Prayer of an (h)ungry sheep

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time, 17 August 2022
Ezekiel 34:1-11   ><))))*> + ><))))*> + ><))))*>   Matthew 20:1-16
Photo from https://aleteia.org/2019/05/12/three-of-the-oldest-images-of-jesus-portrays-him-as-the-good-shepherd/.
God our loving Father,
what happened in Israel
during Ezekiel's time is happening
again, of "shepherds pasturing
themselves" (Ezekiel 34:2)!
Send us shepherds, dear Father, 
who have vision, who seek Jesus our 
Good Shepherd and not just listen to one's self
or with what our "cordon sanitaires" say and
whisper to our ears no matter how pleasing
or assuring these may be (should we not be
more at home with being bothered than
pleased, Lord?);give us shepherds who would 
come out of their comfort zones like
that landowner ensuring everyone is doing
something; send us shepherds with courage
to smash existing structures of dominance
and cliques within your Church, drive away
the gnostics among us who know only what
is good for one's self to let in a breath 
of fresh air to enliven your flock.
Thank you in calling us
to shepherd your flock in
different capacities as priests,
parents, elder brothers and sisters,
superiors, teachers, leaders and 
managers; but, shepherding is more
than "strengthening the weak,
healing the sick,
binding up the injured,
bringing back the strayed
and seeking the lost" (cf. Ez. 34:4-5):
all these efforts are meant 
to enable every sheep "to work" -
that is, do something good,
something that would awaken
each one's worth and giftedness
as your beloved one like the master
of the vineyard in today's gospel:

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn… at nine o-clock… at noon… at three o’clock… and at about five o’clock to hire laborers for his vineyard.”

Matthew 20:1, 3, 5, 6
O dear Jesus,
forgive us your shepherds,
especially us your priests,
who have refused to go out
literally and figuratively speaking,
to look on your flock, to find every
sheep and give each one a chance to
"work" for you, to do something good
like serve others and harness their talents
you have given;
Oh, please forgive us your shepherds
when we feel so entitled knowing everything
and being capable of everything that we have
refused to stop "working" for you, when we
have refused to leave our "work" and made it
into an office than a ministry, replacing service
with power, simplicity with material comfort,
and yes though very sad, we have made your 
vocation a privilege as we bask in our
positions and ranks, refusing to give others
the chance to work because we have ceased
shepherding, choosing to be herding or worst,
lording over others.
Amen.
Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza, 12 June 2019, Malolos Cathedral.

Daily conversion in Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday in the Fourth Week of Easter, 09 May 2022
Acts 11:1-18   ><))))*> + <*((((><   John 10:1-10
Photo by author, a house near the home of Cornelius in Jaffa, Israel, 2017.
Today O Lord we go to the polls
to cast our votes for the next group
of national and local leaders of our
nation; we have long been praying
for these elections to be peaceful
and orderly.  
Most of all, a matured and intelligent one.
That we finally learn to vote according
to our informed and guided conscience,
carefully and prayerfully evaluating every
candidate, listening more to the voice 
of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
But for us to be able to listen to Jesus,
let us first pass through him, our 
only door.

Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.” So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.”

John 10:1, 7
To pass through Jesus our gate
requires our own conversion to him;
and not just a conversion like that of
unbelievers and Gentiles in the first
reading but to be converted like Peter
himself and the rest of his fellow 
believers who were of Jewish roots:

Peter began and explained it to them (Apostles and brothers in Jerusalem) step by step, saying, “If then God gave them the same gift he gave us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?” When they heard this, they stopped objecting and glorified God, saying, “God has then granted life-saving repentance to the Gentiles too.”

Acts 11:4,17-18
To pass through you, dear Jesus,
is to be one in you which calls for our
daily conversion to you; so many times
we feel complacent, resting on whatever
we have achieved or reached in our
relating with you; it is in our daily-
conversion in you that truly leads us
to communion in you.  Amen.

Knowing is belonging

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourth Sunday in Easter-C, 08 May 2022
Acts 13:14, 43-52 ><}}}}*> Revelation 7:9, 14-17 ><}}}}*> John 10:27-30
Photo from https://aleteia.org/2019/05/12/three-of-the-oldest-images-of-jesus-portrays-him-as-the-good-shepherd/.

The Good Shepherd is the earliest portrayal of our Lord Jesus Christ in art. Mostly done in paintings in the catacombs of Rome, Jesus the Good Shepherd is shown as a young, muscular man to signify his eternity carrying on his shoulders a lost sheep.

But that imagery of a shepherd taking care of the lost sheep and flock was an original thought among peoples in the ancient Near East that included Israel. Kings in Babylonia and Assyria regarded themselves as shepherds tasked by their gods to care especially for the weak. This concept we also find in the Old Testament like in the Books of Psalms and of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel where God promised to send true “shepherds after his own heart” (Jer. 3:15) who shall lead his flock Israel with justice back to him.

That prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who is not just a shepherd but “the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn.10:11) because he is one with his flock.

Oneness is an inner sense of belongingness in personhood and experiences, a common union or communion of selves and experiences like in Jesus becoming human like us to be one in our pains and sufferings and death so that we may be like him in his glorious resurrection and eternal life.

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. The Father and I are one.”

John 10:27-28, 30
Photo from Pinterest.com.

Jesus knows us, gives us eternal life; we hear and follow him.

To know in Jewish thought is not merely an intellectual activity of having information and details especially when used in relation with persons. To know somebody means to have a relationship. Knowing is belonging.

Jesus as the Good Shepherd knows us his sheep because we belong to him, and whether we like it or not, we know him precisely because we are his! Recall that during his trial before Pilate, Jesus declared “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (Jn.18:37).

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

From the very start, we have always belonged to God so that out of his great love for us he sent us his Son Jesus Christ so we can find our way back home to him. We are all God’s children created in his “image and likeness” who have become in many instances prodigal sons and daughters living like lost and injured sheep who need all the care and redemption to gain our status again as the Father’s beloved.

Our “belonging” to God is different from “possessing” in the same manner we belong to our parents or spouses to their partner. Human belongingness is way different from things as belongings, although so many times, it happens that people treat persons as things and objects to be possessed than subjects to be loved and cherished.

What do we mean? Children belong to parents and spouses belong to their partner but they can never be considered as possessions or property to be used and manipulated. People belong to one another like children to parents, husband to wife, and wife to husband as most cherished possessions in the sense that they are gifts from God, so unique in one’s self, free to grow and mature as a person. We belong to one another in mutual responsibility not as property; hence, the need for us to accept and support each other in love which leads to deeper communion and oneness through intimacy that extends to eternity!

Now we see why Jesus said he knows his sheep and gives them eternal life. Here we find the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd is in fact the image of Christ the King of the universe which sheds light on his very kingship as seen by John in his vision in our second reading today “of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9) which is reminiscent of his triumphal entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

In the first reading we have also heard how from the very beginning, it has been God’s plan to lead all men to salvation in Jesus Christ. Despite the setbacks encountered by Paul and Barnabas in Antioch when they were rejected by their fellow Jews, their decision to turn to the gentiles to proclaim the Gospel was in fulfillment of of the Lord’s will that “have made them a light to the Gentiles to be instruments of salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47).

The mark of a true shepherd is like a light who leads us to Jesus Christ and his values of prayer, life, persons, family, and justice among others. Here is the distinction between the true shepherd and a thief – a robber does not pass through Jesus, the gate of the sheep (Jn.10:1ff). A thief like many politicians and dictators including their handlers see the flock as things and properties they own and possess who can be bought and be forgotten, even disregarded, until the next elections. (So, vote wisely by listening more to Jesus than to anyone like the candidates’ endorsers.)

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, QC, 2018.

Belonging and mutuality

Human belongingness calls for mutuality for it to truly lead to oneness and communion. Jesus said he knows us and gives us eternal life because according to him, we his sheep hear his voice and follow him (v.27).

Do we listen to him and follow him?

Today we are also celebrating Mother’s Day. What a wonderful tribute to mothers who are indeed one of the truest good shepherdess in the world – the one to whom we all belong to, having cared for us from the very beginning in their womb.

Mothers are the most loving, most merciful, and most forgiving of all persons in the world, just like Jesus our Good Shepherd but sad to say, the one we most hurt when we disrespect her, from answering her back to swearing and sadly, when we disobey her. Ironically, when things go wrong with us and our lives, the first person we go to and accepts us is our mother too!

So many times, mothers bear all pains and hardships in life just to see their children fulfilled in life, choosing to suffer and cry in silence to hide the great difficulties they face daily, both physically and emotionally. That is how loving mothers are that in the Old Testament, God introduced himself as a mother, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Is.49:15).

It is so easy to say “we love our mom” like claiming “Jesus is our Good Shepherd” but it is entirely another thing to live as a mother’s child or Christ’s sheep.

The grace of this Good Shepherd Sunday is Christ’s coming to us not only to lead us to greener pastures but to renew our relationships, our belonging to him and the Father to experience fulfillment in life. Whether at home or in our nation, may we listen more to Jesus by being mutual in our respect and love for one another and to our Motherland too!

May we have a peaceful and matured elections this Monday! Amen.

“You Belong To Me” by Michael McDonald (2009 Remaster)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 25 April 2021

Today is the Good Shepherd Sunday and we have chosen Michael Mcdonald’s 1977 composition with Ms. Carly Simon called “You Belong to Me” which echoes the words of Jesus, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (Jn.10:14-15).

Knowing implies relationship because it connotes belonging (https://lordmychef.com/2021/04/24/beloved-children-of-god-led-by-the-good-shepherd/).

