Coming to Jesus, coming to others

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday in the Third Week of Easter, 05 May 2022
Acts 8:26-40   ><}}}}*> + <*{{{{><   John 6:44-51
Photo by author, 2021.
Praise and thanksgiving
to you, most loving Lord,
Jesus Christ, in making us 
come to you daily!

Jesus said to the crowds: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: They shall all be taught by God. Everyone who listen to my Father and learns from him comes to me.”

John 6:44-45
Grant me the courage
and docility of Philip your
Apostle whose feast we
celebrated yesterday to 
always come to you, ready 
to "get up and set out" 
wherever you send us.
May we spend time, 
make time daily to come to you,
Jesus, to put into practice
that grace of the Father to
meet and experience you in
prayers and the sacraments
so we may be filled with your 
presence and mercy.
And wisdom.

Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply, “I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this Scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him.

Acts 8:34-35
First, let us come to you,
Jesus so that we may come
to share you with others.
Amen.

“Sanaol”

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in Third Week of Easter, 04 May 2022
Acts 8:1-8   ><]]]]'> + <'[[[[><   John 6:35-40
Photo by author, ICSB in Malolos City, Summer 2021.
"Sanaol" - a wish and a prayer
that all may be blessed, 
that like the flowers of summer,
everyone may bloom in the Lord.
"Sanaol" was the good news
after that Pentecost when
Jesus Christ's good news of
salvation was proclaimed to all;
despite the persecutions that
began in Jerusalem and "all were
scattered throughout Judea and
Samaria, except the Apostles, 
there were great joy in that
city" (Acts 8:1, 8) because 
everyone was blessed, 
everyone was welcomed,
everyone was accepted.
"Sanaol", Lord Jesus,
would accept you in the 
Eucharist and eventually in
the person of everyone we meet;
it is you, dear Jesus, who brings
joy and fulfillment in everyone
of us whenever we receive and
welcome you in the Eucharist
and in every person we meet.

Jesus said to the crowds, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. But I told you that although you have seen me, you do not believe.

John 6:35-36
What has happened to us,
Lord Jesus?
We have turned away from you 
and from each other, choosing to
believe in thoughts and ideas,
in personalities, and all the 
fancies around them from colors
to cults that have brought us 
divisions and even persecutions.

Let us seek you again, dear Jesus,
and listen more to your voice
than to all the noises barraging us
especially at this crucial time
of the elections.
"Sanaol" will listen to you again,
and find you anew in everyone. 
Amen.

Easter is being rooted in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Memorial of St. Athanasius, Doctor of the Church, 02 May 2022
Acts 6:8-15   ><))))*> + <*((((><   John 6:22-29
Photo by Ms. Jing Rey Henderson in Taroytoy, Aklan, 29 April 2022.
In this Season of Easter,
help us, dear Lord Jesus 
to know you more clearly
so that we may deepen our
faith in you and eventually do
your work of loving service
to one another; so many times 
in life we seek you for selfish 
and personal reasons 
like the people you have fed 
at the wilderness.

And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw the signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”

John 6:25-27
Like St. Stephen in the first
reading, fill us with passion 
in "working for God" which is
primarily to believe in you as 
the Christ, the one he sent;
but so many times, even in this
modern age, we doubt you,
O Jesus, as the Son of God:
like those Jews, we ask
"when did you get here" -
from where are you, Jesus,
because we always doubt you
as the Son of God like our separated
brothers and sisters until now
influenced by Arianism.
Hence, it is not enough for us 
to be simply passionate like St. Stephen -
grant us the academic discipline 
of St. Athanasius whose memorial 
we celebrate today;
his sound mental acumen formed by
his deep spirituality based on prayers
made him a pillar of the Church in 
defending your truth as the Son of God.
The more he knew you more clearly,
the more he followed you closely
even if he was banished so many
times from his posts due to his rootedness
in you; most of all, in his knowledge 
and wisdom, the more he loved you dearly, 
Jesus, by serving the flock entrusted to him.  
Amen.

Jesus in our blessedness, and sinfulness

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Third Sunday in Easter-C, 01 May 2022
Acts 5:27-32, 40-41 ><]]]]'> Revelation 5:11-14 ><]]]]'> John 21:1-19
Photo by author, sunrise at the Lake of Tiberias, Israel, 2017.

