Holiness is companionship in Christ

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Thursday, 14 April 2022
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14  +  1 Corinthians 11:23-26  +  John13:1-15
Photo from inquirer.net, 20 August 2021.

A blessed Holy Thursday everyone.  Tonight we begin the most holiest days of the year, the Holy Triduum of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection known as the pasch of the Lord. From the Hebrew word pesach, a pasch is a passing over, the journey of the Hebrew people from Egypt into the promised land of God.

A journey does not necessarily involve physical distance as it can be something within one’s self like an inner journey to God dwelling within us. Journey is a process that leads us to growth and maturity from the many difficulties and trials we experience as we travel in life.

And whatever journey we take outside or within ourselves, we always need a companion to travel with. From the Latin words cum panis that literally mean “someone you break bread with”, a companion is someone who helps us in our journey, a friend who shares life with us, guiding us, protecting us. Like the bread we break and share, a companion sustains and nourishes us in our journey.

That is exactly the companionship of Jesus which is holiness. Having Jesus as our companion in life’s journey is to have him as our daily Bread who fills us with God in every celebration of the Holy Eucharist. I used to tell our students in elementary school that every Mass is a journey into heaven, a dress rehearsal of our entrance into heaven when we have a foretaste of eternal life we all hope for until Christ comes again. That is why last Tuesday we said the first test of our fidelity in found in our celebration of the Sunday Eucharist.

We are all travellers and journeyers on earth; our true home is in heaven with God our Father.  We are merely passing over this planet temporarily.  That is why we always say life is a daily lent, a daily passing over.

By celebrating the Lord’s Supper that Thursday evening with his disciples who represented all peoples of all time, Jesus established for us the everlasting memorial of his loving presence as our companion and our very Bread and Wine in the journey back to the Father that is often dark and difficult.

What he did that Thursday evening foreshadowed what he would do on Good Friday when he did his greatest act of love for us by dying on the Cross. What is most beautiful meaning we can find here is the importance of communion, of oneness as a community, as a family that are expressions of our companionship in Jesus. Every journey becomes wonderful when done in the context of a community, with true companions beginning in our very family.

At the very core of every companionship, of every community is LOVE. To become bread for someone in a journey is to become LOVE – like Jesus Christ at the last supper.

Love can never be defined for it has no limits; love can only be described like how Jesus described to us in his actions on that night of his supper, his kind of love we all must emulate:

So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.

John 13:3-5
Photo from GettyImages/iStockPhotos.

During the time of Christ, restaurants were stops not only for meals but for rest that consisted of soaking their feet on a basin of water. It was therapeutic that gave travelers enough strength to travel far again as there were no other modes of transportation at that time and not everybody could afford an animal to ride on. Any hiker and mountaineer can attest that after so much trekking, one thing you would always hope for is a stream or tiny brook with cool, crisp, running water to dip your feet and rest!

This Holy Thursday, let us be a companion in Jesus Christ with others, beginning with our family members. Do not get tired of being broken and shared like bread, of loving and caring when the journey becomes so tiring like in this time of pandemic that seems to be still far from over.

“Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

John 13:12-15

Lord Jesus Christ,
may we never get tired 
walking in love 
as a companion and 
bread to one another like you 
by giving rest to others 
already tired and about to give up. 
Let us all be together in welcoming Easter! 
Amen.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Holiness is being gentle

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Monday, 11 April 2022
Isaiah 42:1-7   +   John 12:1-11
Photo from Pinterest.

A blessed Holy Monday to you and your loved ones!

Every year beginning with the Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord until the morning of Holy Thursday, the Church has regarded since the fourth century these days as holy and sacred in commemoration of the Lord’s Passion in Jerusalem.

These days, people frown and withdraw from any discussions about holiness, believing it is just for a selected few like saints and angels, and religious men and women like priests and nuns. For many, holiness is being sinless like God.

Not really.

The word holy came from the Greek holos meaning whole or perfect; holiness is being filled with God who fills in the gaps and broken corners in us, making us whole, a person of integrity and character. Holiness is an ongoing process, never a one-shot deal. That is why Jesus said “be perfect (or holy) as your heavenly Father is perfect (or holy).”

Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images.

One beautiful aspect of holiness is being gentle, something that has become so rare in our highly competitive world today. Jesus described himself as being “humble and gentle of heart” in whom we can find rest for his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (cf. Mt. 11:29).

Being gentle means being open to everyone, especially those burdened in life like the poor and the sick, the elderly, the orphans, the widowed, the marginalized.

Being gentle is to be welcoming or hospitable and caring of others instead of threatening and indifferent. Hospitality is from the Latin word hospis which means to welcome like hospital while hostility is from the Latin word hostes which means to hostage.

