Sealed with the Holy Spirit

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Week XXVIII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 16 October 2020
Ephesians 1:11-14     >><)))*> + >><)))*> + >><)))*>     Luke 12:1-7
Photo by the author, September 2020.

What a great apostle you have, O Lord God, in St. Paul indeed! Today he tells us something so unique, so understandable and relatable with us regarding our being blessed in Jesus Christ: being sealed in the Holy Spirit.

In him (Christ) you also, who have heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:13-14

I love those two catchphrases by St. Paul: “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” and “first installment of your inheritance”. It is both a stroke of his genius and mastery of language while at the same time, his openness to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

In him we find that blessedness in Christ through the Holy Spirit like having peace, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, understanding and things that bind us together in working together for the Lord’s mission.

But at the same time in speaking of the Holy Spirit as the first installment of our redemption, St. Paul had a foretaste of what we shall all experience in its fullness in eternity, an assurance of the fulfillment of Christ’s promise of salvation.

Like St. Teresa of Avila whose memorial we celebrated yesterday, St. Paul restored all things in you, Jesus Christ. And so, we pray for the grace of enthusiasm and perseverance of working for the coming of God’s Kingdom like him.

Give us the wisdom to proclaim loud and clear not only in words but also in deeds the Gospel so the world may know Jesus is here to restore everything and everyone back to you, God our Father.

We are not going to say anything new, Lord; we merely have to echo in this modern time your Good News of salvation, of love and mercy and forgiveness for everyone specially in this difficult time of the pandemic.

Likewise, give us the courage to witness the power of the Holy Spirit in this world living in front of all kinds of cameras without solid grounding on the realities of life, living in a make-believe world filled with hypocrisy. Seal us with your Holy Spirit, Lord! Amen.

Photo by author, September 2020.

Maturity in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Week XXII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 02 September 2020
1 Corinthians 3:1-9 <*(((><< || + || >><)))*> Luke 4:38-44
Van Gogh’s “The Sower” from wikimediacommons.org.

Thank you very much, Lord Jesus Christ for the words by St. Paul today that remind us of something hidden among us, something we take for granted that prevents us from maturing fully in you as disciples which is our tendency towards factionalism.

While there is jealousy and rivalry among you, are you not of the flesh, and walking according to the manner of man? Whenever someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely men? What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3:3-6, 9

So many times, we remain “infants” in our spirituality as we continue to see more of ourselves and of other persons than YOU, O Lord, in our mission and ministry. Instead of being united as one, we move towards being on our own, towards factions so we can choose whom to follow among us.

There are times we forget we are your stewards, that we are all co-workers in your field that we try to “own” everything, specially people and God himself. We idolize people, setting you aside from the whole picture.

We cannot let go of our labels and tags for each other, forgetting the more essential name of being Christians, of just belonging to YOU alone.

Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us also when we try so hard to always “keep you” or “box” you like the people of Capernaum who tried to prevent you from leaving their town for selfish interests like healing of the sick.

Let us grow deeper in your mind, Lord Jesus Christ by reaching out to more people to proclaim your good news of salvation meant for everyone. Amen.

Of wages and gifts

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Memorials of St. John Eudes & St. Ezechiel Moreno, Priests, 19 August 2020
Ezekiel 34:1-11 >><)))*> ||| >><)))*> ||| >><)))*> Matthew 20:1-16
Photo by author, Pulilan, Bulacan, February 2020.

As we go through more difficulties and sufferings during this time of pandemic, your words today dear God speak so well of what we need most – a true shepherd who will care for the lost and injured sheep.

Yes, you have fulfilled, O God, your promise a long time ago to Ezekiel that you yourself will come by sending us your Son Jesus Christ to look after and tend your sheep after the shepherds of Israel have miserably failed in their duties and responsibilities.

Unfortunately, there are still so many shepherds today in government even in Church who continue to pasture themselves!

Woe to the shepherds of Israel who has been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep? You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured. You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost, but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally. As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have been given over to pillage, and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast, for lack of a shepherd; I swear I am coming against these shepherds.

Ezekiel 34:2-4, 8, 10

Teach us, O Lord, through the examples of two great shepherds of souls whose feast we celebrate today: St. John Eudes who was one of the early pioneers in propagating devotion to your most Sacred Heart and St. Ezechiel Moreno who served for 15 years in the Philippines and later in South America where innumerable cancer cures were attributed to him.

