blaming Him for all the problems and woes we have in our lives and in the world.

Photo by author, August 2020.

Like Pilate and the crowd with their religious leaders, we say a lot about God that are often not true but He never argued nor debated with us just like then because Jesus loves us, because His name means “God saves” and that was exactly the meaning of His silence.

How could be God so demanding as many would claim with His many words of instructions and commandments of things to do and not to do plus warnings against sin just to obey Him when He has always been silent?

Today we are reminded how we talk too much and accomplish so little, even nothing, while Jesus is silent because His name means “God saves”, witnessing it in fact in silent sufferings that was a scandal for many at that time.

Moreover, Jesus showed us today in His sufferings how silence is ultimately the expression of trust in God. When we are able to slow down and be silent in the face of many trials, that is a clear indication of our deep faith and trust in God. People who trust are the most silent because simply wait for their deliverance or salvation. Like Jesus Christ.

Christ Jesus, 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 2:6-8
Photo by author, Betania-Tagaytay City, 2018.

More scandalous than the silence of Jesus Christ during His trial was His crucifixion, the supreme expression of His name’s meaning, “God saves”. See how since the fall of Adam and Eve, sin has always been an attempt by humans in becoming like God. There has always been that conscious or unconscious feeling of competition with God whom many see as controlling, manipulative and even power-hungry.

But right there on the Cross, Jesus showed us that indeed, in His very Person how God saves by utterly being weak and powerless.

God saves us in Jesus through the path of powerlessness and weakness, docility and humility, of simplicity before men and before His Father.

That is why even at His triumphal entrance to Jerusalem, He rode a lowly donkey never been used by anyone, a fulfillment of many Old Testament allusions and prophecies that “your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden (donkey)” (Mt. 21:5; Zech. 9:9). His triumphal entry into Jerusalem was the fulfillment of the words of God to his prophets, showing us that indeed, everything Jesus did and said were in accordance with the Father’s will, never on His own.

Photo by author, 2018.

Because His name Jesus means, “God saves”.

What is most beautiful in the reading earlier at the blessing of palms was how Matthew described the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem – exactly just like the coming of the wise men from the East!

And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken…

Matthew 21:10

Imagine how a very large crowd welcomed Jesus, spreading their cloaks on the road where He passed, chanting “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Mt.21:9).

Like when Jesus was born and Magis from the East came to Jerusalem inquiring about the newborn king of Israel, they were also shaken! And the irony then at His birth and at His triumphal entry, the learned have refused to recognize Him despite their having all the knowledge and writings available to them.

Is it not the same thing continues to happen to us in our lives, when despite all the kindness and mercy of God, we refuse to recognize His Son’s coming Jesu Christ including the salvation He had gained for us? Where have all the people gone on Sundays? Does God still matter to us? Do we not care at all whenever Jesus comes to us most especially in the Eucharist during the Sunday Mass?

Both the rites of the blessing of palms with the procession and the Mass on this Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion are not merely a recalling of a past event, but a making present, a re-membering of Jesus our King triumphantly coming daily – still in silence – to us in the simplicity of bread and wine to become His Body and Blood for us to offer and share in order to experience Him, our Resurrection and Life because His name means “God saves”.

In the Eucharist, Jesus comes to us as “God saves us”, fulfilling us, blessing us.

This Holy Week, especially at the Holy Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil, we are reminded of our task to witness to everyone the meaning of the name of Jesus, “God saves” by being present to Him in the Eucharist. Inside the church. With our family. Not in the beach nor a resort unmindful of history’s greatest moment when God saved us from sins by dying on the Cross. Amen. Please, have a meaningful Holy Week to experience the joy of Easter!

Birthday prayer

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Lent, 22 March 2023
Isaiah 49:8-15 >>> + <<< John 5:17-30
Photo by author, sunrise at the Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, QC, 22 March 2023.
Loving God our Father,
Your words say it all today,
my birthday:

Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I answer you, in the day of salvation I help you; and I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the peopleā€¦ Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.

Isaiah 49:8, 15

The Lord is gracious and merciful.

