Advent is when God comes to free and raise us up to him

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Simbang Gabi 9, 24 December 2021
1 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16   ><]]]*> + <*[[[><   Luke 1:67-79 
Photo by author, sunrise at the Lake of Galilee, the Holy Land, 2017.

As we complete today our nine-day novena to Christmas, Zechariah comes to full circle in the gospel when he sings the Benedictus (Latin for “Blessed”) to praise and thank God not only for restoring his speech but for the gift of a son John the Baptist and of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Last Wednesday we have mentioned to you how we priests, monks and the religious along with other dedicated lay people would sing or recite Mary’s Magnificat at the end of our Evening Prayer called Vespers, Zechariah’s Benedictus is what we pray at the end of our Morning Prayer called Lauds (Latin for praises).

It is a wonderful prayer welcoming the new day filled with God’s blessings of life and fulfillment, joy and peace, love and mercy. What a way to start each day already assured of being a blessed one for everyone.

As we prepare for Christmas tonight and tomorrow, it is worth praying the Benedictus today to pause at three important verbs we find at its beginning:

Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.

Luke 1:67-69

For Zechariah, God is blessed because “he has come (or visited) to his people, set them free (or worked redemption), and has raised up for us a mighty Savior from the house of David”. Like Mary’s Magnificat, we notice in Zechariah’s Benedictus the verbs are in the past tense when everything seems to be just starting with John’s birth who would herald the coming of Jesus still be born six months later.

But, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit when he sang this that he must have perceived that early – like Mary – the many great things God had done to him personally and to them as a nation. Most of all, he had sensed- finally, after months of forced silence – the most unique wonderful things God is doing for him and everyone including us today.

This is the reason why we pray the Benedictus every morning for it affirms and not just awaits the tremendous blessings God has for us each new day.

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

Everyday, God comes to us, visiting us with his gift of life. A few months ago, former US Secretary of State and decorated soldier Colin Powell died of complications from COVID-19. An accomplished military officer and manager, one of his leadership lessons is that “It ain’t as bad as you think.”

Powell explains that after every disaster, there is always a solution and a way out of every mess in life. There is no need for us to worsen the situation with overthinking because in the coming of each new day, things get better.

So true! Zechariah had the worst days of his life of not having a child for the longest time then made mute by an angel for challenging the wisdom of God. After being forced into silence for nine months, he realized how each day is filled with blessings with God himself coming to us.

Rejoice every morning you wake up by first praying and connecting to God who comes to us daily before checking on your gadgets for messages and news that often dampen your mood. Like Zechariah, the first thing to come from his mouth and lips when his tongue was loosened was praise and thanksgiving to God.

When God comes, his first blessing is always our liberation from sins and baggages that have overburdened us, enslaving us for so long that we have practically stopped living. To experience God in Jesus Christ is always to experience freedom to do what is true and good. To be free in Jesus means to be free from sins and anxieties and fears brought about by our bondage to evil and darkness.

Zechariah felt so free that he was able to praise and thank God for his gifts of life and a child. And Savior, Jesus Christ who had come to his home when Mary visited Elizabeth earlier.

Everyday is blessed primarily because God raised up for us a mighty Savior in Jesus Christ. This is the most wonderful part of Zechariah’s Benedictus, “God has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David”. It was very clear with him the role of his son John, a herald of the coming of the Savior who is the fulfillment of God’s promise of old.

Photo by author, 2019.

Each day in Jesus promises us to make it better than yesterday. If we were sick yesterday, today we can recover our health. If yesterday we have failed, today we shall triumph. If yesterday we have lost, today we shall gain for Jesus has conquered everything even death for his love for us.

Likewise, we are invited to become a John the Baptist everyday not only to prepare the way of the Lord but most of all be the sign of the Lord’s presence.

As John the Baptist, we are challenged first to examine our very lives, our inner selves. So many times we get carried away with the many parties and activities of Christmas like gifts to give or receive as we focus on the wrong aspects of this most joyous feast of the year.

Like his father Zechariah, let us rejoice in the presence of God who became human like us so we may also rejoice in the presence of every person especially our loved ones who make Jesus present among us. Let us make this Christmas a true celebration of the presence of Jesus in us not only today but throughout the coming 2022 as God continues to bless us with lower COVID infections. Amen. May God bless you always, heal you of your sickness, and fulfill your prayers this Simbang Gabi!

Advent and the “hand of the Lord”

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Simbang Gabi 8, 23 December 2021
Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24   ><]]]'> + ><]]]'> + ><]]]'>   Luke 1:57-66
Photo author, chapel of Basic Education Department, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City, 19 December 2021.

One of the series of jokes I have loved following at Facebook is about that actress always fuming mad as she points her finger at a white witty cat who would always harass and insult her with all kinds of jokes and sarcasms. Last week they were at it again: the white cat laughing at the actress with the caption that says “2022 is like 2020 too”!

Maybe I am just too shallow or mababaw but it is so aliw – delightful and funny that really tickled my bones to laughter. Remember how last year at this time that experts said 2021 would just be an extension of 2020 with COVID pandemic still staying with us. Though the virus is still with us, 2021 is definitely not like 2020 because we are better off this year, more protected with the various vaccines now available. Despite the many surges that have happened this 2021, we made great progress against COVID this year that promises a better 2022 for everyone.