Knowing and belonging are interrelated: one knows because he/she owns like when we claim things as ours. When we possess, we know because we have.

But, Jesus is speaking here not of owning and taking control an object or any material thing. Jesus and the Father knows each other as they belong to each other as one in a perfect relationship but never because they “own” nor “possess” one another.

To illustrate, children belong to parents while a husband belongs to a wife and vice versa, we belong to our friends and our friends belong to us. There is always a degree of knowledge in every belonging not because we are possessed or owned in the same way we own our house, our car, or any gadget for that matter. Owning, possessing or having persons and even pets are of higher degree of knowing and belonging, of something deeper about invisible links that tie us with someone we believe “belongs” to us.

This is the whole point of McDonald in this song which is about infidelity: the girl is having an affair. But no matter what she does, she belongs to him.

Why'd you tell me this
While you look for my reaction
What do you need to know
Don't you know I'll always be the one

You don't have to prove to me you're beautiful to strangers
I've got lovin' eyes of my own
You belong to me
In this life
Anyone could tell
Any fool can see who you need
I know you all too well
You don't have to prove to me you're beautiful to strangers
I've got lovin' eyes and I can tell

You belong to me
Tell him you were foolin'
You belong to me
You belong to me
Tell him he's a stranger
You belong to me

This is something many people – couples, children, and friends – always forget: we always belong to someone who truly loves us that even if we sin and become unfaithful to them, that belonging remains.

McDonald sounds like Jesus the Good Shepherd who never forces us into being one with him nor in following him. He simply calls us, inviting us to follow him, to be one with him.

Knowing and belonging like the Good Shepherd is less of controls and more of trust with one another because you see them as brothers and sisters in Christ. It is no wonder that like Jesus “the stone rejected by the builders who has become the cornerstone” (Acts 4:11), it always happens that the people who reject us for loving them truly in the end comes back to us to take care of them, to love them, to forgive them. Don’t wait for it to happen. Go back to whom you belong, be sorry and live honorably.

Have a blessed Sunday!

Beloved children of God led by the Good Shepherd

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourth Sunday In Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday and 
World Day of Prayer for Vocations, 25 April 2021
Acts 4:8-12  ><)))">  1 John 3:1-2  ><)))">  John 10:11-18

After listening to the Easter stories by John and Luke these past three weeks, we are now initiated into the implications of Christ’s Resurrection as the Father’s beloved children belonging to him led by Jesus our Good Shepherd.

Jesus said:
"I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me
and I know the Father; 
and I will lay down my life for the sheep."
(John 10:14-15)
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, March 2021.

Image of shepherd pasturing the weak

Since Easter we have been reflecting on Jesus as our Lord and Savior who comes as our invisible guest in almost every aspect of our lives especially in the Holy Eucharist where he appears, speaks and shares meal with us despite the lockdowns due to COVID-19 pandemic.

In our country where the sheep is only beginning to be known as an excellent food, better than pork and beef especially Abes’s lamb adobo, the image of the shepherd is hardly known, even irrelevant for many especially for those in urban areas.

But, it is important that we try to bridge this gap even a little to appreciate and understand Jesus Christ’s words this Sunday being the Good Shepherd.

One very important aspect we have to keep in mind with the imagery of a shepherd in the Near East region where Israel is located is its symbolism of the relationship between the king and his subjects. Pasturing sheep was clearly an image of the task of every king in the region in ancient times not only in Israel but even in the pagan kingdoms of Babylonia, Assyria, and Sumer. This is the reason we find books in the Old Testament teeming with many references to God as the true king and shepherd of Israel, taking care of the people, leading them in green pastures and clear waters.

When the kings including the priests of Israel abused their roles, forgetting their mission to pasture especially the weak and the poor as they turned to pagan gods like Baal, God became so angry with them that he vowed to come himself to shepherd his flock fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ.

This decadence of the image of the shepherd continued in the time of Christ when shepherds were looked down and typecast as thieves and trouble-makers who belonged to the lowest level of the poor who could not even afford to attend temple worship due to their poverty.

Here we find the stage perfectly set for Jesus to restore and fulfill this degeneration of the beautiful and noble image of the shepherd while teaching after his healing of the man born blind that created a very big stir among peoples and temple authorities at that time in Jerusalem.


Knowing and belonging are interrelated:  
one knows because he/she owns like when we claim things as ours.  
When we possess, we know because we have.  
But, Jesus is speaking here not of owning and taking control an object or any material thing.  
Jesus and the Father know each other as they belong to each other as one 
in a perfect relationship but never because they "own" nor "possess" one another.

Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza, Malolos Cathedral, 12 June 2019.

Knowing God, belonging to God

When Jesus declared “I am the good shepherd”, notice that he goes beyond simile: he did not say “I am like a good shepherd” but declares emphatically, repeating thrice the words “I am the good shepherd” – twice in verse 11, and again in verse 14.

