40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, 28 March 2021
Dearest Lord Jesus Christ:
Today we started the most holy week
of the year celebrating Palm Sunday
listening to your Passion story proclaimed;
but, today was so different
when people were gone
and all we have were palms
and more other fronds.
It pained my heart, dear Jesus
when all the people and familiar faces
I see every Sunday morning
were all praying and standing
outside, hoping they could come in
while we are under strict quarantine
as between our glancing, my heart was shrinking
so I raised my hands, and began praying on them.
Lord, I cannot understand nor see clearly
things happening except hear people silently crying;
all I know is that you are passing
still on a donkey riding
a king not domineering but serving;
open our eyes of faith to see your indwelling
so we may learn self-emptying
thus, becoming like you, an offering.
As we begin this Holy Week journey
in the most unholy time of our history
let us not miss this opportunity
to be filled by you in our being empty
joining you to the calvary
with the cross that we carry
to rest and trust in your palms fully
serving you in others lovingly and faithfully.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The Lord Is My Chef Recipe for the Solemnity of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, 05 April 2020
Isaiah 50:4-7 >>+<< Philippians 2:6-11 >>+<< Matthew 26:14-27:66
“Hosanna!” is the song of the day and despite the ongoing lockdown now entering its penultimate week, we have every reason to praise God this Solemnity of Palm Sunday in the Lord’s Passion.
Let us continue to sing “hosanna” even if our churches are closed due to threats of COVID-19 because even with all the difficulties arising from this enhanced community quarantine, it also gives us much needed time and space to reflect on the meaning of our Holy Week celebrations.
Let us make this Holy Week holy indeed so we may discover God anew in our sacred celebrations and right in our very hearts in this time of the corona pandemic.
The “ascent” to Jerusalem
Geographically speaking, to go to Jerusalem is to go up, to ascend to higher level as it rises to 754 meters above sea level (2,474 feet) compared with Galilee from where Jesus spent his three years of ministry which is just 209 meters (686 feet) above sea level.
Jesus Christ’s “trip to Jerusalem” was both literally and figuratively speaking an “ascent” in all aspects: he went up to Jerusalem to offer himself on the Cross to replace temple worship so people can finally worship in “truth and spirit” as he had told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well three Sundays ago.
More than the outward sign of ascending Jerusalem is the inner sign of Christ’s ascent in his outpouring of love for the Father and us.
That is the beautiful imagery of his triumphant entrance to Jerusalem which will reach its climax on Good Friday capped by the glorious Easter.
Every day, Jesus invites us to welcome him and most of all to join him in his ascent to Jerusalem, to the Father by forgetting one’s self, taking our crosses, and following the Lord in giving of self in love.
Now is the perfect time to sing “hosanna” – to welcome and follow Jesus in our inner ascent when everything and everyone is “down” due to COVID-19. The only way to rise again from this misery of the corona pandemic is to ascent in Jesus, with Jesus, and through Jesus.
For so long, we have been following the upward path of “social mobility” measured in income and material things without considering the emotional and spiritual imbalances that result in these worldly pursuits. In our rat race for higher productivity, more money and less costs, we have become distant from persons especially family. Now, we have to practice social distance not only to stop spread of virus but most of all, to realize anew that above all is always the human person.
And the best route to encounter each person is in Jesus Christ who leads us from Jerusalem to the Cross and into Easter; hence, the liturgies this Holy Week are the oldest and simplest we have in the Church so that we can truly sing “hosanna” and focus only to Jesus ever present to us.
Death and Love
Now playing at Netflix is the fourth part of its hit series “Money Heist”. I had the chance to watch its first episode that opened with a scene of the professor escaping police in the forest with a narration by “Tokyo” trying to control the situation in the bank they have taken over. She said, “His (the professor) heart held two words that should not be together: love and death.”
Perfect sound bite for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – “two words that should not be together: love and death” when in fact, its opposite is the exact reality! For love to be very true, it must be willing to suffer and die as the Lord Jesus Christ had shown us more than 2000 years ago.
Love and death are always together! That is why we have a Holy Week leading to Easter!
It is a basic reality we have always tried to negate and escape that have only left us more empty and lost within. The undeniable sign of love is when we are able to love somebody more than our very self – and that includes willing to die for the beloved!
We can never ascend, never arise for as long as we have too much of self, like the characters opposite our Lord Jesus Christ this Holy Week.
One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests, and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.
Selflessness and silence of Jesus, Selfishness of man
One distinct characteristic of Jesus throughout his life that is most especially clear from Palm Sunday to Good Friday is his selflessness and silence in the face of too much pressure and suffering.
Rather than being a sign of weakness, it is Jesus Christ’s shining moment of mastery and control as we have noted last Sunday when he cried in meeting Martha and Mary at the tomb of Lazarus who had been dead for four days.
This becomes more evident starting this Sunday reaching its highest point on Good Friday to be capped by his glorious Resurrection on Easter.
See how during his entrance and ascent into Jerusalem, Jesus was silent. Because he knew what was going to happen! He was even looking forward into it.
