Praying for courage

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus, Bishops, 26 January 2023
2 Timothy 1:1-8   ><]]]'> + <'[[[>< = ><]]]'> + <'[[[><   Luke 10:1-9
Photo by author, 23 January 2023, at OLFU-Quezon City, Hilltop Mansion Heights.
Dearest Lord Jesus Christ,
grant us courage,
vanish our cowardice
to fill us with "power and love
and self-control" (cf. 2Tim.1:6).
If courage is having that
strength coming from the heart,
cowardice is losing one's heart,
of not having the heart to stand
and fight for what is true and good;
more tragic than physical cowardice
of being afraid of heights or the dark
are intellectual, emotional, and
spiritual cowardice.
In this age when everything
has become relative in the name of
pluralism and "respect" for everyone,
many Christians are afflicted with
spiritual cowardice,
so afraid to uphold your teachings
and examples, Lord, that in the process
have succumbed too to intellectual
cowardice, so afraid in discussing and
dissecting the many issues being raised
against our stand for life and decency,
truth and sanity.
Pray for us, 
Saints Timothy and Titus,
"to stir into flame the gift of God"
we have received in Baptism
so that we may "not be ashamed 
of our testimony" to Jesus
"but bear our share in the hardship
for the Gospel with the strength that 
comes from God" (1Tim.1:6, 8).
Amen.

Powerless before God, powerful in God

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 16 October 2022
Exodus 17:8-13 ><000'> 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2 ><000'> Luke 18:1-8
Photo by author, Baguio City, February 2020.

Time flies so fast that there are only five Sundays left in our liturgical calendar before Advent comes in preparation for Christmas. For the next three Sundays beginning today, we shall again hear three gospel stories found only in Luke that underscore the importance of faith and prayer, revealing to us the beautiful image of God who “does justice” to defenseless people like the widow today, “justifies” those who humble themselves like the publican next Sunday, and “saves” sinners like Zacchaeus two Sundays from now.

As we reflect on God’s goodness, we discover along the way our own giftedness that we must share with people around us, especially those suffering and in need.

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, “There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, ‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’ For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, ‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.'”

Luke 18:1-5
Painting “Le Juge Inique” (Unjust Judge) by Swiss artist Eugene Burnand (1850-1921) from http://www.eugene-burnand.com/Parables/unjust%20judge.htm.

Both the widow and the unjust judge exhibited admirable traits we are all invited to emulate: the widow being persistent and the unjust judge eventually becoming a just one in handing a good decision.

Jesus intentionally used the image of the widow in this parable because widows in his time were particularly powerless and vulnerable. Recall how Jesus was moved with pity on a widow upon witnessing the funeral of her young son in Nain (Lk.7:11-16).

Imagine the very sad plight of widows in ancient time when women were not even considered as persons at all that they were not counted like the children; women were totally dependent to their husband and sons in their lives that if they die, the widows left behind were reduced to nothing at all because they could not inherit their husband’s estate that was passed on to the deceased man’s sons or brothers.

Painting of “Parable of the Unjust Judge” by Pieter de Greber (1628) from Web Gallery of Art,https://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/g/grebber/pieter/parable.html.

The widow in this parable tells us of the need for us to be powerless like her, to totally entrust ourselves to God who is our only hope in life. The widow had no other recourse but to persistently beg the unjust judge for a favorable ruling for her. That is the spirit and attitude we must have when praying which is a call for our total surrender of self to God.

And here lies the difficulty for us especially these days when we spend so much efforts to be powerful than powerless. This we have been practicing extensively in social media where we always want to be the one in control of everything, of being the first to post the latest and hottest news and gossips, of flaunting our newly acquired expensive gadgets or received gifts, of making known to everyone our sumptuous meals or how we have gone to some expensive far-away vacation spot. Come on, one can easily determine when we are posting simply to share or to brag.

As much as possible, we try to resolve our problems using our own powers. We pray and come to God only when all options have been exhausted, when we feel hopeless because it is already beyond our powers. Prayer is more of a last resort than our first recourse because God is only a “footnote” or a safety-catch in our lives in case we go through severe tests like tragedy, illness, death of a loved one, or failure in whatever form.

