Holiest week in most unholy time

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, 28 March 2021
Isaiah 50:4-7  +  Philippians 2:6-11  +  Mark 14:1-15:47
Photo by Mr. John Karol Limjuco, Parish of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 26 March 2021.

For the second straight year, we are again celebrating our holiest week in the most unholy time of our lives in this COVID-19 pandemic. The timing could not escape everybody’s suspicion of something so sinister, if not diabolic, that religious gatherings are again limited.

But on a closer look and deeper reflection, we find what is happening right now is something similar with what Jesus went through that made these days so holy.

Notice that the official designation of our celebration today is “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion” when Vatican II fused the two earliest preparations by the Church for Easter: the palm procession by Christians at Jerusalem in the fourth century and the proclamation of the long gospel of the Passion of the Lord in Rome by the Pope in the fifth century.

Both ancient celebrations set our sights to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus beginning this Sunday stretching it through this whole week to remind us of the triumph and tragedy, of darkness and light, of death and life. These contrasts shall be most pronounced when we enter the Triduum of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection on Holy Thursday evening, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil.

Then everything becomes light and pure joy in Easter!

And the key to understanding, appreciating, and deeply imbibing the meaning of all these confluences of mixed emotions and feelings, colors and hues like our situation while under this time of the corona is to have the same attitude of Jesus Christ expressed so beautifully by St. Paul in our second reading:

Have among yourselves the same attitude (mind) that is also yours in Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The mind and heart of Jesus Christ

Having the mind and heart of Jesus Christ is opening ourselves to the Father by trying to see everything in his light as we go through life especially during this pandemic. It is what Jesus has always reminded us of “reading the signs of the times”.

God is telling us something in this pandemic but we are not listening to him as we continue to see it as a medical and social issue, refusing to recognize its spiritual and moral implications. In a lot of senses, this pandemic and quarantine we are undergoing is similar with situation when Jesus entered Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago when Israel under Roman rule and life was so difficult but nobody recognized him as the Christ and Savior!

In his entire life here on earth, Jesus always saw everything in the light of his Father in heaven. He never got involved into politics and other temporal concerns or subject but throughout the course of history since then until now, his teachings remain relevant in addressing our social issues and problems.

Seeing things and events in our lives and history in the light of God demands that we have the same attitude of Jesus of opening ourselves to be empty of our pride, of our plans and agenda, of our self-interests as well as of our illusions and insecurities in life.

We will never see God nor find him when we are filled with our selves, especially with our bloated egos when we think we know everything, when we presume we are always right, when we play gods.

Like the people who welcomed Jesus entered Jerusalem holding palms, singing “Hosanna in the highest!”, soon we would also be shouting “Crucify him!” unless we get emptied of ourselves and be filled with God.

St. Paul could eloquently present the mind and heart of Jesus in this beautiful hymn because he himself went through a process of kenosis, of self emptying. He had experienced in himself how when Jesus emptied himself and went down to his lowest point obediently accepting death on the cross, that is also when he was at his closest union with the Father who raised him to his highest glory at Easter.

That is why St. Paul called it the “scandal of the cross” for when we empty ourselves and offered everything to God out of love for him and for others that we are willing to go down to our lowest point in life, that is when God raises us up to “meet” him, to be one in him that miracles begin to happen, when things change for the best not only for us but also for others and those around us.

Hence, while we are in the most unholy period of our history, the Lord is giving us every chance to have the holiest Holy Week of our lives by examining our very selves in this time of quarantine to cleanse and empty ourselves of sins and evil to be filled with God of his holiness and grace through Christ’s cross.

Photo by author, St. Joseph Parish, Baras, Rizal, 15 January 2021.

The logic of the Cross

As we go to another Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) or lockdown like last year, I am convinced that while we are sad at how things are going on, it is actually God who is most “sad” of all as we go through all these pains and difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

God cannot suffer because he is perfect; but, he can suffer with us that is why he sent his Son Jesus to become human like us to join us in all our sufferings including death and thus, “console” us in Christ.

