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.

Love without borders

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XX, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 16 August 2020
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7 >><}}}*> Romans 11:13-15, 29-32 >><}}}*> Matthew 15:21-28
Twilight at our parish by Ms. Ria De Vera, 12 August 2020.

For the third Sunday in a row, Jesus reveals a very wonderful side of him who goes out of his way to meet us and comfort us in the most difficult situations and places we are into. It is something we need so much in these days of Moderate Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) seen right away in the opening of today’s gospel.

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.

Matthew 15:21-23

Jesus goes out of his way to meet everyone

Israel is a very small country but always leaves a big impact on everyone who goes on a pilgrimage there. There is that sense of awe in every sacred site that until now continues to “speak” and evoke among pilgrims the presence and holiness of God and his saints.

Like what we have mentioned last Sunday, the proxemics or the non verbal communication of the places Jesus have visited convey to us deeper meanings than just mere sites. And that is more true during the time of Christ like the setting of this Sunday’s gospel, the region of Tyre and Sidon.

Now part of Lebanon found south of its capital city Beirut that was devastated by powerful explosions two weeks ago, Tyre and Sidon were gentile or pagan cities during the time of Jesus with a considerable Jewish population.

His going there shows us his fidelity to his mission of “searching for the lost sheep of the house of Israel” that partly explains to us why he never bothered to give the slightest hint of recognition to the Canaanite woman who had sought his help for her daughter “tormented by a demon”.

Photo by author, the Holy Land, May 2019.

And despite the lack of any explanation again by St. Matthew on the attitude by Jesus “snubbing” the pagan woman, we can safely assume that Christ surely knew that by going to Tyre and Sidon, gentiles would seek his healing as news of his fame had spread beyond Galilee at that time.

Here we find the great love and concern of Jesus for everyone, specially the rejected and marginalized in the society.

His “withdrawing to the region of Tyre and Sidon” was in itself a revelation of his universal love, a love without borders reaching out to those lost and feeling alone in life, those rejected, those discriminated for their color and beliefs, status and gender, sickness and diseases like AIDS and lately, COVID-19!

Inclusive Jesus, exclusive human

At the beginning of chapter 11 of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans from which our second reading is taken today, the great Apostle starts by asking “has God rejected his people?” St. Paul emphatically said “no”, explaining at length the plan of God in Jesus Christ to save all peoples not just the Jews, beautifully telling us,

For the gifts and the call of God are (permanent and) irrevocable.

Romans 11:29

St. Paul’s reflections on God being “inclusive” as against our being so “exclusive” in sending us Jesus Christ to bring us all together as one sheds us some light on that extraordinary incident in the region of Tyre and Sidon involving the Canaanite woman.

Again, I invite you my dear reader to reflect on the many layers of meaning found in this episode so special like the feeding of more than five thousand people the other Sunday and Jesus walking on water last week.

First, notice the silence of Jesus. Keep in mind when the Lord is silent, it does not mean he is out or does not care at all to our needs and pleas. When there is silence – specially a deafening one – the problem is never with God but with us people.

And, true enough! See how the disciples asked Jesus to “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us” (Mt.15:23) — exactly the way we deal sometimes with those begging our help and attention, seeing them as a nuisance to be sent away? What a shame!

From Google.

Now, we go to the climax of this episode with the woman coming to Jesus, “paying him homage” for the healing of her daughter tormented by a demon. It was a scene similar with St. John’s wedding at Cana where the Blessed Mother also approached Jesus with a request when wine ran out during the feast.

In both episodes we find Jesus being a snub – suplado, as we say.

Most of all, in both scenes we find the remarkable faith in Jesus by his Mother at Cana believing he can do something to spare the newly wed couple of embarrassment from running out of wine while this Canaanite woman felt so sure only Jesus can cure her daughter.

See how she addressed Jesus like his disciples with not just “Lord” but also with the title “Son of David” to indicate her faith in him as the Messiah.

And it did not stop there as she engaged Jesus into a dialogue — indicating intimacy and trust, depth and communion that we refer in Filipino as “matalik na ugnayan” or “matalik na usapan”.

