Voice of God, Power of God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist, 24 June 2021
Isaiah 49:1-6 ><}}}'> Acts 13:22-26 ><}}}'> Luke 1:57-66, 80
Photo by author, site where St. John the Baptist was born beside the Church in his honor in Judea, 2019.

Today’s celebration of the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist reminds us of the very important grace and gift from God we take for granted and always abuse – our voice.

Also known as the “voice in the wilderness” who prepared the coming of Jesus Christ, St. John shows us even before his birth through his father Zechariah the proper use of this gift of voice from God.

Voice is power.

In the Book of Genesis, God created everything by simply saying “let there be…” and it comes into being. When Jesus came as the “the Word who became flesh”, he witnessed to us this immense power of the voice of God when he would simply speak to heal people, cast away evil spirits, and still the seas and quiet the storms.

Only us humans were gifted with this unique power of God to speak using the voice.

How sad that we have forgotten or have been totally unaware of the fact that we merely share in the power of God in speaking, in voicing out what is in our minds and in our hearts. Like freedom or the power to choose what is good, we have abused this power of the voice so evident in this digital age as we drown in a cacophony of voices from everybody wanting to be heard, wanting to rule.



And the tragedy is that 
those with the loudest voice and 
easy access to all kinds of media platforms 
are also the ones in power who only voice 
out their selfish interests like our politicians. 

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, Bgy. Lalakhan, Santa Maria, Bulacan, June 2021.

And the tragedy is that those with the loudest voice and easy access to all kinds of media platforms are also the ones in power who only voice out their selfish interests like our politicians.

Have you noticed how most of the loud voices we hear these days come from those not involved at all in any kind of suffering? They are not only loud but also so quick to voice their views empty of any concern at all. Worst, many of these loud voices we hear come from people who have little or no concern at all for those truly in pain like the poor and marginalized who have remained voiceless in our society.

When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father; but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.” So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.

Luke 1:59-60, 62-64

Silence is the voice of God.

At the eve of our celebration today, we have heard how the angel had made Zechariah deaf and mute after he doubted the good news announced to him of the coming birth of their son to be named as John.

Now after nine months of being silent, Zechariah recovered his voice and speech that he spoke blessing God.

Imagine the power and stature Zechariah must have commanded at that time: both he and his wife Elizabeth were from the priestly clans. They were like the royalty at that time, living in an affluent section of the country. Both were born into wealth and fame. And power.

Zechariah’s voice must be one of the most sought after in Judea with his wisdom and influence.

Suddenly gone when his very voice questioned the source of its power, God represented by Archangel Gabriel.

Photo by author, Church of St. John the Baptist, the Holy Land, 2019.

The experience of Zechariah teaches us of the value of silence that has become a very rare commodity these days.

Many of our misunderstandings are due to our lack of silence, of listening to what others are saying or telling us.



Contrary to what 
we also believe,
 silence is not emptiness 
but fullness:


Contrary to what we also believe, silence is not emptiness but fullness: it is different from being quiet when we do not simply speak but allow our minds to work on what we believe in or hold on to. Silence is trying to listen to every voice, especially the faintest ones that usually speak the truth. In the Bible, we find a common pattern in both the Old and New Testaments how God’s communication is preceded always with silence.

Zechariah was forced into silence to experience again its fullness, of being connected anew with God as it gave him opportunities to truly listen intently to God in prayers. That is why everyone was surprised not only when Zechariah confirmed the name of his son would be “John” but most of all when he spoke and his voice heard again by the people. According to Luke, Zechariah sang a blessing to God called the Benedictus.

Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

Luke 1:65-66

Becoming the voice of God like John the Baptist

See how Luke presented the scene in pure simplicity as if we were also there, everybody asking “what will this child be?” for surely the hand of the Lord was with him. The scene is packed with the power of God. No voices were heard except the few “pakialamera” or “mahadera” neighbors who wanted the child named Zechariah like his father.

Elizabeth was so cool but emphatic by declaring her son shall be named John. No debates nor arguments among the women who approached Zechariah – surely, not to ask him to voice his decision as he was deaf and mute at that time. Everybody was amazed when he asked for a tablet and wrote “John is his name”.

There was the deafening silence of God’s voice heard loud and clear, perhaps even for several days after the circumcision and naming of John.

