“Lord, to whom shall we go?” : Faith in Jesus in time of pandemic

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday XXI-B in Ordinary Time, 22 August 2021
Joshua 24:1-2, 15-17, 18 ><}}}'> Ephesians 5:21-32 ><}}}'> John 6:60-69
Inquirer’s Friday front page tells us in essence the message of this Sunday’s Gospel – “Lord, to whom shall we go?” in this time of crisis. Photo from inquirer.net.

We conclude our series on the Lord’s discourse on bread of life with the same question he had posed to his disciples more than 2000 years ago at Capernaum, repeatedly asking us the same question daily, especially on Sundays: “Do you also want to leave?” (Jn. 6:67).

This is the first time in John’s gospel that the people have rejected Jesus Christ whom they have always admired and followed to listen to his teachings and most of all, to be healed of their sickness. When they were fed to their satisfaction at the wilderness, they wanted to take Jesus and make him their king but he evaded them, going to Capernaum where he was found the following day. All this time, religious leaders were the only ones against Jesus, challenging his authority especially when he cleansed the temple and healed on a sabbath day.

But today, in a sudden twist, people rejected and abandoned Jesus because they could not accept him as the Bread of Life who came down from heaven who would give his flesh as food and blood as drink for eternal life. Worse, this was led by those supposed to be close to him, his disciples.

Often used as a generic term for a follower or a believer, the word “disciple” is from the Greek word discipulos that literally means “one who comes after or follows the master” (also the root of discipline). In the gospels, disciples were the common followers of Jesus, distinct from the apostles often referred to as “the Twelve”. From another Greek word apostolein meaning “one who is sent forth ahead of a master”, an apostle is one who is close to Jesus, who personally knows him and have also seen him. That is why Paul insisted his being an apostle too.

This distinction between a disciple and an apostle is found in all four gospel accounts. It is important to know this especially in our gospel today which is the first time John had introduced to us the presence of disciples among the crowd with Jesus at Capernaum. They have all been silently listening to his discourse until Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn.6:54-56).

It was from here where our gospel this Sunday picks up the story:

Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

John 6:60-62, 66-67
Photo by Fr. Howard John Tarrayo, National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima on the eve of the ECQ, 05 August 2021.

Aversion vs. Conversion

Here we find a painful truth we all experience when following Jesus as our Lord and Master. Sometimes it can happen that those closest to us are the ones who cannot accept and understand us like those disciples of Jesus who have left home and family to listen to his teachings after witnessing many of his healings. Then all of a sudden, they abandoned him because he had said it is his flesh he shall give as food to eat and his blood as drink for eternal life.

They were thinking in the literal sense, more preoccupied with what they knew, with what they have in their minds, without any room for Jesus nor for others. They would rather stick with what they have heard and learned from the Old Testament, of Moses and the manna from heaven.


Refusing Jesus is always a refusal 
to grow and mature not only in faith 
but most of all in life and in our relationships. 
 It is pride and self-centeredness, 
a form of self worship and idolatry 
when one believes more to one's self
 than with God through others.

Refusing Jesus is always a refusal to grow and mature not only in faith but most of all in life and in our relationships. It is pride and self-centeredness, a form of self worship and idolatry when one believes more to one’s self than with God through others.

Jesus came to deepen our faith by experiencing himself, inviting us all to be converted back to God. But instead of conversion or turning back to God in the light of Jesus, we choose aversion, that is, turning away from God, returning to blindness and darkness like those disciples: As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (Jn.6:66).

They cannot accept and take Jesus personally and wholly as his very words implied the Eucharist where we receive Jesus, Body and Blood under “the perceptible signs of bread and wine” as explained by Vatican II’s Sacrosantum Concilium #7.

Every Sunday when we gather as the Body of Christ in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist prefigured in the time of Moses in the wilderness until their entry into the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership, we likewise reaffirm and renew our commitment to love and “serve the Lord, for he alone is our God” (Jos. 24:18).

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, March 2020.