Responsorial Psalm, Ps. 145:8
Photo by author, Sacred Heart Novitiate, QC, 22 March 2023.
More than words, dear Father,
I praise and thank you 
for your boundless love
and kindness to me all these 
58 years!
You have always been present with me,
in me, for me, and through me in Jesus Your Son.
And so, I pray this to you:

Dearest Lord,
you have given me with so much,
I have given you so little;
teach me to give more 
of my time and talents,
to give more of my self 
so I can give Christ Jesus to others,
especially his love and mercy,
kindness and forgiveness;
empty me of my pride, Lord,
and fill me with your humility,
justice and love.
Amen.
Photo by author, Sacred Heart Novitiate, QC, 22 March 2023.

Praying, working for peace

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Second Week of Ordinary Time, Year I, 18 January 2023
Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17   ><)))*> + <*(((>< - ><)))*> + <*(((><   Mark 3:1-6
Photo by author, Ubihan Is., Meycauayan, Bulacan, 31 December 2021.
Beginning today 
until next Wednesday,
Mother Church invites us 
to observe the Week of Prayer
for Christian Unity especially
for the evangelization of peoples
and for the persecuted Christians
around the world; may our prayers
lead us to work for peace
most especially in our home,
in our parish and community,
and in our country.
May we stop and
put an end to those cliches
of wishing for peace like in 
most beauty contests that 
make a mockery of peace;
may we realize that peace is
God's greatest gift to us which
we have often taken for granted,
something God freely gives 
if we are willing to give up and
sacrifice our very selves
for the sake of peace like
Abraham in the Old Testament.

Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High, met Abraham as he returned from his defeat of the kings and blessed him. And Abraham apportioned to him a tenth of everything. His name means righteous king, and he was also “king of Salem,” that is, king of peace.

Hebrews 7:1-2
Peace finally came to us
in Christ Jesus who is likened
to Melchizedek, God's high priest
in the Old Testament; like Melchizedek,
Jesus is our High Priest for he is
"without father, mother, or ancestry,
without beginning of days or 
end of life" (Heb.7:3); but,
unlike Melchizedek, Jesus is our
High Priest because he is 
the Son of God who offered himself
for us as a sacrifice, dying on the
Cross but rose to life on the 
third day!  On the evening of that
Easter, Jesus appeared to his
disciples, greeting them with
"peace" as his precious gift of
his resurrection.
Loving Father,
give us the grace to
value this immense gift 
of peace by Jesus Christ
won through his Cross;
like Jesus, may we choose
the path of peace by doing
what is good not evil;
of choosing persons not 
things and rituals and laws;
of choosing God above all
than selfish interests.
As we close our hands to pray
for peace and unity, may we learn
to let go of whatever we are holding,
of being empty handed like Jesus;
like that man with withered hand
Jesus healed in the temple on a sabbath,
may we stretch out our hands to reach
out to those in need,
to those persecuted,
to those sick and dying,
to those forgotten.
Let your peace, O God,
begin within me,
right in my heart empty of
pride, filled with the humility,
justice, and love of Jesus.
Amen.

Rejoicing amid disappointments

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Third Sunday in Advent-A, Gaudete Sunday, 11 December 2022
Isaiah 35:1-6, 10 ><}}}*> James 5:7-10 ><}}}*> Matthew 11:2-11

Photo by author, 2019.

Today our altar bursts in lovely shades of pink in celebration of the third Sunday of Advent also known as Gaudete Sunday from the Latin gaudere that means “to rejoice”. We rejoice this third Sunday because the Lord’s Second Coming is getting nearer each day and so is our awaited celebration of Christmas with the start of Simabang Gabi.

There are still many reasons for us to rejoice but when we reflect deeper in life, our rejoicing in itself is a paradox.

Because rejoicing is more joyful when seen amid darkness and uncertainties, disappointments and failures.

Because joy is more than feeling happy but that certainty within us that no matter what happens in this life, even if things get worst, everything ends according to God’s plans.

Because God loves us so much!

That is why we rejoice this Sunday – and everyday in our lives – that no matter what happens to us, God is with us in Jesus Christ, loving us, saving us.

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

Matthew 11:2-6
Photo by author, 2021.

How fast things happen and change in life, especially when there is a sudden change or reversal, from good to bad, from top of the world to bottom into the unknown like John the Baptist.

Last week, John was on top of the world as people were coming to him for baptism, listening and believing his preaching; today, we heard him in prison!

