In our Father’s house

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Feast of the Sto. Niño, Sunday II in Ordinary Time, 16 January 2022
Isaiah 9:1-6 ><}}}*> Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18 ><}}}*> Luke 2:41-52
Photo by author, Sto. Niño exhibit at the Malolos Cathedral, 13 January 2022.

We Filipinos celebrate the longest Christmas season in the world which starts – unofficially -every September first when radio stations begin playing Christmas songs, ending officially today, the third Sunday of January with the Feast of the Sto. Niño (Holy Child Jesus).

Today’s feast is considered a part of the Christmas season which is in recognition of the crucial role of the image of Sto. Niño given by Magellan 500 years ago to Queen Juana of Cebu in the evangelization process of the Philippines. As the late Nick Joaquin would rightly claim in his essays, the Philippines was colonized by the Sto. Niño which is clearly seen in its widespread devotion coming in close second with Nuestro Padre Hesus Nazareno of Quiapo we celebrate every January 09.

What a wonderful “coincidence” or Divine intervention that the two most popular Christ devotions in the country happen on the same month of January, immediately after Christmas, reminding us despite our many shortcomings as the only Christian nation in this part of the world, Jesus reigns supreme in our hearts and homes.

And churches.

Despite the many accusations hurled against our brand of Christianity, of being sacramentalized but not evangelized, we can find hope and consolation in our being as very “church people” – our coming to the church even outside during this pandemic period in itself is a child-like trait, a grace we can deepen for a more matured faith that can lead to our transformation as a people.

This we see in our gospel today which we have heard proclaimed last month at the Feast of the Holy Family, a day after Christmas that was also a Sunday.

Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:41-43, 46, 48-49
“The Finding of the Savior at the Temple” painting by William Holman Hunt (1860) from en.wikipedia.org.

We are all children of the Father in Christ

When we examine Christ’s life and teachings, we find how everything is anchored in being a child of God the Father as he would always remind everyone that unless one becomes like a child, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

This Jesus clearly showed when he was 12 years old after staying behind at the Temple in Jerusalem that left Mary and Joseph so “anxiously looking for him”.

We see in this gospel scene how Jesus must have been so rooted in his own childhood experience that he could speak with familiarity about the child’s being and dignity. Most of all, of being the Son of God, a child of God when he told his Mother Mary, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk.2:49).

As he grew up and matured during his ministry, Jesus frequented the synagogues and later the Temple as a devout and faithful Jew.

What a beautiful expression of his being a child of the Father, always coming to the “Father’s house” to worship and praise, to be one with God and with the people.

What a beautiful expression of his – and our being children of God the Father!

Every time we come to the church to celebrate the Sacraments especially the Holy Eucharist, every time we come to pray inside the church, we express our being children of the Father. It is the most beautiful expression of our being child-like before God when we come to him in his house of worship in total surrender, on bended knees to plea for his grace and mercy.

Photo by Ms. Mira Mandal Sibal, September 2021.

To believe in the Church and come inside the church is part of our faith in the mystery of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ we profess in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church”.

Recall that after cleansing the Temple, Jesus declared to those asking him for signs to “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn.2:19) with the Evangelist’s added note, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (Jn.2:21). Eventually on Good Friday as he died on the cross, we are told in another gospel account how “the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mt.27:50), indicating a new phase in worshipping God in his Son Jesus Christ who has become the Body of the new people he had called that includes us today, the Church.

Therefore, every time we come to the church as a community of people, it is an act of being child-like as taught by our Lord Jesus Christ in the same manner he told his parents that “I must be in my Father’s house”.

Our being able to come to the church for the Mass and the other sacraments is a pure grace from God, an act of being child-like before him when we submit ourselves to him, when we try to listen to his words proclaimed, when we believe in the power of prayers and Sacraments.

At the height of this pandemic when religious gatherings were banned, so many faithful expressed their child-likeness to God by turning to on-line Masses and prayers.

However, as we slowly open up churches for live celebrations, there now arises the call for us to return into the Father’s house. The very nature of the Church as the Body of Christ and the Sacraments presuppose presence.

Here, we find the great relevance of today’s Feast of the Sto. Niño to return to the Father’s house and reconnect anew with our fellow disciples without disregarding health protocols of course.