Yes, “this saying and teaching of the Lord is hard to accept” (Jn. 6:60) especially in this time of the pandemic when many among us have lost family and friends including sources of income and savings while things are expected to worsen before getting any better at all.

Then there is also the familiarity with the Holy Mass breeding contempt among us these days when all we have are virtual Masses.

It is very sad that many of us these days have “returned to our former way of life and no longer accompanied Jesus” like those disciples at Capernaum; there are some who have stopped believing in Jesus due to the many pains and sufferings of this prolonged pandemic!

We are in a time of severe crisis not only in faith but also in every aspect of life due to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic. As we moved Saturday to lower level of quarantine controls, new records were set in new infections and deaths while ICU’s and hospitals are almost if not at full capacity already.

Lest we forget, there is the severe stress on our medical frontliners and their families too, with some literally passing out of exhaustion.

Some major decisions really have to be made not only by leaders but by everyone. That is the literal meaning of the word “crisis” which is from the Greek krisis that means time for decision-making to prevent (more) disasters from happening.

Disasters are due to poor or wrongful decisions.

One of that is removing God from every equation in life, including in our political and social life, giving rise to a culture of impunity where corruption has become a way of life.

Despite our being a Christian nation, we have chosen to remain in our morally bankrupt style of politics based on popularity, compadrazgo system, and vote selling. No wonder that even while we are in a pandemic with thousands getting sick or dying and millions are suffering, public officials continue to plunder our nation’s coffers blatantly while candidates shamelessly campaign early with their giant tarpaulins and television ads to ensure they all remain in power.

To whom shall we go? With the corrupt officials and trapos who do not care at all for us?

The good news today is that even if we have abandoned Jesus many times in our lives and in our nation’s history, he remains with us, still asking us like the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” (Jn.6:67).

Let us tell Jesus like Peter, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn.6:68-69)?

Remaining in Jesus like Peter

Last Friday, the Inquirer eloquently showed on its front page the sad plight of our nation with a banner story on corruption at the DOH following the recent reports by Commission on Audit as well the arrogant display of powers-that-be in Cebu.

Then, a breath of fresh hopes with this photo by Grig C. Montegrande on how the QC General Hospital had converted its chapel into a COVID-19 ward to accommodate the growing number of patients. The photo summarizes our Sunday readings, that we are in a critical moment not only in our history but also in our lives, calling us to conversion or turning to God instead of aversion which is turning away from God.

From inquirer.net.

Remember the “I AM” declaration by Jesus first used in this bread of life discourse two weeks ago when he said “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (Jn.6:41)?

That must have lingered in Peter. His faith did not deepen right away but it had surely grown and matured while listening to Christ’s discourse on the bread of life which became clearer to him after Easter.

Let us try “to feel at home” in Peter’s company during this pandemic to be led to a similar faith insight and commitment in Jesus no matter how difficult it may be.

Faith is like love: we believe and love not because we are sure of ourselves but because we are sure of the one we believe and love. That is why we commit our lives to our beloved. It is not primarily because of us at the center but of the other. Like Jesus. Or a loved one.

This is Paul’s reminder to us in the second reading of having Jesus as the basis of our relationships: Brothers and sisters: Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21).

It is not a call to dominance over one another but mutual-subordination in Christ by imitating his self-sacrificing love for everyone in the giving of his total self, Body and Blood. This we can do these days by observing health protocols like social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands frequently. Best is to stay home as much as possible by giving ourselves more to our family and loved ones. Amen.

Have a safe and blessed week, everyone!

When the fault is in us

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Week XX, Year I in Ordinary Time, 18 August 2021
Judges 9:6-15   ><]]]]*> ><)))'> ><]]]]*>   Matthew 20:1-16 
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.
Your words today, O God our Father
brought me back to my elementary days
when we read Aesop's fables and 
memorized lines from Shakespeare,
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our
stars/ But in ourselves that we are
underlings."  And how they both perfectly 
jibe together in your words!