His entrance into Jerusalem to assert his being the Christ by offering himself on the Cross is the culmination of what St. Luke had noted in his account early on at Caesarea Philippi that “when the days of his going up to heaven was nearing completion, Jesus resolutely journeyed to Jerusalem.”
Despite the dangers and the certainty of death, Jesus did not balk nor even thought of backing out. He resolutely went into his death because of his immense love for us and the Father. He never cracked under pressure!
Even during his trials first before the Sanhedrin and before Pontius Pilate, there was the mastery and surety of Jesus very evident in his silence. He was totally composed, wholly entrusting himself in total obedience to the Father in heaven.
How about us these days of lockdown in the face of the growing threats of COVID-19?
What a shame that our officials and their families finally revealed their true colors as the modern Judas Iscariots seeking VIP treatment for COVID-19 testing! So afraid of dying because love they have none whatsoever for the country and the people but for themselves alone.
Like Judas, they think only of themselves, keeping their loot of more than 30 pieces of silver, looking for the opportune time to betray us again, totally quiet in the comfort of their homes when thousands are facing hunger and uncertainties.
They are the modern Pontius Pilates who mumble in public, who could not make a definitive stand on anything at all, more at home in accusing and blaming others for the confusions and lack of order, always washing their hands, without guts to humbly accept lack of foresight despite the grave dangers that did not happen overnight.
Most of all, look inside ourselves too for those moments we think more of “what we can have” than “what we can give or do” in these trying times? Do we hoard and panic buy? Do we cower in fear by hiding it with our anger and demands for assistance and relief goods?
Above is a nice guide I found on my friend’s Facebook, indicating three zones to show where are in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. It can be very useful too in indicating where we can meet Jesus in ascending and entering Jerusalem to fulfill his mission and our mission too.
Entering Jerusalem, entering Jesus
When the Luzon lockdown started last March 18, I cried on my first Mass: it was simply unbelievable – until now – for me celebrating Mass without people because a Mass always presupposes people and community to celebrate Christ’s presence!
But now, everybody is gone.
Except me. And the birds who keep constant company for me.
Every morning after pealing our bell as I celebrate Mass alone, I bow before the giant crucifix looming above our altar and look on the metal engraving of the Lamb of God on the cover of our Tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament of Jesus is kept.
This week as I looked more often onto the lamb during prayer periods, I felt it to be looking at me too. That’s when I realized how the lamb perfectly signifies Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem, the “Suffering Servant” of God prophesied by Isaiah in the first reading today. But what struck me most is the song’s latter part not included in our first reading, referring to Jesus Christ:
Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.
That lamb is indeed Jesus Christ, coming to us day in, day out in the Holy Eucharist we priests continue to celebrate even if our churches are closed. Every day especially in the Mass, Jesus invites us to ascend with him to the Father, little by little with our selfless acts of charity and kindness to others.
Looking into that lamb of our Tabernacle, I see the eyes of Jesu telling me how much he loves me, how much he has forgiven me from my sins despite his knowing me through and through.
And that is Jesus Christ: always silent, gazing with his eyes full of love, full of knowledge about us and what’s going to happen next, inviting us to join him, to come with him to ascend to our higher selves especially in this time of crisis. All despite his knowing our sins because he sees us too with eyes full of mercy!
These my dear readers are more enough reasons to sing “hosanna” today despite the many difficulties and uncertainties around us because Jesus is with us and will never leave us especially when we reach the cross. Amen.
Today we begin the Holy Week. And here is my piece of good news for you: you do not have to necessarily listen to religious music to reflect on the immense love and mercy of God for us expressed in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Exactly twenty years ago today, St. John Paul II asserted in his “Letter to the Artists” that every artistic inspiration is always from the Great Artist himself, God. This is very true in music which always speaks about love.
For our LordMyChef Music on this Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, I offer to you one of my favorite from David Benoit’s 1986 album “This Side Up” called “Land of the Loving” featuring the vocals of the great Diane Reeves. Of course, the song is about romantic love, of how a woman had found a love so true and sublime with a another person, with a man who must be so rare. Raise it to the highest level, it is no one else but Jesus Christ.
Deep in your eyes is a promise Love can be ours if we want it Starting tonight Every dream I ever knew Here in your arms I’m believin’ Finally my life has A meaning of its own Here in the land of the loving I am home
In today’s gospel, one can find the remarkable – even striking – character of Jesus who, after being crucified, prayed for his enemies, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” No hatred nor revenge. But pure love and friendship. Sometimes, our sins become our religious experience for it is through its darkness that God makes us experience him or find him.
I was alone in the city Searchin’ for someone to find me Cold empty nights and a million strangers’ eyes Here in your arms I’m beginning To leave behind all the loneliness I knew Here in the land of loving there is you.
In this simple room magic is made Though the world seems unchanged Leave the lights on I’m a bit afraid This might be just a sweet dream.
Deep in the night love is growing Though I had no way of knowing That when I found you I found ev’rything I need Here in your love I’ll be staying Fin’lly my life won’t be living all alone Here in the land of the loving I am home.
