40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Feast of Chair of St. Peter, 22 February 2021
*This is a prayer I have written in 22 February 2018, Year of Clergy and Consecrated Persons in our preparations for the 500th year of our Christianization in the Philippines happening next month. I find the prayer still relevant specially in the light of our recent reshuffle of assignments in the diocese.
This is my 22nd Lent as a priest, Lord; but, it is only now have I realized how lovely is this season with You offering us with the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter to deepen our priesthood following our recent new assignments.
Open us to pray and reflect St. Peter’s exhortation in the first reading to “tend the flock of God” by being examples.
Help us to take into our hearts the beautiful words by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that “the primacy of Peter symbolized by his chair atop the magnificent altar at the Vatican is the primacy of faith and the primacy of love” (Images of Hope, Ignatius Press, 2006).
Help us recall, too, the reminder of Pope Francis that “we priests have a mission, not an assignment… that we must smell like the sheep.”
Forgive us, dear Jesus in making priesthood another career as we talk more about programs and offices, positions and shamefully, about perks and money. We have forgotten priesthood is a mission when You called Simon as Peter, the rock on whom You established Your Church.
May we keep in mind without forgetting the value of education that St. Peter started Your Church without any degrees in philosophy and theology, management and psychology except a deep, personal faith in You.
Teach us Your priests to nurture Your gift of faith, reminding us that no organizational or management efficiency could ever keep our unity as a Church if we are separated from You.
That is the meaning of this feast of the Chair of St. Peter: the primacy of Simon’s faith in You Lord Jesus for without You, we cannot do anything. Remind us that whenever You choose us for a mission, it is a call for more faith in You than in us or our skills and talents.
And so, I pray, Lord Jesus, for more love for us priests in You. Faith leads to love that leads us to You in heaven and to others here on earth. Help us bring back love to Your Church so people may experience You again among us and others as the Body of Christ, a community of believers. How often do we forget it is Your Church and not ours for us to lord it over them – even for shameful profit as St. Peter had warned us in the first reading!
Let us stop hurting Your Church, Jesus, in our lack of love and charity so people would see You again in us as servant-leaders. Fill us Your priests with more faith and more love to keep Your Church alive to finally stop all “hearsays” about who You really are like at Caesarea Philippi. Amen.
40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, 22 February 2021
1 Peter 5:1-4 + + + + + Matthew 16:13-19
Dearest Lord Jesus Christ:
On this feast of the Chair of St. Peter when we celebrate the sacred office of the Papacy you have bestowed upon St. Peter as your Vicar here on earth, I pray for us your priests.
Help us your priests to heed the call of Pope Francis to “smell like your sheep” which is so attuned with the call of St. Peter himself in the first reading:
Beloved: Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples of the flock.
1 Peter 5:2-3
Forgive us, dear Jesus, when we your priests demand so much from your flock that we forget to serve them faithfully and lovingly.
Forgive us, dear Jesus, when we your priests are allured by social media and all forms of glitz and glamor that unconsciously we have replaced you, making our selves as the new gods to be worshipped and adored by the people.
Forgive us, dear Jesus, when we your priests abandon your flock and go with the world that we look and smell like the rich and famous.
Give us the courage and determination to first of all be centered in you, to pray daily and most of all, celebrate the Holy Eucharist with love and devotion so people may see you more, experience you more, hear you more and taste you more.
May we spend more time and energy with you, dear Jesus in prayers because it is you whom we must know first on a daily basis. Let us come to you always in Caesarea Philippi, your place of confronting us with that crucial question “But who do you say that I am?” that we never hear nor answer because we have left you. As a result, people are still confused of who you really are when we fail to live and serve in you.
May we keep in mind that the Primacy of St. Peter’s office, of our ministry and of every kind of leadership in our home and schools, offices and government is always the PRIMACY OF LOVE IN YOU. Amen.
Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-10 ng Pebrero 2021
Doon sa magandang simbahang
aming pinuntahan kamakailan
matatagpuan din kakaibang larawan
ng ikalawang pagkadapa ni Jesus
habang ang Kanyang krus ay pasan;
isa sa mga taga-usig Niya
hindi kita mga mata dahil
suot niya may kulay na antipara
kagaya ng maraming nabubulagan
at hindi makita katotohanan
nasisilaw sa kapangyarihan
ngunit kaliwanagan ayaw masilayan.
Palagi namang kulang at kapos
ating kaisipan at karunungan
kahit anong ingat at siyasat
Diyos lamang ang ganap
na Siyang nakasisipat
ng mga magaganap
na ni wala sa ating mga hinagap
kaya naman madalas mas mainam pa
na ating matanggap kahit mabigat
kakulangan maging kahangalan
ng mga nanunungkulan.
Madalas aking napag-iisipan
sa dami ng mga kamalian
kagagawan ko o ng iba pa man
kailanma'y hindi naman ako pinabayaan
ng Panginoong Maykapal;
sinasamahan maging sa pagpapasan
ng mga pinagdurusahang bunga
ng mga kasalanan at kamalian
hanggang sa maliwanagan
lahat ay malampasan
at muling makabangon
sa Kanyang kabutihan at kaganapan.
Ito ang ating panaligang
katotohanan sa ating buhay:
lahat ay nagkakamali
maging mga pari
ngunit si Jesus kailanma'y
sa atin ng Kanyang pagpili
kaya tayo ay manatili
patunayan nating hindi Siya nagkakamali
magsumakit sa Kanya mapalapit
hanggang ang langit ay masapit!
Mayroong mga nagsasabi
ito raw lalaking nakasalaming may kulay
ay si Caiaphas na punong pari
na siyang humatol laban kay Jesus
nang Siya ay litisin ng Sanhedrin
nang dakpin noong gabi sa hardin
kay gandang pagnilayan
ngayong aming lipatan ng kaparian
paalala sa amin ng yaring larawan
alisin na at hubarin salamin na madilim
upang makita si Jesus nakadapa sa tabi.
The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 07 February 2021 Job 7:1-4, 6-7 >><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23 >><}}}*> Mark 1:29-39
Mark continues to show us a slice in the daily life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We have seen last week how everything began at the synagogue where Jesus preached and healed on a day of sabbath.
The Lord is clearly telling us that everything must begin and end in God. Always.
This Sunday we see a complete 24-hour look not only into the life and ministry of Jesus but most specially to his very person as the Christ, the Son of God as he continued his preaching while proclaiming his good news of salvation to everyone.
And to truly experience him and his gospel, we have to make that effort of meeting him.
On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waiting on them.
Day time with the Lord…
We all know by heart God’s third commandment to keep holy the sabbath day. This commandment was perfected in Jesus Christ when he rose again on Easter, the day after sabbath which is our Sunday celebration.
It is true that sabbath day is Saturday but when Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, the early Christians who were all Jews shifted their day of worship to Sunday. Such shift was very remarkable, proving beyond doubt the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus for the Jewish followers of Christ to abandon their Saturday worship.
In Jesus Christ, we find sabbath not just a stop in work and everything but a return to God who is our life. Such is the centrality of God in our lives that sabbath is the day of the Lord because it is the only day without any other day at par with – walang katapat kasi walang katapat ang Diyos! See there are seven days in a week, an odd number because there is one day without any “partner day” like for example Monday-Tuesday, Wednesday-Thursday, Friday-Saturday.
Sabbath which is Sunday for us Christians is solely for the Lord!
The four disciples of Jesus must have known earlier of the fever of Simon’s mother-in-law; they must have been worried but they went along with Jesus to the synagogue to pray and worship God first, casting aside all their worries for they were with the Lord.
It was after coming from the synagogue, when Mark tells us how “they immediately told him about her” that they witnessed and experienced an outpouring of grace in their home and family.
That imagery of Jesus grasping the hand and raising her up is so rich in meaning that tells us how God helps those who help themselves.
Imagine how even if we do not pray daily nor celebrate Mass weekly yet God never fails to bless us every day. How much more if we come and meet him every Sunday!