Just like Jesus who was prefigured as the Suffering Servant in today’s first reading described by God as one who “shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench” (Is.42:1-3).

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Center for Spirituality, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

In our world where everyone has all the means to be heard and seen loudly and clearly in high definition, gentleness has become so rare, almost extinct! Lahat na lang “mema” may masabi. What is sad is how we speak and get our messages across in every media platform, from the simple text messages to the giant tarps and screaming stickers on vehicles that are always harsh and laden with insults and sarcasms.

In this world where “size always matters” while power is expressed in force and violence, gentleness is being one with the weak and the suffering, the broken ones like the “bruised reed” that the Suffering Servant “would not break or smoldering wick he shall not quench.”

Wherever there is gentleness, there is always hospitality, there is God; without gentleness, we get hostilities like war and violence.

See the attitude of Jesus in today’s gospel, how he welcomed Mary at a dinner in Bethany who anointed his feet with a liter of costly perfumed oil and later dried them with her hair that the house was filled with fragrance. Notice the hostile attitude of Judas Iscariot pretending to care for the poor when he asked “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” (Jn.12:5).

Jesus simply told Judas to leave Mary alone with what she was doing that was a preparation for his burial soon to happen, adding, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (Jn.12:8).

Very loaded words from the Lord, telling us to be gentle with everyone’s devotion and expression of faith and love in God while reminding us all how the poor must always be welcomed and cared for even after he had gone back to the Father.

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Center for Spirituality, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

Gentleness is more than offering a seat to an elderly or opening the door for a woman; being gentle is having that disposition to care for everyone, consciously guarding against hurting them physically and emotionally.

Gentleness is holiness because it is an act of loving others, of finding Christ in everyone because whatsoever you do to the least of his brethren, that you do unto him.

There is a beautiful saying I have found from an unknown author who said “if you have love in your heart, you have been blessed by God; if you have been loved, you have been touched by God.” So many among us could not know nor experience God because many of us refuse to be gentle with everyone; many could not understand nor imagine a loving and merciful God when everybody is hostile and violent.

This Holy Monday, let us examine ourselves, our attitude with others, if we have been welcoming, hospitable and caring. It costs us nothing to adjust ourselves, to be more gentle in words and in deeds – and looks, too! It could be your step closer to simple holiness as God fills you with himself in Christ who is humble and gentle of heart.

Lord Jesus Christ,
teach us to be gentle like you;
make us feel more our being human
and stop feeling superior with others,
always analyzing, always thinking
that in the process we have forgotten 
to feel the persons around us.
Make us gentle in our thoughts
and in our words.  Amen.
Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, 2018.

Lent, a preparation and a fulfillment

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday in the Fifth Week of Lent, 08 April 2022
Jeremiah 20:10-13   <*[[[[>< + ><]]]]*>   John 10:31-42
Photo by author, Lent 2020 in the midst of COVID-19 lockdown.
As we approach
the closing of Lent
this weekend with the 
start of the Holy Week,
we pray, dear God our Father, 
for the grace to continue to
seek and follow your Son
Jesus Christ:

They they tried again to arrest him; but he escaped from their power. He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained. Many came to him and said, “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” And many there began to believe in him.

John 10:39-42
Indeed, life is a daily Lent,
a constant coming of your Son
Jesus Christ accompanying us to
pass over every day from darkness
into light, from sickness into health,
and from sin into grace; Lent is 
both a preparation and a fulfillment
of Easter if we believe as John 
had testified in Jordan a long time ago 
that Jesus is the Christ, 
the one on whom the Spirit
dwells (cf. Jn.1:32-34).
Until now, O God,
many among us still doubt
you, refusing to accept Jesus
as the Christ like his enemies in
Jerusalem; no miracle will suffice
for them to be believe unless
they remove their blindness and 
shed off their layers of pretensions 
of knowing you even in the 
scriptures; like those who have 
followed Jesus at Jordan after
being stoned in Jerusalem, may we 
truly believe in him by deepening
our faith in him especially in moments
of trials and tribulations like Jeremiah.
Most especially, dear God,
we pray for those who continue
to refuse to believe in you,
those who malign your good 
and holy name in words and 
in deeds by persecuting those
testifying to Jesus as the Christ.
Help us to witness the truth
of Jesus Christ, to tell others
of your unconditional love as 
testified in the many good works
through Christ.  Amen.

The joy of meeting God

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fifth Sunday in Lent-C, 03 April 2022
Isaiah 43:16-21 ><}}}*> Philippians 3:8-14 ><}}}*> John 8:1-11
Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, Atok, Benguet, 20 February 2022.

From the joy of coming home to the Father last Sunday in the parable of the merciful father, we now celebrate the joy of meeting God in Jesus Christ in the story of the woman caught in adultery.