St. John Eudes and St. Ezechiel Moreno showed in their lives of faithful and loving apostolate for the poor that shepherding is always a gift, never to be counted or equated nor even be seen in terms of wages and pay like in the gospel.

Remind us sweet Jesus in the midst of this pandemic when we are called to be good shepherds like you, may we always see your call and mission to us as gifts freely given not as tasks or work to be compensated by material things because you believe in us.

May we always go the extra mile in answering your call, O Lord, which is in itself a tremendous gift we must cherish for we are not even worthy at all to receive. Amen.

From Google.

Let Christ possess us

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
XIIIth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, 28 June 2020
2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16 >><)))*> Romans 6:3-4, 8-11 >><)))*> Matthew 10:37-42
Photo by author, Dome of the Chapel of Nativity at Shepherd’s Field, Bethlehem, the Holy Land, May 2019.

Jesus continues his lessons to us his disciples being sent to look for the “lost sheep of Israel”, to be not afraid for he is with us in this journey and mission. But, it is not enough that we have Jesus on our side and be present among us: we have to allow Jesus to take possession of us completely!

From having no fear because Jesus is here, Christ now deepens his presence by inviting us to be possessed by him, to be in communion with him.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 10:37-39
Photo by author, processional Cross at the altar, 2019.

The Mystery of the Cross

Discipleship in Jesus Christ is more than a total allegiance to him who is neither a demanding nor exacting Lord and Master for he does not arbitrarily impose himself upon us.

Nothing like that of subservience but something more lofty because it is wrapped in a mystery — a mystery of love freely given and shared to us by God even if we do not deserve it all. Remember the mystery of the Blessed Trinity four Sundays ago (June 07)?

Ever since, God has never imposed himself upon us, that we should love him back in return for he does not really need our love. He gave us the gift of freedom so that we may love him freely for he never imposes on us.

And here lies the beauty of discipleship, of this relationship we have with God that is based solely on love expressed to us in the most personal manner by giving us his Son Jesus Christ who suffered and died on the Cross but rose again on Easter. This we were reminded by the Solemnities of the Body and Blood of Jesus and of his Sacred Heart last June 14 and 19 respectively.

Now you see my dear readers the clearer picture of our liturgical celebrations expressing our concrete experiences of being loved by God in Jesus Christ most especially during times of trials and sufferings like in this COVID-19 pandemic.

It is Christ who made the initiative to be one with us in our pains and sufferings; God did not remove our crosses in life but made them holy in his Son Jesus Christ so that every time we go through life’s many difficulties, we share in the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

That is why, we are invited to take and carry our cross every day for it is through the Cross we are saved. It is not enough to simply believe in the person of Jesus but we need to accept and embrace his Cross because it is through which he had won our salvation by dying on it and rising again.

This is easier said than done. It is so difficult to love Jesus more than our loved ones like family and friends. And it is most difficult to love the Lord more than our selves, when we have to let go of our plans and agenda.

Letting go and letting God in itself is already crucifying — but that is when this mystery of Christ’s love and of his Cross deepens further when we lose ourselves in him!

Celebrating Mass without te congregation during the ECQ, March-April 2020.

Possessed by Christ

To be possessed by Jesus is to receive God and his gift of salvation through the mystery of Christ and his Cross. Like our Christian life, proclaiming the gospel carries with it the sign of the Cross of Christ.

We are not asked to reenact or reproduce his Crucifixion nor is Jesus asking us to be suicidal or go against our natural aspirations and dreams.

To be possessed by Jesus means we continue to take care of ourselves without neglecting the needs of others.

To be possessed by Jesus means being generous to others in the same manner Jesus has always been generous to us.

To be possessed by Jesus means to realize that every act of self-giving is really an act of receiving!

Photo by author, Malagos Park, Davao City, 2018.

That is the paradox of the Cross, of discipleship in Christ: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt.10:40).

And that is also where the mystery of Christ’s love deepens because whatever we give is not really ours but Christ’s.

Every time we give love, it is the love of Jesus.

When we are kind and generous with others, it is the kindness and generosity of Jesus we give and share.

When we are patient and understanding to others, it is still the patience and understanding of Jesus in us.

Even if we give and share material things like money, food, clothing… whatever good we share and give are all from Jesus not from us.

And the more we give, the more we receive!

Have you noticed especially during this pandemic how the generous among us are now more blessed?

Wonder no more because you have allowed yourself to be possessed by Jesus Christ!

This is what the woman at Shumen had realized after welcoming the Prophet Elisha into her home in our first reading. She even gave him a room to stay every time he comes for his mission while the Lord provided all her needs, even rewarded her with a son as promised by Elisha.