This is the last Sunday in this Easter Season when we shall hear a story of the Risen Lord appearing to his disciples; starting next Sunday, our gospels will be from his Last Supper discourse that were his final instructions before his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

This is the third appearance by Jesus to his disciples that happened at the shore of Lake Tiberias (aka, Galilee) one early morning after Simon Peter and six other disciples went fishing the night before and caught nothing. The story is quite long but very remarkable with how Jesus was recognized in the blessedness of John the beloved and in the sinfulness of Peter.

Such is the beauty and power of Easter, of Jesus breaking all barriers to come to us so we may experience his love and mercy and forgiveness. As we have reflected last week, it is not the number nor length of our Risen Lord’s appearances that matter but its inexpressible intensity demanding our intense response to him which we find today in John and Simon Peter.

Photo by author, November 2018.

“It is the Lord!”

The disciples were still at a loss three weeks after the Lord had risen. Despite his twice appearances to them, they could not yet grasp Easter’s meaning; it would still be a long way to go before they understand everything when the Holy Spirit comes on Pentecost as Jesus had promised them.

Trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, the seven disciples led by Simon Peter went fishing one night but caught nothing until Jesus appeared to them unrecognized.

When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea.

John 21:4-7

What a beautiful story reminding us of the need to be always in the state of grace, of being in love first with Jesus to see and recognize him in the bountiful blessings he pours upon us daily!

See how it was the disciple whom Jesus loved who first recognized the Lord upon seeing the plentiful catch of fish with a wonderful interplay of catching many fish and recognizing Jesus.

Photo by author, Puerto del Sol, Bolinao, Pangasinan, 20 April 2022.

For people truly in love with Jesus, everyday is a miracle, a day of his coming, of his loving presence among us.

Being in love with Jesus is having a prayer life in him that makes us attuned with him, becoming automatic with us to find Christ present in the various events happening in our lives, whether they are good or bad as both count as blessings to anyone who truly believes in him.

John must have been so in love with Jesus, remembering so well the first time he met the Lord with his brother James and their partners Peter and brother Andrew after a similar incident when they have caught nothing the previous night and Jesus invited them to “cast their net into the deep.” It must have been a “love at first sight” for him with the Lord that they eventually left everything including their father to follow Jesus as “fishers of men” (Lk.5:1-11, Fifth Sunday Ordinary Time, 06 February 2022).

When we love, our senses and our memories are heightened of our beloved’s words and actions that we can see and feel them around us even after they are gone. When we love, we find newness in life every day with Jesus standing at the shore every dawn waiting for us to wake up and lead us to a bountiful catch of fish daily. Of course, the fish is found only in the sea or lake but for us to catch them, we need to find Jesus first.

That is why it is necessary that we begin and end each day in Jesus praying. When we love someone, we always talk and listen, always communicating in various ways with our beloved.

Problem is when we do not pray, we get preoccupied with what we do not have – of not catching anything – of looking more into the dark or murky waters of life not seeing the light in the horizon, of Jesus at the shore.

Photo by author (2017), the shore of Lake Tiberias where Jesus asked Simon Peter thrice “Do you love me?”

“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

After bringing in their haul of “one hundred fifty-three large fish” to the shore for breakfast with Jesus, our story reaches its climax with Jesus asking Peter thrice, using his original name Simon with the question, “Do you love me?”.

Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep… And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

John 21:17, 19

Peter understood fully well (gets niya, as the young would say) why Jesus asked him thrice with “do you love me?” to signify the three occasions he denied knowing him while being arraigned by the Sanhedrin on the night of Holy Thursday.

This time, there was no denying on Peter’s part that he had truly sinned that night in denying Jesus three times! And he was distressed because he was deeply sorry, telling Jesus, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” See the humility and sincerity of Peter in responding to the Lord’s question as he admitted his guilt of denying Jesus; but at the same time, his love and faith in the Lord despite his sinfulness and weaknesses. In telling Jesus “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you”, Peter was declaring his deep conviction that Jesus knows very well all our sins but at the same time knows too as well how much we love him in all of our imperfections.

Sin is not really that bad at all, so to speak, in the sense that even in our sinfulness, Jesus comes to meet us, assuring us of his love, of his mercy and forgiveness.

