A Lenten prayer for priests

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Feast of Chair of St. Peter, 22 February 2021
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

*This is a prayer I have written in 22 February 2018, Year of Clergy and Consecrated Persons in our preparations for the 500th year of our Christianization in the Philippines happening next month. I find the prayer still relevant specially in the light of our recent reshuffle of assignments in the diocese.

This is my 22nd Lent as a priest, Lord; but, it is only now have I realized how lovely is this season with You offering us with the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter to deepen our priesthood following our recent new assignments.

Open us to pray and reflect St. Peter’s exhortation in the first reading to “tend the flock of God” by being examples.

Help us to take into our hearts the beautiful words by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that “the primacy of Peter symbolized by his chair atop the magnificent altar at the Vatican is the primacy of faith and the primacy of love” (Images of Hope, Ignatius Press, 2006).

Help us recall, too, the reminder of Pope Francis that “we priests have a mission, not an assignment… that we must smell like the sheep.”

Forgive us, dear Jesus in making priesthood another career as we talk more about programs and offices, positions and shamefully, about perks and money. We have forgotten priesthood is a mission when You called Simon as Peter, the rock on whom You established Your Church.

May we keep in mind without forgetting the value of education that St. Peter started Your Church without any degrees in philosophy and theology, management and psychology except a deep, personal faith in You.

Teach us Your priests to nurture Your gift of faith, reminding us that no organizational or management efficiency could ever keep our unity as a Church if we are separated from You.

That is the meaning of this feast of the Chair of St. Peter: the primacy of Simon’s faith in You Lord Jesus for without You, we cannot do anything. Remind us that whenever You choose us for a mission, it is a call for more faith in You than in us or our skills and talents.

And so, I pray, Lord Jesus, for more love for us priests in You. Faith leads to love that leads us to You in heaven and to others here on earth. Help us bring back love to Your Church so people may experience You again among us and others as the Body of Christ, a community of believers. How often do we forget it is Your Church and not ours for us to lord it over them – even for shameful profit as St. Peter had warned us in the first reading!

Let us stop hurting Your Church, Jesus, in our lack of love and charity so people would see You again in us as servant-leaders. Fill us Your priests with more faith and more love to keep Your Church alive to finally stop all “hearsays” about who You really are like at Caesarea Philippi. Amen.

Photo by author of the detail of the Seventh Station at the Parish of St. Ildephonse in Tanay, Rizal; woodcarving was done in 1785 depicting the Chief Priest Caiaphas according to some accounts as the man in sunglasses during the time of Jesus. May we priests remove also our shades to see Jesus more among the people we serve.

Praying to “smell like sheep”

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, 22 February 2021
1 Peter 5:1-4     + + + + +     Matthew 16:13-19

Dearest Lord Jesus Christ:

On this feast of the Chair of St. Peter when we celebrate the sacred office of the Papacy you have bestowed upon St. Peter as your Vicar here on earth, I pray for us your priests.

Help us your priests to heed the call of Pope Francis to “smell like your sheep” which is so attuned with the call of St. Peter himself in the first reading:

Beloved: Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples of the flock.

1 Peter 5:2-3

Forgive us, dear Jesus, when we your priests demand so much from your flock that we forget to serve them faithfully and lovingly.

Forgive us, dear Jesus, when we your priests are allured by social media and all forms of glitz and glamor that unconsciously we have replaced you, making our selves as the new gods to be worshipped and adored by the people.

Forgive us, dear Jesus, when we your priests abandon your flock and go with the world that we look and smell like the rich and famous.

Chair of St. Peter in Rome. Photo from wikicommons.org.

Give us the courage and determination to first of all be centered in you, to pray daily and most of all, celebrate the Holy Eucharist with love and devotion so people may see you more, experience you more, hear you more and taste you more.

