Welcoming the New Year with Mary

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God, 01 January 2022
Numbers 6:22-27 ><]]]'> Galatians 4:4-7 ><]]]'> Luke 2:16-21
Photo by author, sunset at Ubihan Island, Meycauayan, Bulacan, 31 December 2021.

If there is any Christian and Catholic way of welcoming every new year, the liturgy teaches us today a very valuable lesson often overlooked by many through the years especially in our country where it is so difficult to eradicate totally the use of fireworks and firecrackers that are not only fatal and dangerous but also dirty and so pagan.

Recall that the Masses on the evening of the 31st of December and the first day of January are not for the new year – so, please stop those parish announcements “Mass for the New Year”! What we celebrate every evening of December 31 and January 1 is the “Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God” which is the Eighth Day of the Christmas octave. The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is part of the Christmas season that is why I insist we keep on greeting each other with “Merry Christmas” until its closing day on the Baptism of the Lord (January 09, 2021).

Why do we spend so much time counting the days until Christmas when right away we stop greeting Merry Christmas on December 26 and replace it with Happy New Year? Is it not crazy and insane? We had our new year on the first Sunday of Advent; let us continue the “romance” of this most wonderful day of the year with our “Merry Christmas” greetings. In fact, in the old calendar, there are 12 days of Christmas (yeah, the song!) until the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord that used to be fixed every January 6.

But that is another topic we shall discuss in another piece… for now, let us meditate on how Mary welcomed the new year, the new phase in her life as Mother of God, Jesus Christ.

“The Adoration of the Shepherds”, a painting of the Nativity scene by Italian artist Giorgione before his death in 1510. Photo from wikipediacommons.org.

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.

Luke 2:16-17

Mary went in haste for the Lord

We are familiar with the popular proverb that “haste makes waste” because doing things too quickly leads to mistakes that result in greater losses in time, effort, and materials. Even the saints have always cautioned us that haste is the biggest enemy of growth in spirituality.

However, during Christmas season, we find something so good with making haste – when it pertains to the things of God like when Mary went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth in Judah and when shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem after being told by the angels of the birth of Christ as we have heard in the gospel today.

Haste is not totally that bad at all.

If there is one thing that merits haste in us, it must be the things of God. Why, when we pray and say, “O God come to my assistance”, we respond with “O Lord make haste to help me”? Because God always hasten to come to us even before we have called him! But, who among us these days make haste where the things of God are concerned?

How sad that we rush to everything and everyone except to Jesus our Lord and God! In less than a week, we have gone back to over 1000 infections of COVID as people rushed to the malls and places of interests, forgetting all about the pandemic! More sad is the fact so many people have been in making haste to these days for the more mundane things without even spending some quality time in the church to pray.

This 2022, let us be quick to God and prayers, be cautious with things of the world. That is the lesson of COVid-19: all these years we have been in haste to get rich and famous, to produce so much but we have neglected going to God, to feeding our souls, to spending time with our loved ones. For so long we have kept many people waiting until COVID-19 came and quickly took them without warning at all.

Before the shepherds went in haste to see the newborn Jesus, there was Mary in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Let us go in haste always in the Lord for he has so many things in store for us as the shepherds and Elizabeth realized.

From forwarded cartoon at Facebook, December 2019.

All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

Luke 2:18-19

Mary meditating in silence

It is very interesting that Luke had told us how people were amazed at what the shepherds spoke about that night on the birth of the Christ, the Infant Jesus they have found on a manger with his Mother Mary and her husband Joseph. Keep in mind that the shepherds were among the least trusted people of that time but their story went “viral” and “trending” so to speak.

And amid all these talks was Mary, the Mother of Jesus, silently meditating everything in her heart!

That is the most Christian and Catholic way of welcoming the new year – silent prayer like adoration of the Blessed Sacrament after the evening Mass on December 31. We look back for the blessing of the past year as we silently listen to God’s instructions and divine plans for us this new year. We are his children, not slaves as St. Paul reminded us in the second reading.

This first day of 2022, let us have some silent moments with the Lord Jesus. Simply listen and wait for his words. He always have something to tell us but we always go in haste somewhere else or to somebody else. Jesus is right there in our hearts, the faintest voice you always dismiss and take for granted.