When we allow Jesus to take over us, when we enter into communion in him and with him in his very life, we become more free to love, we strengthen our relationships with others, we wander less and worry less in life; most of all, we feel lightened in our burdens with the presence of Jesus giving us fullness of life in him.

This is the grace I hope we have seen from this quarantine period, especially those two months of lockdown when were freed from our usual grind and busyness with more time to be silent and still, to pray and reflect on our relationships with God and with others. It was a difficult and very trying period that had given in return a lot of opportunities to others.

Photo by author, Marcos Highway, 2019.

Dead to sin, alive to God

Brothers and sisters: We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:9-11

It has been four months since houses of worship were ordered closed to help stop the spread of the corona virus. Somehow, the lockdown had made us realize the importance of receiving the Sacraments especially the Holy Eucharist.

But, sacraments are not everything for we have the bigger roles of putting into practice its reality of being the saving presence of Jesus Christ.

Now that lowly life is beginning to go back to its usual grind especially the traffic, soon we might forget again the more important things in life like God and our relationships in our family and friends that it is hoped we have rediscovered during the quarantine period.

That is why I strongly feel the government must now allow Churches to open so the people may experience again God in the sacraments and in our rites and rituals lest they get busy again with so many things only to miss finding anew the meaning of our lives found in silence and stillness before the Cross of Christ.

It is my hope that in this quarantine period, may we find through the Cross of Jesus that when we learn to submit and surrender to him, that is when we truly become free; and, when we lose and give away our lives to him, that is when we gain fullness of life in him. Amen.

A blessed week and a more abundant July to everyone!

Bakit ka narito?

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-16 ng Hunyo 2020
Larawan kuha ng may-akda sa Pulilan, Bulacan, Enero 2020.
Minsan aking napanaginipan
matalik kong kaibigan
aming binalikan
mga bukid aming nilakaran
noong aming kabataan;
nagtungo rin kami sa simbahan
doon sa kabayanan
at umistambay pagkaraan
para magkuwentuhan sa Krus na Daan.
Hiniling ko sa kanya
ako'y isama sa kanyang bahay-pahingahan
doon sa bukid ngunit tinanggihan
pinauwi at binilinan tulungan
maraming nangangailangan
lalo na aming mga kaibigan.
Sa aking pagtayo at paghayo
siyang gising ko naman
at natanto
matagal nang yumao 
kaibigan ko.

Larawan kuha ng may-akda sa Assumption Sabbath, Baguio City, Enero 2018.
Maliwanag sa akin
kahulugan ng napanaginipan
dahil kung minsan
ako ay nahihirapan at nabibigatan
sa mga pasan-pasan
at tila naman walang ibang maasahan
bukod sa wala ring pakialam
kaya di maiwasan mag-asam
na mawala na lamang
at sumakabilang buhay.
Ngunit hindi iyon ang solusyon
hindi rin kalooban ng Panginoon
na mayroong nilalayon
dapat nating bigyan ng tuon;
mga hirap at pagod
konsumisyon at ilusyon
bahagi ng ating misyon
bigay at dinadalisay ng Panginoon
kaya't magtiyaga, Siya ay ating abangan
at tiyak matatagpuan, Kanyang tutulungan.

“Screenshot” ng palad ng isang mag-aaral sa Dr. Yanga’s Colleges Inc. na nagsulat ng mga aral napakinggan niya kay G. Michael Yanga, Pangulo ng naturang paaralan, 2019.
Madalas tayo ang nagtatanong 
sa Panginoon ng direksiyon
ngunit paano kung Siya mismo
sa atin naman ang magtanong
sa kalagitnaan ng ating misyon
"Bakit ka narito?" gaya noong
paghintayin Niya si Elias sa yungib ng Horeb
matapos Siyang mangusap 
sa banayad na tinig ng hangin;
kay sarap namnamin at damhin
dahil tuwing tayo tatanungin
nitong Panginoon natin,
ibig sabihin Siya ay ating kapiling!
Ano man iyong gampanin 
ngayong quarantine ay pagyamanin
palaging unahin na ang Diyos ay hintayin
dahil tiyak na Siya ay darating
hanggang matapos itong COVID-19
pangako Niyang kaligtasan at kaganapan
Kanyang tutuparin!