“St. John Preaching In the Wilderness” by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779), photo from commons.wikimedia.org

Such is the power of God, of his voice.

Always preceded by silence.

Never harsh nor imposing.

Soft but always felt, always consistent, very clear and simple.

Most of all, refreshing and blissful.

It is a voice kept in one’s heart, nurtured through time in prayer and simplicity of life until the listener becomes the speaker and carrier of the voice of God.

In our digital age where humans and machines speak with voices competing for our attention, we are reminded that the true power of the voice is not in its volume but in God himself who is also the message.

Like images, voices can also be enhanced with the help of modern technology and human ingenuity, especially by image makers and propagandists who are paid to advance one’s power and influence.

Let us be more discerning in listening to the many voices competing for our attention.

Let us begin first in that soft and feeble voice inside our hearts we disregard but consistently speaks to us daily. That voice could be God speaking to us.

Let us rediscover silence and the true power and beauty of the voice of God.

Recall how often in our lives and in human history, the most important voices ever heard, ever written come after long moments of silence, of reflections and listening to God and with others.

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Luke 1:80
Photo by Fr. Pop Dela Cruz, Binuangan Is., Obando, Bulacan, May 2021.

Entering the narrow gate

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Memorial of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More, Martyrs, 22 June 2021
Genesis 13:2, 5-18   <*(((>< + ><)))*>   Matthew 7:6,12-14
Photo by author, the narrow door to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, 2019.

It is now getting clearer, God our loving Father, why we have to see ourselves in the way you see us as beloved and blessed: our strong selfish inclinations make us think more of ourselves, of what would give us most benefits with the least efforts as much as possible that make us forget others.

Like Abram’s nephew Lot who “chose for himself the whole Jordan Plain” settling near the city of Sodom because the whole region was well watered and prosperous, not knowing its inhabitants were very wicked in their sins whom God would punish later (Gen.13:10-11).

Teach us to be like Abram who thought more of others than himself: So Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land at your disposal? Please separate from me. If you prefer the left, I will go the right; if you prefer the right, I will go to the left” (Gen.13:8-9).

Help us to follow your Son Jesus Christ’s teaching that we “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few” (Mt.7:13-14).

May we learn from the lessons of history how powerful men like King Henry VIII of England ended miserable in life when he chose the path of the wider gate that led to his destruction when he ordered in 1535 the beheading of Cardinal John Fisher and Chancellor Thomas More for their refusal to sign his Act of Succession paving the way for his divorce from Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. Five more divorces later, Henry VIII never had a male successor except Edward VI who ruled England very briefly.

Grant us the courage and wisdom of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More who chose the more difficult and painful “narrow gate” of martyrdom to serve you, God, first and above all.

Choosing the narrow gate is always the best because it is choosing Jesus Christ your Son who chose the way of the Cross for our salvation and eternal life.

We pray for those trying to make shortcuts in everything in life, avoiding the way of the Cross to gain more wealth and fame without any regard for the value of other persons. We pray for those who have been blinded by power and money who could no longer see one another as a brother and sister, failing to be just and fair in their relationships and dealings. Amen.

Praying to be in the world, not of the world

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Seventh Week of Easter, 19 May 2021
Acts 20:28-38   ><)))'> ><)))'> ><)))'>   John 17:11-19
From Facebook, 04 April 2021: “There is an urgency to announce the Joy, the joy of the Risen Lord.”
Lifting up his eyes to heaven,
Jesus prayed, saying:
"I do not ask that you take them out 
of the world but that you keep them
from the evil one.
They do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
Consecrate them in the truth.
Your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world, 
so I sent them into the world.
And I consecrate myself for them, 
so that they also may be consecrated in truth."
(John 17:11, 15-19)

Oh what a feeling, Lord Jesus Christ for us to be prayed for by you! What an honor and a great privilege for us all to be prayed for and consecrated by you, the Son of God to the almighty Father in heaven.

Thank you very much, Lord, for putting us in the world and consecrating us to you to be not of the world! Help us to keep this in our minds and in our hearts, that we are in the world but not of the world.

Help us remember your beautiful prayer when things are getting so difficult, when troubles bombard us daily, when our burdens get heavier that the temptations to follow the ways of the world by escaping pains and sufferings become so strong and even so enticing.

Make us remember this beautiful prayer you said for us all during your Last Supper so we may remain one in you as brothers and sisters, one as husband and wife, one as a family, one as a community, one in our places of work and studies, one as a nation.