Here we find how every true worship of God with the community extends to our families when we bring home Jesus if we are with him so we can immediately tell him our concerns in life. Jesus comes daily to us, always wanting to hold our hands and raise us up to be well and better than before like Simon’s mother-in-law but, are we willing to meet him especially in the Holy Eucharist?
In the first reading, we find Job crying to God, lamenting his many sufferings and the sad condition of life in general, something like what Qoheleth had written. It is not a cry of revolt by Job but more of a complaint coming from the heart of a faithful servant caught between despair and hope who finds life’s nothingness without God. Despite his losing all his children and workers in a day along with his properties not to mention his getting sick, Job never turned away from God and kept on calling to him in the silence of his heart from daytime to evening until the Lord heard him and blessed him fourfold.
When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door… Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon those who were with him pursued him… He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.
Mark 1:32-33, 35-36, 38-39
Remaining in the Lord even in darkness…
It was still Saturday but sabbath day had already ended at 5PM (having started at 5PM of Friday) that people have started to come to Jesus to seek his healing from their sickness and possessions by evil spirits.
Darkness did not stop Jesus from serving the people despite the difficulties of seeing them, of being so tired and hungry at night, even sleepy. Likewise, darkness did not prevent Jesus communing with the Father by rising before dawn to go to a deserted place to pray alone. What a very beautiful image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd lovingly serving the sick and the poor and as our Eternal Priest making time to pray, ensuring prayer as center not only of his ministry but of his life.
That is 28 hours a week, meaning we lose one whole day or 24 hours weekly just for Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms! Not included are the hours spent watching television. How about time with God and with our loved ones?
Please allow me now to be a little personal as this is also my last full week in this first parish I have served for nine years and seven months.
If there is one thing I have learned so well from here is the value and importance ofless.
Since my ordination in 1998 until 2010, I have always been celebrating Masses in major parishes like the Malolos Cathedral, the Santissima Trinidad in Malolos (a pilgrimage parish), and the Parish and National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Valenzuela. Every Mass, every sacrament there was really big time with large congregations coming.
Totally the opposite here in my first parish assignment under the beloved disciple of Jesus, St. John Evangelist. Small church building without a garage nor a patio in one small baranggay with about 12000 souls to care for.
My predecessors saw this as too small that they did not have daily Masses. But I felt in my prayers that is the only thing Jesus wanted me to do here: make him present in the daily Masses and other sacraments.
We started with just five people attending our daily Masses while Sundays were half-filled. Before COVID-19, we have increased attendees to our daily Masses to about 20 people and our Sunday celebrations have become almost seating capacity.
At first I felt sad and disappointed but the people here kept on telling me it is a miracle already that “so many people” were coming for the Masses. Slowly, I have come to accept our situation that that’s the way it is. And that is where I felt God blessing us so abundantly with our less!
Modesty aside, in the past nine years we have sent more children to receiving the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation (without any fees but with free snacks) since 1998 when this started as a quasi parish. We have almost baptized every adult person who have not yet received the sacrament too.
COVID-19 stopped everything, affecting our collections so bad but we just kept on serving and proclaiming Jesus with our daily Masses seen online, motorcade of the Blessed Sacrament every week, distribution of the Holy Communion every Sunday to those who attended our online Mass including through our innovative “drive-thru” Communion.
We never beg the people for donations but they all poured in, enabling us to continue helping the poor like helping them bury their dead, even renovate our church with the finest liturgical vessels and things!
One thing has become clear with me: always begin in God, keep him as our center in everything and all else follows.
Remember those days when you were centered in Christ; despite the problems and trials, we were never forsaken by the Lord. Even if we have lost some of our life’s battles, we have still emerged victorious because we have become stronger and fulfilled inside.
We all come and go, especially us priests but, our mission as disciples of Christ remains the same everywhere which is to make Jesus present, make God known to everyone like in the gospel today. This we can only accomplish when we remain one in him, totally free for him and free from other attachments to be free for all.
Like St. Paul, may we all strive especially us your priests to be “all things to all men” -omnia omnibus (1Cor.9:22) by being free to lovingly serve others especially the weak and the poor in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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
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).
