From fishermen to fishers of men

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle-B, 24 January 2021
Jonah 3:1-5, 10  >><)))*>  1 Corinthians 7:29-31  >><)))*>  Mark 1:14-20
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

The sea evokes mixed feelings of both joy and fear at the same time. It symbolizes life itself that may be nice and lovely but difficult and dangerous too. For many people, the sea is the sign of abundant life, a source of livelihood while for some, a reminder of death and misery.

Such is the mystery of life too that at the start of the ministry of Jesus Christ, we find Mark locating its setting by the sea as we embark fully into the Ordinary Time of the liturgy.

After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen.

Mark 1:14-16

Mark wrote the first gospel account that became the framework for Matthew and Luke in writing their own versions. He was in a hurry in writing his gospel because he felt the urgency in making known the good news of Jesus Christ; thus, his gospel is also the shortest, doing away with so many other details without losing the essentials.

This we find in his brief presentation today of the beginning of Christ’s ministry set by the Sea of Galilee.


Our sea of discontent.

First thing we notice is the very nature of the coming of Jesus Christ that happens when we are in rough waters, perhaps even with a violent storm at the middle of the sea called life: After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Photo by author, sunrise at the Sea (Lake) of Galilee, 2017.

The setting was not totally good. John had been arrested. People must have been disappointed. But, that is always the cue in God’s coming called “kairos” or fullness of time, the day of judgment.

It is when we are going through difficult situations in life when we must examine ourselves too, of the need to set aside our own plans and agenda to let go and let God.

Every here and now is the time of fulfillment, a time of God’s coming to us.

Do we have the room, the space in us to welcome him to bring us into fulfillment? Hence, the need to empty ourselves, to repent and believe in Jesus Christ, the gospel himself.

Secondly, it is when we are sailing through rough seas when we also experience within that feeling of discontentment, of emptiness when there seems to be something missing in our lives even if everything is going fine like with our career or business, relationships, or family where nobody is sick or maybe the kids have all grown up and now on their own.

There comes a time in our lives when our problem is not having any problems at all — when we are no longer contented with being happy and satisfied but longing for fulfillment.

Rejoice and be glad when feeling this way! Emptiness leads to fullness as discontentment in life is always a sign of spiritual growth if we heed the calls of Jesus when desolation is a prelude to consolation.

Like in the story of creation, out of chaos comes order, exactly the experience of the first four disciples of Jesus.

As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.

Mark 1:16-20
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, Carigara, 2019.

When we are sailing through rough seas in life, that is when we have to trust God more so he can do and move in our lives to achieve the great plans he had created us for. “Be still and confess that I am God!” (Ps. 46:10), so the psalmist tells us.

Money and material things were not a problem for Simon and company. They must be well to-do as they have their own fishing boats at the time, even with men hired to work for them. Opening their hearts to listen to Jesus, they must have felt deep inside them that finally, they have found direction in life, something they have been searching for a long time.

Did they understand the meaning of “fishers of men”? We have no way of knowing it but Mark tells us how upon listening to Jesus, Simon and Andrew left everything behind and followed the Lord! Imagine the great fortune they have left behind.

Even Zebedee, the father of James and John, did not complain nor run after them to at least ask them to stay behind so they would help him run their family business because he too must have been praying for his sons to grow up and mature! Recall how the mother of James and John requested Jesus the favor to have them seated beside him when reigning in his kingdom they thought to be like the kings of their time living in a palace. Or, their attitude in asking Jesus to burn down a Samaritan village that refused them passage. These instances indicate how the brothers James and John may have been like today’s typical happy-go-lucky rich kids of their time but searching for meaning in life amid the many troubles and misadventures in life.

Jesus comes to us in a similar manner, in the ordinariness and problems and struggles of our lives like when Simon and Andrew, James, and John were busy working near the Sea of Galilee. The Lord speaks to them about what they were doing as fishermen to express to them his plans to make them fishers of men.


We do not find God;
it is God who finds us.

Every day, Jesus Christ is passing by, calling us, inviting us to repent and believe in his gospel, challenging us to face our responsibilities and most of all, asking us for our commitment. He never imposes but would always patiently wait for us.

