Becoming like John the Baptist

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Memorial of the Passion of John the Baptist, 29 August 2022
1 Corinthians 2:1-5     ><]]]]'> + <'[[[[><     Mark 6:17-29
Photo from catholicworldreport.com, “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist” (1869) by Pierre Puvis de Chevannes.
Grant me the grace,
O dear Jesus Christ,
to be like John the Baptist,
truly your precursor in being
the first to receive you
and proclaim your coming
in words and in deeds by
being the first to suffer a 
similar passion and death like yours
by standing for what is true and good,
just and fair; let me be the first, O Lord, 
to disturb the many Herods of our time
with your gospel's power and wonders.

Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but unable to do so. Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.

Mark 6:17-20
Let me first be a reminder, dear Jesus, 
that there is a prophet in our midst 
who speaks your words for
the sake of the poor and marginalized;
let me be the first to have courage in
proclaiming the mystery of your
Cross, confronting evil in all its forms,
never toning down your message 
to please the rich and powerful 
Herods of today with their systematic
control of lives in its many aspects;
forgive me Jesus for failing to be a
voice in the wilderness like John
preparing your way, straightening
the paths of our lives by turning away
from evil and sin, embracing your
gospel of life and holiness.
Amen.

Faith in Jesus, perfecter of faith

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 14 August 2022
Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10 ><}}}*> Hebrews 12:1-4 ><}}}*> Luke 12:49-53
Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2017.

Following Jesus, being a true and good Christian is always difficult. This I realized on my first month as a priest 24 years ago when I gave a “marriage encounter” (ME) to several married couples from the parish of my former professor in the seminary.

Part of the marriage encounter is the writing of one’s sins on a piece of paper with a symbolic burning before going to confession later in the evening; problem was, as a new priest, I gave a wrong instruction asking the spouses to exchange paper with their partner to see each others sins. That was when a wife collapsed after reading the sins of her husband! Actually, she had long suspected him of infidelities but that afternoon, all her doubts and suspicions were proven very true that her blood pressure shoot up, losing her consciousness in anger and pain.

After she had been revived, she kept on saying, “akala ko ME magpapatatag sa aming samahan; ito na yata maghihiwalay sa aming dalawa ng tuluyan” (I thought the ME will make our marriage stronger but it seems this will finally cause our separation as husband and wife).

I tried explaining things to her, prayed so hard for her and eventually after six months, I met them at a wedding as they thanked me how their marriage had gone stronger after surrendering everything to Jesus Christ.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2017.

"Every Christian is a prophet...
a sign of contradiction."

Many times in our lives we have experienced that our faithful service in the Lord often leads us to distressing and painful situations, even tragic choices. In the first reading, we have heard how Jeremiah’s own folks threw him into a cistern to die because they could not take his preaching against their sinfulness and prophecies of the impending fall of Jerusalem which eventually happened. He was momentarily rescued from the cistern but later was eventually killed by his own people for speaking against their sinful ways and life.

Every Christian is a prophet like Jeremiah, a sign of contradiction among the people, even in one’s own family and circle of friends. To live against the corrupt and sinful ways of the world, to uphold what is true and just, to stand for what is honorable and good surely earn a lot of criticisms and condemnation from everyone. Even in the Church!

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division

Luke 12:49-51
Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2017.

With all of these words, we now wonder what is good with our Good News this Sunday? Remember, Jesus Christ is on his way to Jerusalem to face his suffering and death. Today he tells us three things to remember to remain focused with the End.

First is the fire he had brought into the world. It is not a fire of destruction but fire of heat and light that give life; fire that purifies and cleanses like silver and gold that bring out its beauty and magnificence; and most of all, the fire of God’s presence like in the burning bush of Moses and the pillars of fire/cloud that guided the Chosen People in the wilderness into the Promised Land.

Fire gives light and heat that lead into life; we can survive without food and water for several days but we cannot last even ten minutes without heat! This is the kind of fire we Christians need these days, fire that will lit us up with courage ands joy in Jesus Christ by witnessing his gospel in a world that seems to be dying and lifeless despite the noise and affluence around.

As a purifying fire, it always brings pains that lead into conversion and liberation like what that couple in my first Marriage Encounter have experienced. The fire of Christ’s mercy and forgiveness taught them to forgive each other and enabled them to lead holier lives. The more we get closer to Jesus our light, the more we see our sinfulness and weaknesses, then we change and mature. That is when we are filled with the light of Christ to become his presence in the world.

Second teaching of Jesus today is about his “other baptism” which is his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. This is the reason why he was “resolutely journeying to Jerusalem” – he was so eager, so decided to face his pasch not for the pains it would bring but for its glorious effects for us.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2017.