Photo by author, September 2021.

Just like his first words when nailed on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk.23:34), Jesus comes to us quickly in our moments of sin, inviting us to come back to him. Every time we feel that guilt after committing a sin, when we feel that shame within, that is the moment too when Jesus calls us personally like Simon, not only asking us if we love him but assuring us most of all that he loves us in spite and despite our sins.

Here we find a different interplay: the more Jesus directed Simon unto himself – do you love me?– the more Simon saw his sinfulness but at the same time experienced Christ’s forgiveness and love for him because like John the beloved, he had always loved Jesus from the start despite his many flaws and weaknesses that would later be smoothened by the Lord.

Remain in love with Jesus. This is the grace of this third Sunday in Easter. We cannot follow nor meet Jesus whether in our blessedness or sinfulness unless we love him first of all. Jesus perfectly knows human love is imperfect; only he can love us perfectly. We do not have to pretend to be perfect before him; just be our true selves, sinful yet sorrowful, to surely meet him who never leaves our side.


Dearest Lord Jesus,
open my heart to love you more
so that my eyes may always see you
in life's many blessings and trials 
that come my way daily;
let me love you more so that
I obey God rather than men and women
who keep on demanding so many things
from me, enslaving me with their many
offers that pretend to make me perfect;
when things become difficult,
open my eyes like your Apostles
who found themselves worthy
to suffer dishonor for your sake (Acts 5:29, 31)
who alone is "worthy to receive power 
and riches, wisdom and strength,
honor and glory and blessing" (Rev.5:12).
Amen.

Photo by author, Puerto del Sol, Bolinao, Pangasinan, 19 April 2022.

Holiness is in the Cross

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Good Friday, 15 April 2022
Isaiah 52:13-53:12  +  Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9  +  John 18: 1-19:42
Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, ICS Chapel, 2016; sculpture by National Artist Ed Castrillo.

Perhaps, today we can truly feel the meaning and gravity of our favorite expression when somebody looks so sad and gloomy, when somebody seems to have been totally lost: “Biyernes Santong Biyernes Santo”.

That is Good Friday for us – so negative in the sense it is so sad and gloomy, so painful and too difficult but, good. 

Good Friday is so negative for us because it means death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Nothing would be more sad than that.

But thanks to this COVID-19 pandemic we have been living inversely or “baligtad” as we say. We would always pray at every swab test for the virus that we be “negative”.

Never has been thinking negative has become so positive, so good, in fact!

And it all began more than 2000 years ago at the calvary when Jesus offered himself for us on the cross.

That is why Good Friday is called “Good”: the cross of Jesus Christ is a sign not of death but of the good news, of the gospel of life, hope, and eternal life.

The cross of Jesus Christ is not a negative sign (-) but a positive sign, a plus sign (+).

We celebrate in the most solemn and unique way because the cross is no longer a sign of condemnation but honor. Before, it was a symbol of death but now a means of salvation. The cross of Christ has been the source of countless blessings for us, illuminating our path with light when our lives are so dark with sins and mistakes, sickness and disappointments. Most of all, the cross of Christ has brought us closer to God again and with one another despite our sins and past, promising us a bright a joyful Easter.

Yes, for some the cross of Christ is so negative: why display the body of the Lord everywhere in our churches and homes, bloodied and defeated, lifeless and dead?

See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted…for those who have not been told shall see, those who have not heard shall ponder it.

Isaiah 52:13-15

Many times in life, and we have proven this, God uses many of our “negative” experiences to lead us to more positive outcome and results.

Yes, we may be Biyernes Santong Biyernes Santo in sadness and fear, even anxieties.

But, we continue to pray and forge on with life’s trials and difficulties because we see the cross of Jesus Christ leading us to light and life, joy and celebration of his Resurrection at Easter.

In the Cross is found holiness. It is on the Cross of Christ when we are filled with God when like Jesus we are able to give up ourselves, when we are finished (Jn. 19:30) for God to start his life and work again.

I have not prepared any specific prayer this Good Friday. Just be silent and if you have a cross or crucifix with you now, let us all kneel and thank God in giving us Jesus Christ who brought out so many positive things in our lives out of the many negative experiences we have had lately in life.  Amen.

Photo by author, 2019.

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.