So many times we are like the great
trees in the forest, so proud of our giftedness
and abilities that we cannot give our selves
to you and others to serve; we are so in love 
with our very selves, so proud or insecured 
that most often we uncannily put 
undeserving people to power
while we bear all the sarcasm in the end. 

“Then all the trees said to the buckthorn, ‘Come; you reign over us!’ But the buckthorn replied to the trees, ‘If you wish to anoint me king over you in good faith, come and take refuge in my shadow. Otherwise, let fire come the buckthorn and devour the cedars of Lebanon.'”

Judges 9:14-15
Most of the time, Lord, we know
the fault is in us - not in the stars
nor among others nor from you
who truly loves each of us perfectly
like the vineyard owner, always
giving the same perfect amount of
love and mercy to everyone;
cleanse our hearts and our minds
of selfish thoughts, of insisting on
what we believe, on what we want;
give us the grace of discernment
to see clearly your will so we may
choose wisely the options we have
to put your divine plan in place.
Loving Father,
make me grateful always to what I have;
most of all, let me focus more on what
you have given me, not on what others
have received for in the end,
it could very well happen that
"the last will be first,
and the first will be last." 
(Matthew 20:16)

And that, Lord, 
is something completely
our fault.  Amen.

Arise, be whole again in Christ!

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 27 June 2021
Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24 <+> 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15 <+> Mark 5:21-24, 35-43
Photo by author, sunrise at the Lake of Galilee, the Holy Land, 2017.

Once again, we find Jesus crossing the Lake of Galilee this week with a crowd following him to listen to his teachings and experience his healing. What a beautiful image of life in Jesus, of constantly crossing the sea, sometimes in the darkness of the night amid storms.

It was something like what we had gone through last Thursday on the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist when as a nation we crossed history with the inauguration of the new Archbishop of Manila marked with the passing of former President Noynoy Aquino.

We hope and pray that like our gospel this Sunday, our recent crossing will lead us to new awakenings and realizations leading to national healing and yes, a resurrection, a rising from the dead like that young daughter of Jairus brought back to life by Jesus.

When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, he caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. So he went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” And they ridiculed him. Then he put them all out. He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was. He took the child by the hand and said to her, Talitha koum, which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded.

Mark 5:38-42
Photo by author with friends at ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum, 2017.

Examining our faith in Jesus

Notice, my dear reader, how similar is our story of Jesus raising to life the dead daughter of Jairus with that of the calming of the storm while crossing the lake last Sunday. In both instances, we find Mark “exaggerating” some details as if Jesus were somewhat oblivious to what was going on around him.

But again, Mark is not entertaining us with his stories narrating the powers and miracles by Jesus for he is telling us something deeper and very important with those surprising details of his stories. Primary of which is the supremacy of Jesus as the Son of God over nature like the sea and death both symbolizing evil and sin.

Mark affirms this truth today in telling us how Jesus brought back to life the dead daughter of Jairus, that Jesus is the Christ who had come launching a new world order where death and sin are overcome in him through his pasch.

Recall last Sunday how Mark ended his story with the disciples asking, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” (Mk.4:41).

That question is finally answered by our story today that clearly shows Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who is life himself when he brought back to life the dead little girl.

Unfortunately, like during the time of Mark until now, many still doubt the powers of Jesus. Then and now, there is still that crisis of faith among us expressed by people from the synagogue official’s house who arrived and said, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”(Mk.5:35).

If you were in that crowd following Jesus, would you still go with him to enter the house? Would you heed his words like Jairus, “Do not be afraid; just have faith” (Mk.5:36)?

And while inside the house, knowing the little girl was already dead, would you join the rest in ridiculing Jesus who said, “The child is not dead but asleep” (Mk.5:39)?

These are the questions Mark is asking us today like the Christians of his time going through persecution and crisis in the early Church.

It is easy to “believe”, proclaiming with arms raised that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is the Son of God but it is another thing to be truly convinced, to have faith in him when faced with the stark realities of life persistently attacked by sickness and death, of pains and sufferings that make us wonder why God could allow these to happen!

We have all felt our faith shaken when this pandemic struck us last year that took away those dearest to us so sudden, often without seeing them at all before they were cremated.