Sometimes in life, Jesus seems to have that longing for some “lambing” from us that he tries to be “pakipot” or hard to get in order to be intimate with us. Please take these Filipino traits positively to get what I mean from this unique scene of Jesus and the Canaanite woman in Tyre and Sidon.

Jesus said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.

Matthew 15:26-28
Photo by author, Church of All Nations beside the Garden of Gethsemane in the Holy Land, May 2019.

Brothers and sisters all in one God as Father

St. Matthew recorded this episode not to scandalize and shock us with those words coming from the Lord, referring to the Canaanite woman as one of the “dogs” that was the term used to designate pagans at that time.

For St. Matthew who was writing for Christians of Jewish origins, the episode was a reminder that the people of Israel were indeed the “children” of God to whom the coming Messiah and salvation – like bread or food – were first promised. St. Paul spent a great deal of explaining of this in his letter specially to the Romans .

Rigthly then, theirs was the “food” not right to be thrown to the “dogs” but, that fact does not exclude the “dogs” from partaking later from the leftover food of the children, as if telling Jesus, today we satisfy ourselves with crumbs, tomorrow we shall have bread!

The Canaanite woman clearly knew where to place herself before the Lord, proving to him her deep faith and amazing knowledge of God’s goodness and plans for everyone. For that, she was highly praised by Jesus for her faith. The only other person also praised by Jesus in having a tremendous faith in him was the centurion – another pagan – who begged the Lord for the remote healing of his servant.

Last Sunday afternoon I read the story of how a nurse was driven out of her boarding house after she tested positive for COVID-19 virus. The poor lady had nowhere to go to spend the night after being denied of any assistance by barangay officials, even by her own family in Batangas! Good enough, somebody reported her to the Philippine National Red Cross that sent an ambulance to take care of the nurse who was found crying by herself at the gutter of a street in Pasay City.

What a very sad and tragic reality happening among us these days of the pandemic.

Where is our love and concern for everyone, especially the weak and the sick, those in our own versions of Tyre and Sidon where no one would dare to go except Jesus, perhaps like the dorms and residences of our medical frontliners who are so tired and sick physically, emotionally, and spiritually during this pandemic?

In these past three weeks we have reflected how Jesus lovingly joined us, staying with us in the wilderness, in the storms of the dark sea, even at the pagan territories where nobody would ever want to go.

This Sunday, Jesus is inviting us to break all barriers and borders between us that separate us from each other. Let us animate our community with Christ’s love and mercy for us all amid our many differences so that slowly we fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy in the first reading that someday the house of the Lord shall be called “a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is.56:7). Amen.

A blessed and safe new week to you! And please do not forget to pray ten Hail Mary’s every 12-noon for national healing and end of the pandemic until September 15, 2020.

Quarantine to heaven

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, 15 August 2020
Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10 >><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 15:20-27 >><}}}*> Luke 1:39-56
Photo by author, the Assumption Sabbath Place in Baguio City, 2018.

God our merciful Father, on this Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we start the praying of ten Hail Mary’s daily at noon until the 15th of next month for collective “healing” and the end of COVID-19 pandemic.

Through the Blessed Mother of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, we pray for firm faith, vibrant hope, and unceasing love for you and for others as we go into the sixth month of our quarantine to help stop the spread of the corona virus.

But it seems, until now, O God, many of us still do not get the full meaning of this quarantine period with most of us pinning our hopes for a magic cure that would come to end these sufferings and resume our previous way of life.

Help us see, O God, the process of quarantine, of purification you want us to go through not as a punishment but as a lesson to learn and remember that will prevent us from all the excesses that have burdened us down lately, preventing us to rise like the Virgin Mary.

On this great feast of Mary’s Assumption into heaven, teach us how we may all rise up to your presence, win over COVID-19 not just with a vaccine or physical remedy and cure to the disease but on how we must change our ways of life, our attitudes and dispositions.

How wonderful, O God, to hear the story anew of Mary and Elizabeth who trusted you so much in the coming of our Savior as they both emerged from their own kind of “quarantine” period in this gospel scene of the Visitation.