When the Spaniards returned to the Philippines in 1565 (40 years after Magellan), they saw the Sto. Niño venerated on an altar above other anitos inside a hut presumed to be a house of worship of the natives. Most likely, the natives felt the Sto. Niño as the superior deity always answering their prayers for abundant harvests, healing from sickness or avoidance of pestilence, and fertility for more children to work in the fields. Again, the imagery of that child-like attitude of coming into the “Father’s house” to commune in prayer by those natives.

Photo by author, National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 14 January 2022.

It is perhaps the new challenge we will be facing as the COVID-19 virus wears off as experts claim, how to bring back people into the Father’s house. Confounding the problem is the lure of the convenience of online Masses that have commodified the Sacrament, a clear indication of lack of any child-like attitude but more of manipulation.

Added to this is the relativistic attitude of modern time when some people claim to believe in God without necessarily having the need to believe in the Church that is deeply embroiled in cases of sexual abuses by its clergy.

All of these are calls for everyone in the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church which is a mystery in itself for its members, clergy and lay alike, to recapture that child-like attitude of Jesus himself to always affirm his being in the Father’s house. Amen.

A blessed week ahead to everyone. Stay safe!

The problem with our insistence

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Week I, Year II in Ordinary Time, 14 January 2022
1 Samuel 8:4-7, 10-22   ><]]]]*> + <*[[[[><   Mark 2:1-12
Photo by author, ruins at Capernaum where Jesus healed the paralytic, May 2017.
Today, O Lord, I remember
those days when I insisted on
what I wanted, without giving any
moment to dwell on your plans
and suggestions.
Today, dear God our Father,
your words clearly show us how 
so apart are our thoughts and 
your thoughts, of how wide and
encompassing at how you see
everything and everyone
compared to our very limited
and shallow perceptions that 
are too little, hence, easier to insist on.

The people however, refused to listen to Samuel’s warning and said, “Not so! There must be a king over us. We, too, must be like other nations, with a king to rule us and to lead us in warfare and fight our battles.” When Samuel had listened to all the people had to say, he repeated it to the Lord, who then said to him, “Grant their request and appoint a king to rule them.”

1 Samuel 8:19-22
Widen our horizons to see
how you have made us in fact
different from others, so special and
beloved to be close to you and yet,
like those people to Samuel, we would
always insist to be just like others.
And the saddest part of belittling our
stature is how we also try to bring you
down to our own level:

Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves, “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth.” He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”

Mark 2:6-11
Raise up our thoughts
and understanding, Lord Jesus!
Let us "level up" and "shift" to
your thoughts and the way you see
persons and situations that lead us
to claim our freedom from sins and 
evil that have trapped us for so long
despite your victory since your rising
from the dead; open our eyes and our
hearts, Jesus, to see the new realities,
our restored dignity as beloved children
of the Father in you so that we stop 
insisting with our little and unworthy
causes and demands.  Amen.

When “ordinary” is “extraordinary”

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday in Week 1 of Ordinary Time, Year II, 10 January 2022
1 Samuel 1:1-8   ><)))*> + <*(((><   Mark 1:14-20
Photo by author, 2019.
Glory and praise
and thanksgiving to you,
God our loving Father for 
bringing us to this Monday,
the beginning of our Ordinary
Time in the Church calendar.
Send us your Holy Spirit 
to enlighten our minds and our
hearts not to look down upon 
what we consider as "ordinary" -
ordinary people, ordinary days,
ordinary food, ordinary tasks,
ordinary as same usual fare,
ordinary as less than grand and
special things.
Help us rediscover the true meaning
of "ordinary" which connotes orderliness
from the Latin roots ordo, ordinis for
order and ordinarius for orderly.
Let us live up to our faith in you
during this ordinary days when 
many of life's challenges happen 
like your servant Hannah, the mother 
of your prophet Samuel:

Her rival, to upset her, turned it into a constant reproach to her that the Lord had left her barren. This went on year after year; each time they made their pilgrimage to the sanctuary of the Lord, Peninnah would approach her, and Hannah would weep and refuse to eat. Her husband Elkanah used to ask her: “Hannah, why do you weep, and why do you refuse to eat? Why do you grieve? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

1 Samuel 1:6-8
Keep our eyes and our hearts
open like the brothers Simon and 
Andrew, James and John for your
Son Jesus Christ who comes to us
in the most ordinary days, in the 
most ordinary circumstances like 
casting nets and mending nets.
Let us be on guard, dear God, during
ordinary days and time for these are 
extraordinary moments because you
have made everything and everyone
so special.  Amen.