We all search for meaning in life; for some, it may come early in life while for others, it might come later. But surely, our search for meaning, for God always come for sure because we were created that way by God.

In my personal experience, I have realized that we do not really find God; it is God who actually finds us! Moreover, nobody escapes God as attested by so many saints and even ordinary people we have known who have experienced conversion.

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, December 2020.

One beautiful story of God coming to us, searching for us, and saving us from storms at the middle of the sea of life is that of Jonah and the city of Nineveh in the first reading. Jonah himself tried to escape God when his ship encountered a severe storm in the middle of the sea that he was thrown out to be swallowed by a whale. Of course, it is symbolic but it tells us in a nutshell the urgency of proclaiming God’s message of conversion, of not escaping God. This we find when Jonah was surprised at how a pagan nation like Niniveh listened to his preaching that they were spared of God’s wrath and punishment.

Jonah and Niniveh both give us beautiful lessons in resolutely turning back to God and his ways without wasting any instant as well as God’s immense love and concern for everyone, offering his mercy and forgiveness no matter how serious our sins are.

The characters of Jonah and of the inhabitants of Niniveh may be exaggerated but they are very true even among us in our own days! Recently we have seen how things have gone worst in this life in almost every aspect especially since last year with the coming of COVID-19 pandemic.

That is why St. Paul’s call in the second reading is so timely: “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. For the world in its present form is passing away” (1Cor.7:29,31).

When St. Paul wrote the Corinthians telling them to act as not having wives or weep as not weeping means we have to detach ourselves from all that perish like material things as well as jobs and careers, and even this life we have. We have to focus more on things that last who is ultimately God in Jesus Christ.

Last week, I was so saddened with the news of the closing of the Makati Shangri-la Hotel next month. One of our parishioners is a young man working there as a chef since 2004. He is a very good man, always dropping by the parish after work, never missing a Sunday with his father who died last summer. When COVID-19 started, he would always attend our online Mass wherever he may be.

I texted him the night the news came out of the closure of their hotel next month. Beside is a screenshot of our chat that turned my sorrow into joy upon realizing Carlo’s deep faith in God.

That night, I thanked God in my final prayer, for letting Jesus passed by my room while chatting with Carlo, in taking care of Carlo.

Yesterday after Mass I talked to him again and he was already very upbeat, looking forward to celebrating the Mass with us more often while looking for a new job.

Let us pray this Sunday for everyone going through many hardships these days so they may remain open in their hearts, listening to Jesus who is passing by, calling them to be his fishers of men in this troubled seas. Amen.

A blessed week ahead of you!

A prayer for those feeling low

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday, Second Week in Ordinary Time, 19 January 2021
Hebrews 6:10-20     <*(((><<   +++   >><)))*>     Mark 2:23-28
Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, October 2019.

Dear God our Father:

Today I pray for those feeling low, for those having the blues lately when everything seems to be going wrong in their lives, feeling they have been forgotten, not cared for and not loved.

Please touch their hearts, enkindle the flames within them in continuing to serve you because You do love them.

Teach me Lord how I can let them know or feel and experience your encouraging words in today’s first reading:

Brothers and sisters: God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones. We earnestly desire each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of hope until the end, so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who, through faith and patience, are inheriting the promises.

Hebrews 6:10-12

Increase, O God, the inspiration and zeal of those serving you by continuing to be open to Your Son Jesus Christ our eternal High Priest who had gone to your presence to bring us closer to You more than ever, especially when our skies are dark and gloomy.

I pray, dear Father, in the most special way for all of our medical frontliners in the fight against COVID-19 to never lose hope despite the dismal way how things are going on in our country in this time of the pandemic; touch the hearts of those losing hope in fighting for what is true and just, for those striving to contribute to make this world a better place to live in with their contributions in the sciences and to the society.

Assure them, O Lord, that all your promises of salvation and healing will be fulfilled soon by experiencing your loving presence in the celebrations of the Holy Eucharist.

Like the apostles in the gospel today, may those working for improving human life in various sectors of the society experience Jesus Christ’s love and defense for them against those trying to discredit them. May their love for others, for the country, for the Church, and for You, Lord, mature according to Your will. Amen.