“To console” is from the Latin terms “con” (with) + “solatio” (solace/comfort) that means not only to comfort or delight those in suffering but to also “strengthen” or make strong those weakened by trials and difficulties which is the literal meaning of cum fortis, with strength.

And here lies the “logic” of Christ’s Cross: Jesus died by the hatred of others so that we may live again by his love. Only God can give us the evidences of his love to render us capable through Jesus Christ to forge on amid our pains and sufferings, hoping against all hope that love is always stronger than suffering, death, and sin.

When we persevere in our sufferings, especially in silence for the sake of others out of love, imitating the self-emptying of Jesus, that is when God showers us with more of his love and mercy, strength and vigor to overcome everything in Christ.

This he had promised and fulfilled in Christ who is the “Suffering Servant” we heard in the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah:

The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Isaiah 50:4-7

See how everything Isaiah had written was fulfilled in Jesus as we heard in the gospel today when at the praetorium “They clothed him in purple and, weaving a crown of thorns, placed it on him. They began to salute him with, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and kept striking his head with a reed and spitting upon him. They knelt before him in homage” (Mk.15:17-19). It went on up to the calvary when “They gave him wine drugged with myrrh, but he did not take it. Then they crucified him…” (Mk.15:23-24).

In my reflections this Lent, I have been dwelling lately on tenderness and compassion as mercy of God in action, as mercy of his hands. To be tender and compassionate is to be one with the suffering even if you are suffering too – just like our medical frontliners who risk not only their very lives but even their families.

Last Friday I was asked to give a talk via webinar about development of compassionate teachers and staff at Our Lady of Fatima University where I serve as chaplain. A doctor asked if there is such a thing as “over compassion” wherein she can already feel chest pains in seeing and hearing all the sufferings of their patients in this time of the pandemic.

I was so touched by her question because I felt it too; I told her she is not alone feeling that way when I also feel overwhelmed with the sufferings of the people but cannot do so much. I told her it is a grace to feel that way, that she had to find ways how her mercy in the heart can flow to mercy of the hands while ensuring safety protocols as a doctor.

But that is where the grace of God works fullest, when we believe and trust more in Jesus Christ when the chips are already down, when we feel defeat is inevitable that we just surrender everything to Divine grace and intervention.

“Ecce Homo” by Murillo from wikipediacommons.org.

That is the meaning of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion when we see life in its total weakness and even wreak, whether in our selves or among others, and yet we continue to persevere, to hope against hope because deep in us we know God is with us, God is working in us, and God will save us.

French poet Charles Péguy wrote in one of his great poems at the turn of the century that hope is God’s favorite virtue because “hope surprises him”.

Péguy described hope like the end of a play or a movie in our time; we know the show had ended but we stay on refusing to leave the theater because we believe that something is still coming up like a preview or a surprise scene!

See how St. Mark tells us at the end of his Passion Story when everything was so dark after Jesus had died when “he breathed his last” that the centurion standing there believed that “Truly this man is the Son of God!” (Mk.15:39)

Sometimes in life, God becomes clearest and most truest when we have lost everything, including what is most precious and dearest to us.

Have a heart with a lot of faith, hope and love that this may be the holiest Holy Week in our lives because it is the most unholy period in our history like when Jesus entered Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago. Amen.

Keep safe, be blessed, and be a blessing to others!

How the Cross makes all beautiful

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Monday, Week II, Year I in Ordinary Time, 18 January 2021
Hebrews 5:1-9     >><)))*> + >><)))*> + >><)))*>     Mark 2:18-22
Photo by author, Carmelite Monastery in Guiguinto, Bulacan, November 2019.

So many things are running through my mind after a very long, and heavy Sunday, Lord Jesus. First I went to celebrate the Mass at the 40th day of the passing of a young mother – so young that she had gone ahead of her mother and father at the age of 56. And when I got back in my parish, I heard the news of a much younger mother of two, the wife of my former student in her early 30’s finally going to your rest after a long battle with cancer too. What pains me, Lord, is how I have been praying for her and suddenly, she’s gone. Now, I have to pray for her husband recently diagnosed with a brain tumor and yes, I am afraid of what could inevitably happen next.