Herod Antipas, the son of King Herod when Christ was born, had him imprisoned after John told him that it was wrong for him to take as wife his brother Philip’s former wife, Herodias. Eventually, John was beheaded in prison upon Herod’s order after making a promise to grant whatever request the daughter of Herodias would ask him after entertaining guests in his birthday party; the daughter asked for John’s head on a platter and immediately, Herod dispatched his executioner.

Now at his lowest point in life awaiting certain death, John was “disappointed” with what he had been hearing about the works and preaching of Jesus Christ whom he had baptized at Jordan. Recall how John preached a message of “fire and brimstone” as he expected the Christ would bring punishment and destruction to those doing evil, warning them that the “ax lies at the root of the trees…ready to cut down those not bearing fruits” while his “winnowing fan in his hand is gathering his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:10, 12).

John was expecting the Christ would immediately make sweeping changes in the world, punishing the evil doers but what he heard and perhaps may have witnessed too was the gentleness of Jesus, always ready to forgive the sinful, heal the sick, and most of all, keeping company with the most sinful people of that time like the tax collectors and the prostitutes!

Many times in life we find ourselves very much in John’s situation – so disappointed with God because what happens in reality are exactly the opposite of what we expected based on what we are taught or what we have read in the Bible! That is why John sought clarification from Jesus himself. We too, when disappointments happen in life along with other pains and sufferings especially after trying our very best to serve God through others, must always have that disposition of humility to seek clarifications from God. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must be open like John in welcoming the Lord in the way he wishes to reveal himself.

Photo by author, November 2022.

How ironic that John who stood preaching the coming of Christ Jesus, of demanding justice and kindness from the people was imprisoned, himself a victim of injustice! Sometimes in life, it is so easy to preach Jesus Christ and his values not until we find ourselves on the distaff side like getting sick or being unjustly accused of something we did not commit. Like John, when we become the very people suffering those things we preach, our expectations even of God may blind us and fail us to see Christ’s coming, becoming so difficult to see God’s mercy and healing acting in other people’s lives but not in our own lives like John who was imprisoned unjustly for telling the truth.

The Season of Advent, especially this third Sunday we call “Rejoice” or “Gaudete” Sunday invites us to examine our own expectations and knowledge of God that may sometimes blind us to his actions and presence in our world.

The key is to have that humility to just let God be God!

Let God do his work and just chill.

Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by God always! It is from those surprises by God when joys burst in our lives even in the most difficult or simplest situations in life.

Photo by author, 2018.

One of my favorite subjects in photography are mosses – lumot – those green clumps or mats found thriving in damp, shady spots and locations. I am no green thumb but I love mosses and ferns because they are very refreshing to the eyes. They evoke hopes and surprises that despite the little sunlight and care they get, they live and thrive so well, teaching us a lot of valuable lessons about darkness and failures in life.

That is what Isaiah and St. James were reminding us in the first two readings, of the need for us to be patient like the farmers in awaiting the sprouting and blooming of crops and plants in the fields, of strengthening each other because the hard times are sure to end. Most of all, the Lord is faithful, always working silently when we are in the most dead situations in life, preparing great surprises for us.

Let us set aside our expectations, even our goals and agenda in life to let God do his work in us, to surprise us with his more wondrous plans because he knows what is best for us.

There are times in life when we are disappointed even frustrated at how things are not going according to our plans even if God had confirmed it in our prayers and in many instances in life – that feeling of suddenly being abandoned by God?

There are times we complain and feel undeserving of the many failures and pains that come our way because we have been so faithful to God, even prayerful that we cry to him, asking him like John for clarifications of whether he is with us or should we still wait more.

Most often in life, we get blinded even by our noble intentions and goodness, of our image and expectations of God that in the process, we are hurt, leaving us with scars and empty spaces within…

Be patient, my friend. Trust God.

The same empty spaces and holes in life would soon be filled with blessings so unimaginable because, remember, God is “greater than our hearts and knows everything” (1 Jn. 3:20). It is only when we are hurt and bruised and emptied, even dried and dead when life and joy burst forth because that is when God can freely work in us in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Have a joyful week ahead!

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, September 2019.

