Lent is for dreaming again

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
First Friday of March, Second Week in Lent, 05 March 2021
Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28   ><}}}*> <*{{{><   Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, February 2021.

Lately O Lord you have been consoling me with the shades and hues of Lent, providing much needed inspiration and enthusiasm to forge on amid the many trials I have been going through along with some loved ones hurdling great obstacles in life these days.

As we close another week, you have never stopped showering us with your immense love, dear Father, by inviting us to come to you to be forgiven and enlightened to set all things right again in our lives. No matter how dark or light are the various contrasts of daily life, there is always your Son Jesus Christ journeying with us.

On this first Friday of March, you invite us to dream again of great, good things in life: to dream again of being close to you, of being good, of being loving and loved, of being saved from our sins as we heard the story of Joseph in the first reading and the parable of the wicked tenants in the gospel referring to Jesus. Both were dreamers that someday, we shall be with you in your glory, O God.

But unlike other dreamers, Joseph and Jesus dreamt of salvation in you with “eyes wide open” by working hard on their dreams by remaining faithful and true to you even if others despised them, plotting their deaths.

And so, loving Father, I pray that we dream anew beginning today — of being with you, of doing your work, of making you present in this world where nobody dreams big anymore except of being rich and famous. For those who refuse to dream or cannot dream again for any reason, give them the grace to dream with other dreamers instead of blocking or hindering our dreams like the brothers of Joseph and the wicked tenants of the parable.

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he made him a long tunic. when his brothers saw that their father loved him best of allo his sons, they hated him so much that they would not even greet him… They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelite for twenty pieces of silver.

Genesis 37:3-4, 28

Lastly, Lord Jesus, I pray for the dreamers among us that like Joseph and you, may we hold on to our dreams, to keep dreaming until they come true, in you and through you. Amen.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, make my heart like thine.

Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son praying in our previous Parish, March 2019.

Contrasts in Lent, contrasts in life

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Second Week in Lent, 04 March 2021
Jeremiah 17:5-10   ><}}}*>  +  <*{{{><     Luke 16:19-31
Photo by author at Silang, Cavite, 22 September 2020.

How lovely is the season of Lent with its shades and hues of violets that reveal to us in many beautiful ways, O God, the many contrasts in life, enabling us to see and appreciate its deeper realities and meanings when seen in your light.

Lead us back to you, dearest Lord, and let us stop believing that happiness in life lies in external impressions like wealth, power, and fame but in what is going on in the depths of our heart like believing in you, holding on to you, just having you.

Thus says the Lord: Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salty and empty earth. Blessed is the man 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 streams. 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 17:5-8

What a beautiful and simple contrast in this life, so easy to remember yet we also forget or ignore: with you, there is life; without you, no life too.

This reality becomes clearer in the contrasts presented by your Son Jesus in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus whose name means “God has helped” from the Hebrew el azar. No name was given to the rich man for he is more like us, Lord, who lavish ourselves with beautiful and expensive clothings, dining sumptuously in total disregard of Lazarus whose body was covered with sores, licked by dogs, gladly eating the scraps falling from the table of the rich man.

That’s a load of contrasts we take for granted in life yet so obvious though we hardly notice because we remember more what the rich man had without realizing that it was Lazarus who had more life despite his poverty.

Photo by author, August 2020.

Open our eyes, Lord, to the significance and meanings of these contrasts: purple garments and fine linen of the rich man versus the sores covering the body of Lazarus; and sumptuous meals of the rich man vis-a-vis Lazarus gladly eating scraps falling from the rich man’s table.

The rich man relied only to himself with his wealth, celebrated life with things like food and clothes while Lazarus had you in himself, gladly eating scraps from the rich man’s table and going on with life’s sufferings like body covered with sores.

Surely there were other things that eventually brought Lazarus into heaven but clearly, the rich man’s self-indulgence with worldly things and securities that made him forget and totally disregard Lazarus did him big time!

While still here on earth, especially in this season of Lent, may we see the many contrasts in life and choose always where there are more of you, no matter how dark or light it may be. Amen.

Our good God

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday in the First Week of Lent, 26 February 2021
Ezekiel 18:21-28     ><}}}*>  +  <*{{{><     Matthew 5:20-26
From Google.

O God our Father, you alone are the Holy One, you alone are Good! You alone are the one who wishes and looks only for what is good in us despite our sinfulness. Your words today are very loud and clear:

“Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked,” says the Lord God. “Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?”