This 2022, let us cultivate to have a prayer life like Mary who always kept in her heart the words and experiences she had with Jesus. Let us not be like the shepherds who were there only at Christmas, never came back to Jesus specially when he was preaching in Galilee and when crucified on Good Friday wherein his constant companion in silence was Mary his Mother.

Photo by author, 24 December 2019.

When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Luke 2:21

The faith of Mary

Like us when Mary gave birth to Jesus on that first Christmas, she was totally unaware of what was in store for her, of what would happen to her Son. She was totally unaware of what would happen in the future. The only thing she was certain was the name to be given to her child, Jesus which means “God is my Savior”.

As I have told, ushering the new year with all those loud firecrackers and fireworks are pagan practices.

All blessings come only from God, not from any other spirits.

We drive all the malas and bad spirits and negative vibes of the past year not with noises and blasts of trumpets or fireworks but with silence that is rooted in deep faith in Christ Jesus.

Such was the attitude of Mary on that first Christmas until her glorious Assumption into heaven: she never knew Jesus would be betrayed by one of his trusted friends and apostles. She was never told by the angel how after Jesus would feed and heal so many people that he would later be arrested and crucified like a criminal but believed in him until the end, remaining with Christ at the foot of the Cross.

All Mary had was a deep faith in Jesus as told her by the angel as the name to be given to her child is also the child of the Most High.

There is no need for us to consult fortune tellers nor feng-shui masters to look into the future and tell us how it is going to be this 2022. No matter how easy or difficult this new year may be, only one thing is certain – Jesus Christ is with us and will remain with us even if we abandon him or turn away from him for he is the only Lord and Savior of mankind. Let us keep our faith in him alone – and not to round fruits nor stones nor other stuffs peddled to us to bring luck this new year.

Let us imitate Mary, the Mother of God, so human like us except in sin who was always in haste with things of God, silently meditating his words and workings, and most of all, trusting wholly in her Son Jesus. Amen.

Photo by author, sunset at Liputan Island, Meycauayan, Bulacan, 31 December 2021.

Panalangin sa Adbiento: Ihanda daraanan ng Panginoon

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-03 ng Disyembre 2021
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, 2018.
Kay sarap namnamin,
O Diyos Ama namin
paglalarawan ni San Lukas
ng panahon noong dumating 
si San Juan Bautista sa ilang
upang ihanda daraanan ng 
Panginoong darating:

Ikalabinlimang taon noon ng paghahari ni Emperador Tiberio. Si Poncio Pilato ang gobernador sa Judea, si Herodes ang tetrarka sa Galilea at ang kapatid naman niyang si Felipe, sa lupain ng Iturea at Traconite. Si Lisanias ang tetrarka sa Abilinia. Sina Anas at Caifas naman ang mga pinakapunong saserdote noon. Nang panahong iyon, nasa ilang si Juan na anak ni Zacarias. Dumating sa kanya ang salita ng Diyos…

Lucas 3:1-2
Dumating ka na sa amin, Panginoon,
sa panahong ito sa gitna ng social media
ng mga nakabibinging ingay 
at mga sari-saring tanawin sa amin ay
umaaliw ngunit madalas ay sagwil
upang Ika'y makita at maranasan 
kay Hesus na palaging dumarating
sa gitna ng kasaysayan ng daigdig
maging sa sariling buhay namin.
Nawa matularan namin si Juan Bautista
upang ilang ay puntahan, maglaan ng
panahon ng pananahimik upang 
Iyong mga salita ay mapakinggan at
mapagnilayan, maranasan pananahan
Mo sa amin kay Kristo.
Itulot po ninyo, O Diyos,
sa liwanag ng Espiritu Santo
aming matularan si Juan doon sa ilang
aming maisigaw upang umalingawngaw 
sa mundong nagbibingi-bingihan  
sa Iyong mga panawagan na tuwirin
aming landas ng pamumuhay:
nawa'y masaid namin aming puso
at kalooban ng aming kapalaluan
at mga kasalanan upang mapunan
ng Iyong kababaang-loob, pag-ibig
at katarungan;
katulad ni Juan ay maging tinig nawa kami
ng katotohanan sa gitna ng pagpipilit ng
marami na bigyang katuwiran mga 
kasinungalingan at kasalaulaan;
tambakan nawa namin bawat lambak
ng kababawan at kawalan ng kabuluhan
ng katuturan at kahulugan kay Kristo 
lamang matatagpuan;
at higit sa lahat, nawa aming matibag
sa mabubuting gawa at halimbawa
mga bundok at burol ng aming
kayabangan at katanyagan,
maalis aming mga tarpaulin at ilawan
at tanging ikaw lamang O Diyos
ang aming matanawan, sundan,
at paglingkuran magpasawalang-
hanggan.  Amen.
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, Adbiento 2020.