May we spend more time and energy with you, dear Jesus in prayers because it is you whom we must know first on a daily basis. Let us come to you always in Caesarea Philippi, your place of confronting us with that crucial question “But who do you say that I am?” that we never hear nor answer because we have left you. As a result, people are still confused of who you really are when we fail to live and serve in you.

May we keep in mind that the Primacy of St. Peter’s office, of our ministry and of every kind of leadership in our home and schools, offices and government is always the PRIMACY OF LOVE IN YOU. Amen.

Ang ating pagkakamali

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-10 ng Pebrero 2021
Larawan kuha ng may akda, Ikapitong Istasyon ng Krus sa Parokya ni San Ildefonso sa Tanay, Rizal.
Doon sa magandang simbahang
aming pinuntahan kamakailan
matatagpuan din kakaibang larawan
ng ikalawang pagkadapa ni Jesus
habang ang Kanyang krus ay pasan;
isa sa mga taga-usig Niya
hindi kita mga mata dahil 
suot niya may kulay na antipara
kagaya ng maraming nabubulagan
at hindi makita katotohanan
nasisilaw sa kapangyarihan
ngunit kaliwanagan ayaw masilayan.
Palagi namang kulang at kapos
ating kaisipan at karunungan
kahit anong ingat at siyasat
hindi sasapat;
Diyos lamang ang ganap
na Siyang nakasisipat
ng mga magaganap
na ni wala sa ating mga hinagap
kaya naman madalas mas mainam pa
na ating matanggap kahit mabigat
kakulangan maging kahangalan
ng mga nanunungkulan.
Madalas aking napag-iisipan
sa dami ng mga kamalian
kagagawan ko o ng iba pa man
kailanma'y hindi naman ako pinabayaan
ng Panginoong Maykapal;
sinasamahan maging sa pagpapasan
ng mga pinagdurusahang bunga
ng mga kasalanan at kamalian
hanggang sa maliwanagan
lahat ay malampasan
at muling makabangon
sa Kanyang kabutihan at kaganapan.
Ito ang ating panaligang
katotohanan sa ating buhay:
lahat ay nagkakamali
maging mga pari
ngunit si Jesus kailanma'y
hindi nagkamali
sa atin ng Kanyang pagpili
kaya tayo ay manatili
 huwag managhili
patunayan nating hindi Siya nagkakamali
 magsumakit sa Kanya mapalapit
hanggang ang langit ay masapit!
Mayroong mga nagsasabi
ito raw lalaking nakasalaming may kulay
ay si Caiaphas na punong pari
na siyang humatol laban kay Jesus
nang Siya ay litisin ng Sanhedrin
nang dakpin noong gabi sa hardin
habang nananalangin;
kay gandang pagnilayan
ngayong aming lipatan ng kaparian
paalala sa amin ng yaring larawan
alisin na at hubarin salamin na madilim
upang makita si Jesus nakadapa sa tabi.
Detalye ng larawan sa itaas ng Ikapitong Istasyong ng Krus sa Simbahan ng Tanay na inukit noon pang 1785.

Everything begins in God

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 07 February 2021
Job 7:1-4, 6-7 >><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23 >><}}}*> Mark 1:29-39
Photo by author, January 2021.

Mark continues to show us a slice in the daily life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We have seen last week how everything began at the synagogue where Jesus preached and healed on a day of sabbath.

The Lord is clearly telling us that everything must begin and end in God. Always.

This Sunday we see a complete 24-hour look not only into the life and ministry of Jesus but most specially to his very person as the Christ, the Son of God as he continued his preaching while proclaiming his good news of salvation to everyone.

And to truly experience him and his gospel, we have to make that effort of meeting him.

On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waiting on them.

Mark 1:29-31

Day time with the Lord…

Photo by author, morning inside our parish church during last summer’s lockdown.

We all know by heart God’s third commandment to keep holy the sabbath day. This commandment was perfected in Jesus Christ when he rose again on Easter, the day after sabbath which is our Sunday celebration.