Like his story last Sunday, Mark’s narration of the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus is filled with many surprising details we find it so true with our own experiences of struggling to avoid or survive COVID-19, of having a sick child or spouse, of trying to make it to another day, of keeping our jobs to pay for food and rent and other needs of our family.

Do we really have that faith in Jesus, convinced that everything will be “okay” like Nightbirde who can brim with all smiles even if saddled with three kinds of cancer with a 2% chance of survival, claiming it is better than zero?

Today’s gospel is more than the revelation of who Jesus Christ is: the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus dares to invite us in examining our faith in God in the face of unrelenting attacks on life by sickness and death especially in this time of the pandemic.

Death and sickness are realities we face daily, that make us doubt God’s love and concern for us which the first reading clarifies with its declaration that

God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who belong to his company experience it.

Wisdom 1:13, 2:23-24
Photo by author, Lake of Galilee, 2019.

Arising and being whole in Jesus

Jesus came not to remove sickness and death, pains and sufferings which did not come from God for God is love. He came to be one with us in sickness and death, in our pains and sufferings so that we may rise with him too in his resurrection and be whole again in him.

Notice the words Jesus used in every healing, “your faith has saved you” to show that healing is not just a cure of the disease but making the person whole again. The words health, healing, wholeness, and holiness are all interrelated if we examine their origins and implications. Hence, we see that whenever Jesus would heal, it is not only an eradication of an illness but restoring harmony and balance in the person – physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional aspects.

It is the same in raising the dead young man in Nain and his friend Lazarus: Jesus or the evangelists used the word “arise” as a foreshadowing of Easter when Jesus himself rose from the dead, an indication of his power over death.

All these people in the gospels Jesus had healed and brought back to life eventually died but the good news is that death and sickness are no longer dark and an ending in itself.

Jesus came to bring salvation to the world, a wholeness in life which disease and physical death can no longer control and hold. That is why we need a firm faith to believe in him in spite of the many sickness and deaths now around us. It is faith that will enable us to grasp the full meaning of this pandemic and other sufferings we are going through in life. It is our deep faith in God that will also enable us to explain and show to others especially our loved ones the true meaning of healings and resurrections performed by Jesus who gives us a share in his victory over sickness and death.

May we dwell on the beautiful exposition of St. Paul today about being poor like Christ “that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2Cor. 8:9).

We can only be whole when we share whatever we have because that is when we allow Jesus to work in us, to be in us, to complete us. This happens when we wholeheartedly celebrate the Holy Eucharist where we become poor like Jesus, emptying ourselves of our sins, sharing with others our wealth through our contributions not only to the church collections but also to other charities where some of us share also time and talent aside from treasures.

The experience of the community pantry recently had taught us the value of St. Paul’s call for us to share and be poor like Christ when we were encouraged to take only what one needs and to give according to one’s ability – “kumuha ayon sa pangangailangan, magbigay ayon sa kakayahan”.

Yes, the realities of poverty and hunger remain with us but people are fed, sufferings are alleviated and most of all, the whole nation is united in believing again there is hope amidst the pandemic worsened by the systematic evil that has plagued us for so long.

Faith in God is deepened and strengthened when we become poor and weak like Jairus because that is only when we can arise and be whole again in Jesus Christ who is himself our Resurrection and Life. Amen.

A blessed new week to you and everyone!

Photo by author, Lake of Galilee, 2017.

Prayer to love the giver, not the gift

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Week XI, Year I in Ordinary Time, 16 June 2021
2 Corinthians 9:6-11   ><)))'> + <'(((><   Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
From Pinterest.com.

So many times, O God our Father, we have been acting so foolishly, forgetting the more essential in life as we waste precious time and our very selves with less important things and matter.

And most often, it is you whom we always forget, whom we disregard when you alone is the one whom we must always desire, whom we must always please for you alone who truly loves us above all.

Most of all, you alone is the Source of all good things in this life to whom we must always turn to.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform religious deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.”