May your prayer, sweet Jesus, prepare us in facing every kind of hostility and indifference of the world as we witness your gospel of salvation in the world through love and mercy, joy and kindness especially to those losing hope, those tired and exhausted, and those in the margins of the society.

Photo by author, November 2020.

Give us the grace to be like St. Paul who faithfully completed his mission at Ephesus that as he bid goodbye to the people there, “they were all weeping loudly as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him, for they were deeply distressed that he had said that they would never see his face again. Then they escorted him to the ship” (Acts20:37-38).

We are all “overseers” of your people and wealth entrusted to our care, Lord; keep us true and faithful, honest and sincere in taking care of them. It is you, O Lord Jesus, whom they must experience and love, not us.

We pray today for those holding positions in government and in the Church, in the private sector specially in our places of work and studies that they may always keep in mind all powers are from God that must be exercised for the good of the people they serve. Keep all authorities aware of their great responsibilities in the world and be careful not to fall into the traps and evil of the world. Amen.

The authority of Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 31 January 2021
Deuteronomy 18:15-20  +  1 Corinthians 7:32-35  +  Mark 1:21-28
Photo by author, ruins of the old Capernaum where Jesus lived, May 2017.

As Jesus began his public ministry last week by the shores of the Lake of Galilee calling his first disciples, Mark presents us beginning today some glimpses into the life and person of the Lord in Capernaum where he grew up and would temporarily base himself.

Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit… All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

Mark 1:21-23, 27-28

First thing we notice with Jesus is his devotion to Judaism, his going to the synagogue at sabbath to worship God his Father; later we find how during major feasts he would also come to the temple at Jerusalem. What a beautiful reminder that personal faith and relationship with God has to be expressed and lived in a community like in our parishes.

In this glimpse into a typical sabbath day in the life of Jesus, we also find the reason why he launched his ministry from the province of Galilee and not at the center of Israel which is Jerusalem: and that is to serve the poor and marginalized, those neglected with nothing in life who always felt left out and forgotten by everyone.

That is no longer true as we heard him declared last Sunday, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk.1:15).

The author with friends and former colleagues at the ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus preached on sabbath (May 2017).

A new teaching, proclaimed with authority

Mark tells us twice in our short gospel this Sunday how the people experienced Christ’s having authority in the way he spoke that was so unlike their scribes. Most of all, the people were amazed at his authority and power of words that expelled an “unclean spirit” from a man at their synagogue.

It was definitely something totally new and different that they wondered if it were a new kind of teaching, not knowing it was already God right in their midst in Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh!

Today Jesus is teaching us the real meaning of power, his power of authority that actualizes persons and communities. Like the first disciples he had called last week, the people at the synagogue felt his words affecting them within. Their hearts must have been stirred and moved that they felt so good, moving them to share it with everyone that they all shared in the joy of hearing something new, something fresh and uplifting.

And it did not stop there.

The people then witnessed Jesus how drove away with his words an unclean spirit from a possessed man. They were amazed more upon seeing the possessed man freed from unclean spirit that “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.”

Such was the impact Jesus made on that day of sabbath at Capernaum that continues to our day especially when we gather for the Sunday Eucharist if we can only share in his authority.

Authority as power is always a service that sets people free.

Photo by author, a column among the ruins of the Capernaum synagogue in Galilee, May 2017.

The word authority came from the Latin verb augere, augeribus meaning “to make something increase” or become better. Akin to the word authority is also the word “author” as in the writer of a book or of a document whose words are regarded as true and correct, worth listening and following.

Therefore, real authority is not just having the power over the people to rule and subjugate them as most of us would always think.

Authority in the real sense is service, the power to enable and empower people so that they may become better persons, that they may mature and transcend themselves to grow as persons with so much potentials for change and development.

True authority always leads people to freedom from darkness and sins, sickness and evil that brings out their giftedness as beloved children of God.

That is the authority of Jesus who declared that he had come to serve and not to be served by giving his life as a ransom for many (Mt.20:28) so that we may all have life in him as our good shepherd, a life in abundance (Jn.10:10).

Jesus is the prophet promised by God to Moses in the first reading who shall come to his people to speak to them his very words of life. And by tracing our being prophets with authority to Moses, the first reading gives us too the only criterion for recognizing the true spokesperson of God: he must always speak the word of God that is always actualizing when spoken with humility and sincerity.