Ezekiel 18:23

In this blessed season of Lent, help us to be good by thinking what is good, seeing what is good, saying what is good, and doing what is good.

Let us be good always in every here and now. Help us let go of the past, thinking how sinful we have been. Or, in a similar manner, claiming how good we have been. So often, we always live in the past than in the present where you are always found.

One thing so good with you dear God is your “poor memory” of our past sins! And so, bless us to always make every effort to be good and make good our relationship with you in others in every present moment so we stop harking back into the past.

You say, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed. He shall surely live, he shall not die.”

Ezekiel 18:25-28

Let me choose you always, dear God, to relate with you in the present moment each day in love and kindness. Let it start right here inside my heart where I choose to be good in thoughts and intentions, words and actions. Through Jesus Christ your Son and our Lord, let me not reject you by turning away from my brothers and sisters for that is not the kind of worship you want; let every good begin right inside me, within my heart and not from the outside that can always be faked just to look good. Amen.

From Google.

Be surprised this Lent

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Week I, 24 February 2021
Jonah 3:1-10     <*(((><   +   ><)))*>     Luke 11:29-32
Photo by author, 26 February 2020.

Praise and glory to you, O God our Father, in making Lent a season of surprises just like in our readings today. Continue to surprise us with your love and mercy, with your movements in our lives and in our time. Open our hearts and minds at the many possibilities of good things happening even in the midst of great evil and sufferings.

Forgive us when we lose hope, when we refuse to be surprised with our pessimism and cynicism like Jonah who refused to obey you in going to Nineveh to warn the pagans and sinners there of your coming wrath lest they repent and change their ways.

Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.

Jonah 3:4, 10

It is about time that we reflect and examine also this Lent our attitudes with other people, especially those different from us not only in ways and looks but also in beliefs, that there is always hope in everyone to change and become a better person.

Even your Son Jesus Christ had told us how we would be surprised someday with the kinds of people entering your kingdom in heaven. Let us not be surprised in the end in the wrong sense like that warning by Jesus:

While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater that Jonah here.”

Luke 11:29-32

Cleanse us of our prejudices and biases, Lord, and open our sense of wonder and awe to continue to be surprised of your presence and coming, of your love and mercy in us and among others. Amen.

Give, forgive, and forgive.

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, First Week of Lent, 23 February 2021
Isaiah 55:10-11     ><)))*>   +   <*(((><     Matthew 6:7-15
Photo by author, the “Our Father” Church at the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem where Jesus taught his disciples to pray (2017).

Of the many things you have taught us, Lord Jesus, the “Our Father” remains one of the most enigmatic: on the surface it appears so simple but as we dwell and reflect on it, the more it becomes mysterious and fascinating as well that it is rightly called “the Lord’s Prayer”.

Today, I feel so touched, dear Jesus at how you have arranged the order of the prayer in the part of give and forgive:

Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;

Matthew 6:11-12

Give – forgive – forgive.

How amazing at how you have taught us to ask the Father to “give” us only once but asked to “forgive” twice! First to ask the Father to forgive us for our sins and second, that we may be like him to forgive those who sin against us.

There is also something very interesting with giving and forgiving, something deep in meaning and feeling: to give is so simple, as in to grant or bestow or simply, give. But, to forgive in itself is thought provoking, inviting everyone to an inner journey of meanings. Phonetically, it sounds like “four gives” as against just one “give”.

And this is where it gets so beautiful, Jesus: the word forgive is formed from the prefix fore that means first in order or rank or place or time like foreword, forewarn and forward.

We ask Father once only that he may give us our needs for he knows what is best for us.

But, we have to ask him twice to forgive — first that he forgive us for our sins so that we may also forgive others who sin against us.

Teaching them young how to pray (photo by Mr. Red Santiago, 2019).

There is something so deep in forgiving that inspired Shakespeare to write, “to err is human, to forgive is divine.” From the prefix fore, to forgive means to give something first even before you get anything in exchange for whatever you give. And that is what you have done for us, dear Jesus: giving yourself on the cross for us long before we asked forgiveness, long before we give our selves to you in repentance and conversion!

When we ask your forgiveness, what we actually do is claim that forgiveness you have given us without us asking for it!

