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 MalacaƱang, 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.

On staying home in the parish

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 08 May 2020
Photo by author, dome of the Malolos Cathedral, December 2019.

I hope our bishop and my brother priests forgive me with this piece.

Or at least, understand my points and feelings about our clergy reshuffle due on June 30, 2020.

It is a long overdue reshuffle, twice postponed in 2018 and 2019.

We have all been looking forward to it.

In fact, I have packed all my things, so ready to go that since December, I have been saying good bye to my parishioners.

I have explained to them that I am so eager to transfer – not “leave” – because we have been programmed for it since 2018.

Besides, I strongly felt I have fulfilled my mission here in my current assignment which is my first parish to shepherd since 2011.

But came this COVID-19 pandemic.

Listening to Jesus in this quarantine

Admittedly, at the beginning of this quarantine I was still hoping that somehow our reshuffle in June will push through. But, everything changed slowly with me as the quarantine days moved on.

On the first Sunday of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), we borrowed a truck to bring around our parish the Blessed Sacrament.

I was so moved by the sight of the people waiting for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, kneeling on the street, some holding candles. There were people raising their hands praising God while others were in tears that made me think that despite our live streaming of the Mass, people were still longing for Jesus in reality through our ministry as priests.

Towards the end of our “libot”, we saw a rainbow.

Photo by Ms. Anne Ramos of our Social Communication Ministry.

I held the monstrance tightly and prayed hard, thanking Jesus for the grace to serve him, to bring him around my parish.

Most especially, I felt the rainbow as God’s reminder of his promise to Noah that he would never destroy earth, that he would take care of us in this pandemic.

As I prayed for my parishioners and loved ones to be delivered from the deadly COVID-19, I felt the Lord telling me to stay in my parish, to forget all about our reshuffle in June, and to take care of his flock entrusted to him.

I dismissed it, though I have always knew, the faintest voice within is always Jesus Christ.

Sharing Jesus in this quarantine

We kept that Sunday “libot” (going around) of the Blessed Sacrament, except on Palm Sunday when we blessed palms and on Easter when we brought around the parish the statue of the Risen Lord at dawn and afternoon to make the people feel Jesus is with us.

Last Sunday, against the advise of friends and relatives, I went to distribute Holy Communion to some parishioners after our 7AM Mass. Many came out to the streets to receive Jesus.

Again, there was a drizzle and soon after the last faithful received the Holy Communion, there was a heavy downpour.

“Pinagbigyan lang po tayo ng ulan, Father,” my tricycle driver told me.

I just nodded my head in agreement but deep inside, I felt Jesus crying with me, crying with us for all these sufferings and uncertainties we are going through.

In all these experiences nurtured in prayers, I felt Jesus asking me to stay, to remain in my current assignment.

Moreover, I am now more convinced we must forget all about this clergy reshuffle altogether while we are in a pandemic.

Photo from Reddit.com

Remaining in Jesus in quarantine, in suffering with his sheep

We are living in a very historic moment of humanity, a suffering so widespread the world over, perhaps eclipsed only by the two world wars of the past century.

We in the country, especially in our province of Bulacan, are so blessed we have never gone through wars and other major calamities except for the perennial floods of the rainy season.

This is the only time we are truly one in suffering with our people.

And to think, we are not yet suffering that much as priests unlike in Italy and Spain where many priests have died due to corona virus!

I am not asking nor praying for more sufferings, of getting infected with COVID-19.

Simply be with our people for a longer period of time not until we get a semblance of some “normalcy” from this pandemic.

Yes, that could take until 2021 or November the soonest because for us to be thinking or be preoccupied with our new assignments at this time must be the least of our concerns, even something we should not be thinking at all considering the plight of our sheep these days.

The quarantine must be heaven sent for us priests to finally go down on our knees to pray more often than before, to be silent and be one with the Lord again whom we have banished from our altars and ministry especially at this time when many of us have already fallen into the trappings of television and social media to become instant celebrities.

For those having problems in their parish, transferring to another assignment will not solve our many issues. We just have to accept the truth the problem is not among the people but in us, priests. This quarantine is a silver-lining to show the goodness within us, the Christ in us who have been muddled by past mistakes and misinterpretations by people and brother priests.

Photo by Lorenzo Atienza, carving of the Good Shepherd on the cathedra at our Malolos Cathedral.

Again, my apologies to our bishop and brother priests.

I have no intentions of knowing more nor claims to have received a message from God or his angels, not even in my dreams.

We may all be ready to transfer but, how about our people?

On May 11, we shall be commemorating the second year of the passing of Bishop Jose Oliveros.

I do not have fond memories with him.

But one thing I have learned from him is this: in 2006 I asked him permission for me to serve in Canada. He allowed me to go there to see for my self. He asked me to return after one year before making any decision because he told me, whatever is the will of God for me, God will surely let him know it too.

Glad I have obeyed him.

In the same way I am sure the Lord is speaking to us about his plans for our reshuffle.

Mine is just one.

Salamuch for listening.