His knowledge of the sheep is not from casual nor in-depth observations and study of the sheep but from a totally different and transcendent order when he declared, “I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father”.

Here, Jesus is clearly re-establishing our lost relationship with God as our Father and we his children that is emphasized in our second reading, “Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are” (1Jn.3:1).

Unlike the monarchs of the world, Christ our King is the Good Shepherd because his relationship with us is based on love and concern especially for the weak and the lowly as the Father had intended since the beginning! Jesus is the good shepherd because his is a relationship of unity in God as our Father.

Knowing implies relationship because it connotes belonging.

Knowing and belonging are interrelated: one knows because he/she owns like when we claim things as ours. When we possess, we know because we have. But, Jesus is speaking here not of owning and taking control an object or any material thing. Jesus and the Father knows each other as they belong to each other as one in a perfect relationship but never because they “own” nor “possess” one another.

To illustrate, we belong to our parents, we belong to a church or a community, we belong to an organization. There is always a degree of knowledge in every belonging not because we are possessed or owned in the same way we own our house, our car, or any gadget for that matter. Owning, possessing or having persons and even pets are of higher degree of knowing and belonging, of something deeper about invisible links that tie us with someone we believe “belongs” to us.

Is it not funny that sometimes we claim how our possessions also seem to be like persons that try to get to know whoever is using it as in “nangingilala” wherein if somebody borrows our car or any thing, sometimes they do not function well? And we say, maybe because the car or the thing did not know who’s driving or using it!

Pope Francis last year mentioned a very beautiful trait of St. Joseph that speaks so well about this very positive kind of “possession”, of knowing and belonging like his relationship with Jesus Christ and Mary. The Pope described it as St. Joseph’s being “a father in the shadows”.

In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way… Being a father entails introducing children to life and reality. Not holding them back, being overprotective or possessive, but rather making them capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities. Perhaps for this reason, Joseph is traditionally called a “most chaste” father. That title is not simply a sign of affection, but the summation of an attitude that is the opposite of possessiveness. Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, is it truly love. A possessive love ultimately becomes dangerous: it imprisons, constricts and makes for misery. God himself loved humanity with a chaste love; he left us free even to go astray and set ourselves against him. The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the centre of things. He did not think of himself, but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.

Pope Francis, “Patris Corde” (08 December 2020), #7

What a beautiful way of describing this sense of knowing and belonging – like St. Joseph and very much like Jesus our Good Shepherd!

See that Jesus never forces us into being one with him nor in following him. He simply calls us, inviting us to follow him, to be one with him. That is why we heard him also telling us today that he has “other sheep that do not belong to this fold” that he must lead and care too.

Jesus is the shadow of the Father who leads us back to him as his beloved children. He does not coerce us nor demands us even though he “owns” us as his sheep. In his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, Jesus had shown us how he had become the foundation, the cornerstone we have always rejected in many instances in our lives now pasturing us back to greener pastures.

To know and to belong in the light of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is for us to regard one another as a family, as a brother and a sister we love and trust, allowing them to be free and faithful to God and one another instead of manipulating people like what some parents do to their children or dictators in the government and military.


Knowing and belonging like the Good Shepherd 
is less of controls and more of trust with one another 
because you see them as brothers and sisters in Christ 
perfectly expressed in the Community Pantry dictum, 
"magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan" 
(give whatever you can, take only what you need).

Knowing and belonging like the Good Shepherd is less of controls and more of trust with one another because you see them as brothers and sisters in Christ perfectly expressed in the Community Pantry dictum, “magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan” (give whatever you can, take only what you need).

What Ms. Ana Patricia Non and her followers did was become like Jesus the Good Shepherd when she said this community pantry is “not about charity but more of mutuality like helping the needy” which is about seeing each other as a brother and a sister belonging to one family under God our Father. Charity happens where there is first a relationship of persons respecting one another.

No wonder, she had perfectly called her effort as “community pantry” because every home has a pantry where everyone goes when hungry. And what is more, her community pantry has become a steady source of kindness and tenderness we have missed so much during this pandemic!

How beautiful that a shepherdess from Maginhawa Street led us to realize that we are one big family – brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ and beloved children of the loving and merciful Father in heaven.

May this be the start of a beautiful journey for our country when we see more our belonging to one nation, one country we collectively “own” and therefore, we must ensure its bright future by seeing each other in the light of Christ our Good Shepherd – not us possessions to be manipulated or even sold for personal interests alone.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Posted by Jean Palma on Facebook, 18 April 2021 with the caption: “All these community pantries in four days, and counting. What a powerful movement.” #CommunityPantry

Christ the King: never imposing, always inviting

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Solemnity of Jesus, King of the Universe, 22 November 2020
Ezekiel 14:11-12, 15-17  >><)))*>  1Corinthians 15:20-26, 28  >><)))*>  Matthew 25:31-46
Photo by author, Chapel of the Graduate School of Theology, ICMAS, Guiguinto, Bulacan, 11 November 2020.