Notice how in our language and culture the close linkages of words and authority are so clearly pronounced and recognized: we call people with authority as “mga taong may sinasabi” because people who wield power always have a say in everything.

But what are they saying? What words would always come out of their mouths? Are they life-giving or inducing death, glorifying evil?

So many times, people say so many things that are nothing and senseless. Ang dami-daming sinasabi wala namang sinabi! That is how we call people without impact and true authority: walang sinabi.

Photo by author before celebrating a Mass at the back of Capernaum near the shore of the Lake of Galilee, May 2017.

How sad these recent years, we priests and bishops complain so often how people would no longer listen to us in the Church.

Could it be that this is due to the fact we have stopped speaking the words of God, when all we care to speak of is what we know, what we think of so we would be powerful and famous specially in the various social media platforms? (See https://lordmychef.com/2021/01/27/from-the-ear-to-the-heart/)

We say so many things but fall on deaf ears, no impact, no life at all because they are not the words of Christ whom we have long forgotten.

Worst, how tragic when we impose our own words, insisting our authority on the people that most often is self-serving, far from true and loving service of Jesus Christ.

Whatever happened to that ideal of lay-empowerment when we would not let people speak or at least listen to their voices and thoughts in running their parish?

Before we can make people listen to the words of God, we in the Church must be the first to listen to his words that come to us in a life of prayer and devotion to the Eucharist. What a hypocrisy on our part when we who are supposed to be unmarried and celibate who are “anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord” (1Cor.7:32) would not even spend time to pray and listen to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament daily.

Every day especially in every celebration of the Mass, Jesus comes to us in his authority to set us free from our fears and anxieties, sickness and sins, anger and resentments, compulsions and addictions among other things that hinder us from truly experiencing the beauty of this life.

Let us all pray today for us to have a share in the authority of Jesus Christ to set us free from our being deaf and dumb, blind and lame in the Church that is also his Body. Amen.

The old and charming Church at Baras, Rizal.

When feeling helpless

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Week XXX, Year II in Ordinary Time, 31 October 2020
Philippians 1:18-26     >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>     Luke 14:1, 7-11
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

It is the end of another month, of another week as we brace ourselves for a super typhoon directly hitting our region. And yes, God our loving Father, we are scared, we are worried, we feel helpless most specially for our little brothers and sisters, those who have always been suffering in life like the poor, the elderly, the sick, the marginalized.

But if there is one thing we have learned from COVID-19 these past eight months is to wholly entrust everything to you, O God, to completely surrender and rely on you alone.

Let us grow deeper in faith, more fervent in hope and be unceasing in our charity and love for others so that the Gospel of Jesus your Son may always be proclaimed.

Help us imitate St. Paul, though imprisoned and almost certain of facing death, no trace of helplessness is found in him; on the contrary, he was so full of power coming from his deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

My eager expectation and hope is that I shall not be put to shame in any way, but that with all boldness, now as always, Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.

Philippians 1:20-21

Enable us in the power of the Holy Spirit to humbly submit ourselves to you, dear God, confident that you always have a specific place and seat, a role to play for us — if we can learn to first stand up for you like in today’s parable by Jesus.

May the coming typhoon be an opportunity for us to let our faith be expressed in words and in deeds. Amen.

In the presence of God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Feast of Archangels St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael, 29 September 2020
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14     >><)))*>   +   >><)))*>   +   >><)))*>     John 1:47-51
Photo by author, dome of the chapel at Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem, the Holy Land, May 2019.

Thank you Lord Jesus Christ for opening the heaven for us to be in the presence of God the Father anew and most especially, to become like him again in his image and likeness.

As we celebrate today the Feast of your Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, we remember God’s original plan for us to be with him like his angels and Archangels, of being like him not to compete but to reflect his image and likeness.

And so today, we pray that we may have the grace to be like St. Michael whose name means “who is like unto God?” that we may be like God not to compete with him but to be holy and merciful like him, fighting evil and sins with justice and truth.

Make us strong, Lord Jesus, like St. Gabriel whose name means “God is my strength” so we may deliver always your good news of salvation to the world now numb to bad news of wars and murders, injustice and inhumanity, poverty and starvation as well as the excesses of the first world with more than half the world starving and barely surviving with bare essentials.