We are now into the final week of Lent, getting closer to the innermost room of the Father’s house but this time with John as our guide as we skip Luke’s gospel. The shift is hardly noticeable as the story of the woman caught in adultery seamlessly jibe with Luke’s parable last Sunday. The Pharisees and scribes are again present but this time more bold in their opposition to Jesus.

From pinterest.com.

Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.

John 8:3-6

Only John records this story of the woman caught in adultery but one can clearly recognize its similar tone and perspective with the parable last Sunday that only Luke had, the parable of the merciful father, more known as parable of the prodigal son. Both stories tell us the gospel of God’s mercy proclaimed in words and in deeds by our Lord Jesus Christ.

But what makes this story of the woman caught in adultery a stand out is its simplicity amidst the profound texts by John often identified as the beloved disciple. He was able to compact in few words and simple gestures the many realities in life we forget and take for granted.

As I prayed over this scene, one word persisted in my reflections: kindness.

Photo by author, 2018, Davao City.
The kindness of God.

The word “kind” is from kin or kindred as in family or tribe. When we say a person is kind, we mean that person treats us as one of his family, of his same kind, that he deals with us like we are not “others” or iba as we say in Filipino (hindi ka naman iba).

How sad that at the start of this pandemic in 2020, that was when all news and stories spread of how we have become so unkind with each other especially the poor, the sick and the old, children and women treated unkindly like Mang Dodong of Caloocan.

How sad that in our country, it has become a sin, an error or a failure to be poor and disadvantaged that even the poor and disadvantaged look down at each other, too! There is always that feeling among us that we are different, that we are not of the same kind that it has become so difficult to find kindness among everybody. We have forgotten we are all human, imperfect and sinful but also beloved children of God.

This is what the Sunday gospel is telling us: the woman caught in adultery is not the only sinner in this scene. John described her as “caught in adultery”, not merely an “adulteress” to show that she was in fact caught into adultery. It is a serious sin but there’s more to be caught in that act than meets the eyes. Here, there is no mention about the woman’s “lover”.

Like in our gospel last Sunday, we have the Pharisees and scribes present again, forgetting their very roles in the story itself. Recall that Jesus told the parable of the merciful father for them last Sunday to remind them that they were both the prodigal son and elder son. And that included us today, of course. Today, they are back and we wonder what were the evidence they have against that woman. Where were they while the woman was committing the sin of adultery? Were they peeping toms? Or worst, have they had some trysts with her too in the past?

Both the woman caught in adultery and her accusers, the Pharisees and the scribes stand for us all – we are sinners. We have all sinned and how dare are we to act like the Pharisees and scribes pretending to be different from others, to be so clean and pure when deep inside us are also rotten with sins that could even be worst than the people we accuse.

This is the reason why Jesus bent twice to show everyone how God had chosen to go down to us, to be like us in everything except sin so we can see again everyone as our kin, our same kind as children of the Father.

But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him.

John 8:7-9
Photo by news.ag.org, Jesus writing on the sand in the story of the woman caught in adultery.
Bending to washing of feet to dying on Cross.

In bending down twice, Jesus showed everyone – the accused and the accusers – the kindness of God, his being our kin, his being one of us even if he is Divine. To bend down is to go down, like Jesus coming down from heaven, being born as a child to show us that the path back to God is in being human which is underscored by Matthew in his genealogy of Jesus Christ at the start of his Gospel which is proclaimed every December 17 and December 24 Christmas Eve.

Here in this scene we are reminded by his bending as an imagery of the mystery of Incarnation just like his coming down to Jordan River at his baptism by John.

This bending of Jesus will happen again on Holy Thursday when he washed the feet of his apostles where he gave his commandment to love (hence, it is called as Maundy Thursday, from Latin mandatum for commandment). It will reach its highest point when he bent lowest on Good Friday by offering himself on the Cross for us all out of his immense love and mercy. And kindness.

That is the greatest expression of God’s love and mercy, in his kindness, in his becoming one of us in Jesus Christ who took upon himself our sins so we may be clean again and be able to rise and stand with dignity and honor as beloved children of the Father.

This is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words in the first reading that God is doing something new for us.

Jesus is not telling us to stop fighting sin and evil, to cease from pursuing criminals and people who have committed crimes and grave sins against us and others. The fight goes on but should always be tempered with being humane.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The beautiful story of how Jesus resolved the case against the woman caught committing adultery assures us of the endless mercies of God to us sinners, not a passport to sin. See how Jesus recognized the sinfulness of the woman when he told her, go and sin no more – the most humane reprimand perhaps in history.

It is only in our being kind like Jesus that we become truly human and humane.