We can all be hopeful that 2022 will not be “2020, too!” as we are now preparing for more opening of classes and businesses next year with better vaccines and more people receiving it despite the threats of the latest variant called Omicron.

Like the people at the time of the birth and circumcision of John the Baptist, we can all feel at this time “the hand of the Lord” clearly with us. Amen!

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 1:66-67
Photo by author, site of John’s birthplace underneath the Church of St. John the Baptist at Ein Karem, Israel, 2019.

We are now at the penultimate day of our Christmas Novena and just before Christmas comes, Luke reconnects us with the first personality of his Nativity story, Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth and father of John the Baptist.

Recall how he was punished by the angel by becoming mute for doubting the good news that his old and barren wife would conceive a child who would prepare the way of the Lord; now, Luke tells us how that child was born and named under unusual circumstances that had everyone in their town wondering what that child would be for clearly “the hand of the Lord was with him”.

The term “hand of the Lord” is a description of God’s presence and power in the Old Testament. It is a vivid way of presenting God “intervening” in the daily lives of his people, saving them from all kinds of dangers like the prophets. There was Elijah who was hunted by the soldiers of Jezebel and the “hand of the Lord was on Elijah” (1 Kgs. 18:46) that he was spared from their murderous plots. Then there was Ezekiel who saw “the hand of the Lord” (Ez. 37:1) upon him at the vision of a valley of dry bones coming back to life.

Sometimes, the “hand the Lord” referred to God’s judgment like when King David had sinned against God in not trusting him that he ordered a census of soldiers; it angered God and he was given the choice which punishment he preferred: natural disaster or victory by his enemies or God’s judgment. David chose the third option, saying, “Let me fall into the hand of the Lord for his mercy is great…” (1 Chr. 21:13).

Again, we find here the artistry of Luke in using the phrase “hand of the Lord” in his account of the birth and circumcision of John: he merged together the two meanings of the expression for after all, every moment of judgment is also a moment of grace, especially when seen in the life of John the Baptist who “grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Lk.1:80).

If we go back to Luke’s account of the annunciation of John’s birth, we also find the hand of God clearly at him with Elizabeth feeling vindicated with her pregnancy specially when visited by Mary.

Now, we have the building up of the drama just before the birth of Jesus with the circumcision and naming of John in the most unique manner not only because no one among their relatives have such name (Lk.1:61) but most of all when Zechariah his father wrote “John is his name” and “Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God” (Lk.1:63).

Photo by author, the Church of St. John the Baptist at Ein Karem, Israel, 2019.

What a beautiful scene of Zechariah and Elizabeth wrapped in the arms of God, basking in his tremendous blessings with the people so amazed for evidently God was present among them, working in the most special ways albeit in silence that after looking back to the past and the present moment, they wondered what more good things God has in store for the three.

The same scene happens daily in our lives as individuals, as families and communities and as a nation – of how the hand of God saving us in so many occasions like during this pandemic and recent disasters through generous people coming to our side. There lies the greatness of Zechariah and Elizabeth – through them despite their weaknesses, the hand of the Lord worked wonders not only for them but for everyone including us in this time.

In this Season of Advent about to close soon on Friday, we are invited by the family of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John along with their neighbors to pause and remember those moments the hand of the Lord was with us so we may start meditating too where God is leading us not only this Christmas but in the coming new year 2022. Have a blessed week ahead.

Advent is when “great things” happen from God

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Simbang Gabi 7, 22 December 2021
1 Samuel 1:24-28   ><]]]]'> + <`[[[[><   Luke 1:46-56
Photo by Rev. Fr. Gerry Pascual at Santuario di Greccio, Rieti, Italy in 2019.

Every evening in our Vespers or Evening Prayer, we priests along with monks and sisters and other devout men and women around the world recite or sing Mary’s Magnificat as a fitting tribute to God’s many great blessings showered upon us at the end of each day.

It is the first song or canticle Luke had placed on the lips of his three major characters in the story of Christmas: Mary, then Zechariah singing the Benedictus upon recovery of his speech after naming his child John according to the angel’s instruction, and thirdly by Simeon singing the Nunc Dimittis at the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.

These are all praises to God who gives us his biggest blessing in his Son Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this Christmas. As I have told you, we sing or recite it in the evening to cap the day as a praise and thanksgiving for the wondrous things God has given us each passing day.

Mary said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed; the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Luke 1:46-49

In normal circumstances specially among us peoples, whenever we are praised by somebody else, it is customary – even obligatory – that we return their praises.

But not with Mary during her Visitation of her cousin Elizabeth.

After being praised and called as “blessed among women for she believed the words spoken to her would be fulfilled”, Mary in turn praised God instead of Elizabeth because her Magnificat was not only her song but also of Elizabeth and every believer of Jesus Christ as the Son of God who became human to redeem us.