Lastly, we beg you Lord in this time of the pandemic to grant us the gift of healing for those sick not only with COVID-19 but with other sickness. May St. Raphael who name means “God has healed” come and guide us in this journey like he did to Tobias, providing him the medications to heal not only bodily sickness but also emotional and spiritual maladies.

These we present to God our Father through you our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Republikula ng Pilipinas

Lawiswis Ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-24 ng Agosto 2020
Larawan kuha ng may-akda sa Pulilan, Bulacan, Enero 2020.
Ang sabi nila
buhay ay parang isang pelikula
tayong lahat ang bida at artista;
kaya lalo nang malaking pelikula
at tiyak patok sa takilya
pelikula ng ating republika!
Siyempre, lahat ay pabida
gusto umeksena
hindi lang sa Palasyo at Kongreso
pati na rin sa mga paseo basta matao.
Ang nakakatawa pero bumebenta
lalo na sa mga tanga 
mga artista nagpipilit sa pulitika
mga pulitiko umaarte, nagpapabebe!
Dating pelikula ng ating republika
makasaysayan at makahulugan
maituturing na isang sining
nababanaagan maningning na liwanag
 katulad din ng pinilakang tabing
kapupulutan ng mga ginintuang aral
mga talastasan at eksena 
mula sa mga aninong gumagalaw;
nang magdeklara ng Martial Law
nagsimula rin ang kasalaulaan
ng pamahalaan maging sa sinehan
kung saan mga hubad na katawan 
 pinagpipistahan, kunwari'y film festival
ang totoo ay karnabal.
Nagwakas din at nagsara ang tabing
ng malagim na yugto ng kasaysayan natin
bagong simula ang dokyu ng EDSA
kinalaunan naging trahedya
pelikula ng republika, naging telenovela at komedya
nang maupo tunay na artista ng masa, 
nagreyna sa media at chika
puro artista, kaya dumagsa na rin sila
naging zarzuela pelikula ng ating republika
naglabo-labo at moro-moro, gumulo nang gumulo
kaya heto tayo horror na nakakatakot 
nakapangingilabot kadiliman 
at kasamaang bumabalot parang bangungot
hugot sa isang eksena ng pelikula na sana'y matapos na.
Ngunit kung titingnan
mga pelikulang horror walang laman
puro kabobohan at katangahan
dinaraan lang sa gulatan 
hanggang maging katatawanan.
Hindi ba't ganyang-ganyan 
ating lipunan at pamahalaan
isang malaking pelikulang katatakutan
na puro kabalastugan at kahangalan?
Kaya aking payong kaibigan, 
sa susunod na halalan
tanggihan, huwag nang pagbigyan 
mga artista sa pulitika, 
mga pulitiko na payaso!
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Mary is Queen because Jesus is the King

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Queenship of Mary, 22 August 2020
Isaiah 9:1-6 >><)))*> >><)))*> | + | <*(((><< <*(((><< Luke 1:39-47
Photo from Google.

Almighty God and Father, on this Memorial of the Queenship of Mary our Blessed Mother, we join her in that most beautiful song of praise to you, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Lk.1:47).

Remind us always, O Lord, specially in this time when we exaggerate everything that unlike the royalties of the world, Mary is our Queen not because of power and wealth nor of fame and popularity but precisely due to her humility and weakness before you.

In this time when we are so fond of “triumphalism”, when we overdo even our devotions and prayers to praise and glorify you, remind us O Lord it is not your way as shown to us by the Blessed Mother Mary.

Let us keep in our minds and hearts that Mary, along with all the saints, are venerated because of their obedience to you, fulfilling your will at all times, making you present among us in our weaknesses and helplessness.

We pray for more simplicity and humility, above all, sincerity in our devotions to Mary and the saints that lead to more authentic faith in you alone who is our God Most Holy.

Like Mary our Queen, may we always say “yes” to you O God our “King of kings”. Amen.

Human situation, Divine response: multiplying our blessings

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XVIII, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 02 August 2020
Isaiah 55:1-3 >><}}}*> Romans 8:35, 37-39 >><}}}*> Matthew 14:13-21

Remember our reflection last Sunday? Of how parables teach us that “less is always more” because to have the kingdom of God – Jesus Christ himself – we have to learn to appreciate the little things in life?