Words, words, words!

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XX, Year I in Ordinary Time, 19 August 2021
Judges 11:29-39   ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*>   Matthew 22:1-14
Photo by author, Jerusalem at dawn, May 2017.
God our loving Father,
please make me conscious
beginning today of every word
that I say, of its meaning and
implications; better, teach me
to be silent and still, to speak only
when necessary, avoiding especially
making any oath even before you.

Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. “If you deliver the Ammonites into my power,” he said, “whoever comes ot of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites shall belong to the Lord. I shall offer him up as a burnt offering. When Jephthah returned to his house in Mizpah (after defeating the Ammonites), it was his daughter who came forth, playing the tambourines and dancing. She was an only child: he had neither son nor daughter besides her. When he saw her, he rent his garments and said, “Alas, daughter, you have struck me down and brought calamity upon me. For I have made a vow to the Lord and I cannot retract.”

Judges 11:30-31, 34-35
"Words, words, words!" 
Like Hamlet, we read and say 
many words without meaning, 
falsely believing words become true
when multiplied and said over and over
not realizing the most powerful words
ever spoken where those borne out of
silence when you created everything.
Give us the grace, dear God,
to be like Jesus your Son, 
"the Word who became flesh"
to be a person of credibility
and integrity whose "yes" means "yes"
and "no" means "no" - always dressed
in "wedding garment" for your
banquet in heaven (cf.Mt.22:12-14).
Amen.

Praying to voice God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, 24 June 2021
Isaiah 49:1-6 ><}}}*> Acts 13:22-26 ><}}}*> Luke 1:57-66, 80
Photo by Fr. Pop Dela Cruz, Binuangan Is., Obando, Bulacan, May 2021.
Dearest God our Father:
Grant me the grace to be silent 
so I can listen to your voice more,
of those around me and most especially
to that voice within me
that speaks freely and truly
of what is good in me like what 
the psalmist sings today:
"I praise you for I am
wonderfully made."
On this Solemnity of the Nativity
of John the Baptist
whose name means
"God is gracious",
help me to remain and be still
in my own wilderness
trusting in your providence
never to voice any protest
but simply profess 
my firm faith in you
as I silently await the Word
becoming flesh, dwelling in me
proclaiming his good news of 
salvation especially to the 
the voiceless many
as you have promised the prophet:
"He made of me a sharp-edged
sword and concealed me 
in the shadow of his arm.
He made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me."
(Isaiah 49:2)
O God, like when John was born
people are wondering these days
what will we as a people be
in this year of the pandemic?
So many loud voices are heard
but none voiced out the pains
and concerns of the voiceless
left to suffer by themselves.
Let your voice come to me
that I may courageously speak
your words of sympathy and unity
comfort and encouragement
without focusing on me
for like John the Baptist 
I am not worthy to unfasten
the sandals of my Lord, Jesus
who alone must increase
as I decrease.
Amen.
Photo by author, marker at the Church of St. John the Baptist, the Holy Land, 2019.

Voice of God, Power of God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist, 24 June 2021
Isaiah 49:1-6 ><}}}'> Acts 13:22-26 ><}}}'> Luke 1:57-66, 80
Photo by author, site where St. John the Baptist was born beside the Church in his honor in Judea, 2019.

Today’s celebration of the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist reminds us of the very important grace and gift from God we take for granted and always abuse – our voice.

Also known as the “voice in the wilderness” who prepared the coming of Jesus Christ, St. John shows us even before his birth through his father Zechariah the proper use of this gift of voice from God.