Please, Lord, give him a chance to live long and see their two children mature. Please….

Sometimes I really wonder, Lord, if ever a day can ever pass without anyone dying, without anyone crying, without anyone suffering, without anyone sad.

How I wish, sometimes.

But as a priest so exposed to these many sufferings and pains of others, I am so thankful to you, too, dear Jesus in allowing me to experience these all as your priest, as someone you have called to share in other’s pains and sufferings like you.

Amid the many deaths and many crying I witness and experience, I thank you Lord in teaching me how to find God in pain; that, instead of asking God to take them away, may I imitate you, Jesus to embrace every trial and little deaths that come my way.

Continue to enlighten me, dear Jesus, to appreciate this paradox in life that it is incomplete without pain and sufferings; that it is in their midst do we find life’s deeper meaning as we grow deeper in love and compassion, strength and maturity as well just like you!

Photo by author, Dominican Hills, Baguio City, January 2019.

Brothers and sisters: Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: You are my son; this day I have begotten you; just as he says in another place: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Hebrews 5:1, 4-9

Teach me dear Jesus to see everything in the light and perspectives of your Cross, that I may shift in my approaches in dealing and looking at things to see more of your beauty than waste my energies whining and complaining. Amen.

Crying is praying too!

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XXXIII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 19 November 2020
Revelation 5:1-10     >><)))*> + <*(((><<  ||  >><)))*> + <*(((><<     Luke 19:41-44
“Mater Dolorosa” also known as “Blue Madonna” (1616) by Carlo Dolci. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Thank you, dear Jesus, in joining me in my tears, in my crying. I have been crying a lot lately for so many reasons. And what a wonderful feeling to cry because so often, it has become my prayers too, even my food for the soul.

In the first reading, St. John “shed many tears because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to examine it” (Revelation 5:4); while in the gospel, you wept over Jerusalem as you drew near the city for refusing to recognize and accept you as the Messiah (Luke19:41).

In both instances, tears express the deep love within us for one another, an outpouring of love that have become like beads of prayers.

Photo by author, Dominus Flevit (The Lord Wept) Church where Jesus wept over Jerusalem, 2017. Roof is shaped like tears.

Thank you dear Jesus for enabling me to cry like you for it means that my heart is still beating, my heart is aching because it is loving.

Tears do come from ducts near the eyes but they come from the soul longing for you, Lord, forming in the heart, secreted from those many scars left open whenever we give away a part of ourselves to somebody else out of love.

Tears are always a grace from you as they cleanse us inside, clearing our eyes of the many blurs so we may see your face among the persons next to us.

Bless us as we cry, O Lord, that our tears may eventually pave the way for smiles and joys some other day when like your prayer for Jerusalem, we may recognize your visitation in the many trials and tests we endure for our loved ones. Amen.

“King of Pain” by The Police (1983)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music, 01 November 2020
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, Bohol, 2019.

I have lined up some songs with “heaven” in their titles or lyrics for this Sunday’s celebration of All Saints’ Day and tomorrow’s All Souls’ Day; but, during prayers and reflections, I kept on hearing Sting singing in my head King of Pain which is my most favorite among his long list of great music.

Our celebrations this November first and second are a mixture of joy and mourning, of heaven and sufferings, of life and death. As we remember today those already in heaven and tomorrow pray for those awaiting entrance into heaven, we also remember on these twin dates the death of loved ones.

No matter how much we may extoll the redemptive nature of death not as an end but a beginning of eternal life, we cannot miss the sadness and pain it brings to everyone that is always for a lifetime.

And that is what hope is all about: hope does not remove sadness or pain. When we hope of getting into heaven with our departed loved ones, no matter how blissful heaven may be, we always have to deal with the hurts of losing a parent or a spouse, a sibling or a friend.