When we are lost

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, 13 June 2020
1 Kings 19:19-21 <*(((>< ><)))*> <*(((>< ><)))*> Matthew 5:33-37
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019

Glory and praise to you, O Lord Jesus Christ, on this most joyous feast of St. Anthony de Padua, our patron saint for lost items like keys and money. Nobody really knows for sure why he is the one invoked upon whenever we lose something.

But, one thing so beautiful about this most humble saint of great intelligence and gift of speaking is how he leads us back to you, O Lord Jesus and to our loving Father with his teachings and homilies.

He reminds us in his writings to be always be filled and guided by the Holy Spirit in our speech and action.

The man who is filled with the Holy Spirit speaks in different languages. These different languages are different ways of witnessing to Christ, such as humility, poverty, patience and obedience; we speak in those languages when we reveal in ourselves these virtues to others. Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speech.

From a sermon by St. Antony of Padua (Office of Readings, June 13)

Most of the time, we are lost because we have become empty of you, Lord, and filled with our very selves, with our ego and pride, insisting on what we know, what we want.

From Pinterest.com

Most of the time, Lord, we are lost that we cannot “mean ‘yes’ when we say ‘yes’, and mean ‘no’ when we say ‘no'” as you reminded us in the gospel today.

Give us the courage like Elisha who accepted God’s call to replace the Prophet Elijah by slaughtering his 12 oxen and cooking them with his plows and yokes to feed the people as he bid goodbye to family and friends for his mission.

In this time of pandemic and many other social problems, we pray for those who feel lost in life without any sense of directions, those who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19 and other illnesses, those who have lost their jobs and means of livelihood, those who have lost their faith — for all of us lost, help us find our way back to you, Lord! Amen.

St. Anthony of Padua, pray for us!

Mission of healing

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Solemnity of the Pentecost-A, 31 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11 <*(((>< 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13 ><)))*> John 20:19-23

Pope Francis praying at an empty St. Peter’s Square 27 March 2020. Photo from cruxnow.com.

As I prayed over the readings this coming Pentecost Sunday, my thoughts kept going back to those powerful images when Pope Francis prayed at an empty St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican last March 27 when COVID-19 was ravaging the whole Italy with so many deaths.

Now more than ever, the Church badly needs the Pentecost – a new Pentecost that will heal and rebirth the world so wounded and altered by the corona pandemic this year 2020.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

John 20:19-20
Modern rendition of the Pentecost. From Google.

Holy Spirit, breath of life and cause of unity

The Pentecost is not just an event remembered in the past but a reality that happens daily when the Holy Spirit comes and is received by those attuned with its life and mission which is to bring peace through unity and healing.

Promised by Jesus Christ to his followers as their Advocate and Counsellor, the Holy Spirit descended on them during the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem when Jews from all parts of the world gathered to remember the 50 days after their Passover in Egypt at the time of Moses.

It was the perfect setting for the Christian Pentecost – this time 50 days after Easter – to celebrate the new unity of mankind in Jesus he established on Holy Thursday evening at his Last Supper. Inasmuch as the Jews went home at that time to be one with their fellow believers in Jerusalem, on that day from the holy city comes forth the new solidarity of peoples in Jesus led by his followers gathered that day in the Upper Room.

Hence, the tradition of considering Pentecost Sunday as the birthday of the Church, too.

Though we have heard two different versions of its coming, what matters most is the Person of the Holy Spirit as the breath of life and the cause of unity among the followers of Christ.

In the first reading, Luke gives us an artistic presentation of the coming of the Holy Spirit showing the unity of the peoples: first of the followers of Jesus and later with the Jews gathered in Jerusalem on that day for their feast of Pentecost. Whereas the apostles were at first presented as timid and lacking in understanding, the Holy Spirit emboldened them on that day to go out and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Led by Peter, they were filled with life and wisdom and courage, converting thousands of people on Pentecost day despite their speaking in different languages, exactly the opposite at the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament.

In the gospel, John gives us the theological grounding of Pentecost when we find Jesus appearing to his disciples hiding from the Jews on the evening of Easter at the Upper Room where he breathed on them the Holy Spirit that filled them with joy upon seeing him risen and alive.

The scene was reminiscent of the many stories in the Old Testament of the “breath of God” giving life to the first human beings in the story of creation, the “breathing on” by Elijah on the nostrils of the widow’s dead son back to life (1Kgs.17:21), and the promise of God to Ezekiel to restore to life the many dry bones in their graves in the time to come (Ezek. 37:1-14).

These stories now take on deeper meanings in Jesus Christ its fulfillment. And not only were the disciples breathed on with new life in Christ but also the whole creation was renewed in the coming of the Holy Spirit that we pray, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and you shall renew the face of the earth”.