Matthew 6:1

You do not need “advertisements” for your goodness and love for us for they are all self-evident.

Worst is how we fail to realize that every time we advertise our goodness and supposed to be holiness, the more we fool ourselves as we become most selfish and not holy at all!

Make us aware to remember the teaching of Thomas á Kempis that it is the love of the giver – YOU – that matters most than the gift itself.

A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover, as the love of the giver. He esteems the affection above the gift, and values every gift far below the Beloved. A noble lover is not content with a gift, but desires Myself above all gifts. 

Imitation of Christ, Book III, Part VI, “Of the proving of the true lover” by Thomas á Kempis (d. 1471)

It is because of this wrong focus on the gifts than on the Giver that we have failed in imitating your Son Jesus Christ in his loving service and generosity with others.

Help us realize, O Lord, that you alone are the source of every good gift in life, that you can never be outdone in generosity as you give us lavishly with all the gifts we need in this life.

Help us realize that we are all vessels and sharers of your grace:

“Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work…You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God”

2 Corinthians 9:8, 11

We pray, O Lord, for each of us to count the many blessings you have given us amid the hard times that have fallen upon us since the start of this pandemic so that we may see you more above all things. Amen.

Always something, never nothing

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday in the Eight Week of Ordinary Time, 25 May 2021
Sirach 35:1-12  ><)))’> + <‘(((><   Mark 10:28-31
Photo by author, St. Paul Center for Spirituality at Alfonso, Cavite 2019.

Praise and glory to you, O most loving and merciful God our Father, for you never leave us empty-handed even if we always claim to have nothing at all, to be “walang-wala” when we always have something with to offer and share, never without anything at all.

Forgive us in being so preoccupied with the “scarcity mentality” – of how little we have, of not having enough that we refuse to share and give to others, forgetting the reality that to be alive and to always do what is good and pleasing to you is all you want us to offer to you through others.

In works of charity one offers fine flour, 
and when he gives alms he presents 
his sacrifice of praise.  
To refrain from evil pleases the Lord, 
and to avoid injustice is an atonement.
Appear not before the Lord empty-handed,
for all that you offer is in fulfillment of the precepts.

How wonderful, O Lord, are your words through Ben Sirach! Help us remember that true worship, true prayer is always being good and holy before you through our loving service to others.

We do not have to look beyond ourselves to find so many things to offer to you, primarily our good works that you ask from us. We may not have all the material wealth the world has to offer, but you always shower us with every spiritual gifts more needed especially in our world today plunged in the darkness of sin and selfishness.

Sometimes like Simon Peter, we become proud of the little things we give up for you, thinking they are so great without realizing the great rewards you have in store for our sacrifices.

Jesus said,
"Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house
or brothers or sisters or mother or father
or children or lands for my sake 
and for the sake of the Gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more 
now in the present age:  houses and brothers
and sisters and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions, and eternal life 
in the age to come.
(Mark 10:29-30)

Indeed, you have given us with so much, dear God and we have given so little. Teach us to give more of our kindness and mercy, love and understanding, time and presence and most of all, more of YOU to others. Amen.

Generosity comes from the heart

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXV-A, Ordinary Time, 20 September 2020
Isaiah 55:6-9   >><)))*>   Philippians 1:20-24, 27   >><)))*>   Matthew 20:1-16
Photo by the author on the way to Petra in Jordan, May 2019.

There was something amusing I realized while praying this Sunday’s gospel of how in our time we no longer hear or use the word “generous” anymore — except when the topic is about food like in the expression “generous servings”!

We all love and enjoy “generous servings” of food and drinks whether in restaurants or at home or at parties because it means something more than what we pay for or come for. And that is the essence of generosity: the giving of more than what is required and just. It is love in the real sense like the prayer for generosity by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Dearest Lord:
Teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not heed the wounds,
To toil and not seek for rest,
To labor and ask not for reward, except
To know that I am doing your will.  Amen. 
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

Generosity bonds every community in Christ

Sorry if I have to start our reflection through the stomach because today is our “Pistang Pasasalamat” (Thanksgiving) in the Parish…

Going back to our reflection, my dear reader, recall how in the past two weeks we have heard Jesus teaching us important lessons how our relationships must be based on mutual love through fraternal correction and forgiving of those who have sinned against us.