According to John, the first to leave the site after Jesus challenged them to cast the first stone were the elders that may stand for having wisdom, not necessarily being aged. The first to leave the site were the wise, those who must have realized their own sinfulness and saw how gravely wrong they were in being so harsh with the woman.

Many times in life, it is difficult to be kind in this unkind world because we have stopped seeing our commonality, our shared humanity, our links with one another, our relationships. We have become so competitive that we always want to be distinct from everyone to the point that we have ceased becoming humans, playing gods most of the time.

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte in Atok, Benguet, 2019.

The grace of this final week of Lent is the kindness of God that remains with everyone, even with the most harsh among us, the most sinful. Jesus is inviting us to bend down with him, see him even down below when we are in sins. He is not condemning us nor hurting us with words nor actions. Ever the most humble and gentle of all, our most kind Lord Jesus is telling us today to take up his yoke and learn from him, always kind with everyone.

And that begins with our very selves. Many times, we cannot be kind with others because in the first place we are so unkind with our very selves. We cannot see our true selves that we compete within ourselves, that we should be somebody else.

What a wonderful gift to be our true selves again and still loved by God.

Let us heed Paul’s call in the second reading: “forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead. I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).

Have a blessed week ahead, be kind to yourself first of all. Amen.

The joy of coming home in the Father

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourth Sunday in Lent-C a.k.a. "Laetare Sunday", 27 March 2022
Joshua 5:9, 10-12 ><}}}*> 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 ><}}}*> Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, in Lourdes, France, 20 March 2022.

Life is a daily Lent, a coming home to the Father. As I have been telling you, the 40-days of Lent is a journey back home to God in Jesus Christ with each Sunday like a door leading us closer to Him. We rejoice this Fourth Sunday – Laetare Sunday – as we near God’s inner room, knowing Him more than ever as we experience His immense love and mercy for us like a Father welcoming his children to “enter” and celebrate home in Him.

But, are we really in the journey?

Or, are we just like the two selfish, self-centered brothers in the parable who took their father for granted by pursuing for their own very selves?

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable: “A man had two sons…”

Luke 15:1, 3, 11
Photo by author, Laetare Sunday 2019 in my former parish.

Acting like the sons…

Once again, we hear another story from Luke that is uniquely his. It is more known as the parable of the prodigal son when in fact the center of the story is the loving and merciful father giving everything including his very self to his two sons.

There are two preceding parables before this third one, that of the lost sheep and of the lost coin that are in chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel. See how Jesus developed into a rising crescendo his series of parables starting with a lost sheep, a lost coin, and finally, lost sons. The common thread running through the three parables was the great joy of the shepherd, woman and father upon having their lost ones again. Clearly, God is the shepherd, the woman, and the father looking for the lost sheep, lost coin and lost sons. And here lies the very essence of the parables, especially in this third one about the loving and merciful father: “the Pharisees and scribes who began to complain why Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

We are those Pharisees and scribes who doubt and refuse to believe, even run away from our loving God in the belief there must be somebody else there who could love us truly by giving us what we need.

Photo by author, Laetare Sunday 2019 in my former parish.

Exactly like the younger son in the parable who sees God merely as a provider, an ATM or a Western Union counter who gives the cash we need to buy things we believe would complete us without realizing God is our life, our identity and root of being. This we find at what prompted the younger son to return home (return home, not come home which happens only when home is a person, not a place nor thing).

When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, “How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”

Luke 15:14-19

Sometimes we are like the younger son who returns home just to preserve one’s self – to have a roof and to have food so as not to starve, never go hungry. It is the first temptation of the devil, teasing Jesus and us to turn stones into bread because man lives to eat! That is why we keep on asserting our own power so we can do everything because we have forgotten our being-ness in God. We hate having nothing, being empty and would rather fill our bellies with whatever we can stuff our mouth with that in the process even swallow our pride and dignity to have, to possess everything, even everybody except God.

Photo by author, Laetare Sunday 2019.

On the other hand, we are like the Pharisees and scribes “complaining why Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them” so personified by the elder son who refused to enter their house to join the celebrations at the return of his prodigal brother because his manipulative schemes have been unmasked. For him, serving his father was just a show because he was only an actor, everything was a movie or a teleserye playing one’s roles in exchange of a fee and fame.

He said to his father in reply, “Look all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.”

Luke 15:29-30

Again, we find here some semblance of the second and third temptations to Jesus and to us by the devil: worship him and you will be popular and powerful! We all want having the best for us to be the very best among our peers and neighbors. We are willing to buy time, even buy people just to be known and popular. We would not mind being patient over a long period of time believing in the end, we could end up having all.