To hope means to firmly believe that when things get worst, even unto death, there is Life itself, God remaining in the end, loving us, taking us to his presence in heaven to live life in its fullness in him.

To hope means to face new beginnings in this life amid the pains we have in our hearts from deaths and separations, believing that someday, if not in this life, everything would be whole and perfect again.

That is why I find King of Pain more apt for All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.

Written by Sting in 1982 at the Goldeneye Estate in Jamaica where Ian Fleming wrote his first James Bond novels, King of Pain expresses the inner torments he was going through as an individual at that time — his recent divorce from his first wife and growing misunderstanding with his other two colleagues, Andrew Summers and Stewart Copeland. They eventually parted ways after the release of the Synchronicity album from which King of Pain came in 1983.

The beat, the music and the lyrics seem to be dark and melancholic at first but as you get the feel of the entire song sung by Sting, then you realize it is actually about a man struggling with sadness or even depression, of a man filled with hopes until you realize it is speaking about you as king of pain.

Aren’t we all the king of pain in one or the other?

And as we bear all the pains, we keep on forging on with life, we never resign but keep hoping even for a piece of heaven, of the sun to celebrate life each day until we make it to the Other Side like our departed loved ones.

All in the grace of a loving God. Amen.

Provided to YouTube by Universal Music Group

Primacy of love

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, 01 October 2020
Job 19:21-27     >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>     Luke 10:1-12
Photo by author, white roses at our altar, 2019.

On this Memorial of the most loved saints of today, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, I pray O God parents who have lost a child, those diagnosed with serious illness, and those heavily weighed on with simultaneous trials and problems in family.

It is so refreshing on this first day of October that we celebrate the life and holiness lived in total simplicity by St. Therese, a modern Job in our time after she had undergo many hardships and trials at a very young age as a contemplative nun.

I pray dear God for those feeling almost crushed by so much tribulations in life, those about to give up, losing hope and meaning or those who could no longer find their sense of mission amid the heavy or enormous weights on their shoulders.

But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust; whom I myself shall see: my own eyes, not another’s, shall behold him, and from my flesh I shall see God; my inmost being is consumed with longing.

Job 19:25-27

Most of all, dear God, as we go through so many difficulties in life during this pandemic, may we be more loving not only in words but in deeds, even the most simplest deeds like St. Therese:

Photo by author, 01 October 2019.

Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation… O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Office of Readings, 01 October, Volume IV

May we break all walls that divide us as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ your Son, almighty Father.

Most of all, heeding your Son’s call, we pray to you O God our harvest-master to send us with more laborers for your abundant harvest (Lk.10:1-2) of people hungry and thirsty for you and meaning in life. Send us workers in your field whose hearts are filled with love and fervor in doing the mission of evangelization wherever they may be like St. Therese, who, despite her being a cloistered in a monastery, had become patroness of the missions in prayers and in her little ways for God.

Indeed, when there is enough love in one’s heart, there is always so much to give and share with everyone hungry and thirsty for love. Amen.

The gift of tears

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 22 September 2020
Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera of our parish church, August 2020.

Lately I have been watching old movies that I wonder why I still cry even if I have seen them more than twice before at the cinema and cable TV. It seems that my being born with “mababa ang luha” (easy to cry) is getting more “mababa” as I get old.

Tears are a gift from God, the most beautiful prayer we can ever express courtesy of the Holy Spirit because when we run out of words for our pains and sadness or when we are overjoyed, he makes us cry to heal and comfort us or complete our joys, assuring us of his loving presence.

That is the reason why we call “home” in Tagalog as “tahanan”: home is where we “stop crying”, that is, “tahan na” because that is where we find all the support we need in times of crisis. Indeed, home is where the heart is.

True to its function, tears cleanse us physically, emotionally and spiritually. I have read two decades ago that researchers at a university in the US have found the chemical composition of our tears differ if we cry because of pain and sadness or due to joy and laughter.

Is it not wonderful and amazing how we take for granted crying and tears without realizing its chemical process within that can transform our very selves?