Voice is power.

In the Book of Genesis, God created everything by simply saying “let there be…” and it comes into being. When Jesus came as the “the Word who became flesh”, he witnessed to us this immense power of the voice of God when he would simply speak to heal people, cast away evil spirits, and still the seas and quiet the storms.

Only us humans were gifted with this unique power of God to speak using the voice.

How sad that we have forgotten or have been totally unaware of the fact that we merely share in the power of God in speaking, in voicing out what is in our minds and in our hearts. Like freedom or the power to choose what is good, we have abused this power of the voice so evident in this digital age as we drown in a cacophony of voices from everybody wanting to be heard, wanting to rule.



And the tragedy is that 
those with the loudest voice and 
easy access to all kinds of media platforms 
are also the ones in power who only voice 
out their selfish interests like our politicians. 

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, Bgy. Lalakhan, Santa Maria, Bulacan, June 2021.

And the tragedy is that those with the loudest voice and easy access to all kinds of media platforms are also the ones in power who only voice out their selfish interests like our politicians.

Have you noticed how most of the loud voices we hear these days come from those not involved at all in any kind of suffering? They are not only loud but also so quick to voice their views empty of any concern at all. Worst, many of these loud voices we hear come from people who have little or no concern at all for those truly in pain like the poor and marginalized who have remained voiceless in our society.

When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father; but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.” So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.

Luke 1:59-60, 62-64

Silence is the voice of God.

At the eve of our celebration today, we have heard how the angel had made Zechariah deaf and mute after he doubted the good news announced to him of the coming birth of their son to be named as John.

Now after nine months of being silent, Zechariah recovered his voice and speech that he spoke blessing God.

Imagine the power and stature Zechariah must have commanded at that time: both he and his wife Elizabeth were from the priestly clans. They were like the royalty at that time, living in an affluent section of the country. Both were born into wealth and fame. And power.

Zechariah’s voice must be one of the most sought after in Judea with his wisdom and influence.

Suddenly gone when his very voice questioned the source of its power, God represented by Archangel Gabriel.

Photo by author, Church of St. John the Baptist, the Holy Land, 2019.

The experience of Zechariah teaches us of the value of silence that has become a very rare commodity these days.

Many of our misunderstandings are due to our lack of silence, of listening to what others are saying or telling us.



Contrary to what 
we also believe,
 silence is not emptiness 
but fullness:


Contrary to what we also believe, silence is not emptiness but fullness: it is different from being quiet when we do not simply speak but allow our minds to work on what we believe in or hold on to. Silence is trying to listen to every voice, especially the faintest ones that usually speak the truth. In the Bible, we find a common pattern in both the Old and New Testaments how God’s communication is preceded always with silence.

Zechariah was forced into silence to experience again its fullness, of being connected anew with God as it gave him opportunities to truly listen intently to God in prayers. That is why everyone was surprised not only when Zechariah confirmed the name of his son would be “John” but most of all when he spoke and his voice heard again by the people. According to Luke, Zechariah sang a blessing to God called the Benedictus.

Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

Luke 1:65-66

Becoming the voice of God like John the Baptist

See how Luke presented the scene in pure simplicity as if we were also there, everybody asking “what will this child be?” for surely the hand of the Lord was with him. The scene is packed with the power of God. No voices were heard except the few “pakialamera” or “mahadera” neighbors who wanted the child named Zechariah like his father.

Elizabeth was so cool but emphatic by declaring her son shall be named John. No debates nor arguments among the women who approached Zechariah – surely, not to ask him to voice his decision as he was deaf and mute at that time. Everybody was amazed when he asked for a tablet and wrote “John is his name”.

There was the deafening silence of God’s voice heard loud and clear, perhaps even for several days after the circumcision and naming of John.

“St. John Preaching In the Wilderness” by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779), photo from commons.wikimedia.org

Such is the power of God, of his voice.

Always preceded by silence.

Never harsh nor imposing.

Soft but always felt, always consistent, very clear and simple.

Most of all, refreshing and blissful.

It is a voice kept in one’s heart, nurtured through time in prayer and simplicity of life until the listener becomes the speaker and carrier of the voice of God.