When we think of our needs to be secured and safe, popular and powerful, the first that comes to our minds and consciousness are things that money can buy, food that fill stomach, and drinks that refresh the body. Like the two brothers, they were all concerned with material and physical, nothing spiritual nor emotional or even mental. A life without any depth like Alfie played by Michael Caine with music by Burt Bacharach asking, “What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live?”

That’s the tragedy of our lives, of being like the Pharisees and scribes personified by the two brothers who were so lost in their own selves, refusing to see beyond to find others and God, now and eternity, earth and heaven.

Photo by author, view from the Old Jerusalem, May 2019.

…becoming like the Father

This is the grace of this fourth Sunday, its greatest joy and cause for celebration: our being home in God, being whole again in Him after realizing and accepting our broken and sinful selves.

Make no mistake that it was us who have found God; no, it is the other way around.

God is the Father always awaiting for us that He sent Jesus Christ to lead us home again in Him. In this parable, the late Fr. Henri Nouwen rightly said Jesus is the “prodigal son” who left heaven not out of rebellion but because of obedience and submission to lead us all back to the Father, the only One who loves us truly, our very “first love” for He is the one who loves us first and still loves us no matter what.

Stop seeking for the world’s basic staples of food and wealth, fame and power because the most basic truth in this life is we are loved by God who is love Himself because He is life. See Luke’s sense of humor: the prodigal son wanted only food and shelter but the father gave him back his status as son with the ring, fine clothes and slippers, and feast while the elder son was longing for a mere young goat without realizing it has long been his for everything the father has was his too! Like us in many occasions in life, we fail to see how much we already have in God that we turn away from Him to settle for lesser things.

See our foolishness in desiring the world when it has always been ours if we remain in God. That is why we need to celebrate because finally we have found what is truly basic and valuable, God who gave us his Son Jesus Christ so we can find our way back home to Him and learn what is most valuable in life.

In this parable, Jesus is asking us to “level up” our existence, to rise above our very selves and be who we really are as beloved children of the Father who is merciful and rich in kindness.

Like in the first reading, no more manna for we have entered the Promised Land where we can have real food and real drink – Jesus Christ who sustains us to eternal life. Let us keep in mind and heart Paul’s reminder and call in the second reading that “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation… so, let us be reconciled in God” (2 Cor. 5:17, 20). Only those who are reconciled in God in Jesus can experience true joy… so, stop complaining and whining of others getting close with God. Join us and celebrate! Amen.

Have a joyuful week ahead.

Keeping in touch with the Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Week VI, Year II in Ordinary Time, 16 February 2022
James 1:19-27   ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>   Mark 8:22-26
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.
Please bear with me, 
O Lord Jesus, for being
playful today like a child:
first thing that came to my 
mind while praying is how 
things have really changed
so much in our time.
If your Apostle James were
with us today, he might have 
written us first with the admonition
to "Think before you click..." 
and then proceeded with his timely 
reminders:

Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for anger does not accomplish the righteousness of God. Therefore, put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and be able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.

James 1:19-22
So much have really changed
among us, dear Jesus:  we have
been so glued to our TV and 
computer screens and cellphones
and other gadgets, so detached from
God and from others; we no longer 
listen nor hear your voice, Lord, and
worst, we speak so much that we 
have come to dread silence where
we can hear you loud and clear;
as a result, we gone out of touch with you
and others too, isolated, alone and 
distant not only from everyone 
but with reality.
Touch us again, Jesus,
pull us away from all the noise and
screens of media that hinder us from
experiencing you and your presence;
let us pray and listen first to your words,
then think before clicking the computer;
most of all, be patient with us, Jesus, 
like the blind you healed away from others 
and help us find our way home 
to the Father and one another.  Amen.

Beatitudes of Jesus, attitudes of his disciples

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday Week VI-C in Ordinary Time, 13 February 2022
Jeremiah 17:5-8 ><}}}}*> 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20 ><}}}}*> Luke 6:17, 20-26
Photo by author, monastery inside the compound of the Church of Beatitudes, the Holy Land, 2019.

From the shores of Lake Gennesaret in Capernaum, Jesus now takes us to the plains for his first series of teachings called “sermon on the plains”. In Matthew’s gospel, it is called “sermon on the mount” due to his different emphasis and audience, his fellow Jews while Luke situated it on the plains based on his own focus directed to gentiles or non-Jews.

But, whether it was on the mount or on the plains, one thing remains clear: Jesus taught important lessons specifically for his disciples called the Beatitudes.

Last Sunday Jesus called his first four disciples to become “fishers of men” and as he travelled preaching along the shores of Galilee, they grew to Twelve in number.

On the night before this scene of sermon on the plains, Jesus went up a hill with the Twelve to pray before appointing them as Apostles. It was the first “face-to-face” class of the Twelve with the Beatitudes labelled as Discipleship 101.