Daily presentation to the Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog 
Monday, Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 21 November 2022
Revelation 14:1-3, 4-5   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   Luke 21:1-4
Lord Jesus Christ,
as we enter today this final stretch
of the current liturgical calendar,
you gave us the Memorial of the 
Presentation of your Blessed Mother
as an occasion for us to present ourselves
to you fittingly like her.
Help us to always remember your love
and mercy, Lord, so we may remain on track
on your path of humility and obedience
like Mary; may we always remember
your call to holiness and to mission
being sent like you by the Father;
may we always remember like Mary
to be always truthful and clean in our lips.

These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been ransomed as the first fruits of the human race for God and then Lamb. On their lips no deceit has been found; they are unblemished.

Revelation 14:4-5
Help us imitate, dear Jesus,
that poor widow at the temple area
who gave everything she had - 
"two small coins" - into the treasury box;
grant us the grace to be like her,
to be like your Mother Mary,
to be like your grandparents St. Joachim and St. Anne
who offered their whole lives, 
their whole livelihood to God
because they believed,
they trusted, and hence,
they loved without measure.
Amen.

Heaven our Promised Land

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Solemnity of All Saints, 01 November 2022
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14 ><}}}}*> 1 John 3:1-3 ><}}}}*> Matthew 5:1-12
Glory and praise to you,
O God our loving Father 
in fulfilling your Promised Land
to us all in Jesus Christ
in heaven!

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.

Matthew 5:5
Thank you for the gift
of All Saints Day as we remember
and emulate those who have gone
ahead us into heaven,
the real Promised Land you
had promised since the beginning;
more than a piece of land nor a country
nor a continent nor a place in this planet,
your Promised Land dear God is heaven -
a sacred space within us where YOU and I,
Father, commune, live together as one in
Jesus Christ.
Heaven is the paradise Jesus
promised the thief on the Cross;
Heaven is when we live in communion
in Jesus Christ not only after we have died
but while we are still here on earth,
when we are meek and humble 
bearing in you and with you
the pains and sufferings
of lovingly serving others,
of working for peace, 
of hoping in eternity.
Inheriting the land, dear Jesus,
means orienting our goals into
striving to let your reign of peace
be a reality despite all the troubles
we have here on earth; after all,
history has shown us how the violent 
and powerful conquerors have come
and go when it is always the humble
and lowly who remain and last longer
just like the Saints now in heaven.
Enable us dear Jesus 
to alway listen and pray,
most of all abide in your words
like the Saints who have truly
lived out the Scriptures that they
have inherited heaven; like all the
Saints now in heaven, may we put
into practice the words of the Sacred
Scriptures no matter how we may 
sound and look foolish like with the experiences
of St. Paul, St. Francis, and St. John Paul II;
the Saints are the best examples 
of being meek to inherit the land
because in living out the Sacred Scriptures,
they have opened so many possibilities 
of good things in life in the future,
not only in heaven but here on earth
as testified by their many works
and teachings still continuing to this day.
As we slowly return
to normal these days, Jesus,
may we humbly return to you
in our Sunday Masses when
you as Prince of Peace reigns
supreme in your words proclaimed, 
in your offering of your Body and Blood,
when we also create a sacred space 
for you in our hearts so that every Eucharistic
celebration becomes a dress
rehearsal of our entry into heaven.
Amen.

*Photo credits: from en.wikipedia.org painting by Fra Angelico called “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs”.

Putting on Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday in the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II, 27 October 2022
Ephesians 6:10-20   ><000'> + ><000'> + ><000'>   Luke 13:31-35
Photo from forbes.com, 2019.
Lord Jesus Christ,
in this age of affluence
when we are so concerned 
with how we look,
on how people see us
that we strive to buy 
and put on the most 
expensive and luxurious
clothes, shoes and bags,
accessories and gadgets 
to impress people, 
to make known to everyone
that "we have come", 
of who we are, of what we have
achieved;  make us not forget
that what matters most is 
our inside not the outside.
Most often, we are like
actors and actresses,
or worst, clowns who see
life as just a show - a palabas 
as we say in Filipino - 
that we forget the more
essential and important things
found inside us like our loving
and kind hearts, beautiful mind,
filled with your peace and goodwill.

Brothers and sisters: Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the spirits in the heavens.

Ephesians 6:10-12
Let us be dressed in your
humility and kindness;
clothe us with your justice 
and truth, wear always your
peace and power wherever
we go as we share you Jesus Christ
to everyone we meet.
Amen.