May Jesus find you, fill your heart with more peace and joy this Holy Week so you may rejoice in his Resurrection in Easter. Amen.
The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Year C, 14 April 2019
Isaiah 50:4-7///Philippians 2:6-11///Luke 22:1-49
Today we begin the Holy Week with two celebrations merged into one, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. The Palm Sunday is a tradition started by the early Christians in Jerusalem in the fourth century while in Rome during the 12th century, the Pope proclaimed the long gospel account of the Lord’s Passion on this Sunday to signal the start of Holy Week. Almost 2000 years later in reforming the liturgy, Vatican II merged these two traditions into one to usher in our holiest days of the year.
Like in the four Sundays of Lent except last week, St. Luke guides us today in reflecting the Lord’s Passion with emphasis on the Cross with its call to conversion. For St. Luke, the cross is the object of discipleship in Christ. Join me in reflecting on the last three words our evangelist had recorded when Jesus was crucified.
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other to his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
This is very striking. Immediately upon his crucifixion, Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of his enemies! It is a total adherence to his preaching during his sermon on the plain, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk. 6:27-28, Seventh Week Ordinary Time, 24 February 2019). Here we find the immense love and mercy of Jesus — no hatred, no calls for revenge or threats like “karma” against those who crucified him. He simply begged for their forgiveness because “they know not what they do.”
In Jewish thought, to know means more than an intellectual knowledge for it implies relationship. Knowing somebody for them is more than knowing one’s name but having ties with the person. And to know something is always to see things in this perspective, always in relation with a person. Had they known Jesus is the Christ, they would have not crucified him! Exactly the preaching of St. Peter at the healing of a lame man after Pentecost at the temple when he told them they have “acted in ignorance” in “killing the Author of life whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:15). St. Luke also notes in his Acts of the Apostles how the crowd upon hearing St. Peter’s preaching were moved or “cut to the heart” (2:37) that many were baptized on that day. Recall also how at the arrival of the wise men from the East searching for the child Jesus: the scholars of Jerusalem “knew” from the books how the Christ would be born in Behtlehem yet he was found by the pagan magis! Even the most learned man in the New Testament, St. Paul admits how ignorant he had been in persecuting and blaspheming Jesus before (1Tim.1:13) experiencing God’s loving mercy.
In the bible we always see this combination of knowing and ignorance at the same time to indicate that more than factual and cerebral knowledge, there is that deeper knowing of relating and of loving. If we really know somebody, the more we love, the lesser we sin. St. Thomas Aquinas used to say that the more we know and become intelligent, the more we realize the truth, the more we must become good and holy. That is why saints are the most intelligent people that they were able to do what is good and what is right.
In this age of Google and Wikipedia , Jesus is challenging us that if we truly know so much that we have become smart and more intelligent, then, how much do we really love and care for others?
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.”
The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to claim that Dimas was indeed a great thief who was able to steal or snatch Paradise from Jesus just before dying on the Cross. It may be funny but very true. But more than “stealing” his salvation from the Lord, Dimas had displayed on the cross what we have discussed earlier about the combination of knowing and ignorance. I would say Dimas is perhaps the “most learned thief” of all time who truly knew what is most essential in life which is to know Jesus. The moment he called out to him “Jesus”, Dimas expressed his knowing Jesus, of belonging to Jesus. As we have reflected earlier, to know is to relate. Anyone who truly relates must first believe in order to love dearly. Dimas believed in Jesus that he called out to him while hanging on the Cross.
Today, Jesus is reminding us that the door to Paradise is him alone. And we begin to enter Paradise the moment we entrust our total self to Jesus like Dimas who came to know Christ at the Cross, and then believed him and loved him. If we really know, do we believe?
Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” and when he had said this he breathed his last.
One of St. Luke’s unique feature is always presenting to us Jesus at prayer. Especially here at his crucifixion. See how his first words were prayer of forgiveness for his persecutors. Now at his death, St. Luke presents Jesus again at prayer, reciting Psalm 31:5, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Here we find the whole picture of Jesus Christ’s life which is a prayer and his prayer is his very life. From the very start, Jesus has always been one with the Father which is the essence of every prayer called communion. And that is the important aspect of his being our Savior: everything he said and did was everything the Father had told and asked him. There is that perfect communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit so that in his death, Jesus offered his total self with us to God. Everyone and everything is thus sanctified anew in Christ. This became possible only with his kenosis, his self-emptying eloquently expressed to the Philippians by St. Paul in our second reading.
On the Cross, everything in the life of Jesus Christ came to a full circle, God’s whole picture emerged. Now more than ever, we have become closest to God in love. In his dying on the Cross, Jesus made known to us God, brought him closest to us so we can relate and be intimate with him more than ever. In his becoming human like us by bearing all the pains and sufferings expressed in the first reading from Isaiah, God proved to us his love in Jesus. Most of all, he enabled us too to be capable of knowing and loving like Jesus Christ by being intimate with him always. This is why these days are called Holy Week when we are filled with God so we experience him anew and have him more than ever in our hearts, in our very selves. Amen.