Reminiscent of the canticle by Hannah after the birth of her son Samuel whom we heard offering him to Eli in the first reading, Mary’s Magnificat was borne out of her own experience of God doing great things to her and Elizabeth as individuals which she later widened to include the many “great things” done by God to the Israel as a nation like their Exodus from Egypt and later liberation from Babylonian exile.

“He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.”

Luke 1:50-52

Now in the advent of Jesus Christ, Mary proclaims the good news of salvation in her Magnificat by singing how God has continued doing great things to her and to everyone with something unheard of, so unique and completely different from those great things he had done in the past to give Israel – and us – a future and much to hope for:

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.”

Luke 1:53-55

Here we find again the artistry of Luke working so beautifully, so similar with that event at the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus inaugurated his ministry by proclaiming the passage from Isaiah that said “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor…” (Lk.4:18ff).

In Christ’s coming through Mary, God begins a totally new beginning for everyone for all time!

Photo by author, 20 December 2021.

This Advent, we are reminded of God’s many “great things” done to us individually and as a family, as a nation and as a community, and as a Church.

We are now celebrating the 500th year of our Christianization but does it really matter to us? Are we really thankful to God in making us not only Christians but the only Christian nation in this part of the globe? While we are still in our 500th year of Christianization, let us reflect deeply on this giftedness by God to us as a nation and the great tasks and responsibilities he had given us in spreading the good news like Mary.

But at the same time, Advent invites us to look forward to the future in every present moment when Christ comes to fulfill God’s plans of great things for us.

Are we willing to take the challenge and invitation of God to accept his Son Jesus Christ and bring him forth like Mary into this world so lost in darkness? Do we have a room or a space in our hearts where Jesus may come and grow to fulfill God’s many great things being planned for us and others?

Mary sang the Magnificat not only her lips but with her very life as a witness to God doing great things for her and for others.

May we be like her in giving praise and thanks to God with our very lives of witnessing to Christ’s presence. Amen.

Have a blessed Wednesday!

Dream. Believe. And live.

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Simbang Gabi 6, 21 December 2021
Zephaniah 3:14-18   ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*>  Luke 1:39-45
Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, Pico de Loro, Batangas, 19 December 2021.

You must be wondering why we have the story again of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth on this sixth day of our Simbang Gabi after listening to it twice over the weekend. As I have told you, beginning December 17 our liturgy shifts focus on the days leading to the first Christmas with each date having its fixed readings and prayers; yesterday, we heard the story of the Annunciation to Mary that is immediately followed by her Visitation of Elizabeth.

Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste t a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

Luke 1:39-40

Let us rewind to yesterday’s scene: after Mary had given her “fiat” or “faithful yes” to God to become the mother of Jesus, Luke simply said “Then the angel departed from her”  and then “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth (Lk.1:38, 39-40).”      

See the remarkable maturity in faith of Mary who must have been 16 years old at that time that she immediately went to visit Elizabeth without anyone guiding or accompanying her to share in the joy of her cousin’s pregnancy. Without any intentions of putting down the most blessed Joseph her husband who had a more difficult manner of receiving the Annunciation in a dream, an angel continued to appear to him to guide him at least four times. But with Mary, she was left alone by the angel. She literally had to walk the path with eyes of faith in God and in Jesus Christ all her life here on earth.        

Photo by author, September 2021.

When I was about to receive my First Holy Communion in 1973 while at Grade 2, my parents drilled into me the great responsibility I shall have in receiving the Body of Christ. They told me that since I will be having Christ in me in the Holy Communion, I have to be always good because my guardian angel would be leave me to decide on my own.

Of course, I never questioned them especially my mom even if she would remind me to call on my “angel dela guardia” when all the while they were telling me he was gone. 

Now that I am a priest and supposed to know more than them about angels who never actually leave us, it is still very interesting to reflect Luke’s report how the “angel departed Mary” after the Annunciation and left her on her own throughout her life.

Here we find anew the artistry of Luke and let us “photoshop” it with GMA-7’s talent search a few years ago called “Starstruck”:  the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus in her womb visiting her old and barren cousin Elizabeth on the sixth month of pregnancy with John the Baptizer. 

Two women of matured faith who were “starstruck” with God’s wondrous works because they both “dreamed, believed, and lived”— not “survived” as they did not merely overcome the trials and difficulties of child-bearing but lived in fulfillment and holiness.  We are told again today how Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit at Mary’s visitation and tomorrow we shall hear the Blessed Virgin singing her praises to God with her Magnificat.

After giving birth to Jesus Christ, Luke would continue to tell us how Mary always believed in “what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled,” presenting her as the original listener and doer of the Word of God.  No wonder in John’s Gospel, she would remain standing under her Son’s Cross because she had always believed.  And no wonder too that in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, Jesus appeared first to Mary because she had always believed in His words He would rise again which became the basis of our Easter “salubong.”  

Photo by author, December 2020.

In one of his homilies during the Year of Faith, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI said that to have faith in God is the starting point of everything in life.  According to him, one of the tragedies of modern society is the lack or even denial of the supremacy of God.  Benedict explained that belief in God is the source of all truths about man because it is only God Who truly gives meaning and direction to our lives.            