And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: Blessed are you who are poor for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are filled now for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.”

Luke 6:20-26
Photo by author, Church of the Beatitudes, the Holy Land, 2019.

Beatitudes, the meaning of discipleship

The Beatitudes tell us the meaning of discipleship, of not simply following Jesus but making a choice, taking a stand to be like him. Each “blessedness” is actually Christ who is described as the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the hated.

Again we find in the Beatitudes of Jesus the contrasts and contradictions we have reflected three Sundays ago when he was rejected by his own folks at a synagogue in Nazareth (see https://lordmychef.com/2022/01/29/living-loving-amid-contradictions/).

See the set of “Blessed” followed by a corresponding set of “woes”, giving us a hint that the Beatitudes were patterned by Jesus to Jeremiah’s pronouncements to the people we heard in the first reading,

“Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord. Blessed is the who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: it fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:5, 7-8

Both in Jeremiah and in the Beatitudes by Jesus, there is the promise of blessings in the future; however, it is not something we only hope to achieve in the future but something realized in the present IF we trust in the Lord.

Photo by author, pilgrims entering the Church of the Beatitudes, 2019.

More than a promise of hope in a future glory, the Beatitudes by Jesus are directions every disciple must take as path in life, guides or criteria in discerning the will of God for us in this life. It is said that the word beatitude is from “be attitude” or the attitudes of a disciple.

That gesture of the Lord looking up to his disciples that include us today while teaching the Beatitudes indicates his recognition of our present situation by speaking in the present tense with “Blessed are you who are now poor, hungry, weeping and hated”.

Are we not feeling poor and hungry, actually weeping and hated in this intensely heated politics in the country where everyone seems to be lacking reason and shame, everyone going insane and worst, salaula (filthy) without any sense of shame at all?

At the same time, all those pronouncements of having the Kingdom of God, of being satisfied, of laughing, and of being rewarded greatly in heaven are not things we get in the future if we suffer now; these we can NOW have amid our sufferings when we are one in Jesus Christ.

The saints have shown us in their lives most especially St. Paul how while being poor, hungry, weeping and hated they have experienced fulfillment and joy at the same time. We ourselves have proven them right that with St. Paul we can “boast” like him, “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

The key is union in Jesus Christ because the Beatitudes not only reveal to us his very person but also his Paschal Mystery of Passion, Death and Resurrection. It is therefore an imperative that every disciple must be immersed in Christ because discipleship is the imitation of Christ. Again, we borrow from St. Paul who said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal.2:20).

Photo by author, dome of the Church of Beatitudes, the Holy Land, 2019.

Woes of not following Jesus

Contrary to claims by many philosophers and filosofong tasyo alike who are atheists and anti-Church, God is not a sadomasochist who delights in seeing his people suffer and die. Nothing bad can come from God for God is love (1 Jn. 4:8).

Unbelievers continue to question God, most especially Jesus and his Beatitudes that are clearly about sufferings with its apparent dislike or rejection of wealth and fame like what Jesus spoke of the woes in the second part of his Beatitudes.

There is nothing wrong with being rich, being filled, of laughing and being spoken well by others per se; in fact, these are all good in themselves. However, Jesus spoke of them as woes based on the pattern we have seen from Jeremiah’s pronouncements in the first reading: “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord.”

See how Jesus was more “soft” and gentle in his woes than God in Jeremiah’s instruction to the people that was so harsh, saying “cursed” is the man who trusts in human beings, whose heart turns away from the Lord.

Photo by author, altar in the Church of Beatitudes, 2019.

But here we find its true context too: it is a warning sign, a reminder of the dangers that can happen to anyone who trusts in himself more and turns away from God.

Here we find something truly happening in the future – not now – unlike in the Beatitudes wherein the future blessings are experienced in the present moment if we suffer in communion with Christ.

Very clear in Jeremiah and in the woes of Jesus, turning away from God surely leads to disaster because it is the opposite path of blessings.

At the same time, since God does not punish, the woes by Jesus are not a condemnation of those who are rich, filled, laughing and well spoken of others. His woes are not expressions of hatred nor hostilities but warning against the dangers of being so proud, of being filled with one’s self, of playing god because it is the path to destruction. Or even perdition as we shall see later this year in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man found only in Luke’s gospel.

The Greeks have a more precise term for that called hubris – an excessive pride and defiance of the gods that leads to one’s nemesis. Clearly, God does not punish nor condemn anyone of us. It is always our choice that we are lost and end in woes, as Shakespeare immortalized in the words of Cassius in Julius Caesar,

"The fault, dear Brutus, 
is not in our stars 
But in ourselves, 
that we are underlings".

Have a blessed week ahead, everyone. God bless you all. Amen.