This Sunday through another parable, Jesus teaches us the importance of generosity as a wonderful expression of love we forget most in our relationships and dealing with others.

Generosity is the glue that keeps our ties stronger and keeps us filled with joy because it is thinking more of the other person than of self. It is love at its finest – charming and elegant as in suave – but so disarming and revealing when overlooked as we shall see in this parable.

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for is vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them… You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them i reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?'”

Matthew 20:1-15

Notice how Jesus again elicited our feelings to drive home his lesson today about love as basis of our relationships. Last week we totally agreed with the king in punishing the merciless servant whose debt he had forgiven but was unmerciful to a fellow servant and debtor.

This Sunday, with whom did we take sides with? Be honest. Did you side with the workers hired in the morning and worked all day only to receive a pay exactly the same with those who worked only for an hour? Did we also feel treated unfairly like them?

But, why are we reacting the same way as those workers who toiled under the sun? What is our complaint? Are we envious because the owner is generous?

Recall our reflections last month about the parable as a simple story conveying deeper truths about life and our selves. From the French parabolein -along the way – Jesus is inviting us to read anew this parable we have heard so many times in the past so we may enter into a dialogue with him to purify and cleanse us to get its whole picture. And hopefully, become generous too.

Nuns bringing goods to the poor during the height of the Luzon-wide lockdown last summer.

Human justice, Divine kindness

The parable is not about social justice and just wages: it is about the immense love of God for us all. Jesus said it at the start, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…” – it is a parable about God and his kingdom.

See the great love of the landowner who went out five times during the day, even at late afternoon so people may have a job to earn some money for the day. We have to keep in mind that the workers were hired because the owner is kind. Period.

The owner is like the good shepherd Jesus described as who would leave the rest of his flock to search for one missing sheep.

How many times have we acted like those early workers, complaining to God when we feel “shortchanged” for our work and efforts, or being better and more good perhaps than others?

It happens so many times when we question him even in the Church and specially in the society and government when we cannot understand how God who is supposed to be just and fair is allowing all injustices and evil to happen like during this time of COVID-19.

The first reading reminds us that to think that way as if we know everything is dangerous because we could be very wrong and mistaken after all. God sees and knows everything that in the end amid all the twists and turns in history and in our personal lives, it is always his will that prevails which proves best for us and mankind. In times like these, we need to have faith in God and trust him more through prayers and reflections.

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near… As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:6, 9
Photo by author, Jaffa in Israel, May 2017.

We keep on saying that one immediate fruit of having a prayer life is the heightening of our sensitivities when we see more of God in others than more of ourselves. The problem with those workers hired earlier in the day that instead of thanking God for his kindness in hiring them, they even wanted more in their pay than what they have agreed upon — so selfish and feeling so entitled like some among us!!!

God as the landowner is teaching us not only to be thankful for the blessings we have received from him but also to rejoice when others aside from us are also blessed. As everyone would say these days, “sana all” are blessed, not only a selected few.

Again we find here a similar situation in the parable of the prodigal son where the father told the elder one that “everything I have is yours” (Lk.15:31) when he refused to come home to celebrate the return of his younger brother, citing how he had obeyed the father all his life without being given a young goat to feast with his friends.

Like that loving father of the prodigal son, God is reminding us this Sunday in this parable to rejoice that others have been blessed, instead of grumbling and complaining, demanding for more than what we have, forgetting everything is out of God’s goodness, never because of our merits.

Looking inside our hearts

My dear friends, this time of the pandemic invites us to be generous by looking deep into our hearts, of seeing God more and others than just our self. At this time when life is so difficult and death is so closest to home with everyone, the best thing we can do is to thank God for his gift of life to us each day and to deepen our faith in him.

Lately I have been praying to God to grant me St. Paul’s clarity of mind and purity of heart as we find ourselves in his similar situation of being imprisoned: him for the gospel, us due to COVID-19.