Perennial Pentecost for peace and healing

Pentecost is an event that continues to happen daily especially when we are gathered as the body of believers of Jesus Christ tasked to realize its fulfillment. This coming of the Holy Spirit is not a one-shot deal that happened only in the past in Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago — it is something we as followers of the Risen Lord must always wait and make happen every day so as to continually bring life and renewal to this world especially at this time of the corona pandemic.

In giving us the Holy Spirit, Jesus not only renewed our lives as his disciples united in him but also conferred his own power without restrictions to accomplish our mission.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

John 20:21-23
The Chair of St. Peter at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome with the stained glass of the Holy Spirit above. Photo from dreamstime.com.

At the Vatican inside the great St. Peter’s Basilica is a beautiful stained glass of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove rising above as background to the Chair of St. Peter ( Feast is February 22) at the sanctuary area.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI described this beautiful work of art:

“It seems to me that a deep analysis of the essence of the Church lies hidden here, is contained here… It unites the Church with creation as a whole. It signifies through the dove of the Holy Spirit that God is the actual source of all light. But it tells us something else: the Church herself is in essence, so to speak, a window, a place of contact between the other-worldly mystery of God and our world, the place where the world is permeable to the radiance of his light… The Church is the place of encounter where God meets us and we find God. It is her task to open up the world closing in on itself, to give it the light without which it would be unlivable.”

Images of Hope, pp.29-31

Here we find part of our mission in collaboration with the Holy Spirit is the the healing of the world that can be achieved only through peace. See how Jesus had to repeat twice his gift of peace to his disciples because it is his greatest gift to us following his Resurrection.

Life thrives and blooms most where there is peace, where there are disciples of the Lord willing to work for it with love and patience.

But the peace from Jesus Christ always has a price that we must be willing to pay to achieve it.

See that after his first greeting of peace, Jesus showed his wounds — he was the first to pay the price for peace with his own life.

Bringing around our Parish the Blessed Sacrament during the lockdown, March-May 2020.

This is the meaning of the many sacrifices and sufferings we all have to go through in this quarantine period expected to continue until 2021: if we want to get out of this pandemic, aside from the need for a vaccine and medication, we all need to change our ways to make sure this will not happen again.

It is always easy to join so many advocacies and rallies calling for every kind of change in the society and the world but nothing had ever happened because whenever we come home, we do not change our own ways of living! Sayang (what a waste) were all the inspiration and energies of the Holy Spirit for our many causes that have not taken roots right in our hearts.

All the apostles of the Lord paid the price of peace with their own lives that led to the healing not only of individuals and families but even of nations and the world.

The second time Jesus offered his gift of peace, he breathed the Holy Spirit on his apostles and commissioned them to forgive all sins.

Peace is the fruit of love according to Vatican II.

As such, peace from the Holy Spirit leads to healing when there is dialogue, prayer and repentance, that lead to justice, love, and forgiveness. Peace and healing need hard work that is why they are fruits. They never come on a silver platter.

On Monday, most of the quarantine levels in the country are downgraded because it is hoped we have somehow controlled the spread of COVID-19.

As we eagerly await more freedom and mobility in this time of pandemic, what have we achieved during these three months of quarantine, said to be the longest in the world?

Have we resolved our family differences? Have we rediscovered our family members, getting more close than ever, more kind, more understanding?

How sad that all we can share as our quarantine stories are all about food and other pursuits we have undertaken forgetting the unity and life of our family and community.

How sad when we in the Church have all been preoccupied with the new communication media but failed at all to make any impact or dent in the lives of our faithful because we have not shared Jesus Christ at all, when all our “live streaming” and vlogs are powered by likes and followers, not by the Holy Spirit.

Pope Francis blessing the people last March 27 in an empty St. Peter’s Square during the height of COVID-19 in Italy that became the new epicenter of pandemic next to China. Photo from Vatican Media Office.

Jesus never takes back his gift of peace, his gift of healing, his gift of the Holy Spirit. He promised to never leave us orphans. Let us not leave the Holy Spirit behind and stop believing in our selves.

That’s the way we have been in the world and even in the Church.

That is why – to a large extent – we have this corona pandemic.

A blessed week to everyone.

Christ’s ascension, our mission

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, 24 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11 ><)))*> Ephesians 4:1-13 ><)))*> Matthew 28:16-20

Paschal candles at the entrance to the burial site of Jesus inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Photo by author, May 2017.