The road to Emmaus from clarusonline.it

Our sense of belonging

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Monday, Easter Week-IV, 04 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 11:1-18 ><)))*> ooo+ooo <*(((>< John 10:11-18

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

One good thing about this COVID-19, O Lord, is how it is teaching us today that we all belong to each other, that we all belong to you, our loving and merciful God.

How wonderful that in the midst of quarantine, the many brothers and sisters we have looked down or taken for granted for so long a time are finally telling us, showing us that in this life, we do not need boundaries or walls but bridges to link us all as one.

We belong to just one flock with one Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

In him alone can we rely and trust because he is the only one who is “the way and the truth and the life.”

Even him tells us in today’s gospel that there are still other sheep who do not belong to our fold of whom he must also look after and guide (Jn.10:16) because ultimately, we all go to one destination in life which is eternity in you, O God, our Father Almighty.

Help us realize like Peter in the first reading that the key is to be inclusive than exclusive. May we see that more than the many superficialities of our color, beliefs, and gender is your Son’s Easter gift of divinity you have shared with us.

May we focus more on our similarities than differences so that we may work and live harmoniously as one big community to never allow this calamity to befall us again. Amen.

From Google.

Lamenting in time of quarantine

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 03 May 2020
Photo by author, Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Bagbaguin, Santa Maria, Bulacan. April 2020.

Against the advice of good friends, I went out to distribute Holy Communion in the streets to some parishioners who have participated in our Sunday Mass early this morning at Facebook Live.

I know the risks involved despite our best efforts in having all the precautionary measures but, what convinced me to go on with it is a beautiful Psalm so appropriate during this quarantine period.

As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God.

My being thirsts for God, the living God. When can I go and see the face of God?

Psalm 42:2-3
Photo from Reddit.

Sometime in March, I had some blues when I came across a reflection in one of the blogs I follow that soothed me like a gentle caress from God himself that I began praying Psalm 42 again (https://prodigalthought.net/2020/03/02/lament-in-silence/#comments).

And when our quarantine period was extended for the second time before the end of Holy Week last month, I began praying again Psalm 42 every night for that is when I truly long for God so much, most of the time lamenting to him our situation, my condition of being alone in my rectory.

This is the first time I felt like this, so different from those so-called “desolation” or “dryness” because I could feel God present in my prayers but… he is not “fresh”.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Like the deer longing for streams of water, my soul longs for God too.

Not just like the water we buy from a filling station but exactly what the deer yearns for — fresh water that is refreshingly cool not only on your face but deep into your body when sipped amid the burbling sounds of the spring, babbling through rocks and branches of trees with the loamy aroma of earth adding a dash of freshness in you.

Admittedly, sometimes I wonder if I still know how to pray or if I still pray at all!

I can feel God present but he is like someone stacked there in my mind, in my memory, in my ideas shaped by my years of learning and praying.

What I am longing for is a God so alive, so true not only in me but also in another person.

And that is when I realized, most likely, my parishioners must be longing for God too in the same way — the God we all come to meet and celebrate with every Sunday in our little parish, among the people present who are so alive, so vibrant, so true, so touching.

Our empty church since March due to COVID-19.

Psalm 42 is believed to have been sang by David when he was prevented from coming to the tent of God either during the reign of King Saul who plotted to kill him or during the revolt of his own son Absalom when he was already the king of Israel.

Like David or the psalmist, I miss celebrating Mass with my parishioners.

And maybe it is safe to assume that two or three of my parishioners are also feeling the same way with me and David, saying these to the Lord:

My tears have been my food day and night, as they ask daily, “Where is your God?”

Those times I recall as I pour out my soul,

When I went in procession with the crowd, I went with them to the house of God,

Amid loud cries of thanksgiving, with the multitude keeping festival.

Psalm 42:4-5

If there is one very essential thing this pandemic has brought back to us in our very busy lives, it is most certainly God. And if ever this is one thing people need most in this time of corona virus, it is spiritual guidance and nourishment from God through his priests.

Of course, people can pray and talk to God straight as the Pope had reminded us before Holy Week.

But, human as we are, we always experience God and his love, his kindness, his mercy, his presence among other people who guide us and join us in our spiritual journey. They are special people like friends or relatives or pastors with whom they can be themselves, let off some steam, get some rays of light of hope and encouragement.

And that this is why I try to keep in touch with my parishioners in various ways in this time of corona: even I myself can feel so low and dark despite my prayers and very condition of living right here in the house of God who can still feel alone and desolate, even depressed.

If I – a priest – go through all these uncertainties and doubts this in this time of quarantine, how much more are the people, the beloved sheep of Jesus the Good Shepherd?

Why are you downcast, my soul; why do you groan within me?

Wait for God, whom I shall praise again, my savior and my God.

Psalm 42:6
Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, 10 April 2020.

After our Mass this morning when we set out to distribute the Holy Communion, there was a little drizzle. It did not last long that I just wore a hat and left my umbrella in the rectory.

There were about 30 people who waited for us to receive Holy Communion, most of them along the main highway that stretched to about 2 kilometers. Some families gathered with a little altar at their front gate while a waited a couple waited in a gas station along our route.