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.
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.
How sad these recent years, we priests and bishops complain so often how people would no longer listen to usin the Church.
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 Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday, Memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus, Bishops, 26 January 2021
2 Timothy 1:1-8 >><)))*> +++ <*(((><< Luke 10:1-9
Dearest Lord Jesus Christ:
A day after celebrating the feast of the conversion of your great Apostle Paul, we now remember his two collaborators and companions in fulfilling his mission from you, Timothy and Titus, trustworthy men who carried out so many of his works.
And so today, we pray Lord Jesus in your name to please send us collaborators in your mission, men and women who are trustworthy who share in your vision and mission, endeavors and responsibilities. Collaborators in you, Lord, who are willing and ready to serve the Gospel with generosity like Timothy and Titus who represented Paul in many circumstances far from easy.
Send us, dear Jesus, more workers in your field, collaborators in you with our bishops and priests, even with our leaders in government who shall think more of serving the people, thinking more of the welfare of others than one’s personal advantages like power and fame.
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”
What will happen to your people, Lord Jesus when your servants and collaborators become the wolves, unmindful of the needs of the people, forgetting their mission of proclaiming your Gospel, of celebrating your Holy Sacrifice of the Mass much needed these days?
What will happen to your people, Lord Jesus when your servants and collaborators become afraid of doing what is true and right, trying to please men and women than God, avoiding problems and difficulties?
“For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control … bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.”
2 Timothy 1:6-7, 8
Help us follow, dear Jesus, your Apostle Paul’s recommendation to Titus, “I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply to themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men.”
May we be more committed to you, Jesus Christ than to anyone else, even to our selfish motives so that we may be rich in good deeds to open the doors of the world to you our Lord and Master. Amen.
The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Wednesday, Second Week in Ordinary Time, 20 January 2021
Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17 >><)))*> +++ <*(((><< Mark 3:1-6
O God our Father, we praise and thank you in making us share in the priesthood of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and eternal Priest. So many times we forget – priests and lay people alike – the meaning of our priesthood which is to communicate your love to others, to become a bridge of men and women with God.
So many times we have become legalistic, paying more attention to the letters of the laws, to forms and to rituals forgetting the very essence of loving service for others. We always enter the church but never the community of believers.
Jesus entered the synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand. They watched Jesus closely to see if he would cure him on then sabbath that they might accuse him. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Come up here before us.” Then he said to the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” But they remained silent.
What a shame, dear God when such moments happen when we refuse to look at the persons with their sufferings and pains, choosing to look at things around us like rules and conventions. That more sad part is as we have turned blind to others around us, we have also chosen to be deaf to their cries as well.
Forgive us, Father, when we fail to enter into oneness with others made possible to us in the coming of Jesus Christ who has become our “priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb.7:17).
Help us discard those old understanding of priesthood with emphasis on the mystery of being a priest, of the distinction and honor, forgetting the more important aspects of working for justice and righteousness, and most of all, for peace. Both can only be earned if we strive to be men and women of love and commitment to what is good. Amen.
Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II on the occasion of
the First Year Anniversary of Ordination
to the Priesthood of Rev. Fr. Howard Tarrayo
Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
Malolos City, 10 December 2020
This preaching should have been last year.
Fr. Howard was the very first person to have invited me to be his predicador at his Primera Missa Solemne while still a seminarian — and that is why I think he was delayed for almost two years before getting ordained exactly a year ago today!
That gospel scene you have chosen for this occasion at the shores of Lake Tiberias is something that happens everyday in our lives as priests, from day one of ordination way into our old age in with Jesus asking us, like, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” (Jn.21:17)
Priesthood is essentially loving Jesus Christ first of all. That is why Jesus had to ask Simon Peter thrice with the same question, “Do you love me?” because we have to love him first before we can truly follow him.
When the priesthood or the Call becomes the very core and center of our lives and not Jesus our Caller, sooner or later, we replace Christ that we become the Lord and Master in our parish, in our ministry.