Becoming an adult Jesus Nazareno at Christmas

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday, Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, 09 January 2022
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 ><}}}*> Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7 ><}}}*> Luke 3:15-16,21-22
Photo from flickr.com by Mark S. Abeln, Resurrection Cemetery in Affton, Missouri, USA, 16 November 2010.

Today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord closes the Christmas Season in the most unique way as we are again in another surge of COVID-19 while for the first time, not even during these past two years of pandemic, people are totally barred from celebrating the Mass outside the Quiapo church for the feast of the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno or the Black Nazarene.

It is the second consecutive year due to pandemic that there is no Traslacion of the Poon Nazareno but whereas before despite COVID-19 all roads led to Quiapo every January 09, all devotees today are directed to the website of the Minor Basilica of the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno to celebrate the hourly online Masses from dawn until late night tonight.

Police and Church officials have appealed to the public to stay home with the Archbishop of Manila assuring devotees of the grace and blessings still being granted to them by the Señor Nazareno through the “modern means of communications”.

Here we find a most wonderful grace of God for us to mature into an “adult Jesus” in this time still in the Christmas Season when we are invited to put some spirituality to our devotions that are both amazing but baffling even to us. How can we so devoutly Catholic as a nation be blind to all the corruption and disrespect for life going on in our country that we cannot progress like other Asian nations made worst by our choices of leaders in government?

As we close the Christmas Season before going into Ordinary Time tomorrow, let us not remain children but become adults like Jesus Christ when baptized at Jordan by John.

After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:21-22
Photo by author, Ubihan River, Meycauayan, Bulacan, 31 December 2021.

Jesus as “one of us”, present among us

All four evangelists have their particular emphasis in narrating the baptism of Jesus at Jordan by John. For this year, we look into Luke’s version that celebrates the anointing and royal investiture of Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

Though there is no need for him to be baptized, Christ’s baptism at Jordan signified his solidarity with us sinners making us share in the gift of the Spirit he had received on that day, making each of us a “beloved child” of God with whom he is well pleased!

First thing we notice with Luke’s baptism account is the Lord being incognito during the baptism by John. There were no conversations or “debate” with John as Jesus was readily presented as among the crowd. It is a beautiful imagery by Luke of the Christ always present but unknown among us.

Jesus being with the people in Jordan River reminds us that Christmas does not mean only of him remaining a child lying in a manger because part of this season’s story is how he grew up and matured in wisdom and spirit in Nazareth, Galilee before embarking on his ministry and mission.

Imagine the Lord joining the sinners like tax collectors, soldiers, and perhaps with some prostitutes going to John for baptism without any special treatment whatsoever. From the very start, Jesus had been eating and conversing, interacting and living with sinners that include us today.

Photo by author of sisters posing along the Israeli border near Al-Maghtas in Jordan, the site where Jesus was baptized, May 2019.

His being immersed in Jordan River (that has always been dirty according to our pilgrimage guide) with the sinful people was a testament of his love and kindness for us without any hints of being judgmental to anyone. Whether we are in dire situations or in the midst of sins and evil or darkness and sufferings, we can always find Jesus standing with us, one with us, even reaching out to us. All we need is to be matured enough to open our eyes and our hearts like the people around him to admit we need conversion, we need God.

Second thing we immediately notice with Luke’s baptism account is Jesus at prayer when the heaven opened and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon him with a voice declaring, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”.

One distinct characteristic of Luke’s gospel is presenting Jesus always at prayer. In fact, all major events in his life in Luke’s gospel are always preceded by prayer, part of his artistry in teaching us about the importance of prayer.

Here in the baptism of Jesus at Jordan, we are reminded that prayer always precedes every divine revelation. Recall also during the Feast of the Holy Family a day after Christmas last year when we heard Luke’s account of the finding of Jesus at the temple when he told Mary how he must be at his “Father’s house” – of being one and united with the Father especially through prayer! The Christmas story is an everyday reality that happens with those who mature in their faith in Christ in prayers.

Prayer is more than the recitation of prayers and novenas nor of keeping a devotion; prayer is oneness with God. See that after narrating to us the baptism of Jesus at Jordan, Luke tells us the Lord’s genealogy traced back to “Adam the son of God”(Lk.3:38). Unlike Matthew who began his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, Luke puts his version of the Lord’s genealogy in the context of baptism at Jordan to show us Christ’s eternal birth in God. And this we all share in our Baptism, in our faith we nurture and celebrate daily in our prayer life.