Prayer to enter God’s rest

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Friday, Week-I, Year -I in Ordinary Time, 15 January 2021
Hebrews 4:1-5, 11  >><)))*> >><)))*> + <*(((><< <*(((><<  Mark 2:1-12
Photo by author, sunrise at the Lake of Galilee in Israel, 2017.

Let us be on guard while the promise of entering into his rest remains, that none of you seem to have failed… Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:1, 11

Thank you, dear God this Friday with Your words reminding us of “entering Your rest”, Your Sabbath!

But what is Your “rest”, God our Father?

More than a particular day of the week, it is first of all Your very presence like in paradise that our first parents have lost due to their pride and disobedience to You.

May we heed and learn from the reflections of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews of how Your chosen people, the Israelites, disobeyed you, dear God, while in the wilderness that prevented them from entering Your rest in the Promised Land of Israel, spending 40 years wandering in the desert.

Sadly, all these continue to happen in our own time when we are supposed to be disciples of Your Son Jesus Christ.

Help us O God to resist the temptations and strive hard to see you, feel you, and experience you.

Help us to be like those men carrying the paralytic who sought ways and means to see Jesus Christ, our only true hope and inspiration and consolation in times like these. It is in Jesus Christ’s coming that we are able to enter Your rest freely and truly, dear God, to experience Your love and mercy, kindness and compassion we have all taken for granted.

But, more than a place and a day, Your rest, O Lord, is heaven, Your very presence, that very moment when Jesus healed and forgave the sins of the paralytic, astounding everyone, glorifying You, saying, “We have never seen anything like this” (Mk.2:12).

Let us “rest” in You, dear God by returning to You, of being renewed in You with Your whole creation in Jesus. Amen.

Photo by author, sunset somewhere in Pampanga, 13 January 2021.

We are all brothers and sisters in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday, Week-I, Year-I in Ordinary Time, 12 January 2021
Hebrews 2:5-12   +   >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<   +   Mark 1:21-28

Praise and glory to you, O God our Father in giving us your Son Jesus Christ. Not just as Savior but as a brother by suffering and dying for us.

What a great mystery You have revealed to us when Jesus could have just come and simply be our brother through a declaration from You when He was baptized at Jordan; but, He chose to obediently go through Passion and Death.

So often, we take this so ordinarily without realizing its deeper meaning that Your glory and our salvation should be brought about by Jesus becoming one of us but that He should go through so much pain and suffering on the cross, not to mention the indescribable humiliation He went through.

You know so well, O God, how we see sufferings as punishment but in Jesus Christ you have shown and taught us that in fact it is a source of Your abounding grace.

In “subjecting” all things to him, he left nothing not “subject to him.” Yet at present we do not see “all things subject to him,” but we do see Jesus “crowned with glory and honor” because he suffered death, he who “for a little while” was made “lower than the angels,” that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering.

Hebrews 2:8-10

How sad that like in Capernaum during His time, we are amazed, wondering, asking: “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him” (Mk.1:27).

Help us, O God, to embrace this beautiful mystery and reality of Jesus Christ’s coming that through His obedience to You even in suffering and death, He is able to help us, consecrating us to You because we are His brothers and sisters in suffering and death. Amen.

When ordinary means “special”

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Monday, Week-I, Year-I in Ordinary Time, 11 January 2021
Hebrews 1:1-6     >><)))*> + >><)))*> + >><)))*>     Mark 1:24-20
Photo by author, Pulilan by-pass road, 25 February 2020.

Please clear our minds, O God our Father, to stop taking for granted anything called or labeled as “ordinary” like our Ordinary Time in the liturgy that begins today. So often, when we hear the word “ordinary”, we dismiss it as something not so important, of lesser value.

May we realize that the word “ordinary” implies orderliness, regularity as its Latin root means “rule”. The ordinary days, the ordinary people, the ordinary fares – whatever ordinary always makes up the bulk of our lives.

And who is the supreme ordinary of our lives but You, O God?!

So let us stop taking granted whatever or whoever we deem as ordinary because they are the rule of the day. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews said it so well for us today:

Photo by author, November 2019.