That is the real meaning of baptism, from the Greek baptizein which is to immerse in water; hence, baptism before was a literal immersion in water. In our immersion into the passion and death of Jesus Christ, we enter into a communion in him and with him so that in his Resurrection, we too rise with him and in him into new life.

Third pronouncement by Jesus this Sunday is perhaps the most baffling, especially when we consider the statistics that more than half of the conflicts going on in the world today are due to religious beliefs.

Jesus never meant to bring people apart; in fact, he came to bring us all together, to gather us again as beloved children of the Father. However, it happens that the moment we stand for Jesus, for what is true and just, inevitably, we will be with odds even with those dearest to us. Jesus himself had said that “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk.14:26).

That is one of the beautiful imageries of the Cross of Jesus Christ: it marks the end of our sinfulness and the beginning of our oneness in God.

It is the difficult aspect of discipleship when our loved ones are into sins and evil, when they are in darkness and injustice. Are we going to side with them or side with Christ?

At the Last Supper, Jesus gave us his peace (Jn.14:27) that according to him is not like the peace offered by the world that is often based on compromises; Christ’s peace is the fruit of love, of sacrifices. Love and sacrifice are one, always together; when you love, there is sacrifice, there is pain and suffering. That is why it is love!

Parents and lovers know this very well: many times they suffer and cry in silence because of their great love for their children or beloved. It is no wonder that in the Beatitudes, Jesus called the peacemakers and the persecuted blessed because to work for peace entails persecution and division.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2017.

"God is dangerous."
-Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar (+)

Last Sunday we have reflected how Jesus used the setting of night for our vigilance because faith is tested and deepened in the darkness of life like during nighttime. And, the darker the night, the longer the night always.

But, we have so many people who have gone ahead of us in this life who have found light and life amid the darkness in life, emerging victorious in their faith in God, from the patriarchs in the Old Testament and in Jesus himself and his Apostles and saints as well.

Brothers and sisters: Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2

Wonderful! Jesus is the leader and perfecter of faith. Very often, we hear the gospels and the Bible speaking always of our having faith in Jesus. But, it is only here and in some instances in Paul we find Jesus having faith; how can Jesus, the Son of God have faith when he is the object of faith?

Let us remember that Jesus is truly human, truly divine. Like us, he also had faith as the gospels attest: he had faith in the Father who sent him. He is the best example of having faith, entrusting everything to the Father that he did not feel ashamed of the Cross. In that sense, Jesus is also the perfecter of faith because in him, with him and through him, we are able to walk in faith, sustain our faith in the most difficult and trying moments of life when we felt our relationships, our world falling apart because we have stood by his Cross. As we look back, we have emerged better, stronger, and most of all, joyful, free and faithful after all those trials in life. Thanks to our faith in Christ!

One of the friends of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II was the Swiss theologian and priest named Hans Urs von Balthasar who said in his 1945 book “The Heart of the World” that God is dangerous.

Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, Acacia trees in UP-Diliman, April 2022.

Indeed, it is very true especially when Fr. Balthasar noted how God “is inviting you to lose your soul in order to gain it. He always thinks in terms of love. He offers us the impossible… He presents his victory over death as an example to be imitated, he draws us beyond our limits, into his adventure, which is inevitably fatal.”

The blessedness of this Sunday is that Jesus had become like us to lead us the way in a life of faith, perfecting our faith in the process so that we may overcome all obstacles and trials in life like him and be with him in eternal glory in heaven in the End.

Let us keep in mind the worthy reminder of the author of the Letter to Hebrews that “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood” (Heb.12:4). Amen.

Have a blessed, fiery week of faithful adherence in Christ!

Prophetic nursing

Homily by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II at the Second Capping and Pinning Ceremony
Our Lady of Fatima University-San Fernando, Pampanga, 20 July 2022
Jeremiah 1:1, 4-10   ><}}}*> + ><}}}*> + ><}}}*>   Matthew 13:1-9
Photo by author, 16 July 2022, Our Lady of Fatima University-Cabanatuan City.

This is my fourth capping and pinning ceremony of our nursing students in five weeks. And now more than ever, I am so convinced that nursing is like the priesthood – a vocation, a call from God to serve his people.

That is why our first reading on the call of the prophet Jeremiah is so perfect for our Second Capping and Pinning Ceremony of the College of Nursing here at our San Fernando Campus. As a vocation, nursing is a call to prophetic witnessing of Christ’s gospel especially in this age when life and dignity of every person is taken for granted.

Photo by author, 16 July 2022, Our Lady of Fatima University, Cabanatuan City.