Photo from Reuters.com, July 2020.
Tears and crying mark our life's coming to full circle.

When I was five years old, I saw the picture of a newborn baby crying in the Book Section of the Reader’s Digest. I asked my mom why the baby was crying. In her usual motherly way of explaining things, she told me that if the baby cries upon birth, it means he/she is alive; if the baby does not cry, he/she is dead.

Kapag umiyak, buhay; walang iyak, patay.

My young mind easily absorbed her words that would remain to be one of the most profound lessons I had ever learned about life at a very young age. As I grew up watching TV and movies, I would always sigh with relief whenever I heard the sounds “uha-uha” because the story would surely be nice and not tragic.

Imagine the great inverse that happens with crying and tears to signal the coming to the outside world of life of another human, of how we have to cry to be alive from then on until we die when it becomes our family and friends’ turn to cry and shed tears for us when we are gone.

But there is something more deeper than this great inverse on crying in life and death I had learned only in 2013 through my best friend Gil, a classmate in our minor seminary.

It was late February of that year on the 40th day of the death of his youngest sister Claire when he was diagnosed with cancer. We could not believe the news because Gil was the most health conscious in our “band of brothers” from high school who never smoked, rarely ate meat, and was active in sports like golf and badminton. Unlike most of us, he was never overweight, looked so healthy in our mid-40’s.

Imagine the hurt within him that every time we would visit him, he would cry not really in pain but more on the why of getting cancer. We tried visiting him as often as we can to cheer him up and lift his spirits specially after his surgery when his chemotherapy sessions began.

By September on that same year, we all had to rush and visit him at Makati Med one Sunday afternoon when informed by his Ate Lily that doctors have given up on him. His cancer cells were “ferocious” and nothing could be done anymore except to wait for the inevitable.

That was when I noticed the greater inverse about crying when Gil had finally accepted his condition and life direction, that was when he was most joyous and peaceful too while we were the ones so sad and worried, crying. How our roles were reversed with Gil now telling us to stop crying – tahan na – which we used to tell him months earlier! (Gil died peacefully the following Sunday, 22 September 2013.)

“Mater Dolorosa” as “Blue Madonna” (1616) by Carlo Dolci. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

I noticed it happening so many times with some friends and parishioners I have come to love in my ministry, those I have pastorally cared for some time after being diagnosed with serious conditions like cancer.

Yes, I have cried despite holding my tears for them while administering the Holy Viaticum and Anointing of Oil. The patients in turn would just glance at me, so dignified and calm like Mary our Lady of Sorrows as if trying to comfort me with their sweet thank you.

As I prayed on those experiences, I realized how life comes to full circle through our crying and tears.

I believe that patients cry when they start undergoing treatment of their sickness due to fears and uncertainty of what would happen next to them; later as they come to terms with their condition, they stop crying because they already knew where they were going, of what was coming next.

We who would be left behind cry and begin to shed tears at thoughts of their dying because admittedly, we are actually the ones more uncertain of where we are going to or how our lives would go through when our loved ones are gone.

That is the greatest pain we feel in the death of a beloved when we grapple with the realities of the many uncertainties of life without them.

And that is why we need to love as much as we can our family and friends while still alive. This quarantine period of the pandemic are grace-filled moments to shower them with our love and presence we have taken for granted for so long as we pursued many things in our lives.

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD at Infanta, Quezon, April 2020.
Tears and crying lead us to heaven.

Death and sickness, like life, become a blessing if we are filled with gratitude not regrets because we have truly loved. When a beloved is gone and we begin to cry, the tears wash away our pains of losing them, cleansing us within to leave us with all the beautiful memories and love we have shared. Then, every remembering becomes truly a re-membering, making a lost loved one a member of the present again.

When we cry, tears polish the love we have shared with everybody until later when our time comes, our visions are also cleared of what is going to happen next, of where we are going. Crying becomes wonderful and truly a grace after all not only in sharing and being one with the grief and pain of another in the present but sooner or later, in having a glimpse of the life after.