Today, we are celebrating Fr. Howard your remaining in love with Jesus, of loving Him first, a year after your ordination and we pray that every year, it will always be the very reason you celebrate your ordination anniversary.
When they had finished breakfast,
Jesus said to Simon Peter,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me
more than these?"
He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know
that I love you."
He said to him, "Feed my lambs."
Loving Jesus first is growing deeper in our prayer life in him. People who love are always together; they have a ritual or a schedule that like the fox telling the Little Prince, an hour before their appointed meeting, his heart is already beating for him, excited with his presence that he is coming.
It is my hope that during this pandemic we priests have rediscovered the value and beauty of having that seminary schedule during our formation years that must have ingrained in us discipline. Like schedules, prayer is a discipline. Love goes through a process, it matures, becomes more disciplined. That is why a disciple is not only a follower but also a disciplined one, a true lover!
It is good to bond with brother priests and friends and family once in a while but not every night or every other night that we have practically made every Starbucks outlet a parish or even a diocese where 1/3 of the clergy get together religiously (pun intended)! Any loving husband would always be home at night to be with his wife. The same is true with every priest — be home at night in your parish to be with Jesus at prayer. He awaits you, He misses you!
Whenever people ask me what is the most difficult part of priesthood, I always tell them it is praying every day. And I mean real prayer when we have to strip ourselves naked before God in our truest selves. Kaya sabihin man nila walanghiya o salvahe ang sino mang pari, pero kung araw-araw lalo na sa gabi siya ay nananalangin, mabuting pari pa rin siya kasi maski minsan, nagiging totoo siya sa sarili at sa Diyos. And masama kapag hindi na siya nagdarasal nang tunay, iyon ang simula ng pagkaligaw ng sino mang pari.
Whatever is the fruit of our prayer, that is our homily and that is when all tests happen: the moment we deliver a homily, people measure us if we “walk our talk”. The priest is the homily himself. When a priest stops celebrating Mass, most especially refuses to give homilies, maybe Father is no longer praying. Baka may iba na siyang mahal kesa kay Jesus.
Remaining in love with Jesus is being a man of prayer.
He then said to him a second time,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
He said to him,
"Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
He said to him, "Tend my sheep."
Loving Jesus first means keeping in mind that everything is a gift from Jesus, that whatever we have, whatever we share, whether material or spiritual things, is always from Christ. We have nothing except Him. Even if sometimes we feel bad in our ministry like going on a sick call when we are so tired or blessing a dead cat or hearing confessions of a parishioner who have maligned you, just do it! Whatever you give them, it is not yours but Jesus’!
Huwag maging maramot, Father. Maging mapagmahal, matulunging, maunawain, mapagpasensiya, mapagbigay, mapagpatawad — kasi ano mang pagmamahal, tulong, pang-unawa, pagpapasensiya, kapatawaran o ano mang ating maibibigay kanino man ay hindi naman talagang atin kungdi kay Kristo at Kristo pa rin!
Here lies the danger when we are so focused with our call or vocation when we feel the one who must be understood and cared for — we turn the ones being served instead of the one serving! Kasi feeling natin magaling tayo kaya tayo naging pari! Para tayong artista at politiko na “FGLG”: feeling guapo, looking gago. Parang lahat may utang na loob sa atin. Kaya kung magmayabang tayo: ako nagpagawa niyan, ako nakaisip niyan, ako, ako, ako…. Nasaan si Jesus? Nandun sa tabernakulo, nabuburo.
I wish to share with you a prayer I have written during our retreat with a Cenacle sister at the Theologate when we were in third year: “Lord Jesus Christ, you have given me with so much and I have given so little; teach me to give more of my self and more of You to others. Amen.”
He said to him a third time,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was distressed that he had said to him
a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him,
"Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep."
And when he had said this, he said to him,
(John 21:17, 19)
Father Howard, we have learned in Holy Matrimony that a man and a woman marries not only each other but also their families; the same is very true in priesthood. Loving Jesus first means the priest’s family must love Jesus more than their priest son and Kuya Pari or Tito Pari.