May we realize like Elizabeth during this quarantine period that true blessedness is in believing “what was spoken by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk.1:45), that we entrust all our hopes in you, O God, not to mere humans who make a lot of promises only to be broken. May we open ourselves like Elizabeth who went into seclusion upon conceiving St. John the Baptist that you always come in the simplest yet wondrous ways of life. Keep within us that sense of wonder and awe, Lord.

“The Assumption of the Virgin” by Italian Renaissance painter Titian completed in 1518 for the main altar of Frari church in Venice. Photo from wikidata.org.

Teach us like Mary to always proclaim your greatness as we rejoice in Jesus our Savior in our very lives of humility and simplicity, obedience and surrender to your will. May our lives be a song of praise to your wondrous deeds, O Lord, like Mary that is centered and focused on you.

Cleanse us of our sins, especially of greed and conceit that have led to this pandemic.

How sad that until now, we still don’t get it.

May this crisis remind us that we are all in a temporary journey here on earth – like in a quarantine – that our final resting place and destination in the end of everything is in you, O God, like Mary whom you gifted with the Assumption of her body and soul into heaven ahead of us all.

May we all strive for the same gift. Amen.

Generous and cheerful

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Memorial of St. Lawrence, Martyr and Deacon, 10 August 2020
2 Corinthians 9:6-10 >><}}}*> // + \\ <*{{{><< John 12:24-26
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

Dearest Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous and cheerful too, because sometimes our generosity is filled with sadness or bitterness as it is comes from having excess of anything that we have. Worst, it is only when we are forced to become generous by others or due to circumstances.

True generosity is always borne out of joy when our only reason in giving and sharing is due to our faith in you — that no matter what happens to us, you will never abandon us, Lord, providing whatever we need in this life.

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.

2 Corinthians 9:8

Most of all, generosity with cheerfulness is always a choice, a decision freely made in imitation of you, Jesus Christ like St. Lawrence your deacon. Those who give or share anything with a heavy heart, if given the choice, would rather keep whatever they have to remain like a grain of wheat without dying.

Like St. Lawrence, teach us generosity that is naturally human and divine, that like him while being roasted alive, he had the sense of humor to ask his persecutors to turn him so that his grilling may be perfect and even. Amen.

“Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, Deacon” by Hipolito de Rioja (16th c.); from commons.wikimedia.org

Understanding the parables is giving up everything for Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XVII, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 26 July 2020
1 Kings 3:5,7-12 >><}}}*> Romans 8:28-30 >><}}}*> Matthew 13:44-52
Photo by author, 2020.

The other Sunday during our Mass, I saw a man wearing a black t-shirt with these signs:

– = +

Of course, it means “Less is more” because a minus (-) is equal (=) to an addition or a plus (+)!

That is also the meaning of the Cross of Jesus Christ wherein it is in giving that we receive, in dying that we live, in losing that we gain more of everything because the cross is a plus sign.

This Sunday, that is essentially the lesson Jesus is telling us on this final installment of his parables wherein we have to lose everything in order to have him, the kingdom of God.

See how the three parables present us with one situation: to get the treasure in a field, its finder has to bury it again, sell all he has to buy the field where he had found the treasure; a trader searching for fine pearls sells everything he has to acquire a pearl of great price he had found; and lastly, not all fish caught in a net thrown in the sea are good to be sold with bad ones that must be thrown.

These parables are reminding us today of the need to exercise our freedom properly by making wise choices in life. Freedom is not the ability to do whatever we want but the ability to choose always what is good.

In every situation in life, we always have to make a choice; it is never true that we have no choice left to make. Choosing not to make a choice is actually choosing what is wrong, what is bad, and what is not good for us and for others.

We are always made by the choices we make in life. And that is why the parables are teaching us to choose wisely like King Solomon in the first reading.

Photo by author, February 2020.

Choosing wisely

The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon answered: “O Lord, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” The Lord was pleased that Solomon made this request. So God said to him: “Because you have asked for this — not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right — I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.”

1 Kings 3:5,7,9, 11-12

Here we go back again to that basic reality of a parable which is a simple story of every day life filled with profound meanings. It is something we take for granted because it is so ordinary like the seed forgetting its great potentials in the future.