Here lies the difficult part of the Our Father that makes us divine like you, Jesus: how do we imitate the Father of giving first forgiveness to those who have wronged us even if they have not come to us asking for forgiveness? It is indeed very difficult to follow for how can we give something first even if we have not received anything like a simple sorry in return?

How easy it is to ask you, Jesus, to give us grace to forgive but I think, what we must ask is for you to forgive us so we can forgive. How wonderful to realize that every time you forgive us, you actually give us something fourfold as in “four gives”.

Open our eyes, open our hearts to see this wonder and beauty of forgiving, of giving first even without receiving anything in exchange like the Father. Amen.

“Rainbow” by South Border (2003)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 21 February 2021
Rainbow appearing during our procession of the Blessed Sacrament last year during the first Sunday of lockdown, 22 March 2020. Photo by Ms. Anne Ramos, Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.

Rainbows are one of nature’s loveliest occurrence that remind us of God’s all-encompassing love for us despite our sinfulness. It is the most enduring and visible sign of God’s promise to love and keep us always despite our being-of-forgetfulness — forgetting God and others, forgetting our promises to be good, forgetting our loved ones.

On this First Sunday of Lent, we find how in the first reading God gave Noah the rainbow as a sign of his covenant to never destroy earth again after the great flood. Only Noah and his family along with the animals inside his ark survived the great flood that cleansed the world of sinfulness. It became the prefiguration of Jesus Christ coming to cleanse us of our sins to be able to lead holy lives anew amid the many temptations in life as seen in today’s gospel.

Jesus in the desert resisting temptations by Satan depicts how life really is, full of contrasts and struggles but always there is Christ helping us, comforting us, strengthening us like a rainbow after every storm.

Eventually on Good Friday when Jesus offered us himself on the cross, he became our rainbow in fact as seen in the shape of his outstretched arms.

And that is why we have chosen South Border’s 2003 hit Rainbow first heard for the movie Crying Ladies.

The song perfectly captures our reflection for this Sunday that life is a Lent, filled with so many contrasts like sufferings and joys, failures and victories, darkness and light.

And in the midst of it all is Jesus Christ journeying with us with life’s many difficulties (https://lordmychef.com/2021/02/20/gods-encompassing-love/).

Fallin’ out, fallin’ in
Nothing’s sure in this world no, no
Breakin’ out, breakin’ in
Never knowin’ what lies ahead
We can really never tell it all no, no, no
Say goodbye, say hello
To a lover or friend
Sometimes we
Never could understand
Why some things begin then just end
We can really never tell it all no, no, no
But oh, can’t you see
That no matter what happens
Life goes on and on
So Oh baby, please smile
Coz I’m always around you
And i’ll make you see how beautiful
Life is for you and me
Take a little time baby
See the butterflies color’s
Listen to the birds that were sent
To sing for me and you
Can you feel me
This is such a wonderful place to be
Even if there is pain now
Everything would be all right
For as long as the world still turns
There will be night and day
Can you hear me
There’s a rainbow always after the rain

The lyrics of this OPM are so Lent, in fact, that you can replace the “rainbow” with Jesus who is our Eternal Rainbow amid all the storms of life. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead!

From polyeastrecords.

God’s encompassing love

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
40 Shades of Lent, First Sunday, Year B, 21 February 2021
Genesis 9:8-15   +   1Peter 3:18-22   +   Mark 1:12-15
Photo by author, ancient fortress of Masada in Israel, 2017.

Lent may be the most sparse in outward signs and decorations like flowers in all liturgical seasons but it is the most dense in meaning and imageries. Although it is often seen as a drab with its motif of penitential violet and subdued music when both Gloria and Alleluia are omitted, Lent sparkles with profundity and depth leading to joy deep within if we truly dwell into its main message of God’s encompassing love for us.

Take our gospel this First Sunday of Lent this year taken from Mark. It is the shortest compared with Matthew and Luke who both give us details, but, Mark’s brevity is so precise and thought-provoking, too!

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 1:12-15
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 2020, Infanta, Quezon.

Life is a daily Lent.

Of all the seasons in our liturgical calendar, Lent is my favorite because for me, it captures best the reality of life that is at the same time so beautiful but in some aspects ugly, nice but painful. There is always that contrasts of light and darkness that indeed, life is Lent, a daily Exodus filled with trials and difficulties that lead to joy and fulfillment in God.

See how Mark shows this so well in his brief narration that begins after the scene of the baptism of Jesus by John at Jordan. Immediately after that, Mark tells us without fanfare, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.”