Beginning this Sunday until August 16, our gospels will start telling us who is Jesus Christ by showing us his powers and abilities that are exactly opposite the way we see and understand them. This new series of stories are so relevant to us in this time of pandemic, giving us wonderful insights into God’s ways of responding to our human situations.

St. Matthew now leads us with Jesus to the wilderness after teaching us in parables to experience his power in transforming us like the five loaves and two fish to feed more than five thousand people.

Multi-layered story of the multiplication of bread

All four evangelists have recorded this story of Jesus Christ’s multiplication of the loaves of bread with their particular focus and stress, showing us that it truly happened and was a major event in the Lord’s ministry.

Very unique with St. Matthew’s version of this miracle story – which has not one but two! – is his economy of words in narrating it like a straight news as if it were a developing story or a “breaking news” unfolding before us, calling us to follow its updates and details due to its multi-layered meanings.

When Jesus heard of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Then he said, “Bring them here to me,” and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over — twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21
Photo from iStock/Studio-Annika.

The consolation of Jesus.

Our situation in this time of the corona pandemic is so similar with that of Jesus. With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, it has finally hit us hard, so close to home with news of those we know getting infected and worst, dying from this disease.

Like Jesus upon hearing the death of John the Baptist, we are all saddened that we wish to withdraw away from everyone.

We want to mourn but there are more people in need of our presence and help in this time of pandemic like the countless medical frontliners and health workers who must be so tired – even sick, physically and emotionally – by now with the growing number of COVID-19 patients and yet have chosen to remain in their posts.

And there are still the other casualties of this pandemic like those who have lost their jobs, those evicted from their rented apartments, those stranded and separated from their loved ones, those begging for food, and those afflicted with other sickness going through dialysis and physical therapy.

Jesus knows so well the “wilderness” we are all going through and he is right here with us, one with us in our sufferings, in our fears and anxieties, and in our exhaustion.

To be one with us is consolation, from the Latin “con” or with + “solare” or alone, to be one with somebody feeling alone.

Jesus did not remove our pains and sufferings, even our death; he joined us to be one with us in these that he can call us to “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give your rest. Take my yoke upon you… For my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt.11:28-30, 14th Sunday, 05 Jul 2020).

Compassion of Jesus.

Still with Christ’s reaction of being “moved with pity” at the sight of the crowds who have followed him to the wilderness, we find something more deeper with his being one with us, in consoling us that he had forgotten all about himself, his tired body that he went on to heal the sick among them.

To be moved with pity is more than a feeling of the senses but a response of his total person.

You respond for help, you reply to a call.

Ever wondered why we have the “responsorial psalm” after the first reading in the Mass? Because those words from the Psalms express our total assent and commitment to God, involving our total self like body, mind, heart and soul.

Photo by Dra. Mai B. Dela Peña, Carmel Monastery, Israel, 2016.

God cannot suffer because he is perfect.

That is why he became human like us in Jesus Christ to be one with our suffering and death so that we would one with him in his glorious Resurrection.

In the wilderness, Jesus stayed with the people, not allowing them to leave as suggested by the Twelve because he was moved with pity with the crowd because he wanted to suffer with them.

That is compassion, literally means to “suffer with” from cum + patior. Here in the wilderness, Jesus showed his compassion for the people which will reach its highest point in giving himself on the Cross on Good Friday.

Have we “responded” to God’s call to serve, to a call of duty, and to a plea for help from the poor? Have we truly given ourselves to somebody without ever thinking our own comfort or rewards? Or, are we running away from his Cross?

What a shame in this time of pandemic there are some among us who rejoice at the losses of others like the Twelve who wanted the crowd to be sent home because they were afraid of responsibilities, of taking care of the suffering people.

Consolation and compassion are the two most needed from each of us in this time of crisis.

Our scarcity mentality, the God of plenty.

We now come to the miracle of the feeding of five thousand. According to the late Fr. Henri Nouwen, this story is an example of our “scarcity mentality” when we think of not having enough, of finding what we have as too little, always looking for more; hence, our tendency to hoard everything.

The Twelve were thinking more of themselves, afraid they could go hungry with the five loaves of bread and two fish they have. They were so afraid of difficulties ahead of them in their situation where to find and how to feed those great number of people.

They were focused on what was lacking than on what they have, and who was with them, Jesus Christ! They were hungry for food in the stomach than for food to the soul unlike the crowds who have followed Jesus.