Nanay Nelia and Mary Grace… kung mahal ninyo si Father Howard, mas mahalin ninyo si Jesus. Ang pagmamahal ng pamilya sa kanilang anak o kapatid na pari ay naroon din sa kanilang higit na pagmamahal kay Jesus. Kapag si Jesus ang minahal ninyo una at higit sa lahat katulad naming mga pari, manalig kayo lalong mamahalin ni Jesus si Father. Hindi siya pababayaan.
We are told that after this third question by Jesus “Do you love me?”, Simon Peter was distressed because he remembered how he had denied the Lord three times after His arrest on Holy Thursday evening.
What can be more distressing especially at this time of the pandemic for us priests than be caught between our family and ministry?
You were still preparing for your Diaconal ordination last year, Father Howard when your mother had a stroke, then followed by the death of your father. It must have been so difficult, so painful. But looking back, did God ever forget you, Father?
Ate Nelia and Mary Grace, give Father Howard to Jesus. Huwag ninyo siyang hahanapan. Magkusa na kayo sa inyong sarili kasi iba piniling buhay ni Father. And I address this to every parent, brother and sister, relatives and friends of Fr. Howard and every priest. Huwag ninyo siyang hanapan. Kung mayroon man kayong hahanapin palagi kay Father Howard, iyon si Jesus. Always Jesus, only Jesus.
There is still something more “distressing” for us priests with our family that I wish to share with you, Father Howard. When Jesus told us to leave our father and mother, brothers and sisters behind to follow Him, he never meant to turn our backs from them. We still have to love them but more on a different level as silent witnesses of Christ.
The most difficult part of our ministry is ministering to our own family with all our biases and past histories before us. We are so familiar with each other that inevitably, these would surely show on many occasions when least expected. Be on guard, for the pendulum swings to extremes when we sometimes become so lax or so harsh with them.
Most “distressing” is when Jesus asks us “Do you love me?” while we continue to hold on to the pains and hurts, frustrations and disappointments our families have inflicted on us.
It is in our own families when we are asked to be more like St. Francis of Assisi, of preaching the gospel, speaking only when necessary.
Father Howard, be the first to understand and to embrace the strains and the past in your family; Jesus called you despite your imperfect family to make you perfect and eventually, through your life of total love for Him, perfect your family too.
It is very difficult to love, most especially our Lord Jesus, Father Howard. How I wished you have never asked me to do this because so many times I have failed Jesus. And continues to fail Him, not loving him that much.
But that is exactly what happened at the shores of Tiberias that morning after breakfast when Jesus asked Simon Peter three times, “Do you love me?”
Don’t worry, Father. Jesus knows everything how much we love Him. You are never alone with Jesus and us. Let us keep saying “yes, Jesus, I love you” with our brother priests every day, specially during anniversaries like this. Amen.
Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 27 October 2020
Whenever people ask me about the story how I became a priest, I always begin by telling them that I am more of a “delayed vocation” than a “late vocation” because after graduating from high school seminary in 1982, I was refused admission to the major seminary to pursue the priesthood.
It was the first serious blow I have had in my life as I felt so deeply hurt because I thought God wanted me to become a priest only to be rejected. It was then I realized his saying “many are called but few are chosen” could be so bad as I had to leave the seminary.
Feeling rejected, I decided to go to the University of Sto. Tomas to pursue my “first love” – journalism to totally forget the priesthood specially when I got into the staff of the Varsitarian (1984-86). It was at the Varsitarian where I learned everything about newspaper journalism that on my senior year in college, I opted to have my training at GMA-7 News to try broadcast journalism.
And I was so amazed at how TV and radio can quickly report the news as it happened, specially whenever I would hear those alarms ringing from the telex machines of United Press International (UPI) and Philippine News Agency (PNA). (By the way, the first thing I learned in broadcast news was changing the newsprints for those telex machines.)
After graduation in college, I got hired as news writer for GMA radios DZBB-AM and 97.1 DWLS-FM. Two years later, I was assigned to cover the police beat at the graveyard shift for our television newscasts.