Brothers and sisters: In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through the Son, whom he made heir to all things and through whom he created the universe.

Hebrews 1:1-2

Today begins the rule of my life, the rule of each day – Jesus Christ who had come to make You known to us, dear God our Father. He is the rule, the order of each day because everything was created in Him and through Him.

Today begins the rule and order of grace and peace, of kindness and charity, of love and mercy because “this is the time of fulfillment, the coming of Your Kingdom” (Mk.1:15).

Teach me, dear Jesus, to have this regularity of life, of having order in my life that begins and ends in You because you have come to make me and everyone truly special by being closer to the Father through one another. Amen.

Looking back, looking forward in Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Baptism of the Lord, 10 January 2021
Isaiah 55:1-11   +   1 John 5:1-9   +   Mark 1:7-11

On this second week of January we celebrate the final epiphany of Jesus Christ as an adult in His baptism by John the Baptist at Jordan River which is also called a “theophany” when God the Father made known to everyone Jesus is His beloved Son with whom He is well-pleased.

The other two epiphanies were last Sunday when Jesus manifested to the nations of the world symbolized by the Magi while the other was during His Nativity when He appeared to the poor and lowly symbolized by the shepherds for whom He first came for.

His baptism at Jordan closes the Christmas season that coincides with our secular calendar’s entry to the second week of January which is named after the Roman god Janus who has two faces with one looking forward to the future and the other looking backwards to the past.

It is exactly what our liturgical and secular calendars in this month of January are both telling us – that we are at the threshold of new beginnings, new start as we slowly leave the past behind. And what a blessed start we have on this Solemnity of the Lord’s Baptism when Jesus reminds us of His presence this 2021 which experts predict would just be an extension of 2020. We are looking to the future in Jesus and with Jesus while we look back to the past seeing the great things the Lord had done for us!

This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:7-11

Jesus Christ our Good News

For this year 2021 properly referred to in liturgy as “Cycle B”, we shall have Mark as our guide and companion in our Sunday Mass journey in the Lord (Cycle A is with Matthew, Cycle C is Luke; we hear John on special occasions like Christmas and Easter).

As I have told you during Advent, Mark wrote the first gospel account, it is the shortest because he was in a hurry in making known the good news right away. But, as Shakespeare had said, brevity is the soul of wit; Mark’s brief and direct reporting of the events and teachings of Jesus open for us so many reflections that make us experience the Lord.

Right away at the start of his gospel account, Mark tells us the baptism of Jesus as the inaugural event of the Gospel in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies announcing the coming of John the Baptist as Precursor to the coming of the Christ.

See his manner of narrating, stating matter-of-factly without any further ado that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John; he seems to be in a hurry to tell us something great, something important and so beautiful: On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.

I like that part when he said “the heavens being torn open” or in some translations which I prefer, “the sky rent in two”. What a beautiful imagery, so evocative of God intervening into our lives, descending into our world to bring order, to bring peace!

In the Book of Isaiah which is read during Lent, we find that beautiful expression, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down” (Is.63:19-64:3).

I love that so much! Imagine God rending, tearing apart the heavens like an action hero coming from behind to save us, to protect us, to get us.

Also in Mark’s gospel, he tells us how Jesus at his last breath “rending” while the curtain at the sanctuary of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Mk.15:38).

For the heavens to be rent apart shows us God finally intervening into our lives and affairs to set things right, to have some order.

And that is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ that happens daily in our lives. God has rent the heavens and descended upon us in His Son Jesus Christ who clothed Himself in our humanity so we can be like Him, divine and holy.

It is an invitation He extends to us every day, beautifully expressed by Prophet Isaiah in the first reading:

Thus says the Lord: All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord… so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:1-3, 8, 11

What a beautiful assurance to us this day with the threats of new strains of COVID-19 and problems in having the vaccine, here is God assuring us all the good things we need in this life. Of course, it is not merely the material things we need but surely all good things like milk and honey we need not only to survive but to live fully.

This Feast of the Baptism of the Lord assures us all the blessings and fulfillment we need and long for this 2021 if we accept His invitation to be one with Him.