The sad thing with our Christmas celebrations, along with that of the Holy Week, is how we immediately lose sight of the meanings of our feasts and devotions meant to make our lives centered on God. It is good to be led and carried by the signs of our liturgy but these were meant to inculcate in us, to deepen in us our relationship with God expressed through our relations with others which is what spirituality is all about.

This invites us today on this Feast of the Lord’s Baptism along with that of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo to examine our level of maturity in Jesus Christ whom we religiously and devoutly remember and celebrate during Christmas and Good Friday, the two most prominent dates of the Lord’s feasts tied up in this month of January.

Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, Quiapo, 09 January 2020.

Like Jesus Nazareno, we are consecrated to God

As we have mentioned at the start of our reflection, this is a most unique Sunday when we celebrate together two Christ feasts – the Lord’s Baptism and the Traslacion in Quiapo – with the former signaling the closing of Christmas and the latter as the most popular Christ devotion in the country.

Both feasts show us an adult Jesus in Christmas, especially the Black Nazarene of Quiapo.

When Matthew spoke of the Holy Family residing in Nazareth so that what the prophets spoke might be fulfilled that “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Mt.2:23), the evangelist was not referring to the Lord’s place of origin.

Nazareth is the only town in the New Testament never mentioned in the Old Testament to be of significance unlike Bethlehem. The word “Nazoraios” or Nazarene mentioned by Matthew refers to the overall designation of Jesus by the prophets as the hope and fulfillment of God’s promise that there shall come forth a “shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Is. 11:1). Shoot in Hebrew is from the word nezer which is also the context used by Isaiah in chapters 7 and 9 found in Isaiah 11:1 cited by Matthew.

If we add that in the inscription above the Cross, Jesus is called ho Nazoraios (cf. Jn.19:19), then the title acquires its full resonance: what at first sight refers simply to his origin, actually points to his essence: he is the “shoot,” he is the one completely consecrated to God, from his mother’s womb to the day of his death.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, pp. 117-118.

Now we get a complete picture of an adult Jesus Christ at the closing of Christmas Season.

Truly an Emmanuel, God-with-us, whom we so often fail to recognize journeying with us in life specially at its most difficult moments because we continue to refuse to grow and deepen in our spiritual maturity in him in prayers.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the first reading telling us “Here is your God! Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care” (Is.40:9, 11).

Let us heed the calls by St. Paul in the second reading that we “reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and our savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12-13).

Have a blessed and safe week ahead, everyone! Amen.

Photo from Google.com.

Love and be free

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday After the Epiphany of the Lord, 06 January 2022
1 John 4:19-5:4   ><}}}*> + ><}}}*> + ><}}}*>   Luke 4:14-22
Photo by Ms. Nikki A. Vergara at Victoria, Laguna, 2020.
Dearest God our Father, 
let us love, love, and love
so that we may be free;
the deeper we love, 
more we become free for 
you and others too!

For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

1 John 5:3-4
How funny it is, Father,
when we keep on turning 
away from you, rejecting your
commandments Jesus had 
summarized to loving you and
loving others, thinking we could
be free if we separate from you
and your precepts; but, the opposite
happens every time we turn away
from you and your laws!
The more we become empty
and lost; most of all, burdened
with sin and guilt.
Deepen our love for you
and in you, loving Father
through Jesus Christ; let us
immerse ourselves into your words,
let us masticate your words
to extract its power that liberates
us in every here and now 
to experience true freedom
to love you, O God, and love
others as brothers and sisters
in Christ.  Amen.

An epiphany of love

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday after the Epiphany, 04 January 2022
1 John 4:7-10   ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*>   Mark 6:34-44
Photo by author at Liputan Island, Meycauayan, Bulacan, 31 December 2021.

By now it was already late and his disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already very late. Dismiss them so that they can go to the surrounding farms and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” He said to them in reply, “Give them some food yourselves.”

Mark 6:35-37
What a very moving moment,
Lord Jesus of how your heart 
was moved with pity for the people,
of how it is to truly love one
another as taught by your beloved
disciple John in the first reading.
To love is to remain with someone 
when it is already late and dark;
to love is to stay with someone
in a deserted place, accompanying
others despite the many dangers;
to love, most of all, is to give others 
with food to eat even while in darkness
and in a deserted place!
O dear Lord, the numbers of COVID
infections are rising again; dark clouds
are looming above us again; people
are back into panic buying while 
many are back to worrying where to
find their means of livelihood amid
another series of restrictions to control
the spread of the pandemic.
In this another surge of COVID infections,
may we be an epiphany of your love to
others by practicing health protocols,
being mindful of the well being of others
so that the love of God may be revealed
in us.  Amen.