Is it not this is how life really is?!

At once after praying, after celebrating the Mass that is when you get into a debate with your wife or husband, son or daughter or siblings. Sometimes it happens while you are still in the church you get into arguments about parking. Right after you have resolved to be a better person and turn away from sins and its occasions, that is when your friends would come and ask you to join their “gimmicks” or that is when your “ex” would come or text you, entice you to go out again.

Photo by author, Egypt, 2020.

The desert is the image of that place of so many battles in life, where we cried in pain, where we were rejected, where we were hurt. Our life is like the desert, so hot and humid at day, so cold and freezing at night. Worse of all, the desert is our life because that is where we fight Satan who always deceives us with his many temptations that eventually lead us to wrong decisions, hurting not only us but those dearest to us, dividing our families, separating us from one another that in the end, we feel trapped in a terrible mess.

But, it is not that all bad because Jesus joins us in our battles and struggles in this life, in this desert that we find ourselves in a similar situation, “He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”

Yes, life is difficult but it is in those situations we find its meaning and beauty. Though there are so many trials and sufferings, God never leaves our side, sending us angels like family and friends, even strangers who come and stay with us in life, believing in us, helping us, and most of all, loving us — right in the desert.

Photo by author, an oasis in the Dead Sea area of Israel, 2017.

Like an oasis where life springs abundantly, Jesus joins us in our many struggles against Satan by giving us the strength and courage to remain faithful to God, to experience fulfillment and salvation by giving us little pockets of Easter in the midst of our daily lent.

See that “After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God. Amid the bad news of John’s arrest, Jesus began his ministry and mission of love and mercy for us all, It was in the middle of such disturbing situation that Jesus came boldly proclaiming, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

The same is true with us today as we enter the first full year of the pandemic that had altered our way of life so drastically, causing us so much pains in the many losses we have suffered in life and properties, God comes closest to us in Jesus especially in the Mass (https://lordmychef.com/2021/01/23/from-fishermen-to-fishers-of-men/)!

Most of all, as we shall see in this Season of Lent, even in the midst of sins and evil, that is when God comes closest to us to experience him and his saving grace.

Beloved: Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison who had been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah… This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.

1Peter 3:18-21
From Google.

Baptism as the key to Lent.

The key to understanding the Season of Lent is to see it in the light of the Sacrament of Baptism. Originally as a preparation to the mother of all feasts in the Church we call Easter, Lent was the period when candidates (catechumens) for baptism were prepared. That explains why the Easter Vigil we celebrate is too long because it was only during that time when people were baptized especially when the Church came under persecution.

In Jesus Christ, we are washed clean of our sins, we are cleansed and purified to get by in this life in the desert as beloved children of God.

He knows so well our human situation, our living in the wilderness that Jesus had to leave Paradise for a while to be with us here on earth, going through all our human experiences except sin so we may return to the Father’s home in heaven. Remember how we mentioned Lent as a journey back into the Father’s home: Ash Wednesday is the porch and every Sunday is a room we enter until we reach the Father’s inner room on Easter to be one with him in Jesus.

Photo by author, Chapel of Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center in Novaliches, QC, 2015.

In the first reading we have heard the story when God made a covenant with Noah and his children after the great flood which prefigured Baptism that cleansed the world of all the sins and evil. God had felt sad in creating the world when people turned away from him living in sins that he decided to destroy everything by sending a great flood. However, he found Noah as the only one along with his family still living uprightly. So, God asked Noah to build an ark where they stayed during the flood along with the different animals representative of every species. In effect, Noah prefigured the new Adam in Christ who came to be the new beginning of the human race, clean and without sin. After the flood, God sealed a covenant with Noah with the rainbow as its sign.

God added: “This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come, of the covenant between me and you and every living creature with you: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings.”

Genesis 9:12-15

As I was telling you at the start, Lent is so rich in meanings. When you look on the Crucifix and find those arms of Jesus outstretched when he died on Good Friday, that is the new rainbow of his covenant with us we celebrate daily in the Holy Eucharist.

Remember when you look at Jesus Christ crucified, he is the rainbow promised to Noah by God that he would never destroy all mortal beings again.

Photo by author, Chapel of Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center in Novaliches, QC, 2015.