How sad that despite the affluence and too much material things in the world today, man seems to be never contented; in fact, we have become empty and lost more than ever as we look at the countless problems and miseries we are into like this COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, plus those found in our family and home, office and community, country and the world. 

Worst is how we also “pervert” our religious beliefs because of too much faith in our selves than in God, making religion an excuse to amass wealth and power by sowing hatred to others.

Imagine the many darkness in Mary’s life “without the angel by her side” and had to ponder and rely, believe always in the words she had received in the Annunciation.            

To truly receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, we must first believe in His words, that He is the Bread from heaven, our Bread of life.  For all the darkness in our lives, in our family, in our society, we need to go back to God Whom we have always left behind, ignored and even rejected or ridiculed.  For all our dreams, let us believe in God like Mary and Elizabeth to start living in fulfillment despite the many difficulties we are into.  A blessed Tuesday to you! 

Advent is God’s transforming presence

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Simbang Gabi 5, 20 December 2021
Isaiah 7:10-14   ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*>   Luke 1:26-38
Photo by author, an altar near the Chapel at the site of the Annunciation below the Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel, 2019.

We are now at the final stretch of the week leading to Christmas as cash registers ring following the renewed economic activities with the lowering of COVID cases this month after a long lull since this pandemic began early last year.

Though the commercial hubbub is all around us, let us not forget that unlike the commercial green and red shades of Christmas, our Advent color is violet like Lent to signify the spirit of penance though in a more subdued manner. Amid our busy schedules, let us not forget that Advent is a preparation of our inner selves, of our interior disposition for a deeper meaning and nature of Christmas. With still a week to go, we are invited to empty our selves of sins, of pride and of other excess baggages so we can create a space for Christ’s coming right in our hearts, like our Blessed Virgin Mary.

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” She was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Luke 1:26-29
Photo by author, site of the Annunciation beneath the Basilica of the Annunciation at Nazareth, Israel, 2019.

One of the most beautiful characteristic of Mary as a disciple is her openness to God. She always had that empty space in her solely for God, an inner disposition nurtured by her deep prayer life.

See the very solemn narration by Luke of the Annunciation, specifically mentioning to us the time, place, persons and circumstance involved in this “sacred moment” we have reflected yesterday. Mary must have been deeply in prayer when the angel came, a sign she was always attuned with God.

Notice that next to her surprise with the coming of the angel with the good news was her “pondering” what sort of greeting that might be. What an image of the Blessed Mother disposed to God’s calling and plans that immediately during her conversations with the angel, she was already reflecting on the meaning of the message. No hesitations or whatsoever. Just clarifications but willing to obey.

Luke tells us in other instances how Mary would “ponder” on words and events in her life like when the shepherds came to visit her newly-born child Jesus and after finding Jesus at the temple. Mary would always ponder the words and events that came her way, an indication of open acceptance, of a welcoming attitude to God’s works and wonder.

Photo by author outside Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, 2019.

Her pondering on the words of the angel Gabriel was very significant; we can’t help compare her attitude to Zechariah who was made mute after questioning the angel’s announcement his wife Elizabeth would bear a child six months earlier.

There’s nothing wrong asking God and seeking clarifications with his plans for us but, never challenge and dare him like Zechariah who doubted the good news brought to him by the same angel Gabriel whose name means “the presence of God.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God… for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Luke 1:34-35, 37

In asking the angel “How can this be”, we find in Mary an honest and sincere, an innocent question already inclined to accept and cooperate with the plan. In fact, Mary indicated no resistance at all to the plan to be the Mother of Jesus – she just wanted to know the “script” or her role in the Divine plan of the Incarnation.

It is here where we find the transforming presence of God coming upon her at that moment when the angel told her “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”.

What a picturesque description that only an artist like Luke could express so vividly well.

The Holy Spirit will come upon you – God coming down to her, becoming present in her. And the power of the Most High will overshadow you – that is the clincher!

Look at the wonderful flow and unfolding of the Incarnation: a coming down, a descent of the Holy Spirit and an overshadowing of the power as some sort of being “possessed” by the Divine! Observe how Luke would repeat in his second book, the Acts of the Apostles the same sequence of coming down of the Holy Spirit and overshadowing of the Apostles with Mary!- at the Pentecost in Jerusalem. Their striking similarities remind us of the tremendous grace and power coming upon us when like Mary and later the Apostles we entrust our total self, including our future to God. It is only then when God’s transforming presence begins to work wondrously among us.

Photo by Ezra Acayan of Getty Images, February 2020 in Baclaran Church.

Too often, we feel uncomfortable and even not amenable to being overwhelmed by another. Our sense of independence is so strong, deeply ingrained in us even in childhood when we would always assert our very selves, insist on what we want that along the way, we also feel very suspicious of anyone trying to get too close, too soon with us.

It is funny that even with too much presence in social media like Facebook, we get that feeling of being violated or at least slighted by someone too close for comfort in posting and commenting on our walls.

At the Annunciation, we find Mary personally giving her yes to God, calling herself the handmaid of the Lord to let his will be done upon her. And the rest is history. That is why we have this joyous season of Christmas today when Mary allowed herself to be overwhelmed, transformed by Christ’s presence in her womb.