In less than 20 minutes, we have completed our mission and as we headed back to the parish, the rains fell again, this time stronger than before.

My driver commented, “The weather cooperated with us, Father”1

I just nodded my head to him inside his tricycle but deep inside me, I felt joy because God answered my prayer, my lamentations for he was crying too, – for me and his people.

May this lamentation be an answer to your lamentations during this pandemic of COVID-19.

Continue with your lamentations to God our Father for this very act of crying out to him is the working of the Holy Spirit he had sent us through our Lord Christ Jesus. Amen.

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, 26 April 2020.

Jesus our Gate

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Easter Week IV-A, 03 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 2:14, 36-41 ><)))*> 1 Peter 2:20-25 ><)))*> John 10:1-10

Entrance to the Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose again. Photo by author, May 2017.

Starting this Sunday, we stop hearing stories of the appearances of the Risen Lord as we go back to the days before his Passion, Death, and Resurrection to reflect further on his words and teachings.

In fact, it is the same path taken by his followers after Easter when they recounted everything Jesus had done and told them as they slowly understood their meanings later in the coming of the Holy Spirt at Pentecost.

Also today is “Good Shepherd Sunday” when every year on this fourth Sunday of Easter the gospel is taken from John 10 which is about Christ’s “Good Shepherd” discourse that actually begins with him declaring he is the gate or the door for the sheep.

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

John 10:7-10
Photo from Google.

Entering Jesus our Gate who truly owns the sheep

Let us start our reflection today by recalling our Sunday gospel on the Fourth Week of Lent last March 22 which is about the healing of the man born blind on a sabbath day.

The healing stirred the people and the temple officials led by the Pharisees whom Jesus had hinted as being the ones truly blind who could not see God’s coming in him. As expected, the Pharisees dismissed Christ’s accusations, claiming themselves to be “clean” unlike the man born blind.

Our gospel today is the scene that immediately follows that where Jesus now speaks of himself as the gate where shepherds enter through to tend their sheep. According to the author of the gospel, Jesus was using a figure of speech in referring to himself as the gate for the sheep.

Unfortunately, the Pharisees did not understand Christ’s figure of speech, refusing to be referred to as “thieves and robbers” that Jesus had to use the emphatic “Amen, amen” to declare he is in fact the gate for the sheep.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

To clearly understand his being the gate for the sheep, let us fast-forward to his last Easter appearance to Simon Peter and companions by the lake after a night of fishing when they caught nothing until Jesus told them to cast the net on the right side found in John chapter 21.

After their breakfast by the lake, Jesus asked Peter thrice, “do you love me?” and each time he would say yes, the Lord would always tell him to feed his sheep.

It was after that third query as Peter assured him of his love that Jesus told him, “Follow me” (Jn. 21:19).

Here we find the essential truth before anyone can follow Jesus, one has to love him first above all like Simon Peter!

It is only in loving Jesus can anyone truly care for his sheep who “belongs” only to Christ and nobody else.

And this is what we should pray for today as World Day of Prayer for Vocations: not only for more men and women to answer the call to priesthood and religious life but most of all, that we in the ministry love Jesus more than our vocation!

When priests and religious love more their vocation, that is when they become thieves, stealing the sheep from Jesus, claiming them to be theirs that lead to so many abuses in the church, in the liturgy, and in the ministry.

Jesus is the gate for the sheep because first of all the flock belongs to him!

And that is only when we can truly realize too why Jesus is the gate for the sheep.

Photo by Lorenzo Atienza, Malolos Cathedral, June 2019.

How to enter Jesus our Gate

Jesus is the gate who leads his sheep to greener pastures because he is “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn.14:6). And his way is no other than the way of the Cross, of being with him in his daily suffering and death so we can be with him in his resurrection!

One of my favorite scenes of the Crucifixion is when Jesus told Dimas – the good thief who stole heaven – “today you shall be with me in Paradise” (Lk.23:43).

From Google.

See my dear reader that Jesus did not tell Dimas that he would be with him in Paradise later when they die or on Easter when he rises from death.

Jesus was very clear in telling him that “today you shall be with me in Paradise”.

The today is the here and now of heaven in Jesus Christ present to us, present with us, present in us.

Jesus never promised Paradise to anyone when he was freely walking around, neither thirsty nor hungry to show us that every time we go through trials and difficulties, sufferings and pains, that is when we enter Paradise in him our Gate.

When a person suffers a long illness, he/she has already started entering Paradise long before his/her death. That is the unique grace of sickness, of suffering with Jesus and suffering in Jesus which St. Peter tells us in the second reading today:

Beloved: If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.

1 Peter 2:20

Yes, we are all into great suffering in this time of the corona virus without any clear sign yet when would this finally end.

This in itself is a clear presence of Jesus among us as our Gate: let us “follow in his footsteps” (1Pt. 2:21) to “save ourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40) where so many shepherds in government even in the church unconsciously claiming theirs are the sheep, leading them to darkness and misery.

May we all first love the Caller, Jesus Christ our Gate and Good Shepherd, than see more our call or vocation in life that deludes us into owning his flock. Amen.

A blessed Sunday to you!