It is true that sabbath day is Saturday but when Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, the early Christians who were all Jews shifted their day of worship to Sunday. Such shift was very remarkable, proving beyond doubt the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus for the Jewish followers of Christ to abandon their Saturday worship.

In Jesus Christ, we find sabbath not just a stop in work and everything but a return to God who is our life. Such is the centrality of God in our lives that sabbath is the day of the Lord because it is the only day without any other day at par with – walang katapat kasi walang katapat ang Diyos! See there are seven days in a week, an odd number because there is one day without any “partner day” like for example Monday-Tuesday, Wednesday-Thursday, Friday-Saturday.

Photo by author, parish altar one morning in November 2019.

Sabbath which is Sunday for us Christians is solely for the Lord!

The four disciples of Jesus must have known earlier of the fever of Simon’s mother-in-law; they must have been worried but they went along with Jesus to the synagogue to pray and worship God first, casting aside all their worries for they were with the Lord.

It was after coming from the synagogue, when Mark tells us how “they immediately told him about her” that they witnessed and experienced an outpouring of grace in their home and family.

That imagery of Jesus grasping the hand and raising her up is so rich in meaning that tells us how God helps those who help themselves.

Imagine how even if we do not pray daily nor celebrate Mass weekly yet God never fails to bless us every day. How much more if we come and meet him every Sunday!

Here we find how every true worship of God with the community extends to our families when we bring home Jesus if we are with him so we can immediately tell him our concerns in life. Jesus comes daily to us, always wanting to hold our hands and raise us up to be well and better than before like Simon’s mother-in-law but, are we willing to meet him especially in the Holy Eucharist?

In the first reading, we find Job crying to God, lamenting his many sufferings and the sad condition of life in general, something like what Qoheleth had written. It is not a cry of revolt by Job but more of a complaint coming from the heart of a faithful servant caught between despair and hope who finds life’s nothingness without God. Despite his losing all his children and workers in a day along with his properties not to mention his getting sick, Job never turned away from God and kept on calling to him in the silence of his heart from daytime to evening until the Lord heard him and blessed him fourfold.

When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door… Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon those who were with him pursued him… He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

Mark 1:32-33, 35-36, 38-39

Remaining in the Lord even in darkness…

Photo by author of seminarians meditating in silence after their evening prayers, November 2020.

It was still Saturday but sabbath day had already ended at 5PM (having started at 5PM of Friday) that people have started to come to Jesus to seek his healing from their sickness and possessions by evil spirits.

Darkness did not stop Jesus from serving the people despite the difficulties of seeing them, of being so tired and hungry at night, even sleepy. Likewise, darkness did not prevent Jesus communing with the Father by rising before dawn to go to a deserted place to pray alone. What a very beautiful image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd lovingly serving the sick and the poor and as our Eternal Priest making time to pray, ensuring prayer as center not only of his ministry but of his life.

According to recent studies, Filipinos rank as the highest users in the world of social media for the sixth straight year in a row, spending an average of more than four hours and 15 minutes daily (https://www.rappler.com/technology/internet-culture/hootsuite-we-are-social-2021-philippines-top-social-media-internet-usage)

That is 28 hours a week, meaning we lose one whole day or 24 hours weekly just for Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms! Not included are the hours spent watching television. How about time with God and with our loved ones?

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera during our Christ the King procession, November 2020.

Please allow me now to be a little personal as this is also my last full week in this first parish I have served for nine years and seven months.

If there is one thing I have learned so well from here is the value and importance of less.

Since my ordination in 1998 until 2010, I have always been celebrating Masses in major parishes like the Malolos Cathedral, the Santissima Trinidad in Malolos (a pilgrimage parish), and the Parish and National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Valenzuela. Every Mass, every sacrament there was really big time with large congregations coming.

Totally the opposite here in my first parish assignment under the beloved disciple of Jesus, St. John Evangelist. Small church building without a garage nor a patio in one small baranggay with about 12000 souls to care for.