We Filipinos have a saying – sometimes taken as a riddle (bugtong) – that goes, “Utos ng hari, hindi mababali” that literally means the command of the king is unbreakable, always absolute.

Kings exist primarily to unite and help the people especially the weak, the suffering, and the voiceless; hence, kings are portrayed with strong bodies as well as sound minds to render justice. But, as we all know, power corrupts people that once kings like politicians have tasted the sweet elixir of authority and fame, everyone and everything is forgotten except one’s self interests.

And that has always been how kingship is seen based on power and supremacy, always imposing and domineering, insisting in their “power trips” that lead to divisions among peoples even nations that eventually, instead of serving others, they become the ones being served.

Exactly the opposite with the kingship of Jesus Christ that is not based on human power and authority but on the loving service of others, especially the weak and the marginalized. It was a radical move, of moving back to the very roots of kingship by God himself as prophesied by Ezekiel in the first reading. No wonder in Israel, kingship is closely seen in the imagery of shepherding.

Thus says the Lord God: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so I will tend my sheep. I will rescue them… I will pasture them… I will give them rest… The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal…

Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 16

This is the essence of our celebration today of the Solemnity of Christ the King: Jesus is in the other and within us, the Emmanuel or “God-is-with-us” that the greatest honor we can give him as our King is to lovingly serve him in one another. See our many images in art of him suffering and dying than regal as a king because Jesus is truly one with us in our most difficult and trying times. That is why he is the only one truly a king!

“Ecce Homo” by Murillo, from wikipediacommons.com.

Christ the King grounds us to God and others again

When Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925, the world was going through a lot of changes in every sphere of human life – for better and for worst – following the many advances in science and technology as well as in thoughts and ideas.

This continues to this day in our own age with its own twists that are more pernicious with everyone trying to reign supreme as kings and queens in life no longer with a scepter that was like a “magic wand” to get everything done but with the cellphones that can either build or destroy anyone with the slightest touch of ones’s fingers!

How sad that as the world had shrunken into a global community interconnected by modern means of communications invented to bring us all together, we have actually grown more apart from each other, polarizing us even further with every color of the rainbow signifying so many groups, agenda, and beliefs.

Worst of all, with these modern means of communications, we have become more focused with gadgets and things than with persons.

What an irony that we can be so close with those miles apart from us yet we hardly notice nor even recognize the persons seated next to us. Long before COVID-19, we have always been socially distant from each other, have always failed to appreciate or even look at the warmth and beauty of the human face now covered with a mask because we have always been “washing our hands”, escaping from our responsibilities as our brothers and sisters’ keepers.

See how in our readings this Sunday Jesus Christ is reminding us to go back to our solid grounding in God who dwells in each one of us.

Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them from one another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Matthew 25:31-32
Photo by John Bonding, Architecture&Design Magazine, 25 May 2019 via Facebook.

I have always loved this photo above that speaks perfectly well of our situation today, of how most of us are missing so much in life when everything is “media-ted” that we no longer touch ground as if we are “floating on air” with everything reduced to a mere show or “palabas” that must be caught, kept, and shared in Instagrams instead of being enjoyed in our collective memories.

More tragic is the fact how most of these are often fake and not true at all, leaving many of us empty, even alienated that have resulted in many instances of depressions and suicides.

What an irony when everybody is claiming to be their own king or queen and master, of being free from religions and God, the more they have become unfree and empty! The more our egos and self-interests reign, the more chaotic we have become with peace and fulfillment most elusive.

When Jesus is our only King reigning in our hearts and relationships, that is when we find fulfillment in our lives as we discover our rootedness in God and interconnectedness with others.

When Jesus spoke of separating the goats and the sheep, we are reminded of how these animals can sometimes be indistinguishable — exactly like when we fail to recognize our loved ones and persons nearest to us.

And true enough, even Jesus has become indistinguishable among us right in our homes and most of all, among the suffering people like the hungry and thirsty, the strangers and homeless, the sick, the poor we have stripped not only of their clothings but also of their dignity as persons, and those imprisoned.

Recall what Jesus told Pilate at his trial, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world to testify to the truth…” (Jn.18:37) that “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him” (1Jn.4:16).

All this comes to full circle today as Jesus tells us, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt.25:40) and “what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (Mt.25:45).

Jesus will surely come again

As we have reflected these past two Sundays, Jesus is coming again at the end of time to judge us if we have been faithful and loving to him through others. He himself assures us of his return as he declared When the Son of Man comes in his glory” and not the conditional If the Son of Man comes”.