Standing before God

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 23 October 2022
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18 ><}}}}*> 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 ><}}}}*> Luke 18:9-14
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

Standing is a very powerful posture. It expresses our stance or – stand – on everything. Where we stand tells who we are, both positively and negatively. It is always good to make a stand on our beliefs, defending them, making a “gallant stand” on whatever or whomever we hold so dearly. However, no matter how hard we make a stand on just about everything and everyone, we cannot fake our stand because people could surely recognize if it is just mere “grandstanding” or self-serving like what politicians always do.

That is what Jesus is telling us today in his second series of teaching about prayer, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, of how two men stood before God in prayer at the temple.

Painting by French artist James Tissot, “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector” (1886-1894) from commons.wikimedia.org.

Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

Our lost sense of sinfulness

Right at the start, Luke tells us the purpose of this parable, “Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” But, we have to be careful in reading this parable lest we end up like the Pharisee of not seeing ourselves being addressed too by the Lord!

While the Pharisee is clearly in the bad light in his kind of prayer that revealed his self-centeredness, feeling so self-satisfied with his holiness that in fact he felt no need for God, his character invites us to guard against this temptation within us that we are not sinners. That is the sin of the Pharisee, the reason his prayer was not heard unlike that of the tax collector: the Pharisee saw himself as clean and spotless like God! And that is what we have to keep guard of ourselves in this time when we have lost our sense of sinfulness.

Photo by author, Jerusalem 2017.

We may not have the kind of self-righteousness of the Pharisee in public or in private, of claiming to be not like other people who are sinful and corrupt; but, still deep inside us is the temptation of forgetting that even a true saint remains a sinner who must constantly pray deep in his/her heart, “O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Such attitude is the deeper meaning of why we must be powerless before God in praying like the persistent widow last Sunday. It is not that only God is capable of giving us whatever we need but most of all, we have to accept and own by embracing wholeheartedly the fact we are all sinners. Recall how in 2013 after being elected as Pope, on his first interview Pope Francis was asked to describe himself as a person and he simply said, “I am a sinner.” Beautiful!

Holiness is not being sinless but being filled with God. Anyone who is filled with God is one who is always aware of his/her sinfulness. The more we get nearer to God, the more we see our sinfulness, our being dirty and weak. Hence, the more we pray to become better persons, to be one with God; we cannot be one in him and with him unless we realize our sinfulness. That Pharisee in the parable comes so strongly, so proud to God as if he were God himself too! Worst, he wanted God to commend him, to reward him for being so good. Why prayed at all if he did not need God?

We pray because we need God and that is the prayer that “pierces the clouds; that does not rest till it reaches its goal” – God – as Ben Sirach tells us in the first reading. That is the reason we begin our Holy Mass first with admission of our sins, of being sorry for them. We come to Mass because we need God first of all to cleanse us of our sins.

How true are we in admitting our sinfulness before God?

Consistency and humility in prayer

On the surface, the Pharisee in the parable was really commendable as he tried to be a good person, avoiding all kinds of sins, piously observing the demands of his faith like fasting and tithing. However, he lacked consistency and humility.

Consistency in prayer means our lives become a prayer itself. The prayers we recite and say to God expressed in so many ways should make us become more like God – loving and caring, kind and understanding, merciful and forgiving of others, not judgmental like the Pharisee.

St. Paul in the second reading offers us an example of how he had considered his life his prayer, an offering of himself to God like a “libation”.

Beloved: I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.

2 Timothy 4:6-7
Photo by Ms. Mira Mandal Sibal, 2021.

Sometimes, people comment how they find St. Paul as too proud especially when he speaks of his virtues and works like when he wrote “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). But, reading all his letters, one finds his powerlessness before God like the persistent widow last Sunday as well as his being powerful in God like the unjust judge who was converted like him and channelled all his talents and energies in proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles!

Most of all, in today’s parable, we find St. Paul who referred to himself as “the very least of the holy ones” (Eph.3:8) so much like the tax collector, sinful yet sorrowful for his sins. In short, not just consistent but most of all, filled with humility.

It will always be difficult to be consistent in life as every saint had proven to us. That is why we should never forget that reality – even the saints are sinful, needing God’s mercy and forgiveness. Nobody is perfect. When there is inconsistency in our lives and prayers, surely there is sin. But, are we humble enough to accept that fact like the saints?