We belong to God

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday after the Epiphany of the Lord, 03 January 2022
1 John 3:22-4:6   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25
Photo by author, Ubihan Island, Meycauayan, Bulacan, 31 December 2021.
Glory and praise to you,
dearest God our Father!
Thank you for your epiphany in
Jesus Christ; thank you for 
appearing to us in many ways
we so often fail to recognize 
because we have not been wise enough
like those Magi from the east by truly
searching you first before the things
of the world.
Teach us to keep your commandments,
Lord, by "believing in the name of your
Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another
just as he commanded us" (1 Jn.3:23).
Teach us also to "do not trust every spirit
but test the spirits to see whether they
belong to you, O God" (1 Jn.4:1); 
let your Spirit lead us closer to Jesus 
your Son for we belong to you, loving God!

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum by the Sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, that what had been said through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled.

Matthew 4:12-14
Whoever belongs to you, dear God
recognizes and obeys your Son Jesus; 
give us the humility to repent our sins
and be cleansed by your mercy and
forgiveness in Christ so we may begin 
this new year fully in him.  Amen. 

Welcoming the New Year with Mary

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God, 01 January 2022
Numbers 6:22-27 ><]]]'> Galatians 4:4-7 ><]]]'> Luke 2:16-21
Photo by author, sunset at Ubihan Island, Meycauayan, Bulacan, 31 December 2021.

If there is any Christian and Catholic way of welcoming every new year, the liturgy teaches us today a very valuable lesson often overlooked by many through the years especially in our country where it is so difficult to eradicate totally the use of fireworks and firecrackers that are not only fatal and dangerous but also dirty and so pagan.

Recall that the Masses on the evening of the 31st of December and the first day of January are not for the new year – so, please stop those parish announcements “Mass for the New Year”! What we celebrate every evening of December 31 and January 1 is the “Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God” which is the Eighth Day of the Christmas octave. The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is part of the Christmas season that is why I insist we keep on greeting each other with “Merry Christmas” until its closing day on the Baptism of the Lord (January 09, 2021).

Why do we spend so much time counting the days until Christmas when right away we stop greeting Merry Christmas on December 26 and replace it with Happy New Year? Is it not crazy and insane? We had our new year on the first Sunday of Advent; let us continue the “romance” of this most wonderful day of the year with our “Merry Christmas” greetings. In fact, in the old calendar, there are 12 days of Christmas (yeah, the song!) until the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord that used to be fixed every January 6.

But that is another topic we shall discuss in another piece… for now, let us meditate on how Mary welcomed the new year, the new phase in her life as Mother of God, Jesus Christ.

“The Adoration of the Shepherds”, a painting of the Nativity scene by Italian artist Giorgione before his death in 1510. Photo from wikipediacommons.org.

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.

Luke 2:16-17

Mary went in haste for the Lord

We are familiar with the popular proverb that “haste makes waste” because doing things too quickly leads to mistakes that result in greater losses in time, effort, and materials. Even the saints have always cautioned us that haste is the biggest enemy of growth in spirituality.

However, during Christmas season, we find something so good with making haste – when it pertains to the things of God like when Mary went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth in Judah and when shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem after being told by the angels of the birth of Christ as we have heard in the gospel today.

Haste is not totally that bad at all.

If there is one thing that merits haste in us, it must be the things of God. Why, when we pray and say, “O God come to my assistance”, we respond with “O Lord make haste to help me”? Because God always hasten to come to us even before we have called him! But, who among us these days make haste where the things of God are concerned?

How sad that we rush to everything and everyone except to Jesus our Lord and God! In less than a week, we have gone back to over 1000 infections of COVID as people rushed to the malls and places of interests, forgetting all about the pandemic! More sad is the fact so many people have been in making haste to these days for the more mundane things without even spending some quality time in the church to pray.

This 2022, let us be quick to God and prayers, be cautious with things of the world. That is the lesson of COVid-19: all these years we have been in haste to get rich and famous, to produce so much but we have neglected going to God, to feeding our souls, to spending time with our loved ones. For so long we have kept many people waiting until COVID-19 came and quickly took them without warning at all.