The key is not to know the when and how but to be vigilant, of being awake, always finding Jesus our king with the least among us which is the truest sense of kingship — never imposed on others but always recognized and imitated. In Filipino, “sinusunod, sinusundan at tinutularan; hindi nasusunod”.

St. Paul reminds us anew in the second reading how Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross had decisively won over sin and death; but, he is coming again to fully establish his kingship when he vanishes sin and death completely to pave the way for new heaven and new earth.

When he comes again, will anyone recognize him among the poor and suffering like the hungry and thirsty, the sick and imprisoned, the strangers and homeless, and the naked? May we all have the eyes of a child who sees God in everyone and everything! Amen.

A blessed Sunday to you all!

Photo by a parishioner of his son, Red Santiago, praying in our parish, November 2019.

Presence and Love of Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXIII, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 06 September 2020
Ezekiel 33:7-9 /// Romans 13:8-10 /// Matthew 18:15-20
Photo by Mr. Gelo N. Carpio, January 2020.

For the next three Sundays beginning today, our liturgy directs our gaze to the nature of the Church as the mystical Body of Jesus Christ. For today we hear from Matthew how we as a church or a community of believers are signs of the presence and love of Jesus Christ.

Recall how two weeks ago at Caesarea Philippi Jesus called Simon as “Peter” (“Rock”) to head his “church”, giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven that whatever he binds on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever he looses on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Mt.16:17-19).

Matthew is the only evangelist so particular in using the term “church” that he devoted chapter 18 of his gospel on its nature, collecting and giving some of the Lord’s teachings about community life to his own group of disciples or early church.

And off he went to start with the most important part of community life:

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, 17, 19-20
Photo by author, dome of the Malolos Cathedral, 2019.

Presence of Jesus in the love and unity of community

In a very short teaching taking a step by step method, Jesus tells us today how our mutual love shall always take precedence above all in our community life as his disciples and sign of presence.

Though we do not find in our gospel this Sunday the word “love”, it is clearly the Lord’s lesson for today: it is mutual love for one another that must guide everyone specially in the delicate matter of fraternal correction when one is going wayward in his/her path of life.

This explains why Jesus spelled out step by step how we correct others primarily because we love, not because we are better than them or that we have such authority or task and duty. Paul beautifully says it in our second reading:

Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8, 10

But of course, we need to clarify that all these lessons of love from the Lord and Paul are based on the love of Jesus Christ who clearly mandated us during his last supper how we must love:

I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

What makes this loving one another a “new commandment” is loving like Jesus Christ, unlike the pagans in ancient times that are still imitated to this day even by many among us who are also Christians. So often we find specially in media how love is portrayed as mere feelings like physical attraction that always leads up to sex, devoid of any sanctity and inner beauty at all.

St. Augustine called it “disordered love” when we become self-centered and selfish, directing our love solely to attaining what pleases us that we use persons and love things like money.

Love is not just a feeling but a decision, a choice we make and affirm every day specially when times are very rough and tough for us like when we are not loved in return.

Most of all, love is when we find somebody else we can love more than ourselves (Thomas Merton). This is the kind of love that Jesus and Paul as well as all the other saints speak of: the self-sacrificing love Christ showed us when he offered himself on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Monastery of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem where the Holy Family hid before fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s order to massacre the Holy Innocents, May 2019.

Love of Jesus builds, not destroys

Applying the law of love to our community is the most severe test of our being disciples of Jesus when we are challenged to be sincere in our love by hating what is evil and holding on to what is good like blessing those who persecute us, foregoing vengeance against those who have wronged us along with other expressions of mutual love in our community that Paul tells us in Romans 12:9-21.

In teaching us mutual love for one another in a step by step manner, it may seem to be a duty that one must follow in the church. It may even sound as contradictory that Jesus seems to be commanding us to strictly follow his law of command because no law can ever impose love.

However, when we try to reflect the ending of his teachings today – “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” – we find Jesus not ordering us to love but asking us our love because he loves us. He comes to us, grants our prayers because he loves us; therefore, when we love, when we gather as his disciples, we become his presence. And that is when our prayers are most effective because Jesus is in our midst!

Jesus and his love always build people and community; without him and his love, all we have is destruction and divisions. Hence, love is the only debt we owe to anyone. Love as a debt and “duty” is never paid back because the more we love, the more we have love, the more we are indebted to Jesus. It is the only debt that is never burdensome; in fact, the opposite happens when we refuse to love – we are burdened, life becomes heavy and so difficult.

This is what Ezekiel is telling us in the first reading: we are a “watchman”, a brother’s keeper of everyone. St. Pope Gregory the Great wrote a beautiful homily on being a watchman:

Note that a man whom the Lord sends forth as a preacher is called a watchman. A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming. Anyone appointed to be a watchman for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight.