That is why humility is so important as exemplified by the tax collector at the temple. He could not look up to heaven because he was so humbled by his sin, looking more into himself, into his heart, of how he had strayed so far from God that he longed to be near him again.

It is only in humility when we can realize also the sad truth that when we sin, we actually offend ourselves, not God! That is why our conscience bother us, we feel untidy. God remains God and perfect even if we sin. The Pharisee wrongly thought he was not offending God as he believed he was clean and sinless that is why he felt so entitled too. Unknown to him, the more he had sank deeper in misery in his lack of sense of sinfulness.

Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son, January 2020.

When we lost our sense of sinfulness, that is when we are most inconsistent, when we are most lost. Without humility, we live in our false selves, wrongly believing we can do everything, including earning our own salvation which only God had done in Jesus Christ.

This Sunday, let us pray for the grace and virtue of humility that St. Teresa of Avila described as “walking in truth.”

Being humble is not putting ourselves down but actually the path to true greatness, exaltation. When we humbly accept our sins and sinfulness, that is when we are forgiven by God and we are able to rise to greater heights as we lose ourselves in God and in his wonderful plans for us.

This Sunday, let us stand before God admitting our sins like the tax collector, our being poor and lowly, insufficient and weak as in the first reading needing his grace so that like St. Paul, we may compete well in this life to finish this race by keeping the faith in Jesus Christ. Amen. A blessed and fruitful week ahead for all of us!

Finding our proper place

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 28 August 2022
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29 ><}}}*> Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24 ><}}}*> Luke 14:1, 7-14
Photo by author, Ubihan Island, Meycauayan City, 31 December 2021.

Sometimes I feel life in the Philippines is a daily game of musical chair with each of us trying to secure our favorite seats in the bus or jeepney or train, in the classroom, in the church, in the restaurant. Everywhere.

And the favorite seats are always the ones at the back of the room most especially in churches and those nearest the door like in buses and jeepneys.

Most funny of all is when you find our kababayan in airports here and abroad rushing to board the plane as if they would not find a seat already paid for!

All because we put too much premium on our seats that mean power and control, even prestige although no one among us would admit it. In fact, our usual excuse of being seated at the back is due to shyness which is not true at all! More truthful is the fact that too often, we choose our seats for personal convenience that seats are everything for us.

But, unknown to many of us, what truly matters most in life, in being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not where we sit but where we stand which is the gist of our gospel this Sunday.

On a Sabbath, Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.

Luke 14:1,7
Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images, Baclaran Church, 09 February 2020.

See how Luke had briefly compressed in his opening lines for this Sunday’s gospel the gravity of Christ’s teachings today about discipleship. Setting was the most important day of the week for the Jews, the Sabbath, celebrated right in the house of a leading Pharisee.

Wow! It must had been a big party with all the “who’s who” that everybody was trying to get a piece of the action with all eyes on Jesus being observed carefully.

But, why?

To impress him? To be closer to him? To test him as most often would happen with him when in a gathering of people?

I find the scene overloaded with meanings that concern us when unconsciously we also “closely observe Jesus” whenever we would pray and celebrate the Sunday Mass in our parishes. There are times we forget God in our prayers as we are so preoccupied with our very selves, so focused and even insistent on what we believe and hold on to whatever we are asking from him. The “me, me, me” and “I, I, I” attitudes of being right, of being good, of being deserving and of course, entitled. Hence, the confiteor and kyrie are merely recited just for the sake of saying we are sorry for our sins even if we do not really mean them because so often, many are either late or do not examine their consciences.

Photo by author, Parish of San Pedro Calungsod, Sumulong Highway, Antipolo City, 12 August 2022.

Luke seems to be having some shades of humor when he noted how the “people carefully observed Jesus” at the dinner without them realizing the Lord himself had already and easily unmasked their pretensions and true characters of choosing the places of honor at the dinner that he had to tell them a parable about choosing the lowest seat!

When we come to the Lord most especially at prayer and the Mass, or even to a party and dinner for that matter, our main attitude must be of humility; to be invited to any party is an indication of our special relationship with the host. Multiply this to the highest degree in coming to the Holy Mass and simple prayer because it is God who gives us the grace to come to him, who values so much our relationship as Father and beloved children.

That is the point of Ben Sirach in the first reading, tenderly addressing the reader “My child, conduct your affairs with humility” (Sir.3:17), indicative of a relationship.