The widow in this parable reminds us of that beautiful lesson we have reflected these past Sundays that faith is a relationship nourished and nurtured by our prayer.

People who love always talk. They always relate and communicate for no reason at all simply because they love and care for each other. Like the widow, wala nang iba talaga!

If prayer is conversing with God, then, we would always relate with him whether our problem is big or small, serious or not, or even if we have no problem at all because we love him! Without God, we find no meaning and strength to hurdle life’s challenges.

This is the meaning of that story of Moses praying to God on top of a hill while Joshua battled the forces of Amalek in the wilderness; it was the power of God that prevailed over Israel’s enemies because they all relied in him alone. It is the similar story of the Feast of our Lady of the Rosary when the outnumbered Spanish fleet defeated the Ottoman Turks at Lepanto Bay (07 October 1571) while Christians prayed the Holy Rosary as instructed by St. Pope Pius V.

When was the last time have you felt like the widow before God, of having that attitude there is nobody else who can fulfill us except God?

Photo from https://freebibleimages.org/photos/persistent-widow/

On the other hand, we are also the unjust judge in this parable for we are not only sinful and unjust like him but also blessed with great powers to help those in need!

Many times, we act like the unjust judge when we refuse to recognize and admit the great powers – with its great responsibilities – God had given us in our various capacities and positions in life. We may not be issuing verdicts in courts but everyday, our decisions matter so much to those around us right in our own families, in our schools, in our offices and in our neighborhood and community.

Confronted by the persistent widow without any means to pay and bribe the unjust judge, we are reminded most especially to have a heart in favor of those who have less in life. One of the most important lessons I have learned in priesthood happened during our final year of formation in the seminary when our former bishop, the Most Rev. Rolando J. Tria-Tirona of Naga City told us in a conference that “those who have less in life must have more of God”.

Beautifully true but sadly, far from happening in our Church because we rarely use the powers God has shared with us to love and save, to heal and raise to new life people saddled with so many sufferings and sins in life. Like the unjust judge, may we open our eyes and hearts to the plight of the powerless around us.

Have faith that even the most evil persons are capable of doing the right thing. Imagine if every disciple of Christ is a man of faith despite of his/her sinfulness and weaknesses? That would be so nice as life could be a bit better and fair for everyone! This is the reason why at the end of the parable, Jesus asked the crucial question:

“But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke 18:8
Photo from Photo from https://freebibleimages.org/photos/persistent-widow/.

Has anyone ever told you that you are “the answer to his/her prayers?” In life, God answers our prayers through one another, through faithful disciples who are both powerless before God and powerful in God.

We all have this great power of God in our hands, in effecting change, in bringing peace and justice to this world through the power of his word as St. Paul reminds us today in the second reading.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power; proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.

2 Timothy 4:1-2

We live in a world characterized not only with great desire and display of power but also of instant gratification. We have lost the virtues and values of patience, persistence, and perseverance. Everything must be had instantly. Now na!

This Sunday’s parable invites us to recover our great power in God by being powerless before him again so we may be the answered prayers of many people suffering and thirsting for justice and mercy, forgiveness and salvation.

Be that person of faith and power of God. The widow and needy person who comes to you could be Jesus Christ himself. Amen. Have a blessed week ahead!

Finger of God, power of God, power of love, miracle of the Rosary

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, 07 October 2022
Galatians 3:7-14   ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>   Luke 11:15-26
Photo by author, April 2022.
God our loving Father,
thank you in making us 
experience your saving power
in the most unusual manner;
the imagery is most unique
like when Jesus used again
that Old Testament expression
"finger of God":

But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, the the Kingdom of God has come upon you.

Luke 11:20
How lovely is that imagery of
"finger of God" as the power of 
God to drive out demons; the
only other instances "finger of
God" was used were in the
Book of Exodus when the 
Pharaoh's magicians admitted
the plagues were the works of 
"the finger of God" and secondly
to describe how the Ten Commandments 
were written by the "finger of God"
on two tablets of stone; 
and now, Jesus described
his driving away of a demon 
from a possessed man as work
of the "finger of God".
In all instances, O God,
your power so great is so
unlike of what we know 
of worldly power that is
threatening and menacing; 
was it coincidental, dear God,
that the most powerful prayer
instrument we now have is the
Holy Rosary that is literally found
on our fingers too?