We are now at the penultimate Sunday of the Easter Season with the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. Next Sunday we close the season with Pentecost and begin the Ordinary Time following Monday.

But, with our situation expected to last until 2021 when we shall have a vaccine against COVID-19, it still feels like Lent for many of us who now feel the economic and psychological impact of this pandemic.

More than ever before, we are challenged today to give testimony to Christ’s Resurrection so we can grasp the meaning and beauty of our celebration today.

The Ascension of Jesus is not about his movement or change of residence from earth into heaven or some remote part of the deep space to start his “working from home”: the Ascension of Jesus is the “leveling up” of the relationship of Christ with his disciples who include us all today.

Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20
Dome of the Chapel of the Ascension beside a mosque outside Jerusalem. Photo by author, May 2019.

Giving testimony to the Risen Christ

Notice how our gospel today does not speak much about Jesus Christ’s ascension or his being taken up to heaven unlike with Luke both in his gospel account and Book of Acts of the Apostles.

With Matthew, it is very clear that with Jesus Christ’s departure comes the mission to give testimony to him who is risen from the dead. Every disciple’s testimony is essentially his/her mission to proclaim to the world that Jesus is alive, that he is Life itself.

Like during his Ascension on a hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus is calling us all today to gather again around him, to seek those who are lost and forgotten in order to bring them all together in Christ especially at this time when people suffer more from the neglect and double-standards of this government than from COVID-19 itself.

Where is God?

We are about to end two great seasons in our liturgical calendar but it seems that we are stuck in the Holy Week. We wonder what have happened to us in this pandemic when every scene we see, every situation we are into are unbelievable, something we see only in movies. And this one’s for real!

For those of us who have not lived through wars like our parents, the atrocities of Martial Law like others, or great catastrophes like the Baguio earthquake of 1990 and the recent “Yolanda” in Samar and Leyte, when the only sufferings we can “brag” are “Ondoy” and EDSA traffic, we now live life in the most uncertain way. In between the temporary escapes and respites offered by Netflix and social media platforms, we go through a lot of self-doubts, sometimes with fits of depression or sadness and loneliness especially when the day ends and darkness begins to envelop us.

For the first time, many of us have truly experienced of not having that much in life, whether they are family and friends, or money and things.

Window inside the Chapel of Ascension, May 2017.

This is the call of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord: that we gather ourselves anew, our families and friends, our memories, most of all, our faith and hope in God whom we have always taken for granted all these years.

This is the great challenge of our time as Christians: how can we be like the Apostles and other followers of Jesus along with his Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary be filled with joy at his departure, bearing all the pains and sufferings of persecution in this time of the corona virus?

Can we gather ourselves anew – not only our family and friends but our very selves to proclaim in our lives, in our presence, in our social media posts, in everything that Jesus Christ is risen, that he is with us always?

Brothers and sisters: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might….

Ephesians 1:17-19

Opening our hearts

I have always loved that part of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, imploring God that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened, that we may be opened to the truths and realities of Jesus Christ truly alive in our midst.

Giving testimony that Jesus Christ is risen, that he is alive, that he is Life itself needs an open heart.

Our minds will never be enough to capture, to understand and process everything about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ because it is something beyond history, beyond logic. We are sure it had truly happened, leaving imprints in the hearts and persons of all of Christ’s followers, from his first witnesses like the apostles down to us in our own time. What we need are listening hearts, seeing hearts… hearts that are open to the realities of God dwelling in us.

You must have followed the news last week about Mang Dodong of Caloocan City who was detained for more than ten days in Navotas where he was caught buying fish without a quarantine pass.

We were all saddened and affected by the news because it was at that same time when the President had pardoned and retained in position a police general who had violated quarantine rules he had vowed to implement. In fact, so severely in many instances including with Mang Dodong!

Good news is how so many people helped him pay his bail to be set free. That’s the risen Jesus working in our own time!

Fish vendor Joseph Jimeda, aka, Mang Dodong in his detention cell in Navotas. Photo from GMA News.

The path of love towards Easter and Ascension

What really makes this quarantine period too difficult and painful is not COVID-19 itself but the incompetence and injustice of this government personified by officials who are mostly arrogant, inconsistent, liars, and closed from the realities of life. They are so blinded by material things that they see businesses like malls as more essential than houses of worship that remain closed up to this day (unfortunately, even our bishops are so silent about it except for a few of them).

Sometimes, I feel we are not doing enough as witnesses and disciples of Christ, that we must be bolder and more adamant in insisting what is right, what is just with various social media platforms offering us venues for expressing our views.