Before the shepherds went in haste to see the newborn Jesus, there was Mary in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Let us go in haste always in the Lord for he has so many things in store for us as the shepherds and Elizabeth realized.

From forwarded cartoon at Facebook, December 2019.

All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

Luke 2:18-19

Mary meditating in silence

It is very interesting that Luke had told us how people were amazed at what the shepherds spoke about that night on the birth of the Christ, the Infant Jesus they have found on a manger with his Mother Mary and her husband Joseph. Keep in mind that the shepherds were among the least trusted people of that time but their story went “viral” and “trending” so to speak.

And amid all these talks was Mary, the Mother of Jesus, silently meditating everything in her heart!

That is the most Christian and Catholic way of welcoming the new year – silent prayer like adoration of the Blessed Sacrament after the evening Mass on December 31. We look back for the blessing of the past year as we silently listen to God’s instructions and divine plans for us this new year. We are his children, not slaves as St. Paul reminded us in the second reading.

This first day of 2022, let us have some silent moments with the Lord Jesus. Simply listen and wait for his words. He always have something to tell us but we always go in haste somewhere else or to somebody else. Jesus is right there in our hearts, the faintest voice you always dismiss and take for granted.

This 2022, let us cultivate to have a prayer life like Mary who always kept in her heart the words and experiences she had with Jesus. Let us not be like the shepherds who were there only at Christmas, never came back to Jesus specially when he was preaching in Galilee and when crucified on Good Friday wherein his constant companion in silence was Mary his Mother.

Photo by author, 24 December 2019.

When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Luke 2:21

The faith of Mary

Like us when Mary gave birth to Jesus on that first Christmas, she was totally unaware of what was in store for her, of what would happen to her Son. She was totally unaware of what would happen in the future. The only thing she was certain was the name to be given to her child, Jesus which means “God is my Savior”.

As I have told, ushering the new year with all those loud firecrackers and fireworks are pagan practices.

All blessings come only from God, not from any other spirits.

We drive all the malas and bad spirits and negative vibes of the past year not with noises and blasts of trumpets or fireworks but with silence that is rooted in deep faith in Christ Jesus.

Such was the attitude of Mary on that first Christmas until her glorious Assumption into heaven: she never knew Jesus would be betrayed by one of his trusted friends and apostles. She was never told by the angel how after Jesus would feed and heal so many people that he would later be arrested and crucified like a criminal but believed in him until the end, remaining with Christ at the foot of the Cross.

All Mary had was a deep faith in Jesus as told her by the angel as the name to be given to her child is also the child of the Most High.

There is no need for us to consult fortune tellers nor feng-shui masters to look into the future and tell us how it is going to be this 2022. No matter how easy or difficult this new year may be, only one thing is certain – Jesus Christ is with us and will remain with us even if we abandon him or turn away from him for he is the only Lord and Savior of mankind. Let us keep our faith in him alone – and not to round fruits nor stones nor other stuffs peddled to us to bring luck this new year.

Let us imitate Mary, the Mother of God, so human like us except in sin who was always in haste with things of God, silently meditating his words and workings, and most of all, trusting wholly in her Son Jesus. Amen.

Photo by author, sunset at Liputan Island, Meycauayan, Bulacan, 31 December 2021.

A prayer for 2022

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Sixth Day within the Octave of Christmas, 30 December 2021
1 John 2:12-17  ><)))*> + <*(((><   Luke 2:36-40
Photo by author, 18 November 2021 at San Fernando, Pampanga.

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Luke 2:39-40
God our loving Father, 
we are now about to complete 
another blessed year to meet 
another one more blessed;
thank you for the year 2021, 
for its bountiful grace and lessons
learned; for the gift of life, for the gift
of family and friends still with us.
Thank you also for all the pains and
hurts specially brought by COVID-19
to many of us; at least, we have 
realized our weaknesses and most of
all, the we love and needed to be loved.
And so, dear God, we pray like your
Son Jesus Christ after being presented
to the Temple, we may not only grow strong
physically and materially in 2022 
but most of all, that we may grow spiritually
to be filled with your wisdom so we may grow 
deeper in your favor; teach us to be like 
your prophetess Anna to cultivate a deep 
prayer life, seeking and patiently waiting 
for your voice and directions
to take in life this coming new year.
Let us heed St. John the Beloved's
warning that "the world and its enticement
are passing away.  But whoever does the
will of God remains forever" (1Jn.2:17).
Amen.