In our digital age where humans and machines speak with voices competing for our attention, we are reminded that the true power of the voice is not in its volume but in God himself who is also the message.

Like images, voices can also be enhanced with the help of modern technology and human ingenuity, especially by image makers and propagandists who are paid to advance one’s power and influence.

Let us be more discerning in listening to the many voices competing for our attention.

Let us begin first in that soft and feeble voice inside our hearts we disregard but consistently speaks to us daily. That voice could be God speaking to us.

Let us rediscover silence and the true power and beauty of the voice of God.

Recall how often in our lives and in human history, the most important voices ever heard, ever written come after long moments of silence, of reflections and listening to God and with others.

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Luke 1:80
Photo by Fr. Pop Dela Cruz, Binuangan Is., Obando, Bulacan, May 2021.

Magnum Silentium

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for Holy Saturday, 03 April 2021
Photo by author, sunrise at the Dead Sea, the Holy Land, 2019.

Help us to be silent today, O God our Father as we remember your Son Jesus Christ’s Great Silence – Magnum Silentium – when he was “crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the dead and on the third day he rose again.”

On this Holy Saturday, your whole creation comes to full circle. In the beginning, after completing your work of creation, you rested on the seventh day and made it holy (Gen.2:3). On the seventh day after completing his mission here on earth, Jesus Christ was laid to rest.

Silence and rest always go together.

To be silent is not merely being quiet but listening more to your voice coming from the depths of our being; hence, it is not emptiness but fullness with you, dear God. It is in silence where we truly discover our selves and others too.

On the other hand, to rest is not merely to stop work nor stop from being busy. We rest to reconnect with you to be filled with your Holy Spirit. You do not actually rest, O God, because you never get tired; it is us who need to rest so we may continue your work of creation and, now of redemption and renewal by Jesus Christ.

When we rest, we return to Eden, like the garden where Jesus was buried: “Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by” (Jn. 19:41-42).

How beautiful is that image, O dear Father, of your rest and silence in Eden and of Jesus laid to rest at a tomb in a garden: to rest in silence is therefore when we stop playing God as we return to you as your image and likeness again!

Maybe that is why many of us these days are afraid of silence because it is the realm of trust and of truth. We have always been afraid to trust you and be truthful to you and ourselves that have caused the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.

Teach us to be like those women who rested on the sabbath when Jesus was laid to rest. That like them, we may trust you more by being true to ourselves even in the midst of a raging second wave of COVID-19 this Holy Saturday.

May your silence and rest reassure us that we shall rise with you again. Amen.

The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils. Then they rested on the sabbath according to the commandment.

Luke 23:55-56

Holiness in gentleness

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Monday, 29 March 2021
Isaiah 42:1-7   ><}}}*>   John 12:1-11
Photo by author, December 2020.
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am well pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice  to the nations,
not crying out,
not shouting, 
not making his voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed he shall not break, 
and a smoldering wick  he shall not quench.
(Isaiah 42:1-3)

On this Holy Monday of our holiest week, we pray to you, O God, for gentleness for us to be holy like your “Suffering Servant” according to Prophet Isaiah and fulfilled in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

In this world saturated in a cacophony of many voices and noises competing to be heard in the various social media platforms, teach us to be gentle, to never view ourselves better than someone else when we would rather be silent to listen more, “not crying out, not shouting, not making our voices heard in the street.”

In this world where “size always matters” while power is always expressed in force and violence, teach us to be gentle with them who are actually weak and soft inside, even broken like the reed or a smoldering wick.

Teach us holiness in gentleness through Jesus Christ who showed us the path to real power is in weakness, that instead of asserting superiority, we would rather help others to assert their innate goodness especially when the weak come forward to express their gentleness too like Mary who poured oil and perfume on his feet.

Give us the grace to dwell today on his words, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (Jn.12:7-8).

O how foolish we can be, dear Father, to miss this essential truth that we can only love the poor in you and through Jesus your Son. Take away that attitude of Judas Iscariot among us of “thinking the poor” yet always feeling superior to them, even to Jesus our Lord!

Make us gentle in our thoughts and in our words, most especially in our actions so that everyone may feel your gentle mercy and compassion in Christ. Amen.