Huli ka!

Lawiswis Ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-8 ng Pebrero 2022
Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com
Huli ka!
Mga salitang 
kinatatakutan,
hangga't maari ay
iniiwasan, 
tinatakasan,
tinatakbuhan dahil sa
tiyak na kapahamakan.
Ngunit mayroong 
bukod tanging pagkakataon 
ang salitang "huli ka" ay
katuwa-tuwa, 
dala ay galak
hindi takot at pangamba
bagkus kaluwagan
at kasaganaan.
Larawan kuha ni G. Jim Marpa, 2018.

Pagkatapos ni Jesus magsalita ay sinabi niya kay Simon, “Pumalaot kayo at ihulog ang mga lambat upang manghuli.” Sumagot si Simon, “Guro, magdamag po kaming nagpagod at wala kaming nahuli! Ngunit dahil sa sinabi ninyo, ihuhulog ko ang mga lambat.” Gayon nga ang ginawa nila at sa dami ng kanilang huli ay halos magkansisira kanilang mga lambat.

Lucas 5:4-6
Ano nga ba nangyari
magdamag wala silang huli
nagkubli ba mga isda
sa dilim ng gabi?
Paano ang nangyari nang
si Jesus ay nagsabi,
mga isda ay dumaiti
mga bangka napuno ng huli?
Araw-araw
dumarating si Jesus
sa buhay natin
upang tayo ay hulihin:
hindi upang pagdusahin
sa mga pagkakasala natin
bagkus upang lubusin
mga pagpapala niya sa atin.
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, 2018.
Kasabihan ng matatanda
sa bibig nahuhuli ang isda,
ngunit sinabi ni Jesus
sa bibig ng Diyos nagmumula
tunay na pagkain sa atin nagpapala
lahat ng pagpapagal at pagsisikap natin
 makabuluhan mayroon mang kabiguan
hindi mahuhuli ang Diyos sa kanyang kabutihan!
Parating abangan pagdaraan ni Jesus
pakinggan kanyang panawagan
at kung siya ay ating matagpuan
sana'y ating iwanan ang lahat
upang siya ay masundan
pamamalakaya sa sanlibutan
hindi mo pagsisihan, buhay na walang hanggan 
tiyak makakamtan ngayon pa lamang!
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, 31 Disyembre 2021.

Stiring into flame God’s gifts to us

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Memorial of Sts. Titus & Timothy, Bishops, 26 January 2022
2 Timothy 1:1-8   ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>   Luke 10:1-9
Photo from Facebook April 2021: “There is an urgency to announce the Joy, the joy of the Risen Lord.”
Praise and glory to you,
God our loving Father,
in sending us the great 
apostle St. Paul whose feast
of conversion we celebrated
yesterday!  His life and teachings
continue to loom above us this
day as we celebrate the memorial
of his two close associates, Saints
Timothy and Titus.

…to Timothy, my dear child: as I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice, and that I am confident lives also in you. For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:1, 5-7
O God, so many times we complain
of the young generation for so many
things like loyalty and dedication, 
commitment and responsibilities
without examining our very selves
as their elders or adults ahead of them:
how I envy St. Paul to be able to say those
words to Timothy while remembering the 
witnessing to faith by his grandmother Lois
and mother Eunice who were all guided
and shepherded by the great Apostle!
Before we expect too much from those
younger to us, teach us to be humble and
sincere:  what have we taught and lived by
example to them?  Have we been like 
St. Paul who was so full of zeal and enthusiasm
in preaching the Good News to everyone, 
in season and out of season?
Dearest Jesus, you are the one
who calls and sends us to announce
"The Kingdom of God is at hand" 
(Lk.10:9), stir into flame in us your gifts
of witnessing to your values of love, 
peace and justice in a world so 
abundantly rich in things but 
miserably poor in meanings;
awaken us, O Lord, young and old
alike, to the urgency of your mission.
Amen.

Listening leads to presence

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday III-C in Ordinary Time, 23 January 2022
Nehemiah 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10 ><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27 ><}}}*> Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21
Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, January 2019.

I am still in quarantine after testing positive for COVID last Monday. One good thing I have realized these past days is how precious every moment of life as I counted each day, checking on my vital signs three times daily until I will have completed soon the required seven days.