How sad that too often, we reject Christ’s invitation, thinking how difficult it is to keep the commandments of God without realizing that they are indeed “not burdensome” (1 Jn.5:3) because the more we sin, the more life gets harder and heavier for us.

Today God assures us of His love, of how his favor rests upon us in Jesus Christ.

May we heed His calls so we may see Him rending the heavens apart, coming to our rescue, coming to our aid and presence. Amen.

A blessed Sunday to you!

Hardened hearts

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Wednesday after the Epiphany of the Lord, 06 January 2021
1 John 4:11-18     <*(((><<   +   >><)))*>     Mark 6:45-52
Photo by author, St. Anne’s Catholic Church inside the old Jerusalem, May 2017.

He got into the boat with them and the wind died down. They were completely astounded. They had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened.

Mark 6:51-52

So many times, Lord, our hearts are hardened like your Apostles’: hardened by so many fears and anxieties due to our lack or weak faith in you; hardened by anger and disappointments and failures in the past we cannot let go, festering our hearts and everything we have inside our very selves.

Our hearts are hardened too by our disbelief and doubts, even mistrust in you, dear Lord Jesus. Most of the time, our hearts are hardened when like the Apostles we see only the surface of things that happened, failing to see their deeper meaning, of your immense love and care for us.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us and his love is brought to perfection in us. This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us, that he has given us of his Spirit.

1 John 4:11-13

Our hearts are hardened, dear Jesus, because we have refused to love, love truly from within without the need to always hug and kiss one another or give gifts that eventually add up to the clatter inside our house, office or school.

Sometimes all we need is just a break from the daily grind so we may see and appreciate our loved ones too by opening our hearts to them, caring for those lost, for those having difficulties in life these days.

How wonderful was the beloved disciple to have constructed his sentence in such a holy arrangement, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.”

Instead of loving You, O God who so loved us, he beautifully declared, we also must love one another. To love You, dear God, is to love the person next to me. And the more we love, the more we see Your coming to us, dispelling all our fears in the darkness and storm.

Let our hearts be softened today with your love, Lord, a love that is free and not afraid to reach out to others. Amen.

Photo by author, December 2020.

Ang tunay na nakakatakot

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-5 ng Enero 2021
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, Kapilya ng Banal na Mag-Anak, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2016
Maraming pagkakataon
mas nakakikilabot
mas nakakatakot
maniwala sa Diyos
kesa multo dahil ang Diyos
totoong totoo,
samantala ang multo
nasa guni-guni mo lang ito.
Nasubukan mo na bang manalangin
ng taimtim
habang ang lahat sa iyo
ay pagkadilim-dilim?
Para kang isang baliw
nagsusumamo sa Diyos
sa iyong mga hiling at hinaing
ngunit parang di ka naman Niya pansin?
O kaya naman
kung minsan sa iyong karanasan
tila wala nang maasahan
ang lahat ika'y iniwanan
at wala ka nang ibang patutunguhan
maliban sa Siya na lang ang panaligan
parang suntok sa buwan
kung ikaw ma'y mapagbibigyan?
Hindi ba't sa kahuli-hulihan
Diyos parating nariyan
nasa tabi mo lamang
hindi ka naman Niya iniiwan
ika'y sinusubukan lamang
habang ginagawan Niya ng paraan
iyong maselang na katayuan
hindi magluluwat, tiyak na malalampasan?
Mahirap talagang ipaliwanag
yaring hiwaga ng ating buhay
na sa Diyos lamang nakasalalay;
kahit anong sablay
minsa'y wala kang kamalay-malay
puno pa rin ito ng maraming kulay
dahil tunay na tunay
ang Diyos sa atin nakikipamuhay!
Kaya manalig ka na sa Diyos tuwina
maski hindi mo Siya nakikita
marami ka pang lalong makikita
di lamang sa iyong mga mata
kungdi pati sa kaluluwa
hiwaga at katotohanang
di maaarok kaya nakakatakot kasi...
damang-dama mo Siya dahil katabi mo na pala!
(At magulat ka pa!)
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, 28 Disyembre 2020.