Maybe there are some of you who are here had no plans of becoming a nurse before but one thing led to another and here you are, about to take the first major step in becoming a nurse. And despite that reality, maybe by this time you have come to love nursing already that you are feeling nervous for this momentous ceremony that was pout on hold for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yes, thanks too to COVID-19 for it had made it clearer to you that it was God who really called you to become future nurses!

The word of the Lord came to thus: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you… See, I place my words in your mouth! This day I set you over nations and over kingdoms, to root up and to tear, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 9-10

How beautiful it is to hear God telling each one of you today, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a NURSE to the nations I appointed you.”

That’s the meaning of your cap.

Photo by author, 10 July 2022 at the RISE Tower, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City.

You must have heard that expression we have “to wear different hats” in life – when you are at home, you wear the hat of an Ate or Kuya, when you are in the classroom you wear the hat of a student before your professors and mentors, when you are out with your barkada, you wear a different hat as a friend.

God is giving you another hat – or cap – to wear in life beginning today.

It is something so distinct and special not everyone can wear. Only a selected few are called and chosen to wear that cap our model Florence of Nightingale wore with pride, honor and dignity when she elevated the status of Nursing as we know and so value today.

In the Jewish culture, the wearing of a hat means to recognize somebody higher or above us – and that is God. That is why men and children wear those tiny “skull caps” called zucchetto when they are inside the ruins of the temple of Jerusalem. Our Pope and Bishops also wear that skull cap to signify God is above them whom they must serve and obey.

Photo by author, 10 July 2022 at the RISE Tower, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City.

My dear nursing students, to be a nurse is to be a servant of God, a prophet or a “prophetic nurse” who witnesses the gospel of Jesus Christ to our patients, especially to the poor and disadvantaged.

Witnessing the gospel of Christ is to speak and act on the word of God. That is why when you take your pledge of Florence Nightingale later, you invoke the name of God “to pass my life in purity and practice my profession faithfully.”

As you have invited God into your lives today as you take this major step in your formation as future nurses, make God a part of your life everyday. Handle your life with prayer. Moreover, as I would remind our students during Baccalaureate Mass, “study hard, work harder, and pray hardest”.

Be open to God.

I assure you, nursing is a very demanding and difficult profession. You have seen it these past two years of pandemic.

From Facebook, November 2020.

Baka mamaya aayaw kayong bigla katulad ng mga butil nahulog sa daanan na tinuka ng mga ibon. HIndi kayo yayaman, hindi kayo magiging milyunaryo o milyunarya sa nursing. Kung yun ang pakay ninyo, mali napuntahan ninyo. Magpulitiko kayo, baka sakali…

Baka naman ngayon, very enthusiastic kayo with all the glamor and attention you get as nursing students, lalo na kapag naging RN na kayo and you start wearing those scrubs with all the gadgets for monitoring patients na talaga naman pogi points – then after a few months, you get burned out like the seeds that fell on rocky ground with little soil.

Pwede rin naman makita ninyo maraming opportunities sa nursing para yumaman o sumikat o maging notorious gaya ng mga nababalitaan natin lalo na sa abroad but, remember to be credible, to elevate the standards of nursing, to never administer harmful drugs for shameful profits like those seeds that sprouted but choked by thorns.

Be like the rich soil in the parable of the sower, listen and act on the word of God so that you mature and bear fruit as nurses.

St. Augustine said “grace builds on nature”; that means, the grace of God will always be there for you to become a good nurse but you have to dispose yourself properly by cultivating habits and virtues through discipline. One of these is punctuality, being on time. Another is obedience which is actually listening attentively to instructions. Of course, do not forget charity and kindness. And many others so that you reflect the goodness of God.

Photo by author, 10 July 2022 at the RISE Tower, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City.

You do not become a good nurse tomorrow or when you graduate or when you pass the board exam nor when you get employed as a nurse.

You become a good nurse today. Now na!

St. Paul said “God’s gift and call are permanent and irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29) tinawag kayo ng Diyos upang maging mahuhusay na nurse at hindi niya iyon babawiin… ibibigay niya ang lahat para sa inyo kung ibibigay din ninyo ang inyong sarili sa kanya sa paglilingkod sa kapwa. At ang iba pa ay susunod na kalakip ang maraming biyaya, “siksik, liglig at umaapaw” (Lk. 6:38).

God bless you, BS Nursing Students of Our Lady of Fatima-Pampanga.

God bless all nurses of the world, especially our very own, Filipino nurses serving everywhere!

Photo by author, 16 July 2022, Our Lady of Fatima University-Cabanatuan City.