Sometimes, we only realize the existential meaning and gravity of every “today” when we go through a difficult phase in life like getting COVID or like the Israelites finally getting home from exile, suddenly hearing the word of God proclaimed after many years of silence:

Then Ezra the priest-scribe said to all the people “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep,” for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. He said further, “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”

Nehemiah 8:9-10

There are also times in our lives when suddenly we become so open to God’s words, so focused on Jesus to experience his presence like that sabbath day in a synagogue in Nazareth:

Photo by author, January 2019.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the yes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:20-21

Thanks to COVID that now I have felt how difficult it is to be separated from everyone, considering the mild symptoms I had as a fully vaxxed with booster too. It must have been so traumatizing for those who caught the virus during the early surges of 2020 and 2021 without the benefits of the vaccines and other modern medicines. Many of them who survived COVID or have lost loved ones until now feel the pains and hurts of those experiences. Indeed, it is after a difficult situation when we truly realize the value of every present moment we have with our loved ones, when everyone becomes so real and precious, when every present is truly a gift.

Today our readings invite us to slow down, to saunter – so to speak – as we journey in Jesus with Luke as our guide who at his prologue to his gospel tells us how he had “investigated everything accurately anew” regarding the “certainty of teachings of Jesus handed down” to us since the beginning (cf. Lk.1:3-4). Like with our loved ones we miss so much these days of quarantine and surge, Jesus reminds us to always listen to make everyone and him present in us.

Our conscious coming into the Father’s house

Last Sunday at the Feast of the Sto. Niño we reflected how we exercise our child-like traits before God whenever we go into “the Father’s house” like the 12-year old Jesus who was found at the Temple. Our going into the Father’s house to pray and receive the Sacraments expresses our rootedness and oneness with God through Jesus Christ.

This Sunday in our gospel, we find Jesus going again into his Father’s house to “proclaim and claim” the word of God as his very presence among us.

Imagine his movements in “slo-mo” when “He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Lk.4:16-18).

It must have been a moving moment for everyone. So mesmerizing for here was a man so present, so strongly felt with something in him freely walking up to proclaim the word of God. And what an experience for everyone that after “Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk.4:21).

That “today” would be repeated by Jesus with the same intensity on Good Friday shortly before he died when he promised to Dimas “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk.23:43).

But, do we make that conscious approach in coming into the Father’s house to celebrate the Sacraments particularly the Sunday Eucharist where the first part itself is devoted to the liturgy of the Word?

Photo by author, April 2020.

In non-verbal communications, we have that communication of spaces called “proxemics”, of how places are designed and positioned to convey something special and profound. Houses of worship of every faith are built on this important aspect of proxemics as every space conveys something about God and his people.

One example of proxemics is the patio of the church with its tall cross at the middle to remind the faithful they are about to enter the Father’s house, of their need to dispose themselves both inside and outside by being silent and being dressed properly.

Sadly, many churches in the country has no patio at all or its patio had become a parking area and worst, a basketball court. What is most tragic is how all these dispositions of coming into the Sunday Mass are disregarded by many people, led by church volunteers who talk endlessly with one another while some priests dress and look sloppily. This is one of the positive aspects of the Tridentine or Latin Mass where the atmosphere of solemnity fills the church and the people as well – and that is why many of the faithful are asking for it! A good example of what St. Paul tells us about the unity in diversity within the Church in the Holy Spirit.

How can we experience the “today” of Jesus being present in us and among us when we do not have such kind of attitude and disposition to listen to him which begins outside the church? If we cannot do it in the proxemics or spatial level, how can we even do it right inside our hearts, whether we are laypeople or the clergy?

Listening to Christ today

One of my favorite writings by the great St. John Paul II is Ecclesia de Eucharistia published in 2003. He tells us something so beautiful about the “universal and cosmic character” of the Eucharist which for me captures the essence of the “today” mentioned by Jesus in the gospel:

Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #8).

Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #8

This is very true but we rarely experience it happening because we have refused to immerse ourselves in the very words of God. So few among our people read and pray the scriptures while many of us priests rarely speak the Lord’s words as we prefer to tell what we have seen or heard in media or from some famous theologians or thinkers.

Whatever our vocation and place in the Church and the assembly, each of us must immerse one’s self in the word of God first because it is his very presence too. In the story of creation, we learned how everything came into being simply with the words spoken by God.

Photo by author, ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum in Galilee frequented by Jesus, May 2017.

This Sunday we have heard how Jesus “read” on a sabbath at a synagogue in Nazareth, of how in his proclamation of that part of the Book of Isaiah the very words were fulfilled in their hearing.

It happens daily in the celebration of the Mass everywhere in the world whenever we – lay and clergy alike – imitate Jesus, asking us first of all to come with strong desire to be one with the Father, whether in his house of worship or in our room when we pray the scriptures.

Let us enter God with Jesus and in Jesus in the Sacred Books to find him there so we can listen to him how and what he reads, not what we want to hear and say.

We can only touch the hearts of the people and make them hear God speaking again in his words offered us daily in the Mass if we first learn and listen to what Jesus reads and tells us. It is only then when we hear the Word who became flesh that we are able to respond, “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.” Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead.