Road trip in time of COVID-19: the company we keep in life’s journey

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 04 February 2021

We have started this travelogue sharing with you how the Divine — God and music as food of the soul — have guided us in this road trip. He is the Invisible Hand leading us to directions not found on maps nor recognized by GPS, leading us to new discoveries not only to places outside but deep within us.

Let me now share with you the people we have met in this road trip, our companions who enriched our journey.

The word companion is from two Latin words cum + panis that mean “someone you break bread with”, not just someone you travel with but someone you share life with. After all, every journey is not just about places we visit but more of the persons we travel with and meet along the way.

During our first stop at the Baras Church, its sacristan mayor named Alvin told us an interesting story that had allegedly happened at the Pililla Wind Farm before its closure last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Alvin, a group of bikers in 2019 allegedly posed half-naked while doing the dirty finger sign with the wind turbines as background. The people at the wind farm felt the place “desecrated” by that act especially after the photos were posted in social media, prompting them to tighten security in the area until the pandemic came that have kept it closed since then.

Though we have no way of verifying Alvin’s story about the “desecration”, it was not farfetched at all considering our penchant for anything notorious and vulgar like – sorry for the terms – kasalaulan and kababayun.

How sad that everything is desecrated and disrespected in our country like a whole environment, public places that include parks and monuments, even churches and schools as well as culture and history, not to mention the people taken for granted especially the weak and marginalized.

But it is not that bad at all. Especially in the province of Rizal where local residents remain warm and hospitable. Most of all, honest and trustworthy.

We were actually laughing because we both did not know how to take selfies…

This we have experienced first hand after Dindo had left his wallet at a convenience store two kilometers from Baras. When we returned to the store, we were so impressed because the guard and another staff member were waiting for us to give us back the wallet. We did not even leave our car as the wallet was promptly handed to us without asking us any questions at all.

Honesty is still very much alive here in our country. We just have to trust and be honest with others, too!

In fact, one thing we noticed that whole Thursday in Rizal was how everybody was so kind and nice, especially at the three churches we visited in Baras, Tanay, and Morong.

They were so kind and courteous with a ready smile to everyone, not grouchy like in some parishes. I did not have to introduce myself as a priest to be treated well that I felt like coming home while visiting those three churches!

It prompted me to commend Msgr. Rigs de Guzman of Tanay in having formed so well their church workers and volunteers whose goodwill flowed so naturally, not rehearsed nor faked because we were visitors.

St. Joseph Parish at Baras, Rizal.

Such kindness and niceties are things becoming so rare these days in many churches in our predominantly Christian nation when people complain against priests and lay people alike in being so cold and impersonal in dealing with the faithful who complain, saying “mga taong simbahan pa naman… kay susungit at sasama ng ugali.”

Sometimes, people leave the Catholic Church not because of difficult teachings and doctrines but of difficult people who failed or refused to witness Jesus Christ in their lives as his servants and disciples.

Parish of St. Jerome in Morong, Rizal.

At the beautiful Parish of St. Jerome in Morong, we arrived while a funeral Mass was ongoing. Not knowing where to park as the patio was filled with people, I drove up its old and beautiful driveway all the way to its main door.

Surprisingly, nobody blocked or prevented us from driving there; when I asked if we can park there, the people simply nodded their heads in approval!

And when we went to the parish office to ask permission to go to the side altar to pray, one of the volunteers willingly led us inside so we can comfortably have a seat.

After we have prayed, we decided to skip our usual picture taking due to the ongoing Mass, choosing to feast our eyes with the amazing sight of this church’s unique architecture built by Franciscan Missionaries in 1620 and renovated to its present structure in 1853.

As we marveled at the imposing but genteel facade of the Morong Parish Church, I somehow got a feel of the people’s vibrant faith nurtured by their pastors who must be so dedicated too to have maintained its old and original architecture. One may also notice the same thing with the modern churches in the Diocese of Antipolo that covers the ecclesiastical province of Rizal where there is that blending of faith, arts, and architecture.

They must be so rich in having “respect” as in respect to the past, respect to the culture, and respect to the people that they have kept their many old and modern churches unaltered for so many years.

Altar of the Parish of St. Ildephonse in Tanay, Rizal declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in 2001.

How sad is the “edifice complex” afflicting some priests especially in our own Diocese of Malolos in Bulacan where many churches, old and new alike, have been disfigured with never ending renovations and constructions as well as overdecorating them that many have looked like cheap cakes smothered with icings.

Many seem to have forgotten the direct correlation between “church as the people gathered in faith” and “church as a building”.

Incidentally, the term used by the early Christians to refer to the Holy Eucharist as they gathered together was “breaking of bread”, a direct reference to our word companion because in every religious gathering, the companionship of the people is indicative of their kind of faith in God.

How lovely it is to see our churches, especially the old ones, as companions in our faith journey in God, to God!


'The real voyage of discovery consists 
not in seeing new sights,
but in looking in new eyes."
--- Marcel Proust

As we end this series of our travelogue, we go back to the lovely Parish Church of St. Ildephonse at Tanay, Rizal where we found something so mysterious like Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic and Deacon Blues.

On the left wall near the main door is found the Seventh Station of the Cross when Jesus fell for the second time on his way to the calvary. It is a huge woodcarving done by local artisans in 1785 using local colors like the Malay features of the images depicted with their brown complexion, large and round eyes, and “squared” body features.

See the man leading the pack blowing a carabao horn for a tambuli while the soldier carried a bolo instead of a sword?

Most unique of all that makes Tanay’s Stations of the Cross as the most amazing and beautiful in Asia is that man at the middle wearing sunglasses, looking afar.

No one can truly explain why that man was portrayed as wearing shades that were already in existence at that time from China called “smoked glasses”. Some claim that man is the high priest Caiaphas who led the Sanhedrin in the trial that found Jesus guilty of blasphemy for claiming himself to be God.

Still, it does not answer the question why wear shades?

My kinakapatid Dindo claimed the woodcarving proves that rock and roll had long been in existence since the time of Jesus Christ, the real Superstar as presented in the 1970 rock opera by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber.

Rock and roll is more than a kind of music. It is a way of life, a different kind of looking at things that try to disregard conventional and traditional ways by trying to get to the very roots of the things we do and hold on to.

Again, the word roots is from the Latin radix from which comes the word radical to describe people with revolutionary thoughts who go against the usual and accepted ways of life by going back to the roots of our many ways of life.

Radicals are not necessarily violent who shake our beliefs to see things more clearly like the woodcarver of this Seventh Station of the Cross in Tanay.

He must be telling us how often we try to color the world according to the hues and shades we want to see it that we become oblivious to the plight and sufferings of those around us like Jesus falling for the second time. Sometimes the key in truly enjoying this journey called life is to take off our shades and see others in their true colors by revealing also our true selves.

That is the greatest joy of every road trip when we do not really take the trip but it is the trip that takes us, giving us new eyes to see life in new perspectives and dimensions never seen before.

Our recent road trip actually started even before we planned it three years ago. Dindo and I have been traveling together as companions – breaking bread with each other – sharing life, its joys and pains, fears and hopes long before we took this road trip.

Though we travel on different roads in life, our paths have merged in various points and intersections without us really knowing it, deepening our ties and friendship truly as kinakapatid. It was actually a trip started by our dads who were cumpadres and never did I imagine those trips to their home at Little Baguio every New Year while growing up would eventually lead us to Baras, Tanay, Pillila, and Morong in Rizal!

In between songs and stories and jokes as we got lost going to Pililla Wind Farm, we have realized that we all have the same problems and issues in life. They just come in different shapes and colors that make every journey so wonderful.

Where have you been lately? And how are the people you have met? Try to remember the people you have been traveling with as companions in this journey of life. Thank them and most of all, take a break to let any trip take you — a road trip, a food trip, or any trip except bad trip!

Thank you very much in joining me in this blog and trip. May God bless your journey as well as your companions. Amen.

Embracing our pains

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, 03 February 2021
Wednesday, Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr
Hebrews 12:4-7, 11-15     <*(((><<   +++   >><)))*>     Mark 6:1-6
Photo by author, sacristy table, December 2020.

O God our Father, thank you for enlightening us today about the sufferings we are going through especially at this time of the pandemic. Forgive us for those times we have doubted you and your love for us when we go through many sufferings, forgetting that these are a part of our lives you have allowed to happen so we may grow and mature.

Forgive us when at the slightest sign of pain and sufferings, we balk at taking the path of the Cross of Jesus Christ, choosing to commit sin than being faithful to you.

Help us realize that when we suffer, the more you are nearer to us truly as a Father who lets his children go through trials and hardships to make him better and stronger in the future.

Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.

Hebrews 12:7, 11-13

We pray, O Lord, for those going through so much sufferings today especially those undergoing chemotherapy, dialysis, and physical therapy; those who have lost loved ones, who have lost their jobs.

Most specially, we pray for those suffering from rejection like Jesus when he came home to his native place and people took offense at him after hearing him spoke at the synagogue and healed so many sick people in other places.

It is one of the most painful sufferings anyone can go through, of being rejected by family and relatives, co-workers and colleagues, friends and neighbors.

Like St. Blaise, may we bear all pains and sufferings in life so we may strengthen the weak among us and offer healing to those who are sick and afflicted.

Most of all, like St. Blaise, as we accept the pains and sufferings coming our way, may we strive hard to never be the source of pains and sufferings to others. Amen.

Prayer to be devout like Simeon

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, 02 February 2021
Malachi 3:1-4  >><)))*>  Hebrews 2:14-18  >><)))*>  Luke 2:22-40
“Presentation at the Temple” painting by Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna done around 1455; Mary holding Baby Jesus while St. Joseph at the middle looks on the bearded Simeon. The man at the right is said to be a self-portrait of the artist while the woman at the back of Mary could be his wife. Photo from wikipedia.org.

Dearest God our Father:

It has been 40 days since Christmas when you sent us your Son our Lord Jesus Christ! Thank you very much for this wonderful gift but, have we had him? Have we truly met him?

Fill us with your Holy Spirit like Simeon, dear God: make us devout like him who finally “met” Jesus Christ on his presentation at the temple by Joseph and Mary.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God…

Luke 2:25-28
“Simeon’s Moment” by American illustrator Ron DiCianni. From http://www.tapestryproductions.com

Only St. Luke used the word “devout” in the scriptures. First in describing Simeon, and thrice at the Book of the Acts of the Apostles to describe the Jews who attended the pentecost at Jerusalem (2:5); “the devout men who buried” our first martyr Stephen (8:2), and called Ananias a “devout observer of the law” when you told him to pray over and heal Saul who got blinded on the way to Damascus (22:12).

Teach us to be devout like Simeon, give us a “good heart, ready to believe, and then to act openly and with courage” (Timothy Clayton, Exploring Advent with Luke; page 125).

More than being faithful to you, a devout person O Lord is one who does not only wait patiently for your coming but most of all, looks forward to its fulfillment by making it happen. Exactly what Simeon and Anna did on that day when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple.

So many times in our lives, Jesus comes, enlightening our minds and our hearts but we are so busy with so many other things that do not truly fulfill us, that in the end, would be more of an excess baggage on our way to you and others. And eventually, making death difficult and devastating instead of becoming a blessing like with Simeon and Anna.

Let us spend more time meeting Jesus in prayers to be more attuned with his coming so that we may be ready to follow his promptings and leads.

May we also learn to respect and care for others in order to meet Jesus like Simeon who recognized his parents for their roles in bringing the child into this world; likewise, the attitudes of Mary and Joseph in giving Simeon and Anna the child Jesus. What a beautiful scene of loving and caring for one another, especially of respect for the elderly! So many times we forget that truth, that we meet Jesus coming in others.

Lastly, fill us with joy no matter how difficult life may be has for us; we can never meet your Son Jesus if all we have are bitterness and resentments. Like Simeon and Anna, they were overflowing with joy, so excited to meet Christ and upon encountering him that day, they embraced him in their arms, expressing their readiness to die and rest in peace.

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, an d glory for your people Israel.”

Luke 2:29-32

Dearest Father in heaven, make us devout like Simeon and Anna with hearts overflowing with joy, striving to realize its fullness only in Jesus Christ, in this life and hereafter. Amen.

Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

Becoming a lamp of Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, 28 January 2021
Thursday, Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church
Hebrews 10:19-25     >><)))*>   +++   <*(((><<     Mark 4:21-25
Photo by author at Petras, Jordan, May 2019.

Our loving God and Father in heaven, thank you very much in sending us your Son Jesus Christ as our Eternal Priest who has enabled us all to approach you “with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

In becoming our Eternal Priest with his great sacrifice on the Cross made present day in, day out in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, you have filled us with more of your love, O Father to become also your gift, your light, your blessing to others through Jesus Christ.

Like your “Angelic Doctor”, St. Thomas Aquinas whose feast we celebrate today.

Here is a great saint of your Church who truly listened to Jesus Christ, heeding his admonition,

“Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light. Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.”

Mark 4:21-23

Teach us to be truly humble before you, Father by becoming who we really are, a lamp of your Son Jesus Christ like St. Thomas Aquinas.

Let us be a lamp who would not hide but let Christ’s light of love and kindness, mercy and compassion shine on those suffering in pain especially the poor and needy.

Let us be a lamp who would not hide but let Christ’s light of wisdom and knowledge, moral certitude and courage shine on those in darkness and cowardice.

Let us be a lamp like St. Thomas Aquinas making you present O God, the real Truth – Veritas – of this life in Jesus Christ. Amen.

From fishermen to fishers of men

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle-B, 24 January 2021
Jonah 3:1-5, 10  >><)))*>  1 Corinthians 7:29-31  >><)))*>  Mark 1:14-20
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

The sea evokes mixed feelings of both joy and fear at the same time. It symbolizes life itself that may be nice and lovely but difficult and dangerous too. For many people, the sea is the sign of abundant life, a source of livelihood while for some, a reminder of death and misery.

Such is the mystery of life too that at the start of the ministry of Jesus Christ, we find Mark locating its setting by the sea as we embark fully into the Ordinary Time of the liturgy.

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.” As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen.

Mark 1:14-16

Mark wrote the first gospel account that became the framework for Matthew and Luke in writing their own versions. He was in a hurry in writing his gospel because he felt the urgency in making known the good news of Jesus Christ; thus, his gospel is also the shortest, doing away with so many other details without losing the essentials.

This we find in his brief presentation today of the beginning of Christ’s ministry set by the Sea of Galilee.


Our sea of discontent.

First thing we notice is the very nature of the coming of Jesus Christ that happens when we are in rough waters, perhaps even with a violent storm at the middle of the sea called life: 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.”

Photo by author, sunrise at the Sea (Lake) of Galilee, 2017.

The setting was not totally good. John had been arrested. People must have been disappointed. But, that is always the cue in God’s coming called “kairos” or fullness of time, the day of judgment.

It is when we are going through difficult situations in life when we must examine ourselves too, of the need to set aside our own plans and agenda to let go and let God.

Every here and now is the time of fulfillment, a time of God’s coming to us.

Do we have the room, the space in us to welcome him to bring us into fulfillment? Hence, the need to empty ourselves, to repent and believe in Jesus Christ, the gospel himself.

Secondly, it is when we are sailing through rough seas when we also experience within that feeling of discontentment, of emptiness when there seems to be something missing in our lives even if everything is going fine like with our career or business, relationships, or family where nobody is sick or maybe the kids have all grown up and now on their own.

There comes a time in our lives when our problem is not having any problems at all — when we are no longer contented with being happy and satisfied but longing for fulfillment.

Rejoice and be glad when feeling this way! Emptiness leads to fullness as discontentment in life is always a sign of spiritual growth if we heed the calls of Jesus when desolation is a prelude to consolation.

Like in the story of creation, out of chaos comes order, exactly the experience of the first four disciples of Jesus.

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.

Mark 1:16-20
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, Carigara, 2019.

When we are sailing through rough seas in life, that is when we have to trust God more so he can do and move in our lives to achieve the great plans he had created us for. “Be still and confess that I am God!” (Ps. 46:10), so the psalmist tells us.

Money and material things were not a problem for Simon and company. They must be well to-do as they have their own fishing boats at the time, even with men hired to work for them. Opening their hearts to listen to Jesus, they must have felt deep inside them that finally, they have found direction in life, something they have been searching for a long time.

Did they understand the meaning of “fishers of men”? We have no way of knowing it but Mark tells us how upon listening to Jesus, Simon and Andrew left everything behind and followed the Lord! Imagine the great fortune they have left behind.

Even Zebedee, the father of James and John, did not complain nor run after them to at least ask them to stay behind so they would help him run their family business because he too must have been praying for his sons to grow up and mature! Recall how the mother of James and John requested Jesus the favor to have them seated beside him when reigning in his kingdom they thought to be like the kings of their time living in a palace. Or, their attitude in asking Jesus to burn down a Samaritan village that refused them passage. These instances indicate how the brothers James and John may have been like today’s typical happy-go-lucky rich kids of their time but searching for meaning in life amid the many troubles and misadventures in life.

Jesus comes to us in a similar manner, in the ordinariness and problems and struggles of our lives like when Simon and Andrew, James, and John were busy working near the Sea of Galilee. The Lord speaks to them about what they were doing as fishermen to express to them his plans to make them fishers of men.


We do not find God;
it is God who finds us.

Every day, Jesus Christ is passing by, calling us, inviting us to repent and believe in his gospel, challenging us to face our responsibilities and most of all, asking us for our commitment. He never imposes but would always patiently wait for us.

We all search for meaning in life; for some, it may come early in life while for others, it might come later. But surely, our search for meaning, for God always come for sure because we were created that way by God.

In my personal experience, I have realized that we do not really find God; it is God who actually finds us! Moreover, nobody escapes God as attested by so many saints and even ordinary people we have known who have experienced conversion.

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, December 2020.

One beautiful story of God coming to us, searching for us, and saving us from storms at the middle of the sea of life is that of Jonah and the city of Nineveh in the first reading. Jonah himself tried to escape God when his ship encountered a severe storm in the middle of the sea that he was thrown out to be swallowed by a whale. Of course, it is symbolic but it tells us in a nutshell the urgency of proclaiming God’s message of conversion, of not escaping God. This we find when Jonah was surprised at how a pagan nation like Niniveh listened to his preaching that they were spared of God’s wrath and punishment.

Jonah and Niniveh both give us beautiful lessons in resolutely turning back to God and his ways without wasting any instant as well as God’s immense love and concern for everyone, offering his mercy and forgiveness no matter how serious our sins are.

The characters of Jonah and of the inhabitants of Niniveh may be exaggerated but they are very true even among us in our own days! Recently we have seen how things have gone worst in this life in almost every aspect especially since last year with the coming of COVID-19 pandemic.

That is why St. Paul’s call in the second reading is so timely: “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. For the world in its present form is passing away” (1Cor.7:29,31).

When St. Paul wrote the Corinthians telling them to act as not having wives or weep as not weeping means we have to detach ourselves from all that perish like material things as well as jobs and careers, and even this life we have. We have to focus more on things that last who is ultimately God in Jesus Christ.

Last week, I was so saddened with the news of the closing of the Makati Shangri-la Hotel next month. One of our parishioners is a young man working there as a chef since 2004. He is a very good man, always dropping by the parish after work, never missing a Sunday with his father who died last summer. When COVID-19 started, he would always attend our online Mass wherever he may be.

I texted him the night the news came out of the closure of their hotel next month. Beside is a screenshot of our chat that turned my sorrow into joy upon realizing Carlo’s deep faith in God.

That night, I thanked God in my final prayer, for letting Jesus passed by my room while chatting with Carlo, in taking care of Carlo.

Yesterday after Mass I talked to him again and he was already very upbeat, looking forward to celebrating the Mass with us more often while looking for a new job.

Let us pray this Sunday for everyone going through many hardships these days so they may remain open in their hearts, listening to Jesus who is passing by, calling them to be his fishers of men in this troubled seas. Amen.

A blessed week ahead of you!

A prayer for those feeling low

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday, Second Week in Ordinary Time, 19 January 2021
Hebrews 6:10-20     <*(((><<   +++   >><)))*>     Mark 2:23-28
Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, October 2019.

Dear God our Father:

Today I pray for those feeling low, for those having the blues lately when everything seems to be going wrong in their lives, feeling they have been forgotten, not cared for and not loved.

Please touch their hearts, enkindle the flames within them in continuing to serve you because You do love them.

Teach me Lord how I can let them know or feel and experience your encouraging words in today’s first reading:

Brothers and sisters: God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones. We earnestly desire each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of hope until the end, so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who, through faith and patience, are inheriting the promises.

Hebrews 6:10-12

Increase, O God, the inspiration and zeal of those serving you by continuing to be open to Your Son Jesus Christ our eternal High Priest who had gone to your presence to bring us closer to You more than ever, especially when our skies are dark and gloomy.

I pray, dear Father, in the most special way for all of our medical frontliners in the fight against COVID-19 to never lose hope despite the dismal way how things are going on in our country in this time of the pandemic; touch the hearts of those losing hope in fighting for what is true and just, for those striving to contribute to make this world a better place to live in with their contributions in the sciences and to the society.

Assure them, O Lord, that all your promises of salvation and healing will be fulfilled soon by experiencing your loving presence in the celebrations of the Holy Eucharist.

Like the apostles in the gospel today, may those working for improving human life in various sectors of the society experience Jesus Christ’s love and defense for them against those trying to discredit them. May their love for others, for the country, for the Church, and for You, Lord, mature according to Your will. Amen.

Looking back, looking forward in Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Baptism of the Lord, 10 January 2021
Isaiah 55:1-11   +   1 John 5:1-9   +   Mark 1:7-11

On this second week of January we celebrate the final epiphany of Jesus Christ as an adult in His baptism by John the Baptist at Jordan River which is also called a “theophany” when God the Father made known to everyone Jesus is His beloved Son with whom He is well-pleased.

The other two epiphanies were last Sunday when Jesus manifested to the nations of the world symbolized by the Magi while the other was during His Nativity when He appeared to the poor and lowly symbolized by the shepherds for whom He first came for.

His baptism at Jordan closes the Christmas season that coincides with our secular calendar’s entry to the second week of January which is named after the Roman god Janus who has two faces with one looking forward to the future and the other looking backwards to the past.

It is exactly what our liturgical and secular calendars in this month of January are both telling us – that we are at the threshold of new beginnings, new start as we slowly leave the past behind. And what a blessed start we have on this Solemnity of the Lord’s Baptism when Jesus reminds us of His presence this 2021 which experts predict would just be an extension of 2020. We are looking to the future in Jesus and with Jesus while we look back to the past seeing the great things the Lord had done for us!

This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:7-11

Jesus Christ our Good News

For this year 2021 properly referred to in liturgy as “Cycle B”, we shall have Mark as our guide and companion in our Sunday Mass journey in the Lord (Cycle A is with Matthew, Cycle C is Luke; we hear John on special occasions like Christmas and Easter).

As I have told you during Advent, Mark wrote the first gospel account, it is the shortest because he was in a hurry in making known the good news right away. But, as Shakespeare had said, brevity is the soul of wit; Mark’s brief and direct reporting of the events and teachings of Jesus open for us so many reflections that make us experience the Lord.

Right away at the start of his gospel account, Mark tells us the baptism of Jesus as the inaugural event of the Gospel in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies announcing the coming of John the Baptist as Precursor to the coming of the Christ.

See his manner of narrating, stating matter-of-factly without any further ado that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John; he seems to be in a hurry to tell us something great, something important and so beautiful: On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.

I like that part when he said “the heavens being torn open” or in some translations which I prefer, “the sky rent in two”. What a beautiful imagery, so evocative of God intervening into our lives, descending into our world to bring order, to bring peace!

In the Book of Isaiah which is read during Lent, we find that beautiful expression, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down” (Is.63:19-64:3).

I love that so much! Imagine God rending, tearing apart the heavens like an action hero coming from behind to save us, to protect us, to get us.

Also in Mark’s gospel, he tells us how Jesus at his last breath “rending” while the curtain at the sanctuary of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Mk.15:38).

For the heavens to be rent apart shows us God finally intervening into our lives and affairs to set things right, to have some order.

And that is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ that happens daily in our lives. God has rent the heavens and descended upon us in His Son Jesus Christ who clothed Himself in our humanity so we can be like Him, divine and holy.

It is an invitation He extends to us every day, beautifully expressed by Prophet Isaiah in the first reading:

Thus says the Lord: All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord… so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:1-3, 8, 11

What a beautiful assurance to us this day with the threats of new strains of COVID-19 and problems in having the vaccine, here is God assuring us all the good things we need in this life. Of course, it is not merely the material things we need but surely all good things like milk and honey we need not only to survive but to live fully.

This Feast of the Baptism of the Lord assures us all the blessings and fulfillment we need and long for this 2021 if we accept His invitation to be one with Him.

How sad that too often, we reject Christ’s invitation, thinking how difficult it is to keep the commandments of God without realizing that they are indeed “not burdensome” (1 Jn.5:3) because the more we sin, the more life gets harder and heavier for us.

Today God assures us of His love, of how his favor rests upon us in Jesus Christ.

May we heed His calls so we may see Him rending the heavens apart, coming to our rescue, coming to our aid and presence. Amen.

A blessed Sunday to you!

And the winner is…

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Friday after the Epiphany, 08 January 2021
1 John 5:5-13     <*(((><<   +   >><)))*>     Luke 5:12-16
Photo by author, December 2020.

Beloved: Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood. The Spirit is the one who testifies, and the Spirit is truth.