While we were so busy with our Simbang Gabi and Christmas preparations last week, another powerful typhoon battered the southern part of our country resulting in many losses of lives and properties. So typical of the stronger than usual typhoons hitting our country this past decade in this part of the year, it makes us wonder where is God amid all these things happening while we are in a pandemic.

Where is the transforming presence of God in this time of pandemic and calamities and inanities of so many gunning for the top positions of the land?

Photo by author, 2019.

We need not look far and beyond us. Like Mary, let us look into our hearts to see if there is room in my life for God. Recall in the Book of Genesis how out of chaos God’s transforming presence created everything good and, how in the darkness of Israel’s and mankind’s history came the Christ.

In this time of darkness and calamities, God is very much present among us, so raring to transform the world and our lives to something better. But, is there anyone among us willing to be like Mary telling God, “I am the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word”?

To transform this world into a better one, let us first be transformed in Jesus Christ. With Mary. Amen.

Have a blessed Monday!

Advent is “sacred moment” with God visiting us

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourth Sunday of Advent-C, Day 4 of Simbang Gabi, 19 December 2021
MIcah 5:1-4  ><}}}*>  Hebrews 10:5-10  ><}}}*>  Luke 1:39-45
Photo by author, bronze statues of Mary and Elizabeth at the patio of the Church of the Visitation at Ein Karem, Israel, 2017.

We are now in the fourth Sunday of Advent, the final stretch leading to Christmas. Part of that shift in focus of readings and prayers since December 17, we hear today the lovely story of Mary’s Visitation of Elizabeth.

It is very rare in the bible to find a story of two women meeting and conversing, especially women of faith sharing God’s joy and blessings like Mary’s visitation of her cousin Elizabeth six months pregnant with John the Baptist, the Precursor of Jesus Christ.

It is a very wonderful occasion in this Season of Advent when God visits his people before finally coming to dwell with us at the birth of Jesus Christ.

This early through Mary, Elizabeth felt strongly God’s coming and visitation – a sacred moment, a blessed period of encountering God in our selves and through others.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:41-45
Photo by author, facade of the Church of the Visitation at Ein Karem, Israel, 2017.

Christmas is a story of love, about the meeting of lovers with God as the Great Lover who gave us His only Son because of His immense love for us. That is why it is also a sacred moment, a blessed and holy moment!

Recall that time you fell for and truly loved someone so special: every moment is so sacred and divine, so special because you know something extraordinary had happened, is happening and would soon be unfolding when this love grows and matures!

You feel humbled by the occasion why would somebody so wonderful choose to love you, recognize you, and find you special among many others. It is very touching, bringing kilig moments.

How unfortunate these days this love of Christmas so sacred has been cheapened and degraded into superficial and romantic love about mere feelings and emotions that are physical and sexual in nature as we hear in “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, “Last Christmas” and “Pasko na Sinta Ko”.

The word “lovers” may be too serious as a term for us to relate this with today’s gospel but, the truth is, both Mary and Elizabeth were so in love with God who clearly loved them so much with children in their womb bound to change the course of human history forever. They in turn, were also filled with love for each other as expressions of their love for God. And when there is love, there is holiness or sacredness that is always manifested in God’s tenderness which is the most endearing description of God’s love and mercy.

At the Visitation, both Mary and Elizabeth felt God working in them, doing great things in them despite their being women at that time and unfortunately until now when women are always looked down upon by our patriarchal and chauvinistic culture and society.

Both women felt so loved by God, especially Elizabeth who was filled with the Holy Spirit to say, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Photo by author, ceiling of the Church of the Visitation at Ein Karem, Israel, 2017.

Elizabeth had perhaps been accustomed to seeing herself as the one who was barren and therefore also shamed. All her adult life as wife of Zechariah the priest, she had carried a burden or “excess baggage” in her mind and identity that she could never forget that is why Luke tells us how she went into seclusion after conceiving John:

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 whe he has seen fit to take away the disgrace before others.”

Luke 1:24-25

Her life had a complete reversal and turn around when she conceived John and that is why at the Visitation, she was so amazed with God, recognizing the honor and privilege given to her to be in the story of the coming of Christ.

Elizabeth had no idea she could mean so much in the plan of God, asking “who am I?” that all these great things could happen to her, having a child at so late an age and now visited by the Mother of the Lord, wondering what is going on? Something so big, so great is happening and she just could not grasp it!

We all have such “sacred moments” with God when we felt so loved, so blessed that we feel so humbled, wondering deeply in all honesty why me, Lord? And yes, we always know so well why God should not choose us: because somebody is more smart, more patient with lesser wrong decisions in life, and simply better than us.

But that is the mystery of God explained by the angel to Mary at the Annunciation, nothing is impossible with God. He can make the barren and old like Elizabeth bear a child and so does a virgin like Mary.

God could always choose anyone like you and me because he wants us, he believes in us.

This fourth Sunday of Advent, God is visiting you with all the tenderness or “lambing” of a great lover, telling you, convincing you to value your self, value your life, value others because he has great plans for each one of us

Photo by author, 16 December 2021.