See the faith of St. Paul in God that even in prison with his death approaching each day, he continues to rejoice and experience peace within because he had realized that the success of the gospel is not on human efforts but in Jesus whom we cannot box in our little worlds and beliefs, rites and rituals. In fact, he was so confident that even with his death, the more the gospel would spread.

Photo by Dra. Mylene A. Santos at Katmon Harbor Nature Sanctuary, Infanta, Quezon, March 2020.

Brothers and sisters: Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death… conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Philippians 1:20, 27

Last Sunday, Jesus taught us to forgive from the heart, that is, to see one another as a brother and sister in God our Father who forgives us without limits for our many sins.

Today, Jesus is asking us to give from the heart – to be generous – not for anything else but because we are brothers and sisters in God our Father who blesses us without limits despite our sinfulness.

Generosity comes from the heart when in that heart is Jesus whom we find dwelling, giving us peace and joy no matter how much suffering we go through because him alone suffices that we are willing to let go of everything.

Share a generous serving of God’s blessings today to someone in need. Amen.

A blessed Sunday and week to you!

“Where Is the Love?” by The Black Eyed Peas (2003)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 06 September 2020
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, April 2020 at Infanta, Quezon.

The most severe test of our being Christian lies in our being able to love one another specially when it is so difficult to love them, when the one we love like a brother or a sister or a friend sins (https://lordmychef.com/2020/09/05/presence-and-love-of-christ/).

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you… If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector… Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Matthew 18:15-16, 19-20

In our Sunday gospel today, Jesus is asking us to have love as basis of our relationships, whether at home or in the community, in the church or in the society. When there is love, there is Jesus, there is order, there is peace and harmony. Even when there is imperfection and sin, when love prevails, life and its struggles become bearable, even fulfilling. But when there is no love, there is always disorder and chaos and life becomes more difficult.

And that is why we go back to Black Eyed Peas’ 2003 hit “Where Is The Love?” for our Sunday music today which is very timely and relevant in this time of the pandemic.

People killin’ people dyin’
Children hurtin’, I hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preachin’?
Would you turn the other cheek again?
Mama, mama, mama, tell us what the hell is goin’ on
Can’t we all just get along?
Father, father, father help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me
Questioning
(Where’s the love)

Of course, we all know our kababayan apl.de.ap is part of this group and one of the composers of this smash hit that was also the largest selling record of 2003, earning a nomination to the Grammy the following year for Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung collaboration. From their third album Elephunk, “Where Is the Love?” gave Black Eyed Peas its first commercial success that also put them onto the mainstream music scene. Not mentioned at its single release was the back-up vocals rendered by Justin Timberlake who showed support to the group even though he was from another record label.

Very interesting is the last stanza which I just realized while reflecting on the song relating it to the gospel this Sunday: our problem is not really the corona virus but a disease within us when we refuse to accept and share that love freely given us by God.

I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders
As I’m gettin’ older y’all people gets colder
Most of us only care about money makin’
Selfishness got us followin’ the wrong direction
Wrong information always shown by the media
Negative images is the main criteria
Infecting the young minds faster than bacteria
Kids wanna act like what they see in the cinemas
What happened to the love and the values of humanity?
(Where’s the love)
What happened to the love and the fairness and equality?
(Where’s the love)
Instead of spreading love we’re spreading animosity
(Where’s the love)
Lack of understanding leading us away from unity
(Where’s the love)

Some people have been asking me this early how would Christmas 2020 be?

We need not read the news for we can feel and readily see around us the bleak prospects of this coming Christmas — financially and materially speaking. But I am filled with hope that Christmas 2020 amid the pandemic will most likely be one, if not the most meaningful Christmas we shall ever have because when we have less of the material things, that is also when we have more of the spiritual things in life, more of love, more of kindness, more of the person next to me, and most of all, more of Jesus. All we have to do is honestly answer the question, “where is the love?”

Have a blessed Sunday everyone!