Worst of all, the Twelve got “mad” upon seeing the crowds who have followed them to the wilderness when in fact, it was Jesus who needed most to rest to mourn John’s death!

But through all these, Jesus patiently bore the people’s woes and the Twelve’s selfishness to teach them all in a very nice way something so essential in our response to every human suffering and extreme situation: opening and entrusting our selves totally to God.

And that was actually the greatest miracle that happened that day.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In doing it, Jesus simply asked the Twelve what they have, never asking how much they have or its condition. Just whatever they have to give everything to Jesus like those five loaves and two fish that he took, and while looking up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the Twelve to distribute to the crowd.

And everyone was satisfied with a lot of left overs too!

Matthew nor any of the other Evangelists ever explained how it happened because it does not really matter at all. What is most important is what are we willing to give up to Jesus so he can transform us into better persons.

That is what we continue to do this day in every celebration of the Holy Eucharist- whatever we have, even not the best or the worst and littlest we have, when given to Jesus becomes holy and multiplied!

The power of God is immense, without doubt. But, in this miracle of the feeding of five thousand, Jesus is showing us that his power is not meant to satisfy our material or bodily needs but our deepest desires that lead to our fulfillment in him as prophesied by Isaiah in the first reading.

Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.

Isaiah 55:2-3

Amid the pandemic worsened by our government officials’ inanities, irresponsibilities, and sheer lack of compassion with us in this wilderness, the Lord assures us today that he is with us for “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ” (Second Reading) if we are willing to give him all that we have.

It is our spiritual transformation first that leads us to our material blessings. We can all have it if we are willing to give everything to Jesus and believe in him always. What do you have for miracles to happen?

A blessed August ahead for you! Amen.

Photo by Dra. Mai B. Dela Peña, Carmel, Israel, 2016.

St. Paul in time of Covid-19: need to be focused more on Jesus

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 05 June 2020
Ceiling of the main altar and dome of the Malolos Cathedral, 12 June 2019. Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the most severe test the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines has ever faced, striking on the final year of her preparations for the quincentenary of the coming of Christianity in the country.

Making things worst is the “unfriendly” Administration whose policies contradict almost every known Church teaching, from the most basic GMRC and decency to the sanctity of human life.

In this three-part series of reflections, I wish to share with you my brother priests and lay partners in our ministry some lessons I have found in the life and teachings of St. Paul the Apostle that is centered on the person of Jesus Christ.

He never gave specific instructions and answers in dealing with the many issues and problems that confronted the early Church that may help us in the present generation; but, he had taught us to be always centered on Christ, measuring everything in him and his Cross.

Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… Through it you are also being saved… For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: the Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.

1 Corinthians 15:1-3
A sculpture of St. Paul the Apostle upon the entrance to the Malolos Cathedral by the renowned ecclesiastical artist Mr. Willy Layug. Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza, 12 June 2019.

The gospel thrives most in hostile environment

St. Paul lived in a time very similar with ours when great developments and changes were overtaking the world with the usual problems of poverty and inequalities due to growing materialism, and persecution of the Church.

Instead of seeing them as problems, St. Paul saw them as opportunities to spread the Gospel because his sole focus was the Lord Jesus himself and his Cross.

In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But wicked people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But you remain faithful to what you have learned and believed…

2 Timothy 3:12-14

When the former Mayor of Davao City assumed the presidency and started lashing out us priests and bishops with his profanities and vitriol including blasphemies against God and Pope Francis, we all expressed our indignation and opposition.

And rightly so! – even in fighting for Kian and those fallen by tokhang as well as the victims of injustice and fake news.

As days moved into months and years, with more vulgarities and lies dished out by the man at Malacañang, there also appeared some silver linings over Pasig River but many of us in the clergy have refused to see and admit— that some of his accusations are true. Although these are more of the exception than the rule, there are indeed some priests leading inauthentic lives far from their vows of poverty and celibacy with others pretending to be shepherds of souls who do not smell like their sheep because they are more keen in amassing wealth and gaining fame and popularity.

Worst of all are those who have sold their souls to politicians for some petty favors and a taste of power, of being seen with the rich and famous.

I am not putting down our priests. There are more good and holy priests working faithfully and silently not only in our country but everywhere in the world.