As we pray the Rosary with our
lips and fingers, suffuse us
with your power that loves and
heals, forgives and cares;
may we "imitate" what the
mysteries of the Rosary "contain" 
by following Jesus like Mary
in all his joys and sufferings,
glory and light.

Like during the time of Christ,
we are being attacked in all fronts
by many detractors who refuse
to acknowledge the Holy Rosary is
a Christocentric prayer that contemplates
the life of Jesus our Savior 
through the face of Mary his Mother;
as we meditate the life of Christ
through the Rosary beads 
with our fingers, 
let us experience
your great power anew,
your power to love
and care especially 
the sick and suffering,
the lost and forgotten
so that in the end,
may your power
triumph over the
evils of the world
expressed in dominance
and manipulations,
lies and character
assassinations,
and disrespect for
life and persons.
Amen.

Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary,
Pray for us!
Photo from canningliturgicalarts.com, painting of the Battle of Lepanto Bay with our Lady of Victory or Rosary.

The power & wisdom of God

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday in the Twenty-first Week of Ordinary Time, Year II, 26 August 2022
1 Corinthians 1:17-25   ><]]]'> + ><]]]'> + ><]]]'>   Matthew 25:1-13
Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, Lourdes, France, 2015.
Praise and glory to you,
God our Father for this weekend;
we have passed a week of many discomforts
from the opening of classes,
followed by a strong typhoon,
a weak market and economy
marred by all kinds of shortages
but, here we are, Lord, still alive,
still well amid all the sufferings
and trials because of your gift of
FAITH.
Thank you, dear God, for this
wondrous gift of FAITH brought
to us, sustained in us, made beloved
in us by your Son Jesus Christ 
in his Cross.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but for those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 
1 Corinthian 1:22-25
Many times, we take our faith
for granted without realizing it is
one of your most important gifts
to us; it is in faith where everything
in this life begins:  we cannot hope,
we cannot love if we do not believe!
And this faith as gift has come to us,
continues to be poured upon us
by its most beautiful sign, the CROSS.
Teach us to be wiser, dear Jesus,
like those virgins in your parable,
to embrace and love your CROSS;
it is not all suffering and pain but
gain and addition in life of more
wisdom and more power so that we
can be more loving and merciful,
kind and forgiving, generous and caring
in your most Holy Name.
Amen.

Meeting Jesus who comes as guest

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sixteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 17 July 2022
Genesis 18:1-10 ><}}}}*> Colossians 1:24-28 ><}}}}*> Luke 10:38-42
An icon of Jesus visiting his friends, the siblings Sts. Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Photo from crossroadsinitiative.com.

Immediately after Jesus our “Good Samaritan” had told this parable on his way to Jerusalem last Sunday, Luke now tells us the Lord making a stop over at the home of two sisters named Martha and Mary.

The two ladies were of contrasting attitudes in receiving Jesus as guest that he took it as an occasion to teach anew on “what we must do to gain eternal life” when Martha complained to him of Mary not doing anything to help her prepare for him.

Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need only of one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Luke 10:40-42
Photo by author, Baras, Rizal, January 2021.

Focusing on Jesus more when he comes

We are again presented here with a very familiar story only Luke has like the parable of the good Samaritan last Sunday. Almost everyone feels like knowing Martha and Mary so well, that they have covered everything when Jesus dropped by to visit the two sisters.

And that’s the problem when we feel so familiar with a story by Jesus or in an event in his life that we take it lightly and miss the more essential aspects as well as learn new insights being presented to us.

In this story of Jesus visiting the two sisters, Martha is often presented as the “active” type while Mary is the “contemplative” who sat at the Lord’s feet to listen to his words. As a result, many have thought Jesus favored Mary over Martha, that praying is more important than acting.