In the Gospel of John (11:1-44), we find the story of the raising of Lazarus whom Jesus loved so much that he wept – not just cried – at his death. Jesus raised him up back to life, his final miracle – or “seventh sign” according to John – to show he is the Christ before his own Resurrection at Easter after his “final hour” of Crucifixion on Good Friday.

From then on, Christ sanctified crying and tears to enable us to see beyond pains and hurts, even death especially if you have truly loved.

Sometimes in life, it is always good to let those tears flow, like love even if it is painful, to have a good cry and real cleansing inside. A blessed day to you!

Beauty in our mortality

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Week XXIV, Year II in Ordinary Time, 19 September 2020
1 Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-49     || + ||     Luke 8:4-15
“The Sower” painting by Van Gogh, photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Dearest Lord Jesus,

Today I wish to repeat my prayer to you yesterday: Please grant me St. Paul’s clarity of mind and purity of heart in explaining and leading others to faith in you, most especially in believing the resurrection of the dead.

While we all profess faith in the resurrection of the dead, most of us are still puzzled like the Corinthians who could not accept it.

Here I have found St. Paul’s clarity of mind and purity of heart at its best when he wrote us the most wonderful and loveliest explanation of death and dying that lead to transformation and new life.

Brothers and sisters: Someone may say, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?” You fool! What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.

1 Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-44

In this time of the pandemic when death has become so “ordinary” and most of all, “so closest to home”, I pray for the many people now facing death in their hospital beds, in their homes comforted by the loving presence of family, as well as for those left alone to themselves due to so many reasons only you can understand. And forgive.

Bless those with advanced stages of cancer, those awaiting transplants, for those in their terminal stages. Give them the grace of hope, to continue to love even if things are getting worst than better.

Ease their pains, Jesus, and make them feel your loving presence with them on the cross.

Most of all, transform them like the seeds after having died and sown in good soil, grew and produced fruit a hundredfold. Amen.

When good news/bad news do not matter at all

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXII, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 30 August 2020
Jeremiah 20:7-9 >><}}}*>| + | >><}}}*> Romans 12:1-2 >><}}}*>| + | >><}}}*> Matthew 16:21-27
Photo by author, Caesarea Philippi, May 2019

Maybe you have been asked so many times with the question, which do you prefer to hear first, the good news or the bad news? Usually we say it all depends to our mood and temperament or to the gravity of the situation. Sometimes, we ask for the bad news first so we can suffer earlier and enjoy the good news later. Or, we ask for the good news first to soften the impact of the bad news.

Our gospel this Sunday is still set in the pagan city of Caesarea Philippi and we heard Jesus giving his disciples – including us – with a strong dosage of “bad news” after hearing last week the good news that he is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 16:21-25

Our gospel today seems to be a very big, bad news for everyone, with things getting worst before getting any better which the Lord had promised to be only in the end that nobody knows when!

See how Jesus started by saying he would “suffer greatly at the hands of elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised again.” Not only that: he now calls Peter as “Satan” from being the Rock last Sunday after giving the right answer as to who he is.

Like Peter, we would probably say the same thing to Jesus why make suffering and death central to life that is meant to enjoy?

Like Peter, the Lord is inviting us today to focus more on the good news than on the bad news of suffering and death which for him – the Paschal mystery we call – is actually the best of good news!

Photo by author, altar flowers in our parish, January 2020.

Jesus Christ’s pasch is the best of good news!

What we have heard as “bad news” from the Lord is his first prediction of his coming pasch or Passion, Death and Resurrection. He would be announcing this prediction of his pasch two more times as they near Jerusalem.

From the He brew word pesach that means to pass over, it connotes suffering and death into new life. It came from the Exodus experience of the Chosen People from Egypt into the Promised Land during the time of Moses, taking its fullest meaning in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became human like us in everything except sin, “passing over” from eternity to temporal, from Passion and Death to Resurrection.