*Tingnan din naunang tula, https://lordmychef.com/2020/06/18/ang-tunay-na-nakakikilabot/.

Our birth from God

The Lord Is My Chef Noche Buena Recipe for the Soul
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Mass at Christmas Eve, 24 December 2020
Isaiah 62:1-5  >><)))*>  Acts 13:16-17, 22-25  >><)))*>  Matthew 1:18-25 
Photo by Ms. Jonna S. De Guzman, 06 December 2020.

A blessed Merry Christmas to everyone!

One good thing with this ongoing pandemic is the retrieval and return to the basic meanings of our many traditions, rites and rituals in the Church, beginning with Lent and Easter last summer. The same thing is happening this Christmas Season when we have to accommodate more people amid our health protocols that we have revived the oft-neglected Vigil Mass of the Nativity of the Lord.

It is partly true that our December 25 celebration of Christ’s birth has something to do with the Christianization of some ancient pagan practices in Rome like the “sol invictus” or “invincible sun” introduced in 274 by Emperor Aurelius. When Emperor Constantine rose to power whose mother was Queen Helen or Sta. Elena of our Santacruzan fame, Christianity was finally accepted in Rome giving rise to the new religion and the Church. After the Peace of Constantine of 313, the feast of the Nativity of the Lord replaced the pagan celebration of the sun. Jesus is now seen as the fulfillment of the prophecy as “Sun of justice” (Mal. 3:20) while at the same time, we find in John 8:12 Christ calling himself as “the Light of the world”.

Eventually in Rome developed the three Masses of Christmas: the night Mass referred to as Midnight Mass even if it does not have to be at midnight adapted from the Christian tradition in Bethlehem of having night Mass on January 6, the Epiphany; during the fifth century, the Pope brought this to Rome after the Council of Ephesus but celebrated it on December 24 at the Church of St. Mary Major to stress the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. On Christmas Day before dawn, the Pope would go to the Church of Anastasia to celebrate Mass for the anniversary of the Greek colony in Rome where the reading was taken from Luke about the visit of the shepherds to the newborn baby Jesus before celebrating the Mass at St. Peter’s where the reading was taken this time from the Gospel according to John.

Vatican II deemed it right that aside from these three traditional Masses of Christmas to add the Vigil Mass in the afternoon or early evening of the 24th as it has always been customary to have a vigil on the eve of every great feast “to prolong the day” like what we have on Saturday afternoon when we celebrate the Sunday Mass. Unfortunately, the Vigil Mass of Christmas is rarely celebrated due to practical reasons we have the three traditional Masses.

Now we have it again for practical purposes – the very same reason it used to be skipped before – to accommodate the expected large number of people going to Mass every Christmas while we observe the health protocols against COVID-19 that has been rapidly spreading again lately with the season.

It is perhaps providential that we need to celebrate anew this Vigil Mass of Christmas as a beautiful reminder to us not only of the birth of Jesus Christ but also of our own coming and birth. St. John Paul II said in 1995 that “every birthday is a small Christmas because with the birth of every person comes Jesus Christ” (Evangelium Vitae).

A figurine of the Holy Family with St. Joseph taking Baby Jesus while the Blessed Virgin Mary sleeps.

Our genealogy in Jesus and birth from God

For the Vigil Mass, we heard again Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ, tracing the roots of our Lord and Savior from David and Abraham, the two most prominent people of Old Testament: it was to David that God promised from whom will come the eternal king while it was to Abraham who was given the promise of fatherhood to all nations (https://lordmychef.com/2020/12/16/the-problem-with-beginning/).

Recall in our reflection last December 17 how Matthew structured the genealogy of Jesus as well as the history of Israel around David by having three sets of 14 generations from Abraham to David, then from his son and successor Solomon to the Babylonian exile, and from their return to Israel to Christ’s coming.

But here is the more interesting part of the genealogy and history of Jesus by Matthew: with God’s sending of His Son Jesus Christ, there came a shift of focus in the structure of peoples and history from being centered on the imperfect King David to the perfect true King of the universe, Jesus Christ!

Whereas the world had to wait to three sets of fourteen generations to experience redemption and freedom, our lives are now centered and structured on Jesus Christ our eternal King with everyday a new beginning to rise again to new life.