That is absolutely wrong! Jesus is not saying it is best to be a contemplative than active, nor Mary is better than Martha.

From Facebook during the first wave COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020.

Through Mary and especially Martha, Jesus is reminding us today not to be so preoccupied or “anxious and worried about many things” in life like food and clothings, money and wealth and other material things.

Jesus had always been consistent in teaching everyone not to be so concerned with wealth, power and fame that prevent us from growing in the kingdom of heaven like in the parable of the sower, of how the seeds that fell among thorns “were choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life, and they failed to produce mature fruit” (Lk.8:14).

Most of all, recall that when his pasch was approaching, Jesus became more pronounced in warning us all in having that overwhelming concern and cares for things of the world especially in relation with his second coming, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth” (Lk.21:34-35).

Such preoccupation with things of the world detracts us from the most essential which is Christ himself and witnessing him in this world so concerned with wealth and power, with fame and ego.

And that is what Martha was missing in having Jesus as guest in their home — she was so busy preparing meals that she had entirely forgotten Jesus himself was in the house! Mary was praised because she chose the most important – Jesus himself who was their guest and the Word he spoke to them! Every time we recognize Christ’s coming in our home and in our very selves, something wonderful always happens. The good news is made known to us like a mission or a plan from God we have long been praying over.

The famous icon of The Trinity visiting Abraham at Mamre by Russian artist Andrei Rublev done in the 15th century. Photo from en.wikipedia.org.

This is the reason we have the beautiful story of Abraham welcoming three guests who turned out to be God himself, the Blessed Trinity coming to his tent at Mamre in our first reading today.

More than the story of Abraham’s hospitality is the announcement of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham of finally having a child of his own with Sarah:

They asked Abraham, “Where is your wife Sarah?” He replied, “There in the tent.” One of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.”

Genesis 18:9-10

In both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible teems with so many lessons and admonitions from God and his prophets and later from Jesus himself on the need to always welcome and accept strangers especially the poor and the sick for “whatsoever you do the least of these, that you do unto Christ”.

Jesus comes to us daily but are we home to welcome him, to receive him and most of all, listen and act on his words? Or, are we so preoccupied with so many other affairs that we forget his presence, not only among those in need like the priest and Levite last week who just passed by a victim of robbery left half-dead in a street?

The grace of this Sunday lies in the very fact that many times, it is Jesus himself who comes to us right in our homes, in our family members and loved ones, in the ordinary people we take for granted but we are like Martha “so anxious and worried about many things” that we miss the good news he brings to us often. That is why we only get tired with all our efforts, not bearing fruits because we miss the most important of all, Jesus himself!

Let us imitate Paul in the second reading trying to see Jesus in everyone by deepening his reflection last week of Christ as the image of the invisible God and now “Christ in you, the hope for glory” (Col.1:27).

It is our task and mission like Paul to reveal in our lives of loving service to others God’s plan that Jesus came to dwell in us his believers and followers so we may participate in his glory. But how can we participate in God’s glory when we fail to meet Jesus coming daily to our lives because we are like Martha?

Photo by author, Tagaytay, February 2022.

The simplest way to receive Jesus our guest is to seriously participate in our Sunday Eucharist which we tend to take for granted. In the Eucharist, we gather as the Body of Christ with Jesus as our head, the Church.

Notice that in Rublev’s icon of the Trinity at Mamre, the three men are actually gathered in a meal, the Eucharist. When you try to view the icon, you become the fourth person in the painting sharing the meal with the three angels.

That is the mystery of Christ’s coming to our homes daily, in our loved ones and right in our hearts too to share us himself and tell us the good news daily. The Eucharist is in fact our rehearsal in entering heaven in the future, that is why this Sunday, cast away all your anxieties and simply focus in the Lord and you will never get lost! Have a blessed week ahead! Amen.

Being small and powerless, God’s path to power

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time, 13 July 2022
Isaiah 10:5-7, 13-16   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   Matthew 11:25-37
Photo by Mr. Red Santiago, January 2020.
Your words today, O God our Father
remind us of your oft-repeated
wisdom and reality that the path
to real power and greatness is in
being small and powerless like children.
How foolish are we, Lord, 
since the beginning when our
common knowledge always taught
us that size does matter, that the 
bigger a nation and its army like
Assyria, the more powerful it is:
partly true for a moment because
you are always greater than anyone,
O God with every nation, every individual
surely in your mighty hands!