Tenderness is one God-like quality we all have but have buried deep into our innermost selves due to our refusal to love for fears of getting hurt and left behind or, even lost. When Mary heard about Elizabeth’s condition, she simply followed her human and motherly instincts that are in fact so Godly – she went in haste to visit her.  Elizabeth, in turn, welcomed her.

The question is, do we have a room to welcome God’s coming visit to us like Elizabeth?

Also on this Sunday as we listened to the beautiful story of Mary’s visitation of Elizabeth, let us remember or if we can, let us visit the important women in our lives God had chosen to share with us his Son Jesus Christ. Let us express to our mother or wife, sisters or aunties and grandmothers, female friends and colleagues our gratitude and joy for the sacred moments we have had with God in their gifts of love and presence, kindness and patience, mercy and forgiveness and a lot of inspiration to be better. Amen.

Have a blessed week preparing for Christmas!

Each of us an “Emmanuel” too!

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Day 3, 18 December 2021
Jeremiah 23:5-8   ><}}}*> + <*{{{><   Matthew 1:18-25
Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, January 2018.

We have just concluded the “Year of St. Joseph” last December 8 but it seems due to the pandemic, we have not celebrated truly enough to realize the virtues and person of the most silent character in the New Testament, St. Joseph.

We find no story in the gospels with St. Joseph either speaking or conversing with anyone at all. At least the Blessed Virgin Mary conversed with the angel during the Annunciation and spoke to Jesus her Son upon finding him at the Temple and at the wedding feast at Cana. St. Joseph was totally silent and most of all, could sleep soundly despite the tremendous stress he must have gone through! Truly a man of great faith and trust in God!

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”

Matthew 1:18-20
Photo from vaticannews.va, December 2020.

Notice how Matthew presented the climax of his genealogy not only with the coming of Jesus Christ at the end but also in his lineage to St. Joseph he described as “a righteous man” and addressed by the angel in a dream as “son of David”.

In him we find that expression “silent water runs deep” so very true. Imagine the maturity and deep spirituality of St. Joseph being called as a righteous man or a holy man which for the Jews is one who obeys the Laws of Israel.

But in this scene of the Annunciation of Christ’s birth to him in a dream, Matthew goes deeper into what is to be holy as more than obeying the the Laws but most of all, abiding by the will of God always as described in many instances in the Old Testament like the Book of Psalms. If holiness were simply an adherence to the Laws, St. Joseph would have not decided to silently leave Mary found pregnant with a child not his; in their laws, she would have been shamed in public which St. Joseph avoided in trying to leave her silently. For him, higher than the letters of the law was the welfare and well-being of Mary and her Child that until then he did not know was the Christ.

At the same time, here we find the deep spirituality of St. Joseph: compared with Mary to whom the angel appeared and spoke in person while with St. Joseph, the angel appeared only in a dream. He had a more difficult situation discerning whether his dream was real or not, which we all experience upon waking up from a dream so real!

Only a man with deep spirituality, so attuned with God like St. Joseph could perceive the divine in fact while at the same time discern it as very true the will of God that “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus” (Mt.1:24-25).

Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, mosaic of the Annunciation to Joseph at the Shrine of St. Padre Pio in San Giovanni di Rotondo, Italy, 2017.

In a very concise manner – like our very silent saint and foster father of Jesus – Matthew presents to us in this short story of the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus to St. Joseph all the critical and essential elements about the mystery of the Incarnation.

As we have reflected yesterday at the genealogy, Matthew now goes deeper into the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of God. This he beautifully presented also through the person of St. Joseph, a reminder of the need for us to be vessels of God’s graces and instruments of God’s works.

St. Joseph showed in this brief scene the true meaning of holiness, of being whole by seeking to find ways to bring into unity their laws and love and persons, something which Jesus Christ would keep on elaborating in his entire ministry, like his favorite expression “Sabbath was created for man, not man for sabbath.”

See how he tried to give more importance to Mary whom he loved so much that he was intent in not putting her to shame and harm. And upon listening and discerning the angel’s message to him in a dream, he obeyed everything, showing us the unity of the laws in love long before Jesus came to show it on the Cross himself. In accepting God and Jesus, St. Joseph had to take Mary; and in taking Mary, Jesus came into the world.

Here we are challenged by the example of St. Joseph that we too become an Emmanuel in the sense that in our lives, we become the sign that God-is-with-us specially in this time of the pandemic and with coming elections next year. We need to pray more deeply and be attuned with God for his divine will that always takes unexpected turns, so different from our own ways and methods.

Photo by author, 15 December 2021.

To be an Emmanuel like Jesus and St. Joseph, one has to be definitely pro-life, one who values life and every person, regardless of his/her status in life.

Like St. Joseph, let us learn to be silent for God and be louder with our actions, always choosing and standing for life and for every person’s dignity.

Like St. Joseph, he chose from the very start the value of Mary as a person which is the hallmark of Jesus as Emmanuel, the God who became human to be with us because it is good to be human. Amen.

Man is a mystery

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Day 2, 17 December 2021
Genesis 49: 2, 8-10   ><]]]]'>  +  <'[[[[><   Matthew 1:1-17
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 2019.