Many times in life we get distracted like today when we have a plethora of products and services available that we cannot focus on what is really essential and important. Our decisions are clouded even erratic because we are so distracted with the wide array of choices to make, from food to eat to clothes to wear, movies or series to watch on Netflix or cable TV as well as music to listen from thousands of titles in our playlists.

And in our distraction, many times we miss our priorities in life, especially God and our loved ones.

Then, we end up sad and miserable, way too far from what God had envisioned for us since the beginning which is to live in joy in him.

For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:29-30

St. Paul is reminding and assuring us in these short passages we heard from his letter today that God called us to be saved and glorified in Jesus Christ not by chance but by purpose. He willed it, he wanted it so because he loves us so much, assuring us all of future glory in him in eternity.

The key to experiencing that joy from God is to always abide in him like King Solomon of choosing what is good, letting go of everything that will separate us from him like sin and evil. For God’s plan and grace to operate and materialize, we need to cooperate with him like being a good soil that produces fruitful wheat.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

Our Christian life of joy

Like the Twelve inside the house listening to Jesus explained and narrated more parables, the Lord is also asking us today the same question:

“Do you understand all these things?”

Matthew 13:51

To “understand all these things” is not about human intelligence like being smart or brilliant but of holy wisdom or spiritual intelligence characterized by humility and simplicity before God and others.

To “understand all these things” and be like “every scribe… or the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old” (Mt.13:52) is to be one in Jesus Christ, a person learned in the ways of God, who knows how to prioritize things, always making things relevant in the present even if it is an old lesson.

To be truly joyful in life is to just have Jesus, only Jesus and always Jesus.

It is easier said than done but we must try even little by little, slowly by learning more to give of our very selves to others.

It is difficult to imitate the main characters in the parables today – the finder of treasure, the pearl merchant, and the fisherman – when we always think of having more than having what is most valuable and important.

Have we noticed during this pandemic that whenever we would count or take tabs of everything we share, we feel sad and even grouchy because we feel we have lost a lot? And if we get too much in return, we cannot rejoice because we somehow feel guilty?

True joy comes when we are able to be generous, of giving without counting the costs, without thinking of what would be left for me because my only concern is what else can I give the other persons so that my joy can be complete when I see them like me – happy, contented, and peaceful with a simple smile or delighted by a hot bowl of soup or a hearty breakfast.

And that’s that greatest parable of Jesus of all that we need to understand and embrace: the less we have of created things, the more we have of the Creator, of himself who is the kingdom of God.

Then, that is heaven.

A blessed Sunday to everyone!

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos at Infanta, Quezon, July 2020.

When we humans know so much

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Week XIV, Year II in Ordinary Time, 07 July 2020
Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13 >><)))*> <*(((><< Matthew 9:32-38
Photo by author, 2019.

Forgive us, O Lord, for the many times we have played gods, knowing too much when in fact we know nothing at all. So often, we never consult you and rely more in our limited understanding and perception of things that in the end lead to more woes and problems for us.

Thus says the Lord: They make kings in Israel, but not by my authority; they established princes, but without my approval. With their silver and gold they made idols for themselves, to their own destruction. Cast away your calf, O Samaria! my wrath is kindled against them. How long will they be unable to attain innocence in Israel? The work of an artisan no god at all; destined for the flames — such is the calf of Samaria! When they sow the wind, they shall reap the whirlwind; the stalk of grain that forms no ear can yield no flour; even if it could, strangers would swallow it.

Hosea 8:4-7

When will we ever learn, Lord?

We always have our own golden calf to worship, turning away from you, the only true God, fount of all life and meaning, grace and fulfillment. We keep doing things according to our plans, each of us desiring to outdo each other, turning away from you.

How sad that whenever you try to intervene and save us or bring us back into the right course of life, we see you more as coming from the devil. Forgive us, Lord, in making it so difficult even for you to be in the right place in our lives for we are so full of ourselves.

And that is really how it is with us: we always feel so troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd but would never admit it, replacing persons with material things not realizing that life is meant to be lived with people not with things.

Create in us an awareness of your presence, of your love so we may be more attuned with you and the people around us. Amen.

Photo by author of plants growing on rocks at the Holy Land, 2019.