Will the axe boast against him who hews with it? Will the saw exalt itself above him who wields it? As if a rod could sway him who lifts its, or a staff him who is not wood! Therefore the Lord, the Lord of hosts, will send among his fat ones leanness, and instead of his glory there will be kindling like the kindling of fire.

Isaiah 10:15-16
Your Son Jesus Christ himself
had revealed that in knowing
and discovering you, O God and your ways
it is not about being a genius nor of 
knowing all but in being simple, being
open and knowing less because everything
is God's work, not ours even if everything
seems to be clear and fixed with us and in
our points of view.

At that time Jesus exclaimed: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”

Matthew 11:25
Lord Jesus, 
keep me simple,
let me rely only in you
for you have all the answers
in the world.
Amen.

The joy of coming home in the Father

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourth Sunday in Lent-C a.k.a. "Laetare Sunday", 27 March 2022
Joshua 5:9, 10-12 ><}}}*> 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 ><}}}*> Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, in Lourdes, France, 20 March 2022.

Life is a daily Lent, a coming home to the Father. As I have been telling you, the 40-days of Lent is a journey back home to God in Jesus Christ with each Sunday like a door leading us closer to Him. We rejoice this Fourth Sunday – Laetare Sunday – as we near God’s inner room, knowing Him more than ever as we experience His immense love and mercy for us like a Father welcoming his children to “enter” and celebrate home in Him.

But, are we really in the journey?

Or, are we just like the two selfish, self-centered brothers in the parable who took their father for granted by pursuing for their own very selves?

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable: “A man had two sons…”

Luke 15:1, 3, 11
Photo by author, Laetare Sunday 2019 in my former parish.

Acting like the sons…

Once again, we hear another story from Luke that is uniquely his. It is more known as the parable of the prodigal son when in fact the center of the story is the loving and merciful father giving everything including his very self to his two sons.

There are two preceding parables before this third one, that of the lost sheep and of the lost coin that are in chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel. See how Jesus developed into a rising crescendo his series of parables starting with a lost sheep, a lost coin, and finally, lost sons. The common thread running through the three parables was the great joy of the shepherd, woman and father upon having their lost ones again. Clearly, God is the shepherd, the woman, and the father looking for the lost sheep, lost coin and lost sons. And here lies the very essence of the parables, especially in this third one about the loving and merciful father: “the Pharisees and scribes who began to complain why Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

We are those Pharisees and scribes who doubt and refuse to believe, even run away from our loving God in the belief there must be somebody else there who could love us truly by giving us what we need.

Photo by author, Laetare Sunday 2019 in my former parish.

Exactly like the younger son in the parable who sees God merely as a provider, an ATM or a Western Union counter who gives the cash we need to buy things we believe would complete us without realizing God is our life, our identity and root of being. This we find at what prompted the younger son to return home (return home, not come home which happens only when home is a person, not a place nor thing).

When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, “How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”

Luke 15:14-19

Sometimes we are like the younger son who returns home just to preserve one’s self – to have a roof and to have food so as not to starve, never go hungry. It is the first temptation of the devil, teasing Jesus and us to turn stones into bread because man lives to eat! That is why we keep on asserting our own power so we can do everything because we have forgotten our being-ness in God. We hate having nothing, being empty and would rather fill our bellies with whatever we can stuff our mouth with that in the process even swallow our pride and dignity to have, to possess everything, even everybody except God.

Photo by author, Laetare Sunday 2019.

On the other hand, we are like the Pharisees and scribes “complaining why Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them” so personified by the elder son who refused to enter their house to join the celebrations at the return of his prodigal brother because his manipulative schemes have been unmasked. For him, serving his father was just a show because he was only an actor, everything was a movie or a teleserye playing one’s roles in exchange of a fee and fame.

He said to his father in reply, “Look all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.”