The Cross looming at Bethlehem

The Lord Is My Chef Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
A Funeral Homily, 29 December 2021
Photo by author, Basic Education Department chapel, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City, 24 December 2021.

The Christmas liturgy offers us valuable lessons about life, of essentially the meaning of Christ’s coming into the world: He did not remove death and suffering but instead came to suffer and die with us so we may rise with him to eternal life.

Looming over the Nativity scene at Bethlehem is the Cross of the Calvary as we immediately see (except this year) the following day after Christmas on December 26 when we celebrate the feast of the first martyr of the Church, St. Stephen and again on the 28th when we wear red vestments during the Mass for the feast of the Holy Innocents massacred by Herod after being duped by the Magi.

These lessons of our Christmas liturgy become more real, even surreal for some, when there is death happening during this most joyous season of the year.

On this fifth day in the octave of Christmas, we heard from the gospel of Luke the story of the Presentation of the Child Jesus at the temple met by two elderly people promised by God to see the Christ before dying, Simeon and Anna.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”

Luke 2:25-32

What a matter-of-fact story this Christmas of awaiting death, awaiting Christ’s coming!

What a beautiful scene reminding us of the realities of life and of death, coexisting side by side.

“Presentation at the Temple” painting by Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna done around 1455; Mary holding Baby Jesus while St. Joseph at the middle looks on the bearded Simeon. Photo from wikipedia.org.

Life is like our two hands, the left and the right, always with ironies and paradoxes: life and death, light and darkness, joy and sorrow, triumph and defeat, gains and losses.

That is how life is wonderfully portrayed today by Simeon who held in his arms the Child Jesus, filled with joy, basking in the sacred moment with the Savior, and the words that came from his mouth was about dying: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people.”

That is the “moment of Christmas” we mentioned last Saturday: “Christmas is therefore a blessed event, a most sacred moment of holy communion of man and God in Jesus Christ that continues to this day in the most regular yet miraculous reality of life going on amid many joys and pains, victory and defeats, prosperity and poverty, health and sickness, light and darkness and even in death” (https://lordmychef.com/2021/12/24/rejoicing-christmas-moments-all-year-through/).

Simeon shows us that it is only when we have fully appreciated this life we have in God do we fully accept and welcome death which is eternal union with God. Coming to terms with life is coming to terms with death and the same holds true vice-versa. That is why like Simeon we have to strive to live attuned to the Holy Spirit always to be aware of those sacred moments when Jesus comes to us in our daily living.

Photo by author, 18 November 2021.

I know, these are easier said than done… and, yes, it is doubly painful when our loved ones leave us during this Christmas season but when we try to reflect on it deeply, we find it more meaningful.

Ten years ago I met a family in my previous parish who have come to gather for 41 years every Christmas since their mother passed away on Christmas day. They told me how they were celebrating Mass on a bright sunny Christmas day when they have to immediately leave to rush to the hospital where their mother had died after a lingering illness. It was then I learned that their mother was born on March 24, the eve of the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus; that’s when I told them of how blessed they must be: their mother was born on the date we celebrate the Incarnation of the Son of God while she entered eternal life on the date we celebrate Jesus came to earth! They loved the imagery I have shown them and from then on until now, I have been invited to their family reunions….

That is the main blessing of Christ’s coming here on earth: he sanctified death that before was a curse. Recall how we have mentioned that Jesus Christ’s Pasch actually began at Christmas, when he passed over from heaven to earth, from eternal to temporal which reached its highest point in his Passion, Death and Resurrection that led to our salvation.

Photo by author, Basic Education Department chapel, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City, 24 December 2021.

When the pandemic came last year, everybody laughed at the year 2020 with all kinds of memes and jokes, describing the year supposed to signify “perfect vision” as the worst and most disastrous. It was labelled so bad and almost cursed that everybody eagerly awaited 2021. Now, the jokes and memes are back, calling 2022 sounds like “2020 too”, insinuating another round of disasters as COVID surges happen in Europe and the States.

But, that is life.

As we have said at the start, it is like our two hands, the left and the right. There is always life and death, light and darkness, joy and sadness. That is why Jesus came and from then on we have reckoned time to his birth because every year is an Anno Domini, the year of the Lord.

Whenever we put our hands together at prayer, life and death becomes one along with joy and sorrow, light and darkness in Jesus Christ who gives meaning and fulfillment in everything.

Handle life with prayer. God bless you all!