What I am trying to say since our “persecution” by the present Administration began, this is a wake-up call for us priests to shape up and regain our bearings in Christ.

Actually, it had been coming since the previous Administration, too. For the longest time we have been lording it over the people with our abuses and excesses hiding in the excuse as “alter Christus” but, now the changing times have finally caught on us, demanding more transparency and honesty on our part.

Like with the experience of St. Paul, these situations of “persecution” with a pandemic are calls for our conversion in Christ anew, something that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has been insisting that we priests go back to Jesus, especially in the Blessed Sacrament.

Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza, ordination to the diaconate at the Malolos Cathedral, 12 June 2019.

Like St.Paul, priests are first a witness of Jesus Christ

This time of crisis due to COVID-19 and the continued “persecution” by an unfriendly administration that has continued to keep our churches closed for no sane reason at all can be a grace-filled moment for us if we allow Jesus Christ to shine in us by bringing hope and inspiration to our people saddled with so much burdens due to COVID-19 and the government’s inconsistencies in managing the pandemic.

It is here where we are most expected by the people to be at the forefront but – unfortunately – we have been silent in asserting our religious freedom to worship within the rules and protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Only Bishop Pabillo of Manila had spoken against the “laughable policy” of allowing only five and ten people inside the church in areas under ECQ and GCQ, respectively.

Making matters worst was how the CBCP issued its statement reminding us priests and bishops to follow the directives and guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases regarding the celebration of the Mass! Instead of supporting the lone voice championing our rights to celebrate Mass in public, the CBCP just repeated the same situation when Jesus saw the crowd who have followed him to the wilderness, “sheep confused and lost without a shepherd” (Mt.9:36).

How sad we have given up the fight so easily to have our churches opened in the transition from ECQ to GCQ.

More sad now are the bishops and priests again in the news – filled with fire and courage – speaking out loudly against the anti-terror bill recently passed by Congress.

No problem fighting oppressive measures by any administration but to miss out that same fervor and zeal for our own rights and duties to provide the essential spiritual nourishment of our people at this time is something disturbing, something St. Paul would not allow to happen.

Yes, it is part of our priesthood to fight for people’s rights but always in the light of Jesus Christ.

St. John Paul II had shown us in recent history what it is when while still a priest and later as bishop in Poland, he spoke only of the words of God in the scriptures and fruits of his prayer that he was able to tore down the Iron Curtain his homeland and eventually throughout Europe.

St. Paul never played partisan politics like our Lord Jesus Christ, considering how they have lived at a time rife with occasions to be politicized. He never missed addressing social issues in the light of the gospel as he wrote one of his friends – presumably rich and influential – regarding a slave named Onesimus:

To Philemon, our beloved and co-worker… Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.

Philemon 1, 15-16

How sad when we priests speak of so many things like current events and other trends without giving the people the Word of God.

It is even a scandal when we priests are more busy with social advocacies forgetting we are first of all a “man of the Word” according to Vatican II.

Let us not forget St. Paul’s reminder that though we are in the world, we are not of the world:

Do not conform yourself 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 12:2

The gospel of Christ thrives most in hostile environment and situations but that does not mean going out like activists with clenched fists and raised voices walking the streets. We are not going to change the world; Jesus will — if we can proclaim him in words and in deeds.

The other week as we neared the conclusion of the Easter Season, one of the first readings on weekdays touched me so much, wondering if we priests can also say with all sincerity St. Paul’s words at Miletus when he spoke to the presbyters of the Church of Ephesus before sailing to Jerusalem for his trial:

So be vigilant and remember that for three years, night and day, I unceasingly admonished each of you with tears… I have never wanted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You know well that these very hands have served my needs and my companions. In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus…

Acts of the Apostles 20:31, 33-35

According to St. Luke, after those words, the people wept loudly as they threw their arms around St. Paul and kissed him. He was so loved by the people because of Jesus Christ, not of his very self.

Surely, like Jesus, St. Paul stretched out his arms and hands more to pray over people after hearing their confessions and problems, spent longer hours praying in silence or writing his letters to the various churches he founded, strengthening and inspiring them in Christ than be out on the streets seething with anger against any despot and regime.

On Monday our second part in the series, Fighting our detractors like St. Paul in time of COVID-19.

St. Paul saying goodbye to Ephesians at Miletus on his way to Jerusalem to face trial.