Luke 15:29-30

Again, we find here some semblance of the second and third temptations to Jesus and to us by the devil: worship him and you will be popular and powerful! We all want having the best for us to be the very best among our peers and neighbors. We are willing to buy time, even buy people just to be known and popular. We would not mind being patient over a long period of time believing in the end, we could end up having all.

When we think of our needs to be secured and safe, popular and powerful, the first that comes to our minds and consciousness are things that money can buy, food that fill stomach, and drinks that refresh the body. Like the two brothers, they were all concerned with material and physical, nothing spiritual nor emotional or even mental. A life without any depth like Alfie played by Michael Caine with music by Burt Bacharach asking, “What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live?”

That’s the tragedy of our lives, of being like the Pharisees and scribes personified by the two brothers who were so lost in their own selves, refusing to see beyond to find others and God, now and eternity, earth and heaven.

Photo by author, view from the Old Jerusalem, May 2019.

…becoming like the Father

This is the grace of this fourth Sunday, its greatest joy and cause for celebration: our being home in God, being whole again in Him after realizing and accepting our broken and sinful selves.

Make no mistake that it was us who have found God; no, it is the other way around.

God is the Father always awaiting for us that He sent Jesus Christ to lead us home again in Him. In this parable, the late Fr. Henri Nouwen rightly said Jesus is the “prodigal son” who left heaven not out of rebellion but because of obedience and submission to lead us all back to the Father, the only One who loves us truly, our very “first love” for He is the one who loves us first and still loves us no matter what.

Stop seeking for the world’s basic staples of food and wealth, fame and power because the most basic truth in this life is we are loved by God who is love Himself because He is life. See Luke’s sense of humor: the prodigal son wanted only food and shelter but the father gave him back his status as son with the ring, fine clothes and slippers, and feast while the elder son was longing for a mere young goat without realizing it has long been his for everything the father has was his too! Like us in many occasions in life, we fail to see how much we already have in God that we turn away from Him to settle for lesser things.

See our foolishness in desiring the world when it has always been ours if we remain in God. That is why we need to celebrate because finally we have found what is truly basic and valuable, God who gave us his Son Jesus Christ so we can find our way back home to Him and learn what is most valuable in life.

In this parable, Jesus is asking us to “level up” our existence, to rise above our very selves and be who we really are as beloved children of the Father who is merciful and rich in kindness.

Like in the first reading, no more manna for we have entered the Promised Land where we can have real food and real drink – Jesus Christ who sustains us to eternal life. Let us keep in mind and heart Paul’s reminder and call in the second reading that “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation… so, let us be reconciled in God” (2 Cor. 5:17, 20). Only those who are reconciled in God in Jesus can experience true joy… so, stop complaining and whining of others getting close with God. Join us and celebrate! Amen.

Have a joyuful week ahead.

Lent is for setting things right

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday in the Second Week of Lent, 15 March 2022
Isaiah 1:10, 16-20   <'[[[[>< + ><]]]]'>   Matthew 23:1-12
Photo by author, Parish Via Crucis, 11 March 2022.

Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool. If you are willing, and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land; but if you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken!

Isaiah 1:18-20
Let us heed your call,
dear Lord, let us set things
right this season of Lent;
let us be sorry for our sins, 
be humble for who we really are
before you and one another.
Teach us through your Son
Jesus Christ to be true to ourselves,
practicing what we preach
and doing things for you and not
for others admiration; let us realize 
that authority is not for power but
for empowering and enabling others;
most of all, let us realize that 
authority is service, never a way of control
or domination or a claim to special
perks and privileges.
Let us set things right, Lord,
by breaking this cycle of trying
to be someone else, of being
somebody to be admired and 
looked up to when what is most 
essential is for us to see one 
another as brothers and sisters
in one God as our Father.  Amen.

Lent: a return to our first love

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
First Sunday of Lent-C, 06 March 2022
Deuteronomy 26:4-10 ><}}}*> Romans 10:8-13 ><}}}*> Luke 4:1-13
Photo by author, view of Israel from Mount Nebo in Jordan, May 2019.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI used to say that the imagery of the desert during the season of Lent is an invitation for us to remember, to revisit and to return to our very “first love” of all – God.