The “gift” of face masks

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I, 09 February 2021
Genesis 1:20-2:4     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Mark 7:1-13
Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA7-News, March 2020.

Praying over your words today, O Lord our God, made me rejoice and thank you in giving us the face masks that remind us of our being “created in your own image and likeness (Gen.1:26-27)”, helping us heal our broken relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Thank you Lord for this face mask because we now look longer into the eyes of one another, trying to recognize everyone but most of all, trying to find you in every face we meet each day. Before the pandemic, we have taken everyone for granted. We would hardly even look into each one’s face and eyes but now, with masks covering our faces, we strive to recognize each one by looking into each other’s eyes, trying to listen to each one’s voice, trying hard to recall how we have met, trying to figure out how have we known each other.

Suddenly with the face masks, we have finally tried to look into each other’s face again to recognize each one as a friend, a brother and sister in you and to finally find you, too, sweet Jesus!

But there is still another blessing in disguise for us in the wearing of these face masks when we finally learned to become silent and appreciate silence too!

Before the pandemic without the face masks, we spoke too much, never looking into one another. We would rather speak and speak and speak without hearing nor listening nor feeling the other person, hardly looking into each other’s eyes, numbing our selves of our connectedness in the invisible ties that bind us as your children, almighty God our Father.

So true are your words today, Lord Jesus, especially before the pandemic when our mouths were exposed without masks that we have become a people more on lip service, “honoring you with our lips while our hearts are so far from you and from others that we nullify your words in favor of our traditions empty of meaning” (Mk.7:6, 13).

May we learn to internalize in our hearts the words we are about to speak so that like you, may we share in the power of your words that create than destroy, enlighten than darken so that one day, sooner or later, may contribute to the end of this pandemic.

Help us realize, God our Father, during these trying times that a more lasting solution to this pandemic is to go back to you in paradise, to experience true sabbath of having you as our God at the center of our lives, always listening and trusting in your voice and words. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA7-News, March 2020.

Advent is a quarantine

The Lord is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-4 for the Soul
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Advent Week III, 19 December 2020
Judges 13:2-7, 24-25     <*(((><<   +   >><)))*>     Luke 1:5-25
Photo by author of our altar after a “private Mass” at the height of the lockdown last summer when public Masses were suspended.

I just realized the other day how fast really time flies after seeing photos of some of the couples I have married early this year now happily cuddling their babies… It did hit me hard that we have been in quarantine for nine months already, enough time to conceive and deliver a baby!

It sounds funny but it is the reality showing us how the birth of every child is a milestone not only to the parents but even to everyone and to history in general. We shall wait until next year to find out if there was a big increase in babies born this 2020 due to the long imposition of lockdowns and the quarantine we are into.

It is interesting to know that “quarantine” was actually borrowed from our Catholic practice of Lent, the 40 days of preparation for Easter called Quadragesima or Quaresma, from the Spanish word for forty.

When plagues became so common in Europe with devastating effects even before the middle ages, officials in the port of Venice in Italy ordered all incoming ships to spend “quaranta giorni” or 40 days of being moored first before entry to ensure they carry no plagues. Quarantine had always meant a period of time until lately it had also referred to a place or holding area as in “quaratnine area” to cleanse and disinfect people, animals, plants and things.

Advent 2019.

Its concept of spending days for purification had always been in our Judaeo-Christian traditions dating back to the Old Testament when the prophets of God would go to mountains and desert to meet Him who were later emulated by holy people including John the Baptist, Jesus, monks and hermits.

The Church imitated that practice that led to our Seasons of Lent and Advent. In fact, Advent used to be as long as Lent in duration, starting a day after the Martin Mass, the feast of St. Martin of Tours on November 11 but was later reduced to four Sundays to distinguish it from Lent that is meant to be more serious in preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Now you see, my dear Reader, how interesting it is this year 2020 when we actually went back to our old practices of Lent, and now Advent in truly preparing for the Lord’s coming going through the quarantine.

Going back now to our gospel which is from Luke, we have heard how Zechariah doubted the good news he and Elizabeth would finally have a son after so many years of praying to God. For that, the angel Gabriel chastised Zechariah and made him speechless that people waiting outside the temple were amazed when he emerged from the Holy of holies unable to speak.