Every Sunday Mass is a banquet of the Lord like that Sabbath dinner Jesus attended in the gospel. No need to choose our places of honor because we are already honored by Jesus to celebrate “in him, with him and through him”. It is the very reason why we must celebrate Mass every Sunday as good, practicing Catholics.

Photo by author, Parish of San Pedro Calungsod, Sumulong Highway, Antipolo City, 12 August 2022.

Prayer and Mass are moments we strip ourselves naked before God who welcomes us to come near him even before we say sorry for our sins, even if we are not worthy of being in his presence at all. Recall the story of the calling of Nathanael or St. Bartholomew the Apostle last Wednesday; like him, Jesus had already seen and known us with joy long before we have approached him!

Every prayer moment, every Eucharistic celebration like a banquet on a Sabbath Jesus attended in the gospel today is an occasion for us to be truthful and sincere, to be our true selves, to be humble. St. Teresa of Avila said that “humility is walking in truth.” Just be yourself before God.

That is why Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk.14:11). In the end, when we die, we shall all be placed in our proper places before God; hence, the need for us to be humble and sincere with who we really are. Do not try to be somebody else not you because God knows everything, even the hair on our heads.

Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends, or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Luke 14:12-14
Photo by author, Parish of San Pedro Calungsod, Sumulong Highway, Antipolo City, 12 August 2022.

The first parable was addressed by Jesus to the guests while this second parable was meant for the host; however, both parables are meant for us all who are all guests of God in this big banquet called life that leads to eternity.

First of all, just be our true and best selves in prayers and in life for we are all honored in Jesus Christ as God’s beloved children.

And if we live and act like Jesus our Host making him the most important guest in our hearts, then our hearts become big enough to welcome everyone, especially “the crippled, the lame, the blind”, making us inclusive like Jesus himself and not exclusive as our seating arrangements would often reveal.

The right attitude in being a guest and a host in this life is to imitate God in the responsorial psalm “who made a home for the poor”, of being like Jesus welcoming everyone with love and kindness, mercy and forgiveness, care and understanding.

Again, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews beautifully reminds us today in the second reading that the ultimate goal of our Christian life is communion with God that starts here in this life on earth. Every Mass is a “dress rehearsal” of our entrance into heaven because

Brothers and sisters: You have not approached that which cold be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy and darkness… No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem… and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven… and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.

Hebrews 12:18, 22, 23, 24
Photo by author, Makati skyline from Antipolo City, 13 August 2022.

My dear fellow journeyers in Christ, the blessedness of this Sunday shows us how fast time flies, that in a few days, it would be September, the beginning of the -ber months, the approaching Christ the King celebration to close our liturgical calendar.

Before thinking of Advent and Christmas, we are reminded today of “Jesus resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk.9:51, 13th Sunday, June 26, 2022) to face his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Along the way are invitations to join him too in banquets; let us not seek the seats of honor but instead be firm in making our stand for Jesus on the Cross by being loving and merciful like him. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Straight from the heart…

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of St. Clare, Virgin, 11 August 2022
Ezekiel 12:1-12   ><))))*> + ><))))*> + ><))))*>   Matthew 18:21-19:1
Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com
"So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives his brother from
his heart" (Matthew 18:35).
Dearest Lord Jesus Christ,
take away my stony heart
and give me a heart of flesh
that beats with firm faith,
fervent hope and unceasing charity
and love for you through others.
Enable me to see with my heart,
let me not be blind to my many sins,
especially in dealing with my fellow sinners
for we are all loved and forgiven sinners of the Father;
incline my heart to your Holy Will,
let me not be rebellious like the people
during the time of the Prophet Ezekiel -
so numb and callous, no sense of sinfulness
at all that they were not bothered at all 
with your efforts to turn back to you
by being contrite to reform
 their lives.
Let me heed the prayer of the psalmist today,
"Do not forget the works of the Lord!"
Let me remember your great sacrifice
for me to forgive my sins,
to wipe me clean and
start anew!
Reign in my heart, Jesus;
dwell in my heart, O Lord,
empty me of my pride
and fill me with your
humility, justice, and love;
grant me the grace of poverty
like St. Clare whose memorial
we celebrate today so that we may
serve you with joy and gladness
coming from a heart so blessed
by you.
Amen.