Yes! God is our first love for he is the first to love us, always calling us to come to him to have more of his love. Pope Benedict wrote in his first encyclical in 2005, Deus Caritas Est, that “Love can be commanded (by God) because it has first been given by him”, and that “love grows through love”.

And that is why every first Sunday of Lent, we hear the story of the temptation of Jesus by the devil in the desert as he invites us to go back to our first love, God our Father, teaching us and giving us the grace to overcome temptations that have brought us apart from God and everyone.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.

Luke 4:1-2
Photo by author, view of Israel from Mount Nebo in Jordan, May 2019.

Let your love flow.

Of the three evangelists who recorded the temptation of Jesus in the desert by the devil, only Luke gives us a more detailed and sober version that you could feel Christ’s docility to the Holy Spirit; Matthew and Mark were both abrupt, as if Jesus was hurriedly led by the Spirit into the desert after his baptism at Jordan.

Luke’s version gives us a sense of peace and tranquility in Jesus who obeyed the Holy Spirit spontaneously which he would always do throughout his ministry; this his disciples would imitate as we shall see in Luke’s second book, the Acts of the Apostles.

This short introduction by Luke to the temptation of the Lord in the desert teaches us the first step in every Lent and ultimately in life: our docility to the Holy Spirit like Jesus Christ.

Photo by author, Mount Nebo, Jordan, May 2019.

And there lies the problem with us as we refuse to love God, when we refuse to mature in love as we keep on looking even inventing our own loves that in the end leaves us empty and alienated.

In this age of too much gadgets and instants plus emphasis on freedom and independence, we have forgotten to be docile and submissive in the good sense as we keep on asserting our very selves, always trying to be in command of everything.

Experience tells us that the key to truly experiencing love – to love and be loved – is to let yourself be led by your beloved, by a loved one. To simply let your love flow.

The three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting and alms-giving rest on our willingness to submit ourselves to God, to trust him and rely only in him.

To be filled with the Spirit is to be filled with love that we first search God to love him and have more of his love to share with others.

The three “faces” of power that ruin love

Too often, we resist God by subduing our inner call to love, preferring to control everything and everyone. We prefer power than love, thinking wrongly that we can force or impose love on others.

Remember the movie “Bruce Almighty” about 20 years ago?

The turning point of the movie happened when Jennifer Aniston left her boyfriend Jim Carrey who could not submit himself and follow his heart to propose to her; Jim could not understand why can’t just God played by Morgan Freeman impose love on his girlfriend Jennifer to save him all the efforts and time in proving his love and proposing to her. Freeman as God simply told Bruce he cannot force love because that’s the way it is, so free that is why love is so wonderful!

Love and power cannot go together. Love is ruined when power and control come in any relationship. Adam and Eve desired the powers of God that led them into sin and be banished from Paradise.

This we see in the three temptations of Jesus Christ by the devil which is centered on power; notice how Jesus resisted temptation by choosing the path of love of God which is the path of powerlessness.

Photo from commons.wikipedia.org, Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Italy.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, One does not live by bread alone.”

Luke 4:3-4

The first temptation of power is the ability to do everything. Every suitor is guilty of this when he tries to do everything just to win the heart of the woman of his dreams which often ends sadly, even miserably or tragic.

Too often, we feel and believe that it is love when we try to do everything just for the beloved.

No! We are not God. We cannot do everything. Love is not about doing but being.

Jesus could have turned that stone into bread but he did not do it because it is not the proof of his being the Son of God. His docility to the Father, his fidelity to his words and will expressed by his self-sacrifice at the Cross proved that he is indeed the Christ.

At the same time, his love for people is not in doing everything, especially in giving us the quick-fixes to our many problems and sufferings. In the wilderness, Jesus fed more than 5000 people from just five loaves of bread and two pieces of fish after he had found the people ready to love, ready to accept him and one anther.

The problem with power to do everything is we cease from becoming a person who “feels” and experiences pain and hunger, sadness and failures that eventually make us stronger and deeper in love and convictions. When we keep on doing everything believing in our powers, then we get burned in the process, becoming resentful and bitter later after skipping the normal courses of life.