Office of Readings, Memorial of St. Pope Gregory the Great, 03 September
Photo by author, sunset inside our parish, 25 August 2020.

In the Church, those designated as watchman of the flock of Jesus is the Bishop or episkopos in Greek that means watcher or overseer. It is the bishop’s duty to always be above others in the loving service of the Church that sometimes out of love for Christ, he has to discipline those going astray as instructed in our gospel today, “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector”, that is, excommunication or suspensions and other measures not meant to punish but to convert and correct the sinner.

Next Sunday, Matthew deepens our lesson on mutual love when he presents us the teachings of Jesus on how often we must forgive our brother or sister who repeatedly sins against us.

See my dear reader, how after presenting to us who is Jesus Christ last month, in how much he loves us and seeks us, these following Sundays we are challenged by the Lord to be like him – loving and merciful – to truly keep our relationship with him.

It is the first Sunday of September, the -ber months that tell us Christmas is around the corner. But, it seems we are still in a long haul in this pandemic. Having a vaccine will not totally eradicate COVID-19 nor guarantee us this won’t happen again in the future because the disease that is truly plaguing us until now is our refusal to love and live as brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us give it a try. Slowly. Jesus is not rushing us. All he is asking us is be open to his words expressed earlier in our responsorial psalm: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Have a heart and have a blessed, lovely week, everyone!

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.

Discipline and tenderness

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Week XVI, Year II in Ordinary Time, 21 July 2020
Micah 7:14-15, 18-20 >><)))*> ] + [ <*(((><< Matthew 12:46-50
Photo by author of sheep grazing at Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches, QC, 2018.

What a beautiful prayer today to you, O God our Father by your prophet Micah:

Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance that dwells apart in a woodland, in the midst of Carmel. Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old; as in the days when you came from the land of Egypt, show us wonderful signs.

Micah 7:14-15

Shepherd us like a true father, God, the old fashioned and right way symbolized by your staff: strong and sturdy to discipline us especially when we wander far from you, and yet at the same time, so tender and forgiving – full of clemency as Micah mentioned – when we are lost or stuck in a cliff or a crevice.

This is probably the one combination we are terribly missing these days, discipline and tenderness, the cornerstone of formation in every family expressed in the adage from the Sacred Scriptures, “Spare the rod, spoil the child” which the modern society strongly objects and frowns upon:

St. John Paul II waves to well-wishers in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 1978 when elected as Pope, holding his staff, symbol of his being a shepherd.

He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him takes care to chastise him.

Proverbs 13:24

Discipleship or being a disciple is primarily about discipline, of following not only the steps of the Lord and Master but also his ways.

From the word discipulos or to follow came the words follower and discipline alike.

Jesus Christ your Son perfectly said it in our gospel today when he rightly claimed that “whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt.13:50).

Give us the grace, O Lord, to take the right path anew of discipline to form our moral backbones tempered with your tenderness and mercy so we may truly work for a just and humane society here on earth so that your kingdom may finally come! Amen.

St. Paul in time of Covid-19: need to be focused more on Jesus

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 05 June 2020
Ceiling of the main altar and dome of the Malolos Cathedral, 12 June 2019. Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the most severe test the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines has ever faced, striking on the final year of her preparations for the quincentenary of the coming of Christianity in the country.

Making things worst is the “unfriendly” Administration whose policies contradict almost every known Church teaching, from the most basic GMRC and decency to the sanctity of human life.

In this three-part series of reflections, I wish to share with you my brother priests and lay partners in our ministry some lessons I have found in the life and teachings of St. Paul the Apostle that is centered on the person of Jesus Christ.

He never gave specific instructions and answers in dealing with the many issues and problems that confronted the early Church that may help us in the present generation; but, he had taught us to be always centered on Christ, measuring everything in him and his Cross.

Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… Through it you are also being saved… For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: the Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.

1 Corinthians 15:1-3
A sculpture of St. Paul the Apostle upon the entrance to the Malolos Cathedral by the renowned ecclesiastical artist Mr. Willy Layug. Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza, 12 June 2019.

The gospel thrives most in hostile environment

St. Paul lived in a time very similar with ours when great developments and changes were overtaking the world with the usual problems of poverty and inequalities due to growing materialism, and persecution of the Church.

Instead of seeing them as problems, St. Paul saw them as opportunities to spread the Gospel because his sole focus was the Lord Jesus himself and his Cross.

In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But wicked people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But you remain faithful to what you have learned and believed…

2 Timothy 3:12-14

When the former Mayor of Davao City assumed the presidency and started lashing out us priests and bishops with his profanities and vitriol including blasphemies against God and Pope Francis, we all expressed our indignation and opposition.

And rightly so! – even in fighting for Kian and those fallen by tokhang as well as the victims of injustice and fake news.