Music video by Black Eyed Peas performing Where Is The Love?. (C) 2003 Interscope Geffen (A&M) Records A Division of UMG Recordings Inc.

Nobility of motherhood

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of St. Monica, Married Woman, 27 August 2020
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 >><)))*> || + || <*(((><< Matthew 24:42-51
Photo by author of a pilgrim writing petitions to the Blessed Mother at a Madaba Church in Jordan, May 2019

This prayer, O Lord, is specially offered for all mothers as we celebrate today the Memorial of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, one of the great Saints of the Church.

Thank you, dear God our Father for St. Monica and all the other mothers who have offered their whole lives forming and transforming their children to reflect your image and likeness of holiness.

Truly, the gift of motherhood is one of your greatest grace ever bestowed to the human race for because of mothers, countless men and women selflessly work for peace and development.

This selflessness of mothers, in working hard for the success of their children, is the nobility of motherhood which is also a call for everyone exemplified by St. Paul in our first reading today:

I give thank to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all the discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you await for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:4-7

What a beautiful trait of every mother like St. Monica to imitate St. Paul’s joy, thanking God for the maturity of their children, to see their sons and daughters growing deeper in faith, hope, and love.

So many mothers can forgo their own career, forget their own well-being for the sake of their children. So often, they hide their tears when they are deeply aching from our many sins and lack of concern even respect for them because they do not want us to go out of focus with our goals in life.

To your question, dear Jesus, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time?” (Mt.24:45) — there is no other most faithful servant true to your calling except our mothers, Lord!

Photo from Google.

Bless all mothers today and always, Lord; lighten their burdens, be their joy in moments of sadness, clarify always their minds and their hearts so that every decision and action they take may always be through the leading of your Holy Spirit like in the experience of St. Monica.

Strengthen their faith especially of mothers who have lost their spouse or children to COVID-19 and other sickness and accidents; fill them with hope in you when things are getting so rough and tough for them especially at this time of the pandemic.

Many mothers are also suffering not only from COVID-19 but also other sickness during this pandemic. Heal them, dear Jesus.

Keep them healthy not only in body but also in mind, heart and soul so that they may continue to lead and enlighten their families in moments of darkness and trials.

Most of all, like St. Monica, fulfill their dreams and prayers for their children.

Likewise, dear Jesus, we remember and pray today for the souls of all the mothers who have gone ahead of us, now with St. Monica whose only request on her death to her sons was to bury her anywhere by including her always in St. Augustine’s celebration of the Eucharist. Amen.

St. Monica, pray for us especially for all the mothers to be like you!

Of wages and gifts

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
Photo by author, Pulilan, Bulacan, February 2020.

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.

From Google.

“What will there be for us?”

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Week XX, Year II in Ordinary Time, 18 August 2020
Ezekiel 28:1-10 <*(((><< || + || >><)))*> Matthew 19:23-30
Photo by author, Petra in Jordan, May 2019.

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me… And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.”

Matthew 19:27-28, 29

“We have given up everything and followed you, Lord. What will there be for us?”

Oh! how often we tell this to you, Lord Jesus, as if we have given so much for the sake of your kingdom.

Sometimes, it is not really a question we ask but a reminder to you of our “goodness” and “benevolence” with others, of how good we have been when in fact whatever we give and share are all from you.

Forgive us, O Lord, when most specially in the midst of pains and sufferings, we ask you “What will there be for us?” in order to remind you of our rewards, or entitlement as if you forget them or that there is such a thing at all with you.

Photo by author, 2019.

We are sorry Lord in counting the costs and most of all, in demanding so many in return.

“What will there be for us?” is often the question we ask when we doubt your generosity and fidelity to your promises to us.

Like Ezekiel in the first reading, remind us O Lord to keep in mind not to be “haughty of heart”, that “we are not god despite our many achievements brought about by our intelligence or beauty” (Ezekiel 28:1-7).

Dearest Jesus, you have given us with so much and we have given so little; teach us to give more of ourselves, more of our time, more of our treasures, and most of all, more of you to others. Amen.