1 John 5:5-6

If we could all be aware of this wonderful declaration by your Son’s beloved disciple, O God our Father, surely there would be fewer disappointments and frustrations among us in this life, especially from that “rat race” where there are no victors but only losers.

As we advance in science and technology supposedly making life better and easier for us, making us more affluent to some degree, what a tragedy that we still do not feel contented as life has become more competitive in quantitative terms than qualitative aspects like love and understanding, closer ties and cooperation.

Life may be easier but, unfortunately we cannot see its great value that even on the personal level, there is still so much self-hate and self-rejection going on among us.

Help us, dear Jesus, to keep in our minds and our hearts how you wish only the best for us, our healing and our fulfillment in life like that leper you have healed in the gospel today.

It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where Jesus was; and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.” And the leprosy left him immediately.

Luke 5:12-13

Lord Jesus, let us believe in you wholeheartedly by embracing your Cross where you won the world for us with “the Spirit, the water, and the blood” that all testify to you as the Christ, the Anointed One of God who saved and redeemed us. Amen.

Photo by author, Chapel of Theology Dept., ICMAS, 12 November 2020.

Hardened hearts

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Wednesday after the Epiphany of the Lord, 06 January 2021
1 John 4:11-18     <*(((><<   +   >><)))*>     Mark 6:45-52
Photo by author, St. Anne’s Catholic Church inside the old Jerusalem, May 2017.

He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.

Mark 6:51-52

So many times, Lord, our hearts are hardened like your Apostles’: hardened by so many fears and anxieties due to our lack or weak faith in you; hardened by anger and disappointments and failures in the past we cannot let go, festering our hearts and everything we have inside our very selves.

Our hearts are hardened too by our disbelief and doubts, even mistrust in you, dear Lord Jesus. Most of the time, our hearts are hardened when like the Apostles we see only the surface of things that happened, failing to see their deeper meaning, of your immense love and care for us.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us and his love is brought to perfection in us. This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us, that he has given us of his Spirit.

1 John 4:11-13

Our hearts are hardened, dear Jesus, because we have refused to love, love truly from within without the need to always hug and kiss one another or give gifts that eventually add up to the clatter inside our house, office or school.

Sometimes all we need is just a break from the daily grind so we may see and appreciate our loved ones too by opening our hearts to them, caring for those lost, for those having difficulties in life these days.

How wonderful was the beloved disciple to have constructed his sentence in such a holy arrangement, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.”

Instead of loving You, O God who so loved us, he beautifully declared, we also must love one another. To love You, dear God, is to love the person next to me. And the more we love, the more we see Your coming to us, dispelling all our fears in the darkness and storm.

Let our hearts be softened today with your love, Lord, a love that is free and not afraid to reach out to others. Amen.

Photo by author, December 2020.

Love, love, love….

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday after the Epiphany of the Lord, 05 January 2021
1 John 4:7-10     >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<     Mark 6:34-44
Photo by author, 12 December 2020.

Dearest God our Father:

Today my heart has only two things to say:

First is, “Thank you for being love, for loving me!”

Beloved, let us love one another; because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.

1 John 4:7-8

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his first encyclical Deus caritas est which was taken from this letter of the beloved disciple, that, what makes Christianity so unique of all other faith is the statement, God is love.

Indeed, in all the stories told about you in the Bible, in all our experiences in life, there is only one thing you have shown and given us from the very beginning that shall continue in eternity — LOVE.

The very coming of your Son Jesus Christ is all because of LOVE. Christmas is a story of love. Epiphany is also love.

It is all love, love, love… dear God! Please open our hearts, our senses to experience this love of yours you continue to pour upon us. Touch our hearts, open our minds, let us stop denying this truth that we are loved by You.

And so, my second prayer to you today is this: as a sign of thanksgiving, let me to share your love. Let me love like Jesus your Son, thinking more of others than myself – so unlike his apostles who wanted to send home the crowd hungry, worried at where to find food for them:

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

Mark 6:35-36

Just for me to start thinking and feeling and acting like you when you saw the crowd like sheep without a shepherd (Mk.6:34, 37), worried for their spiritual and material hunger that you taught them so many things and then fed them with food is a good lesson to start loving like you.

O dear Jesus, fill me with your warmth and enthusiasm whenever I would look at you on the Cross so I may pass on the love you have given me to others. Amen.

Photo by author, 12 December 2020.