Authentic discipleship does not require us to seek suffering; no, God is not sadistic as some people with twisted minds would say. However, being faithful to Jesus, witnessing his gospel values bring enough of these sufferings and deaths but on a different level and meaning. We realize that life is a daily exodus, a passing over from darkness into light, from ignorance into wisdom, from sickness into health, from death into new life.

Like the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading, we discover that the more we follow God, the more sufferings we encounter in life but at the same time, we cannot let go of him because his attraction is so powerful! There is something so deep within, so profound and fulfilling in us we realize that living in the ways of God, in the gospel values of Christ can we truly find lasting joy and peace – even if we have to die in our very selves in the process.

You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. all the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me… But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

Jeremiah 20:7, 9
Photo by author, Gaudete Sunday in our parish, December 2019.

Thinking in God’s ways

Today Jesus is assuring us that there is no such thing as “good news, bad news” with him. The good news/bad news question is really a non-question to disciples of Christ because whatever suffering and death we embrace in him is a sharing in his very life.

Hence, Jesus Christ’s good news is in fact the bestest news we can ever have. Always.

The key is to think as God does, not as human beings do as Jesus pointed out to Peter.

Three things I wish to share with you about thinking in God’s ways:

First is to accept and embrace pains and sufferings not for their own sake but as a way to cleanse our selves to greater glory. As we have said, God is not a sadist; we need to be cleansed like every thing in order to bring out the best in us like diamonds or any precious stone or any material.

Polishing and honing always mean “subtractions” with so many shaving and cutting of the rough edges to bring out the beauty and sharpness of a thing.

Man’s ways has always been to avoid every pain and suffering. No wonder, the most prescribed medicine worldwide is said to be the pain killer. But, experience has taught us this is not true and cannot be the norm of life. Like every gym enthusiast would tell you, “no pain, no gain”. Pain and suffering is part of life and the good news is, Christ has made it holy for us.

Second is to be silent in order to be able to listen to every sound and thus, heighten our sensitivities not only with our true selves but also with God and with others. In this age of social media and instant communications, silent has become a rare commodity. It is always easier to speak even without thinking much than be silent. That is the way of the world: speak out loud, make noises, and let everyone hear you — until they get tired of you.

Photo by author, our parish ceiling at sunset, 25 August 2020.

Third is the most precious in God’s ways of thinking — the way of hiddenness. This is God’s most evident way of making himself felt, experienced, and yes, seen by being hidden and invisible.

Last Thursday we celebrated the memorial of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine who narrated the story of how she got sick at Ostia in Italy with his brother hurrying to get back home to Tagaste in Africa so that when she dies, she would be buried there. St. Monica “reproached him with a glance because he had entertained such earthly thoughts”; then, she looked at St. Augustine and told him to bury her anywhere, asking one thing only from him: that he remembers her always in his celebration of the Holy Mass.

So many times, we are so concerned with our popularity that whatever we do has to be made known to everyone to see specially by those so-called “followers” with their “likes” that even up to death, some would spend a fortune for lavish funerals and even mauseleoum.

That’s the way of the world of everybody making a statement, of being known as present, always seen. In the movie “The Devil’s Advocate”, Al Pacino played the role of satan who said it so well at the end after tempting Keanu Reeves, “vanity…vanity is my most favorite sin.”

See the life of Jesus Christ: more than half was spend in hiddenness and silence. He worked only for three years characterized by so many instances of silence and hiddenness too and yet, his impact continues to this day and hereafter.

Beginning with last Sunday after asking us who do we say he is, Jesus is inviting us to follow him in his Passion and Death to be one in his Resurrection. This is also the call by St. Paul in the second reading:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2

Jesus is not asking too much from us, no need for any fanfares on our part; simply come to him with our true self, no matter how sinful and incomplete we are. Remember, all is good news with him and you never lose in him. Amen.

A blessed week to everyone!

Photo by author, parish ceiling at sunset, 25 August 2020.