Then, when his (Zechariah) days of ministry were completed, he went home. After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.”

Luke 1:23-25
Photo by author, Church of the Visitation at Ein Karem (2017) where Elizabeth and Zechariah had a summer residence where they stayed when Elizabeth went into seclusion after getting pregnant with John.

Opening our selves to God and others

I find our gospel today so timely: Zechariah went home while his wife Elizabeth went into seclusion. They went into an Advent preparation for their son John the Baptist. They both went into a quarantine but not for the same reason: it was imposed on Zechariah while Elizabeth went into it voluntarily.

To lose one’s voice is to lose power and ability to lead. Zechariah was forced into silence in order to meditate and reflect more on the good news he had received from the angel. He was forced to go into silence to listen more to his true self, to others and to God to find new perspectives in life. As a priest, he must have been much sought after in their town for his wisdom and intelligence. Now that he is speechless, Zechariah was confined inside his home, to his very self to listen and most of all, to renew himself in God.

On the other hand, Luke shows us how Elizabeth seem to know better than her husband in dealing with their unusual situation by going into seclusion for five months. Observe how Elizabeth right away prayed to thank God as she meditated His mystery in “taking away her disgrace before others”. Remember that during that time, the only reason why a woman marries was to bear a child; failure to have a baby was seen as an embarrassment, almost like a curse or punishment from God.

In the first reading, we have seen this reality too but unlike Zechariah, the wife of Manoah believed the angel from God who told her she would bear a child despite her old age and being a barren. She was also instructed to go through a quarantine during her pregnancy when she was instructed to “be careful to take no wine or strong drink and to eat nothing unclean” (Judges 13:4). Furthermore, she was told not to cut the hair of her son to be born and named Samson “for this boy is to be consecrated to God… who will begin the deliverance of Israel from the power of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5).

Here we find the concept of quarantine, of separation from the usual things and people because of a special mission from God. If we can just truly appreciate the rich lessons we can learn from this pandemic, how wonderful to see that we are being quarantined like Elizabeth and wife of Manoah because God is preparing us for something greater.

From these stories of two old, barren women bearing a child we find Advent as the season that reminds us God comes to us hidden in our very time and space when we need to go to quarantine to create a space within us where we can be silent and be transformed as we listen more to ourselves, to others, and to God.

How sad that in our 24/7 world where we have made nighttime like daytime earning money to have everything, we have become more empty, more alienated, more sad and incomplete. Quarantine is essentially a sabbath when we are supposed to rest and be breathed on by the Lord with His Spirit, exactly what we like Zechariah needed so much

Photo by Ms. Jonna S. De Guzman, 06 December 2020.

Christmas negativity or Nativity?

One of the blogs I have been following for the past one and a half years is by a young Catholic lady in New York who is so full of enthusiasm in sharing Jesus in her writings as well as in the tasty recipes she dishes out weekly. Last week I found her blog so interesting, titled: “Christmas — negativity or Nativity?” (https://beautybeyondbones.com/2020/12/10/christmas-negativity-or-nativity/).

How sad that we are missing a very rare opportunity today during this pandemic not only to spiritually prepare for Christmas but to truly understand the things going on around us and in our very lives amid this pandemic. I have always believed COVID-19 has a spiritual dimension that we must face and address lest it happens all over again despite the discovery of a vaccine.

And what is that spiritual ailment? Too much negativities like Zechariah!

Imagine the very rare opportunity to incense the Holy of holies of the Jerusalem temple once a year with many other priests present and Zechariah was “chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense” (Lk.1:9)? That in itself could have been a great sign for him that something good may be happening.

Then, while inside the sanctuary of the Lord, an angel appeared to him with the good news, his news of a lifetime, something he and Elizabeth must have been praying all their lives: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall name him John (Lk.1:13).”

And we really wonder why did he doubt the angel’s good news? Did he not see it coming or at least, was it not the only thing he was always wishing for?

It is really so unthinkable. “Wow, ang labo naman” as teenagers would say.