As days moved into months and years, with more vulgarities and lies dished out by the man at Malacañang, there also appeared some silver linings over Pasig River but many of us in the clergy have refused to see and admit— that some of his accusations are true. Although these are more of the exception than the rule, there are indeed some priests leading inauthentic lives far from their vows of poverty and celibacy with others pretending to be shepherds of souls who do not smell like their sheep because they are more keen in amassing wealth and gaining fame and popularity.

Worst of all are those who have sold their souls to politicians for some petty favors and a taste of power, of being seen with the rich and famous.

I am not putting down our priests. There are more good and holy priests working faithfully and silently not only in our country but everywhere in the world.

What I am trying to say since our “persecution” by the present Administration began, this is a wake-up call for us priests to shape up and regain our bearings in Christ.

Actually, it had been coming since the previous Administration, too. For the longest time we have been lording it over the people with our abuses and excesses hiding in the excuse as “alter Christus” but, now the changing times have finally caught on us, demanding more transparency and honesty on our part.

Like with the experience of St. Paul, these situations of “persecution” with a pandemic are calls for our conversion in Christ anew, something that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has been insisting that we priests go back to Jesus, especially in the Blessed Sacrament.

Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza, ordination to the diaconate at the Malolos Cathedral, 12 June 2019.

Like St.Paul, priests are first a witness of Jesus Christ

This time of crisis due to COVID-19 and the continued “persecution” by an unfriendly administration that has continued to keep our churches closed for no sane reason at all can be a grace-filled moment for us if we allow Jesus Christ to shine in us by bringing hope and inspiration to our people saddled with so much burdens due to COVID-19 and the government’s inconsistencies in managing the pandemic.

It is here where we are most expected by the people to be at the forefront but – unfortunately – we have been silent in asserting our religious freedom to worship within the rules and protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Only Bishop Pabillo of Manila had spoken against the “laughable policy” of allowing only five and ten people inside the church in areas under ECQ and GCQ, respectively.

Making matters worst was how the CBCP issued its statement reminding us priests and bishops to follow the directives and guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases regarding the celebration of the Mass! Instead of supporting the lone voice championing our rights to celebrate Mass in public, the CBCP just repeated the same situation when Jesus saw the crowd who have followed him to the wilderness, “sheep confused and lost without a shepherd” (Mt.9:36).

How sad we have given up the fight so easily to have our churches opened in the transition from ECQ to GCQ.

More sad now are the bishops and priests again in the news – filled with fire and courage – speaking out loudly against the anti-terror bill recently passed by Congress.

No problem fighting oppressive measures by any administration but to miss out that same fervor and zeal for our own rights and duties to provide the essential spiritual nourishment of our people at this time is something disturbing, something St. Paul would not allow to happen.

Yes, it is part of our priesthood to fight for people’s rights but always in the light of Jesus Christ.

St. John Paul II had shown us in recent history what it is when while still a priest and later as bishop in Poland, he spoke only of the words of God in the scriptures and fruits of his prayer that he was able to tore down the Iron Curtain his homeland and eventually throughout Europe.

St. Paul never played partisan politics like our Lord Jesus Christ, considering how they have lived at a time rife with occasions to be politicized. He never missed addressing social issues in the light of the gospel as he wrote one of his friends – presumably rich and influential – regarding a slave named Onesimus:

To Philemon, our beloved and co-worker… Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.

Philemon 1, 15-16

How sad when we priests speak of so many things like current events and other trends without giving the people the Word of God.

It is even a scandal when we priests are more busy with social advocacies forgetting we are first of all a “man of the Word” according to Vatican II.

Let us not forget St. Paul’s reminder that though we are in the world, we are not of the world:

Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:2

The gospel of Christ thrives most in hostile environment and situations but that does not mean going out like activists with clenched fists and raised voices walking the streets. We are not going to change the world; Jesus will — if we can proclaim him in words and in deeds.

The other week as we neared the conclusion of the Easter Season, one of the first readings on weekdays touched me so much, wondering if we priests can also say with all sincerity St. Paul’s words at Miletus when he spoke to the presbyters of the Church of Ephesus before sailing to Jerusalem for his trial:

So be vigilant and remember that for three years, night and day, I unceasingly admonished each of you with tears… I have never wanted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You know well that these very hands have served my needs and my companions. In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus…

Acts of the Apostles 20:31, 33-35

According to St. Luke, after those words, the people wept loudly as they threw their arms around St. Paul and kissed him. He was so loved by the people because of Jesus Christ, not of his very self.

Surely, like Jesus, St. Paul stretched out his arms and hands more to pray over people after hearing their confessions and problems, spent longer hours praying in silence or writing his letters to the various churches he founded, strengthening and inspiring them in Christ than be out on the streets seething with anger against any despot and regime.

On Monday our second part in the series, Fighting our detractors like St. Paul in time of COVID-19.

St. Paul saying goodbye to Ephesians at Miletus on his way to Jerusalem to face trial.