We are loved not by what we can do nor achieve but what we could become – a nicer, kinder, forgiving and understanding and loving person.


Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and their glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.”

Luke 4: 5-8

The second temptation of power is to dominate others. If you cannot do everything, subjugate others who can do things for you. Entice them with everything and whatever you have; buy their souls like our politicians who shamelessly forget history and values of freedom and democracy for the sake of winning an office.

Photo by author, 2019.

Love begets love. Jesus had no need to be popular, to be viral and liked by everyone. He loves us so much and the love he offers us is a love that is willing to die in one’s self, a love that goes for the Cross because that is true love. Never convenient nor comforting. Love is always difficult because it is a decision we keep and stand for every day.

This is the gist of the first reading when Moses reminded the people to always remember and review their history to be aware of how God had never left them, loving them despite their sinfulness. Remembering keeps our love alive because it always reminds us of the persons behind every events in our lives, keeping us united to the person in love even up to the present moment. Recall those time you have “lover’s quarrel” or LQ: what is usually the first thing that comes to your mind? Is it not your love story, of how you met and dreamt together, of how you love each other?

Love is about persons, not about things like wealth and fame. The Beatles said it so well in the 60’s, All You Need is Love.


Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and : With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

Luke 4:9-12

The third temptation of power is to manipulate, even God, the all-powerful. This is the most insidious temptation that hides its sinister plans in a lot of “loving” and “caring” facades of fakeries.

It is the worst of the three as it enters one’s psyche, the highest degree of brainwashing. See how the devil had chosen the site of the temple, citing the scriptures in tempting the Lord.

The devil does the same with us, especially those toxic people who would try to massage our egos, trying to win us over unto them only to manipulate us and when worst comes to worst, play victims to us.

Love is never manipulative; the more you love, the more you become free to be your true self, your better self. Love is always a desire to become like the one you love, a movement to becoming like the beloved, not imposing one’s self to another. Love is always an invitation to journey, to be a companion, to come and follow without hidden agendas and plans.

Love is self-emptying, of giving, of baring one’s self to another to share life, never to take advantage or pull-off a big gain or profit from another. That is why St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that God is never far from us for his word is “near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (Rom.10:8).

The grace of this First Sunday of Lent is Jesus taking the first step by coming to us out of his great love for us so that we can begin the journey back to the Father, our first love, helping us overcome the many temptations not to love. May we follow his path of powerlessness, of docility to the Holy Spirit to truly experience God’s abounding love for us. Amen.

A blessed week ahead to everyone.

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, 21 February 2022.

Praying for Ukraine

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Week VIII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 28 February 2022
1 Peter 1:3-9   ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*>   Mark 10:17-27
Photo by Irina Anastasiu on Pexels.com
Your words today, O Lord,
remind me so much of our 
brothers and sisters in Ukraine
now suffering too much a week 
after Russian forces invaded them;
they are exactly like the early 
Christians being persecuted 
during the time of St. Peter:

In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet you believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:6-9
So many times, Lord, the faith of
your people in Ukraine had been tested
in so many instances but this war now 
going on is something not only too difficult
to wage but to grasp even for us from a far
and distant land from them.
Though we do not see each other,
we feel their pains and hurts, their worries
and anxieties, most especially their fears
and uncertainties; I pray, dear God, for more
strength and courage, more unity among 
the people of Ukraine; most of all, 
I pray for deeper hope among them,
that even if things get worst, they too
may rise from the dead like your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord and true hope.
At the same time, dear Jesus,
I pray most fervently for Russian
President Putin - a very rich man 
like the one in today's gospel
who clings so much to wealth and 
power; it is so sad and deplorable
that a man like him in this age would
do the unthinkable and shameful act
of waging a war against a smaller and
peaceful nation that is their neighbor!
Awake the Russians, O Lord, 
from their drunkenness to power
and wealth; awake the Russians, O Lord,
to realize not only the follies of wars
but most especially the precious
value of every human life.  Amen.