Today we officially start our countdown to Christmas as we enter the second phase of Advent when all readings and prayers beginning this December 17 to 24 will focus on the first coming of Jesus Christ more than 2000 years ago.

And what a way to start this every year with Matthew’s gospel that begins with the genealogy of Jesus Christ!

All four evangelists have their own style in addressing the two most important questions about Jesus, then and now: Who is Jesus? Where is he from? Both questions are inseparably linked that in the final analysis, they also apply very much with each one of us too!

Every person is a continuum – a work-in-progress who cannot be chopped or sliced like a sausage. Every person is a one whole made up of every minute and second and years from the very start of his existence in his/her mother’s womb. In fact, even before that when we see life in its entirety in the plan of God.

That is the meaning of the genealogy of Jesus Christ that speaks so well of our origins too, of who we are. Matthew uniquely started his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus not only to present the roots of Jesus in the past but also to tell us about him in the present and in the future.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nashon, Nashon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse, Jesse the father of David the king. David became the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.

Matthew 1:1-6
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 2019.

The genealogy of Jesus by Matthew tells us the beauty of every person, of each one a mystery, a gift of God wrapped in so many stories involving people and events who have shaped us, for better or for worse, always precious and valuable, never to be taken in parts but always as a whole.

Ever noticed that the more we get to know another person – whether as family member or friend – the more we realize we do not really know that much about him/her?

I always tell couples during their wedding how they must continue to get to know each other after marriage, to be always surprised by new things about each other as they mature in their love.

We cannot have a full grasp of every person in just one scoop or one flash. Every person is made up of years and years even before his existence with great probabilities and possibilities of what he/she can be in the future!

See how the Son of God is so much like every one of us with a not so perfect background. Though he is from the lineage of Abraham and David, the two most prominent figures in Israel’s history, we find so many kinks and quirks behind each name mentioned in his genealogy. It was on Abraham God fulfilled his promise to make him the “father of all nations” while it was on David’s line came the King of kings, Jesus Christ.

But, as we go into details of the genealogy, we find bizarre things like how Jacob stole the birthright of his elder brother Esau from their father Isaac to become the ancestor of Jesus. Jacob in turn had 12 sons but instead of passing on the “scepter” we heard in the first reading to Joseph who was most qualified of his sons, Judah was chosen to be the leader of his sons from whom the Christ would later come from.

Judah was not that good at all being a part of the sinister plot of his brothers in selling their youngest brother at that time, Joseph, to Egypt; then, he got his daughter-in-law Tamar pregnant after she pretended to be a prostitute when her husband died without leaving her a son. Judah was already old and could not give her a son to her husband to have a child; hence, Tamar devised a plan of pretending as a prostitute to lure Judah into her. And it worked – much to the shame of Judah and family!

If Tamar pretended to be a prostitute, one of the five women mentioned in the genealogy was actually a whore, Rahab. When Joshua sent spies into Jericho led by Salmon, they hid inside a “red house” ran by Rahab. She offered them help in exchange for the safety of her entire family should they succeed in conquering Jericho and they did by just going around the city and blew their trumpets! Jericho fell and so did the heart of Salmon for Rahab and they had a child named Boaz.

A further twist into the genealogy of Jesus came with Boaz who married a pagan foreigner named Ruth, the daughter-in-law of Naomi who went back to Israel when her husband and two sons died. Ruth insisted in coming with her and while picking grains at the field of Boaz, the two were introduced to each other and love blossomed between them who were blessed with a son they named Obed who became the father of Jesse who was the father of the future King David.

Now, David was not that totally faithful to God at all: he sinned big time against the Lord!

First, in having an illicit relationship with the wife of his army officer Uriah named Bathsheba. When their forbidden love led to Bathsheba having a “love child”, David tried all means to avoid fatherhood but failed. So, he ordered Uriah positioned in a battle where he would surely get killed and it worked so well, giving David the free hand to take Bathsheba as his wife and their love child became his successor, King Solomon. King David suffered greatly from the grave consequences of his sins agains the Lord who forgave him and never took back the promise that from him would come the Christ.

Photo by author, San Fernando, Pampanga, 18 November 2021.

As we read on further in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ, the plot thickens as the drama unfolds further revealing to us the many colorful as well as controversial relatives and ancestors of the Lord who did not just appear as an isolated human being.

His genealogy shows us the important aspect of his Incarnation of not only coming from God but also intimately and crucially linked with the history of his own people, just like each one of us.

Notice how Matthew did not attempt to sanitize or “photoshop” the genealogy of Jesus to paint his better picture or that of his relatives. There was no shortage of “skeletons in the Lord’s closet” and yet, it was to Jesus Christ that the “scepter” of power ultimately belongs, the fulfillment of God’s promised salvation who also comes to us everyday among persons we meet, in our family, in the most unusual instances and peoples too.

Photo by author, San Fernando, Pampanga, 18 November 2021.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem, today’s gospel reminds us how we too was the natural development of the long process of God’s relationships with people. In becoming truly human like us who had come from God, Christ’s birth reminds us that it is good to be human.