Our Patron Saint, San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista of Bagbaguin, Santa Maria, Bulacan.

My predecessors saw this as too small that they did not have daily Masses. But I felt in my prayers that is the only thing Jesus wanted me to do here: make him present in the daily Masses and other sacraments.

We started with just five people attending our daily Masses while Sundays were half-filled. Before COVID-19, we have increased attendees to our daily Masses to about 20 people and our Sunday celebrations have become almost seating capacity.

At first I felt sad and disappointed but the people here kept on telling me it is a miracle already that “so many people” were coming for the Masses. Slowly, I have come to accept our situation that that’s the way it is. And that is where I felt God blessing us so abundantly with our less!

Modesty aside, in the past nine years we have sent more children to receiving the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation (without any fees but with free snacks) since 1998 when this started as a quasi parish. We have almost baptized every adult person who have not yet received the sacrament too.

COVID-19 stopped everything, affecting our collections so bad but we just kept on serving and proclaiming Jesus with our daily Masses seen online, motorcade of the Blessed Sacrament every week, distribution of the Holy Communion every Sunday to those who attended our online Mass including through our innovative “drive-thru” Communion.

01 November 2020.

We never beg the people for donations but they all poured in, enabling us to continue helping the poor like helping them bury their dead, even renovate our church with the finest liturgical vessels and things!

One thing has become clear with me: always begin in God, keep him as our center in everything and all else follows.

Remember those days when you were centered in Christ; despite the problems and trials, we were never forsaken by the Lord. Even if we have lost some of our life’s battles, we have still emerged victorious because we have become stronger and fulfilled inside.

We all come and go, especially us priests but, our mission as disciples of Christ remains the same everywhere which is to make Jesus present, make God known to everyone like in the gospel today. This we can only accomplish when we remain one in him, totally free for him and free from other attachments to be free for all.

Like St. Paul, may we all strive especially us your priests to be “all things to all men” -omnia omnibus (1Cor.9:22) by being free to lovingly serve others especially the weak and the poor in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son praying in our parish, November 2019.

Being true collaborators of Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday, Memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus, Bishops, 26 January 2021
2 Timothy 1:1-8    >><)))*>   +++   <*(((><<     Luke 10:1-9
Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News, sunrise at Natonin, Mountain Province after a devastating landslide in October 2018.

Dearest Lord Jesus Christ:

A day after celebrating the feast of the conversion of your great Apostle Paul, we now remember his two collaborators and companions in fulfilling his mission from you, Timothy and Titus, trustworthy men who carried out so many of his works.

And so today, we pray Lord Jesus in your name to please send us collaborators in your mission, men and women who are trustworthy who share in your vision and mission, endeavors and responsibilities. Collaborators in you, Lord, who are willing and ready to serve the Gospel with generosity like Timothy and Titus who represented Paul in many circumstances far from easy.

Send us, dear Jesus, more workers in your field, collaborators in you with our bishops and priests, even with our leaders in government who shall think more of serving the people, thinking more of the welfare of others than one’s personal advantages like power and fame.

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”

Luke 10:2-3

What will happen to your people, Lord Jesus when your servants and collaborators become the wolves, unmindful of the needs of the people, forgetting their mission of proclaiming your Gospel, of celebrating your Holy Sacrifice of the Mass much needed these days?

What will happen to your people, Lord Jesus when your servants and collaborators become afraid of doing what is true and right, trying to please men and women than God, avoiding problems and difficulties?

Photo by Dr. Mai B. Dela Peña, MD, Carmelite Monastery, the Holy Land, 2017.

“For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control … bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.”

2 Timothy 1:6-7, 8

Help us follow, dear Jesus, your Apostle Paul’s recommendation to Titus, “I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply to themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men.”

May we be more committed to you, Jesus Christ than to anyone else, even to our selfish motives so that we may be rich in good deeds to open the doors of the world to you our Lord and Master. Amen.