One morning before “going to bed”, I read a copy of the Columbia, the magazine of Knights of Columbus my father had insisted me joining while in college. At the last page was a vocation campaign written by a Carmelite priest who claimed something like “faith is a very important gift of God we must keep because if we lose it, we could also get lost in life”.
I cannot remember the priest’s explanations but those words got stuck in me that very morning when I just felt praying again after a very long time of being a nominal Catholic in college and GMA-7. The words simply flowed from my lips to become my only prayer in the next four years:
let me grow in faith
Everything happened so fast for me at GMA-7 with all the breaks and opportunities given me which I never asked nor even dreamed of. I have never wanted to be “on camera” and have always preferred working behind the scenes (even now as a priest).
As I look back and count my blessings, I always consider it as a grace, a gift from God when Ms. Jessica Soho recommended me to take her place covering the military/defense beat when she was promoted to hosting her own morning show and doing special reports that have established her now as the best in the field.
Despite the recognition that came along with a career in broadcast news, deep inside me I started feeling empty as early as 1988. Most strange of all, I felt God calling me back to the priesthood that I vehemently dismissed, knowing personally how sinful and evil I have been!
When the emptiness and priestly call persisted, I slowly returned to our parish thinking that maybe, I was just missing my old ways of going to Mass and singing with the choir. But, the more I thirsted and yearned for God!
It was so funny and even ridiculous for me at that time seeing myself praying more often, choosing to be alone inside the church like when we were in the minor seminary. I even did not know if I were praying at all except that I felt complete in silence until one day, I found myself begging God:
let me know
I thought of leaving broadcast journalism in 1989 to teach English language to Vietnamese refugees in Morong, Bataan after reading its ads in the Manila Bulletin. It seemed to me that was what I was searching for, something I can enjoy with a deeper purpose and meaning like serving others.
For several weeks I would read the ads in the newspaper until my interest died down as I got into a lot of action doing police stories in the dead of the night. It was also the time when I got so busy covering the 1989 December coup attempt and the destructive Luzon earthquake of July 1990.
Though I felt good reporting the news from the fields, one thing I noticed every time I went home was how I still felt empty inside when alone. Life had no meaning that I tried seeking it in bottles of beer, then in shots of brandy and whiskey until I thought I have found it in glasses of Tanqueray gin tonic. Mr. Marlboro in blue seal bought along Timog Ave. became my constant companion too.
Finally I sought spiritual direction from some priests I have known in the seminary like our former rector Fr. Memeng Salonga and our Sunday Mass presider in our barrio chapel, Fr. Boie Agustin. They have greatly helped me in discerning my vocation that I decided to take the entrance exams to the seminary in February 1991.
It was the last exam date for the coming academic year and frankly, I was still hesitant to give my vocation a second try because I felt unworthy of the call and most of all, afraid of failing again like in high school seminary.
For a while I felt a strong basis for my doubts with my vocation: just when I was about to take the entrance exam, our boss, Ms. Tina Monzon-Palma asked me to cancel my day off that Saturday to search for the lone survivor of the 1911 Taal eruption in Talisay town when that “small but terrible” volcano showed signs of activity.
In my mind, God must be using Ms. Palma to inform me I got it all wrong, that he wasn’t calling me at all to the priesthood that is why I was given a job that Saturday, the last exam date to the seminary.
Of course I was so glad missing the entrance exam with a valid reason that I immediately went back to “happy hours” after coverages until late March when I had a severe attack of gout one weekend. It was so painful that I could not go to work the following Monday and Tuesday.
While in total bed rest for my gout, I felt my vocation coming back again, more persistent than before that I had the stupid idea of asking God for one last sign that would clearly convince me he wanted me to become a priest.
And God heard my prayer!
By Thursday I was back to work covering the newly-assigned AFP Chief Gen. Lisandro Abadia inspecting the troops in Abra and Kalinga. Everything went well until we flew to Laoag City for the final leg of Gen. Abadia’s troop inspection when one of our plane’s tires blew on landing!