What happened to Zechariah could also be going on to many among us these days that even if we have been praying and celebrating the Mass weekly or even daily with all of our professed faith, hope and love in God, we have also grown accustomed to the darkness of this pandemic with all its fears that unconsciously, we sully ourselves with many negativities, even cynicism and pessimism as if we would never make into better days.

Photo by Ms. Jonna S. De Guzman, 06 December 2020.

Sometimes it happens in our lives that our prayers have become mechanical and worst, our hearts have grown apart from God that we have become so resigned to our plight or predicament that we just pray and believe in God because we have to.

Here we need the creative courage of St. Joseph we reflected yesterday by keeping our love alive.

In telling us the story of the coming of John first before Jesus Christ, Luke is telling us to be ready for greater things about to happen with us if we become silent, take a few steps backwards and rest in the Lord to experience his presence in us and among us.

Whenever I feel low with my life, I just think of my other brother priests striving in the Lord’s vineyard or think of the cops and soldiers and simple folks who work so hard because they believe there is meaning in this life.

Let us drive away all negativities and focus more on the Nativity! Believe always in God and most of all, remain in love with Him, that He has plans for us and mission to make Him known into the world that has forgotten Him.

The fact that after almost a year of pandemic there are still so many women anywhere in the world delivering a baby every second, every minute means this planet is filled with life, is suffused in life that comes only from Life Himself, Jesus Christ.

Each one of us is a “John” – a grace of God, a reminder that Jesus Christ had come, will come again, most of all, is come! Cheer up, energize the sagging spirits of our many brothers and sisters who have become so negative this Christmas. Let them see the Nativity in our enthusiasm to live and to celebrate Christmas meaningfully despite the pandemic.

A blessed Saturday to everyone! Amen.

Silent listening

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the BVM, 08 December 2020
Genesis 3:9-15, 20   >><)))*>   Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12   >><)))*>   Luke 1:26-38 
Photo by author, Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Malolos City, 08 December 2019.

Glory and praise to you, O God our loving Father! In your eternal love you have desired to restore us to our original state in you as pure and holy by sending us Jesus Christ our Savior who was born by his immaculately conceived Mother, Mary of Nazareth.

Brothers and sisters: Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.

Ephesians 1:3-4

On this most joyous day of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, I pray only for one thing: that like the Blessed Virgin Mary we may recover the value of silent listening in our world that has become so noisy. In the streets, in vehicles, in homes and everywhere including houses of worship, people are always plugged into something they only want to listen to. Worst, many people have come to refuse and even fear unconsciously silent listening.

How amazing, O Lord, that “silent” and “listen” are both an anagram of exactly same letters for these words perfectly go together: we need to be silent in order to be able to listen. And when we learn to listen in silence, then we become trusting and obedient too like Mary, something we need so badly these days of too much materialism and individualism.

How unfortunate and tragic, O Lord, that in our world today, we care to listen not only to the loudest sounds we can hear but ultimately to voices that would please and massage our ego like in the story of the fall of man.

Silent listening is heeding your call to enter into a communion in you when we have to lose ourselves and trust you entirely like Mary. She was willing to make time for you, to leave everything behind in order to silently listen to the angel announcing the birth of Jesus.

Forgive us when we refuse to “make” time of silent listening for you and even our neighbors because we are afraid of silence in the first place; we are so afraid to hear our true selves speaking, that we are all your servants, that we are mortals, that we are limited, that we need you inasmuch as we need others too. We prefer the noises of the world that make us feel we are in control of everything, even of our very selves when we are not.

We think that silence is like waiting when we have to be empty, not realizing that silence is a fullness when we are able to listen to so many voices and sounds, even the most faintest we disregard but often most valuable like your voice deep within our hearts that asks us to do what is good and avoid what is evil; the feeble voice of our true selves desiring meaning; and, the silent cries of the voiceless among us, of those living in the margins, the poor, the sick, the old, and the children.

In silent listening, Mary was able to grasp so much in your fullness that she gave her fiat after listening to the good news from the Archangel Gabriel:

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Luke 1:38

As we prepare for your Second Coming, dear Jesus in this season of Advent, give us the grace of silent listening like Mary so we become more sensitive of your presence within us and especially among the poor and suffering. Amen.

Photo by author, Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Malolos City, 08 December 2019.