But, as I prayed more about the pandemic in the light of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the more I see him present in his seeming absence by being silent amidst all these threats of the pandemic worsened by the government’s irresponsibilities, insensitivities, and injustice.

The very site where Jesus is believed to have stood during his ascension now encased in glass inside the Chapel of the Ascension. Photo by ator, May 2017.

To give testimony to the Risen Lord, to make disciples of all nations, and to teach everyone all he had commanded us to observe need not use force. Like Jesus and the Father, we need to remain gentle and patient despite the violence prevailing around us.

See how God patiently waited for the fullness of time before sending us his Son; and when Jesus was born, notice also the many trials he went through from Bethlehem to Egypt and back to Nazareth, reaching its highest point in his Passion and Death on the Cross on Good Friday.

Then came Easter Sunday and now, his Ascension.

Everything happened in silence, so gently and gradually, mostly with only a few people present.

That has always been the way of God from the Old Testament to the New Testament and right into our own time: no use of external powers and violent forces, only freedom to offer and elicit love that conquers all.

Today we are also celebrating the 54th World Communication Sunday, the only feast mandated by Vatican II for us to realize the importance of modern means of communications in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

For this year, Pope Francis has chosen the topic of the human story, of how our individual story is woven into our collective stories as a family, nation, and church. And the good news is, according to the Pope, all these stories of ours are made part of God’s story of love, the greatest story of all, the story that renews us.

Yes, we all have dark stories in this time of pandemic. Or even in childhood or the past. But, if we look into our hearts in prayer and in faith, we find Jesus there, loving us, keeping us, guiding us. Most of all, authenticating his resurrection in us, in our own life!

There are more beautiful stories we can tell during this pandemic that enable others to see the Risen Lord among us. Let us entrust ourselves to Jesus, to keep our hearts open as he authenticates our many experiences of witnessing to his Resurrection like he did to all others ahead of us.

Be assured we are on the right path in him. Amen.

Pilgrims waiting to enter the Chapel of the Ascension in the Holy Land, May 2019.

When people reject us…

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Thursday, Easter Week VI, 21 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 18:1-8 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> John 16:16-20

Photo from yourteenmag.com.

Thank you dear Jesus in speaking to us today in our readings about rejection we all detest due to its deep and painful hurts that affect us even for a lifetime.

In the first reading, St. Paul was successively rejected in his preaching about your Good News of salvation while in the gospel, you remind us of our coming rejection by the world that had first rejected you.

Indeed, you were the first to be rejected and that is why you can speak so well of its nature; but, at the same time, you encourage us to be strong because when we are rejected, that is when we are led into joy.

You know how sad and even tragic is the feeling of being rejected by others, of being turned down, of being driven out, and worst, of being crucified simply because others refuse to accept us for so many reasons, from our skin color to our hairstyle to our religious beliefs and everything.

That is the saddest part of rejection: when we are rejected for reasons we have no control of, for being who we are.

But, you also teach us today, Jesus, that the worst part of rejection is “self-rejection” — when we ourselves affirm our rejection by others!

That happens when we stop pursuing our dreams and fulfilling our mission, when we stop living and give in to the rejection of others, when we go into self-pity that we are worthless, that we are nothing, that we are useless.

Like yesterday when the Athenians scoffed and rejected St. Paul’s teachings of your resurrection, they could not accept that there is always a chance in life in you, that we are all your beloved, forgiven and saved.

Give us the drive and determination of St. Paul to never lose sight of our mission in life despite many rejections by others. Keep us strong and persevering despite the many rejections we go through in life.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.”

John 16:20

Most of all, let us always be filled with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit to keep in mind we are your Father’s beloved children, saved and forgiven in you Jesus Christ from our many sins and shameful past, ensured of a better tomorrow because you always believe in us, you always trust us, and you always give us each morning as a new chance to make up for our losses and mistakes yesterday. Amen.

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Pexels.com

On staying home in the parish

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 08 May 2020
Photo by author, dome of the Malolos Cathedral, December 2019.

I hope our bishop and my brother priests forgive me with this piece.

Or at least, understand my points and feelings about our clergy reshuffle due on June 30, 2020.

It is a long overdue reshuffle, twice postponed in 2018 and 2019.

We have all been looking forward to it.

In fact, I have packed all my things, so ready to go that since December, I have been saying good bye to my parishioners.

I have explained to them that I am so eager to transfer – not “leave” – because we have been programmed for it since 2018.