During the first Sunday of the COVID-19 lockdown that fell on the Fourth Sunday of Lent that was also my 55th birthday last year, we decided to carry around my previous parish the Blessed Sacrament so that the people may at least adore God after churches were ordered closed and public Masses suspended.

On the last leg of our route, it began to rain but I told our driver to go ahead with our “libot” until suddenly, as we turned to a long stretch of road in the middle of rice fields, there appeared over the horizon a rainbow! The sight made me cry as I felt God assuring me on my birthday that we can pull through this pandemic, that he is with us and would protect us, keep us safe.

And he kept his promise. Our parish had the lowest incidence of COVID-19 in the town of Santa Maria. From then on every Sunday afternoon, we would borrow the F-150 truck of our neighbor and I would carry the Blessed Sacrament around our parish, blessing the people who knelt at the side of the road. Eventually, it led us to innovations like “walk-thru” and “drive-thru” Holy Communion when I would announce the distribution of Holy Communion after our online Masses in front of our Parish Church and in some designated areas along the highway.

It was the most memorable Lent I ever had in my life when everything felt so real like Jesus in the desert being tempted. Yes, life is like in the desert where the devil and wild beasts attack us.

Have faith, be firm, and take courage in Jesus Christ for we are all covered and protected in his power and might, love and mercy. He is the Father’s best sign of his all-encompassing love for us sinners. Amen.

A blessed week to you!

Photo by author, 2019.

Email me at <lordmychef@gmail.com>.

A Lenten Prayer in COVID-19

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Ash Wednesday, 17 February 2021
It is Lent again, Lord;
forty days of prayer
forty days of sacrifices
forty days of good works
forty days of silence and self-control
forty days of preparations for Easter.
Forgive us that we always forget our daily life
is essentially a daily Lent:
a daily exodus of going to the wilderness
filled with temptations 
and calls for fidelity 
to your love and person.
In this time of COVID-19
when so many of us are suffering,
help me, O Lord
not to be carried by feelings
and emotions of the Lenten Season;
give me the courage to see
beyond ordinary things,
to care more and share
even with the least that I have,
to find more reasons
to forgive and understand
most of all, to be fair and just with everyone.
Let me find my way back to you, Lord
in this time when everything and everyone I have
is quickly disappearing or have been gone or lost;
despite the face masks we wear,
let me look more into the eyes
of others to see your image and likeness;
let me wash my hands clean of evil and deceit
as I keep distance from occasions of sins
and most of all, let me empty myself of pride
to realize and experience again
my one and only, first true love is you,
alone, O dearest God.  Amen.
Photo by author, Pulilan bypass road in Bulacan, February 2020.

A real Lent in a time not so real

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Ash Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Joel 2:12-18   >><)))*>  2Corinthians 5:20-6:2  >><)))*>  Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Photo by author, chapel at Franciscan Monastery at Mt. Nebo in Jordan overlooking the Promised Land or Holy Land, May 2019.

Today we begin our annual Lenten pilgrimage with Ash Wednesday in the very different situation and conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic now in its first full year. Although this may be the most unusual, both unreal and surreal Lent since the end of Second World War, this could also be our most real Lent so far.

Being real means getting into the very core of our very selves, focusing on the more essential that are invisible to the eyes. Since the popularity of social media and smart phones, life has become more of a big show than of living that we care more of lifestyles than life itself.

All three readings today invite us to get real, to confront our true selves, stop all pretensions by letting go of our many excuses and alibis. No more ifs and buts. Just our bare selves before God for tomorrow or later may be too late. St. Paul’s words perfectly express the challenge and beauty of Lent 2021:

Brothers and sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 5:20, 6:2

Lent is a journey into inner self 
to reach out to God through others.

The forty days of Lent are a journey characterized by three important acts so central not only to Christianity but also to the other two great faiths of the world, Judaism and Islam. These are fasting, prayer and alms giving. Through these acts, we journey back into our very selves in order to reach out to God through others.

And we start by cleansing our very selves through the putting of dry ashes on the crown of our head instead of the more usual imposition on forehead to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The use of ashes as an outward sign of our inner cleansing beautifully tells us of its being natural cleansing agents long before the invention of chemical solutions. As such, being closest to earth, ashes remind us so well of our mortality, “for dust thou art and unto dust shall you return”!

However, though we are all marked for death as the ashes signify, they are blessed at the start of today’s Mass to remind us too that we die in Jesus Christ because ultimately, we return to God who is our true origin and end.

Hence, the need to cleanse our very selves by emptying ourselves of all the dirt and filth of sin inside that have marred our image and likeness in God. More than the outward appearance of putting ashes on our heads to signify cleansing is its internal significance of cleansing within by self- emptying through fasting.

In fasting, we cleanse our inner selves by denying ourselves not only of food but also of the usual things that fill us especially in this age of affluence and consumerism. Not only of material things but anything that make us forget God and others, that make us forget that we are mere mortals, weak and imperfect.

By fasting, we empty ourselves of our pride to be filled with Christ’s humility, justice, and love so we realize the world does not revolve around us. That we do not need so many “likes” and “followers” like in social media that inflate our ego but still leave us empty and lost.

And now is the perfect time, as St. Paul reminds us.

When we look back in this past year, so many of our relatives and friends have died, some alone, due to COVID-19 and other illnesses. The pandemic had grimly reminded us of life’s fragility and the need to be more loving always because we’ll never know if we can still be with everyone.

Fasting reminds us who and what are most essential in this life like God, life, and loved ones. Not likes or followers, luxuries, money, fame, or food.

In Tagalog, the word for meat is “laman”; to fast and go without meat literally means “walang laman” which also means “empty”!

When we fast and become empty, then we create space for God and for others.

That is why it is easier to pray and be one with God in meditation and contemplation when our stomach and senses are empty because we become more sensitive to his presence in Jesus. Silence in itself is a kind of fasting, the very key to any form of prayer.

Who needs to look gloomy when fasting when we are filled with the most wonderful and essential in this life who is God as Jesus tells us in the gospel, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites” (Mt.6:16).

In the same manner, whatever we save in our fasting, whatever we deny ourselves, we give and share with others in alms giving. Try opening your Facebook. What fills up your page? Your selfies? Your me-time? Your work and errands? Whatever fills your FB page, most often it always gratifies you for better and for worse. And yes, of course, they all indicate how glamorous and fabulous is your life.

This Lent 2021, so many people have lost their jobs. So many are struggling to make ends meet. Others’ sufferings have become more unbearable not only with financial difficulties but simply due to difficult conditions traveling to undergo chemotherapy or dialysis.

Life has been so unreal, even surreal for all of us since last year. And God is the one most sad of all in what we have been going through in this pandemic. But he cannot do anything for us because we still rely so much with our very selves, with our science and technology that all feed on to our pride and selfishness. Every day we hear of news of all kinds of abuses and lack of kindness going on, even among states and governments in the allocation of vaccines.

The pandemic is not purely medical and biological in nature but something spiritual.

Now, more than ever, is the Prophet Joel’s call more true:

Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.

Joel 2:12-13

If there is anyone who wishes this pandemic to end so we can see and be near with each other without any fear of getting sick, of dying, that must be God. Like St. Paul, let us implore everyone to be reconciled with God right in our hearts by taking our fasting, praying, and alms giving seriously. Amen.

Where are you?

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul 
Saturday, Sixth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I, 13 February 2021
Genesis 3:9-24    +++  >><)))*> + <*(((><<  +++     Mark 8:1-10
Photos by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, at Katmon Harbor Nature Sanctuary, Infanta, Quezon (2020).

Our dear, loving Father, bless all those people and things we have lost, and are about to lose. Bless us too that we may dare to confront ourselves truly the meaning of the question “where”.

In your words today, we heard twice the adverb “where” was mentioned: in the first reading when you were looking for man after the fall, “Where are you?” (Gen.3:9) and in the gospel when the disciples answered Jesus who was thinking of giving food to the crowds who have followed them in the wilderness, “Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them here in this deserted place?” (Mk.8:4).

Most of the time, we dread hearing and asking the question “where” because it implies somebody or something is missing or lost. Or worst, when someone is hiding like us!

Sorry, dear Father, that you have to continue asking even to this day after the fall “where are you?” because we always hide from you, we always turn away from you in sins.

Worst, when we refuse to see others as our brothers and sisters in Christ, we ask “where?” can we find or get food and other needs to share when we simply refuse to give whatever we have.

We are so sorry, Lord. Please give us the courage to confront the many questions that begin with “where” like “where is the love?” and “where am I really?” in relation with all the love you have poured on us in the loving presence of your Son Jesus Christ.

May we finally find in him the many “where” of this life. Amen.