Boom! Everything was so fast as I remembered the loud explosion of the tire on my side of the plane, followed by thick smoke seen from my window and tilting of plane as I ducked my head down on my lap, repeatedly praying in silence, over and over again, “Yes, Lord! Magpapari na po ako!”
It was the big news that evening: a tire of the plane with the new AFP Chief blew upon landing at Laoag City airport.
And the bigger news among newsmen was me —- everybody was teasing I was the next Jessica Soho who used to figure out in accidents while covering soldiers and military officials.
More teasings and laughters welcomed us when we got back to Manila but all throughout our trip until I got home that night, I felt deep inside like the prophet Jonas so relieved and convinced of God’s call after being spitted out from the belly of a giant whale like that PAF’s Fokker plane. From that day also, I have never dared to ask God for signs anymore.
Faith is a relationship with God;
we pray with faith not to obtain favors
but to grow deeper
in love and unity
It was not very easy for me when I finally returned to the seminary in 1991 until our ordination to the priesthood in 1998. There were more trials and hardships, more tests that required from me more prayers, more faith…. to which I got in return from God more love, more mercy, more calls.
From that simple prayer to grow in faith, God has blessed me more abundantly not materially but spiritually and emotionally, of being fulfilled in him. Since becoming a priest in 1998, I have stopped asking God for any specific things in prayers. All I ask him is to give me with more firm faith, fervent hope and unceasing charity and love so that in every here and now, I may say yes to his calls.
In his book reflecting his 50 years of being a priest published in 1999, St. John Paul II described the priesthood as both a gift and a mystery. Indeed, every vocation from God – priesthood, religious life, married life, and single-blessedness – is always a gift and a mystery, something so personal and so deep between me and God, or you and God.
This I realized more when public Masses were suspended during the lockdown in March. It was in that being alone and sad when I existentially experienced the Mass as truly a union, an intimacy of the priest with the Eternal Priest, Jesus Christ. With or without the people.
Let me close this with another prayer I have made during our annual retreat in the seminary in 1994 facilitated by a Cenacle sister. It is one of my core prayers next to that about growing in faith:
Lord Jesus Christ,
you have given me with so much
and I have given you with so little;
teach me to give more of myself,
and most of all,
more of your love,
more of your kindness,
more of your mercy and forgiveness
and most of all,
more of YOU to others.
Enjoy and grow in your faith journey in the Lord until you find your vocation in life in him!
The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Memorials of St. John Eudes & St. Ezechiel Moreno, Priests, 19 August 2020
Ezekiel 34:1-11 >><)))*> ||| >><)))*> ||| >><)))*> Matthew 20:1-16
As we go through more difficulties and sufferings during this time of pandemic, your words today dear God speak so well of what we need most – a true shepherd who will care for the lost and injured sheep.
Yes, you have fulfilled, O God, your promise a long time ago to Ezekiel that you yourself will come by sending us your Son Jesus Christ to look after and tend your sheep after the shepherds of Israel have miserably failed in their duties and responsibilities.
Unfortunately, there are still so many shepherds today in government even in Church who continue to pasture themselves!
Woe to the shepherds of Israel who has been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep? You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured. You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost, but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally. As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have been given over to pillage, and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast, for lack of a shepherd; I swear I am coming against these shepherds.
Ezekiel 34:2-4, 8, 10
Teach us, O Lord, through the examples of two great shepherds of souls whose feast we celebrate today: St. John Eudes who was one of the early pioneers in propagating devotion to your most Sacred Heart and St. Ezechiel Moreno who served for 15 years in the Philippines and later in South America where innumerable cancer cures were attributed to him.
St. John Eudes and St. Ezechiel Moreno showed in their lives of faithful and loving apostolate for the poor that shepherding is always a gift, never to be counted or equated nor even be seen in terms of wages and pay like in the gospel.
Remind us sweet Jesus in the midst of this pandemic when we are called to be good shepherds like you, may we always see your call and mission to us as gifts freely given not as tasks or work to be compensated by material things because you believe in us.
May we always go the extra mile in answering your call, O Lord, which is in itself a tremendous gift we must cherish for we are not even worthy at all to receive. Amen.