Besides, I strongly felt I have fulfilled my mission here in my current assignment which is my first parish to shepherd since 2011.

But came this COVID-19 pandemic.

Listening to Jesus in this quarantine

Admittedly, at the beginning of this quarantine I was still hoping that somehow our reshuffle in June will push through. But, everything changed slowly with me as the quarantine days moved on.

On the first Sunday of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), we borrowed a truck to bring around our parish the Blessed Sacrament.

I was so moved by the sight of the people waiting for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, kneeling on the street, some holding candles. There were people raising their hands praising God while others were in tears that made me think that despite our live streaming of the Mass, people were still longing for Jesus in reality through our ministry as priests.

Towards the end of our “libot”, we saw a rainbow.

Photo by Ms. Anne Ramos of our Social Communication Ministry.

I held the monstrance tightly and prayed hard, thanking Jesus for the grace to serve him, to bring him around my parish.

Most especially, I felt the rainbow as God’s reminder of his promise to Noah that he would never destroy earth, that he would take care of us in this pandemic.

As I prayed for my parishioners and loved ones to be delivered from the deadly COVID-19, I felt the Lord telling me to stay in my parish, to forget all about our reshuffle in June, and to take care of his flock entrusted to him.

I dismissed it, though I have always knew, the faintest voice within is always Jesus Christ.

Sharing Jesus in this quarantine

We kept that Sunday “libot” (going around) of the Blessed Sacrament, except on Palm Sunday when we blessed palms and on Easter when we brought around the parish the statue of the Risen Lord at dawn and afternoon to make the people feel Jesus is with us.

Last Sunday, against the advise of friends and relatives, I went to distribute Holy Communion to some parishioners after our 7AM Mass. Many came out to the streets to receive Jesus.

Again, there was a drizzle and soon after the last faithful received the Holy Communion, there was a heavy downpour.

“Pinagbigyan lang po tayo ng ulan, Father,” my tricycle driver told me.

I just nodded my head in agreement but deep inside, I felt Jesus crying with me, crying with us for all these sufferings and uncertainties we are going through.

In all these experiences nurtured in prayers, I felt Jesus asking me to stay, to remain in my current assignment.

Moreover, I am now more convinced we must forget all about this clergy reshuffle altogether while we are in a pandemic.

Photo from Reddit.com

Remaining in Jesus in quarantine, in suffering with his sheep

We are living in a very historic moment of humanity, a suffering so widespread the world over, perhaps eclipsed only by the two world wars of the past century.

We in the country, especially in our province of Bulacan, are so blessed we have never gone through wars and other major calamities except for the perennial floods of the rainy season.

This is the only time we are truly one in suffering with our people.

And to think, we are not yet suffering that much as priests unlike in Italy and Spain where many priests have died due to corona virus!

I am not asking nor praying for more sufferings, of getting infected with COVID-19.

Simply be with our people for a longer period of time not until we get a semblance of some “normalcy” from this pandemic.

Yes, that could take until 2021 or November the soonest because for us to be thinking or be preoccupied with our new assignments at this time must be the least of our concerns, even something we should not be thinking at all considering the plight of our sheep these days.

The quarantine must be heaven sent for us priests to finally go down on our knees to pray more often than before, to be silent and be one with the Lord again whom we have banished from our altars and ministry especially at this time when many of us have already fallen into the trappings of television and social media to become instant celebrities.

For those having problems in their parish, transferring to another assignment will not solve our many issues. We just have to accept the truth the problem is not among the people but in us, priests. This quarantine is a silver-lining to show the goodness within us, the Christ in us who have been muddled by past mistakes and misinterpretations by people and brother priests.

Photo by Lorenzo Atienza, carving of the Good Shepherd on the cathedra at our Malolos Cathedral.

Again, my apologies to our bishop and brother priests.

I have no intentions of knowing more nor claims to have received a message from God or his angels, not even in my dreams.

We may all be ready to transfer but, how about our people?

On May 11, we shall be commemorating the second year of the passing of Bishop Jose Oliveros.

I do not have fond memories with him.

But one thing I have learned from him is this: in 2006 I asked him permission for me to serve in Canada. He allowed me to go there to see for my self. He asked me to return after one year before making any decision because he told me, whatever is the will of God for me, God will surely let him know it too.

Glad I have obeyed him.

In the same way I am sure the Lord is speaking to us about his plans for our reshuffle.

Mine is just one.

Salamuch for listening.

The road to Emmaus from clarusonline.it