Panalangin sa mga ginigipit

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Paggunita sa Pagpapakasakit ni San Juan Bautista, Ika-29 ng Agosto 2020
Ama naming mahabagin,
ngayong ginugunita namin 
pagpapakasakit ni San Juan Bautista, 
Inyo sanang dinggin aming panalangin
para sa maraming kapatid namin na ginigipit, iniipit;
ang iba sa kanila ay nakapiit
marami ang lugmok sa pait at sakit na sinapit
mula sa mga makabagong Herodes at Herodias
na prinsipyo at pagkatao, ipinagpalit sa ginto.
Inyong patatagin paninindigan sa katotohanan 
katulad ni San Juan Bautista
upang ipagpatuloy pakikipaglaban 
nasaid man ang kabuhayan
at tanging pinanghahawakan 
dangal ng katauhan.
Ikaw lamang Panginoon
ang nakaaalam ng higit na mainam
kami ay Iyong turuan at tulungan
katulad ni San Juan loob mo ay masundan
kami ma'y maging palatandaan
ng Iyong kapanatilihan sa gitna ng mga 
pag-uusig at kahirapan.
Amen.

*Mga larawan sa itaas: una ang painting ni Caravaggio ng pagpupugot sa ulo ni Juan Bautista mula sa wikimedia.org; biktima ng tokhang mula sa Philippine Daily Inquirer; umiiyak na empleyado ng ABS-CBN mula sa Reuters.org; at mga locally stranded individuals sa ilalim ng flyover malapit sa NAIA kuha ni G. Raffy Tima ng GMA-7 News.

Priest as reminder of life’s temporary pains and of God’s permanent love and mercy

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Feast of St. John Baptiste Marie Vianney, Priest, 04 August 2020
Jeremiah 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22 >><)))*> || + || <*(((><< Matthew 15:1-2, 10-14
Photo by author, pandemic lockdown, March 2020.

Dearest Lord Jesus Christ:

Praise and glory to you, O Lord, and thank you very much for the gift of vocation to the priesthood.

Thank you very much for a wonderful patron Saint for us all whose feast we are celebrating today, St. John Baptiste Marie Vianney, the Curé of Ars in France.

How wonderful that we celebrate his feast this year on the first day of our return to Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) when public Masses are suspended in our province and other places due to the alarming spread of COVID-19 virus.

Yes, it is wonderful. Beautiful.

At first during last summer’s lockdown when we celebrated Mass without people, I felt sad; but today, I feel happy because I am totally yours, Lord Jesus. Somehow, this pandemic is teaching us priests most specially that life is a constant return to quarantine, to be alone with you always, dear Jesus!

Most specially, to remind us priests that the Holy Mass is never a show, never about us but always YOU, Jesus.

Like the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading, every priest like St. John Vianney is a reminder to the people that in life, there are always pains and sufferings. And most of the time, it is because of our sins and wrong choices in life, of turning away from God.

However, these sufferings like our pandemic and St. John’s French Revolution are all temporary.

Like Jeremiah, we priests are most of all reminders of God’s permanent love and mercy to everyone as exemplified by St. John in his life and ministry of hearing confessions for long hours each day!

Thus says the Lord: See! I will restore the tents of Jacob, his dwellings I will pity; city shall be rebuilt upon the hill, and palace restored as it was. From them will resound songs of praise, the laughter of happy men. I will make them not few, but many; they will not be tiny, for I will glorify them.

Jeremiah 30:18-19

As I reviewed anew the life of your humble and holy pastor St. John Vianney, I realized how our present situation is similar with his time: a period of sufferings after the French Revolution when priests were looked down upon, even maligned and hunted.

Yet, St. John persevered in his vocation, reminding us “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.”

May we your priests be reminders of your love and mercy, courage and faith in the face of adversaries like when you boldly spoke against the Pharisees and scribes, reminding your disciples…

Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into the pit.

Matthew 15:14

St. John Baptiste Marie Vianney, pray for us your brother priests! Amen.

Photo from Primera Missa Solemne by Fr. RA Valmadrid, December 2019.