See how from Christ’s day of birth, history became “His story” when our lives are all seen in relation to Him in the way we reckon time as “AD” for Anno Domini as Year of the Lord or “BC” for Before Christ. Lately, historians have preferred to use the initials CE for Christian Era or BCE for Before Christian Era but it is all the same with Jesus as point reference of history and time.

What does it mean to us today as we celebrate the Lord’s birth?

Christmas has given us our new origin with faith in Jesus Christ as our true genealogy for we are all birth from God our Father!

Photo by author, the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, 2019.

We remain as God’s first love

“You shall be called by anew name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord. No more shall men call you “Forsaken”, or your land “Desolate”, but you shall be called “My Delight”, and your land “Espoused”. For the Lord delights in you, and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.”

Isaiah 62:2, 4-5

Our first reading tonight fits perfectly well Matthew’s story of how the birth of Jesus came about, telling us how the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream so he would marry her after explaining her pregnancy was due to the Holy Spirit.

Every year in Simbang Gabi we reflect on this mission of Joseph to give the name “Jesus” to the child to be born by Mary (https://lordmychef.com/2020/12/16/our-origin-and-mission-in-jesus-christ-2/).

The giving of name in the Bible always means authority that is why God tasked the first man He created to name every creature in paradise. The same is true with our parents giving us names or sweethearts calling us with other names exclusively theirs only like terms of endearment.

But in this part of Isaiah’s prophecy, God once again is demonstrating His all-powerful creativity to give a new breath of life to Israel His chosen people long held in captivity now set to go free, no longer called Forsaken or Desolate but now My Delight and the land Espoused.

In giving His people with new names, God reasserts His taking “possession” of not only Israel but of us all. The original meaning of the word “to espouse” as in “Espoused” found in Is. 62:4 can’t really be translated directly but very close “to possess” which is what a spouse means, the partner being possessed by the other. But possession here is not selfish; in fact, it is more of giving and sharing as indicated by the imagery of wedding, of unity that leads to joy. Recall also how Pope Francis explained in his recent letter “Patris Corde” (With a Father’s Heart) what is to truly “possess” persons based on the virtue of chastity like St. Joseph (https://lordmychef.com/2020/12/17/loving-with-a-fathers-heart-like-st-joseph/).

Tonight on this Vigil Mass we are reminded how the Son of God Jesus Christ came to live among us to remind us and conclude as well God’s covenant with mankind that we are His first love, a love that never dies, a love He continues to renew in us daily.

Like Joseph who gave the name Jesus to the child born by Mary, may we keep in mind and heart that we are from God, that we are His, that we must continue to relate with Him no matter what is our status in life like those imperfect, weak and sinful men and women in Christ’s genealogy.

Let us rejoice this Christmas in our first love too, God, our one and only. Amen.

A blessed Christmas to you!

Photo by Ms. Jonna S. De Guzman, 06 December 2020.

Advent is tenderness of God

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul-9
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Advent Week IV, 24 December 2020
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16     >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<     Luke 1:67-79
Photo by author, altar at our sacristy, 19 December 2020.

One thing that have really made this pandemic so bad and so sad is the lack of tenderness of our many officials to the people they are supposed to serve. Consider all these pains and inconveniences they have caused us the public from the fatal shooting of that Marawi veteran in Quezon City to the detention of Mang Dodong at the height of the lockdown to the closure of the largest network in the country mid-year then on to stupidities of first the motorcycle barrier, then the closure of U-turn slots at EDSA capped by the insane RFID at NLEX and now the inhuman shooting of mother and son by an off-duty policeman.

As one of my friends wrote on his FB page last April, “bakit kung kailan panahon ng pandemya na dapat magtulungan at magmahalan saka puro karahasan?” (why all the the violence happening during pandemic when we are supposed to be helping and more loving to one another?).

What a year indeed of natural calamities worsened by some public officials so detached from the sufferings of the people.

And that, my friends, is why we have to celebrate all the more – meaningfully – Christmas.

God is perfect and cannot suffer; hence, He sent us His only Son Jesus Christ to be one with us in our sufferings and miseries, to suffer with us – cum passio – express His compassion.

On this last day of our novena to Christmas, we see how Zechariah comes into full circle singing praises to God (called Benedictus in Latin) after being forced by the angel into full silence becoming speechless when he doubted God’s gift of a child to him and his wife Elizabeth.

Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.”

Luke 1:67-69
Photo by author, Advent Week IV, 20 December 2020.

Jesus already present among us in the coming of John

During the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Luke never mentioned Zechariah around the house so that Elizabeth and her baby in her womb were the only ones were filled with the Holy Spirit upon hearing Mary’s greeting.

Now, after naming his son “John”, Luke tells us how Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit too that he prophesied the meaning of the coming of his son as “prophet of the Most High” in 1:76.

See the three verbs he used after blessing God in his canticle called Benedictus: “Blessed be the Lord… he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.” The verbs are all in the past tense when in fact, what he was saying was supposed to be of what would happen after the birth of John, the coming of Jesus Christ.

Here we find the complete faith and trust of Zechariah to the plan of God like Mary in her Magnificat. Zechariah had seen something so big, something momentous taking place while still in the midst of darkness of his time and world just like us in this pandemic and calamities, callous officials in government and police.

Dear friends: Jesus has come, had set us free (saved us), and had risen to work all His wonders! Let us keep our faith and hope like Zechariah that God has already started working in our favor to turn the tide and soon, things will surely get better if we remain consistent to our response to His calls, standing for life and dignity of every person through whom Jesus comes, for what is true and just.

Photo by author, Church of St. John the Baptist at Ein-Karen, Israel (2019).

From the hand of God into the heart of God

Yesterday we reflected on how we have to allow ourselves to be “the hand of God”, to let Him do His work among us through our hands. Today in Zechariah’s Benedictus we find a movement from the hand of God to His very heart in Jesus Christ our Savior.

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Luke 1:78-79

After seeing the coming of the Christ in the birth of his son John, Zechariah now summarizes to us the very essence of Jesus our Savior, of God Himself: tender compassion or in the original Greek, splaghna or “tender mercy” of God.

It is not just compassion which is to suffer with us but at the same time be filled with tenderness that one is so moved to reach out, to do something by going down with the one suffering.

Like courage, mercy is a movement in the heart called misericordia in Spanish from the Latin mittere, meaning to be moved, to be stirred. It is something dynamic, not static. It is a deep feeling that moves toward someone in pain and suffering. An identification of Jesus with every person going through so much hardships and sufferings in life.

Zechariah’s heart is no longer hardened with negativity and cynicism – it was so stirred by God that he mentioned His tender mercy or compassion because he had personally felt it as he recovered his voice and speech. With the birth of John, he now believes that God’s love for his suffering people is deep and personal. As we say in Filipino, “tagos o sagad sa buto” which may be translated as “through and through”.

And that is perhaps one of the things we sorely miss so much these days from everyone, tenderness. The tender compassion, tender mercy of Jesus. Recall how during His ministry all four evangelists would narrate how Jesus was moved with pity and compassion to the people who were lost, tired and sick “like sheep without a shepherd” that no matter how tired He may be, He would always find time to teach them, heal their sick, and even feed them.

That is the mercy of God that Jesus had brought forth to us in His coming, experienced by Zechariah himself that he could foresee its coming at the birth of John.

Photo by author, Advent Week IV, 20 December 2020.

We priests and religious pray the Benedictus in our morning prayer called lauds (Latin for praises). It is so fitting because at the start of each day, that must be the one thing clear with us always – that the Lord is come to save us, to forgive us, to love us.

One saying I have always loved mentioning in my talks to people came from an anonymous writer I found on the table of a good friend long before I became a priest. It says: “If you have love in your heart, you have been blessed by god; if you have been loved, you have been touched by God.”

That is the Benedictus, the song of every faithful disciple of Jesus introducing His coming, His birth. So many people have forgotten God, do not know God, refused to believe in God because many among us He had lavishly loved have refused to share His love with others.

Have a blessed and meaningful Christmas! Thank you for following our reflections. Share it if you have been blessed.

Photo by author, Christmas 2019.