Most of all, for us to go back to God, to be closer to God, we have to be first truly a human person with no ifs nor buts because God loves us so much as he sees us. God believes in us that no matter how dark or painful or sinful our past may be, we can still have a brighter future in his Son Jesus Christ in whom we have our rootedness in the Father in faith.

This Christmas, let us remember our being a mystery in God and share this joy, this wonder with others. Like Jesus who became human to show us our blessedness in God, let us share with others too. Have a blessed Friday!

Christmas is reflecting Jesus, the Light of the world

Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Day 1, 16 December 2021
Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8   ><]]]]*> + <*[[[[><   John 5:33-36
Photo by author at San Fernando, Pampanga, 18 November 2021.

The Parol or lantern is a uniquely Filipino sign and reminder of Christmas. When we were in elementary school, we used to make our own parol with colorful papel de japon as part of our subject “work education”. The most beautiful parol submitted was usually the one hanged above the Belen like that star pointing to the Child Jesus born in Bethlehem at the first Christmas.

And that is the truth about the beautiful and colorful parol – a sign leading to Jesus Christ like John the Baptist.

“He was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light. But I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.”

John 5:35-36

Since the second and third Sundays of Advent, we have been introduced to the person and mission of John the Baptist. As we begin our nine-day novena to Christmas with our Simbang Gabi, we are reminded again of that important role we have in becoming another John who not only prepares the way of the Lord but must also be very sign of Christ’s presence.

All routes lead to churches every December 16, a beautiful sight to behold with so many devotees trying to fulfill their vows of completing the Simbang Gabi for so many reasons, from thanksgiving to favors granted and for more wishes for the coming year!

But, like other novenas, Simbang Gabi in itself will not make one a better or holier person. It takes a lot of prayer and hard work on our part to be like John the Baptist, a parol “burning and shining” pointing to Jesus who had come 2000 years ago, who comes daily in our lives, and will come again at the end of time.

In our gospel we heard Jesus praising John who did a wonderful job preparing the people for his coming because in his very life, they have found hope and inspiration to strive in what is good and just. In fact, the people felt as if John was already the Messiah they were waiting for!

It was very clear to John that he was not the Messiah, that he was merely the Precursor of the Lord, not even worthy to untie his sandals. This is what we must pray for in every Simbang Gabi, specially at this time of the pandemic: that we beam more of the light of Jesus who is like the sun while we are the moon. What we share is the Light itself – Jesus Christ – not our own light that can sometimes be misleading and not really that bright at all.

Photo by author, National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 08 December 2021.

To reflect the light of Jesus Christ is to be like him, good and kind, just and merciful, exactly what we heard from the first reading which is a call to personal conversion; we cannot convert others to Jesus unless they see first we are converted in Christ.

Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just… All who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold on to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer.

Isaiah 56:1, 6

No matter how good or “holy” as we can be, we are not the Light; our mission is to bring people closer to Jesus and be “conformed to his image” (Rom. 8:29).

How sad these days when “credit-grabbing” has become a hobby and a national past-time not only among those in power but even with everybody else specially those in social media trying to draw attention to themselves to earn precious statistics to be known as “influencers”.

This is our second Christmas in the pandemic: last year was more difficult than this year and we have so much to be thankful to God in tremendously blessing us since last year. We are still alive, many still have their jobs with steady income, others have started to pick up the pieces of their lives but moving on personally, spiritually, emotionally and even financially. Kids still go to school no matter how difficult online classes may be.

We have so many things to thank God this Christmas – first among them are the many John the Baptists who were like a “burning and shining lamp” to us, guiding us and inspiring us to move on with life amid the darkness and gloom of this pandemic

Yes, Christmas this year like last year is still difficult, so unlike the other Christmases we have experienced in the past. Perhaps the only other worst Christmas than we ever had in 2020 and 2021 were the Christmasses experienced by our parents and grandparents during the Japanese occupation at World War II. Ours pale in comparison with those wartime years.

During this Simbang Gabi, let us ask ourselves how much have we changed and matured in our experience of Christmas since the start of the pandemic last year? Do we now have Jesus in our hearts or, are we back to our old selves of having that “Christmas rush” for material things, forgetting Jesus Christ is Christmas himself?

Let the light of Christ burn and shine in you! Amen.

Photo by author at San Fernando, Pampanga, 18 November 2021.

Advent is tenderness of God

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul-9
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Advent Week IV, 24 December 2020
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16     >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<     Luke 1:67-79
Photo by author, altar at our sacristy, 19 December 2020.

One thing that have really made this pandemic so bad and so sad is the lack of tenderness of our many officials to the people they are supposed to serve. Consider all these pains and inconveniences they have caused us the public from the fatal shooting of that Marawi veteran in Quezon City to the detention of Mang Dodong at the height of the lockdown to the closure of the largest network in the country mid-year then on to stupidities of first the motorcycle barrier, then the closure of U-turn slots at EDSA capped by the insane RFID at NLEX and now the inhuman shooting of mother and son by an off-duty policeman.

As one of my friends wrote on his FB page last April, “bakit kung kailan panahon ng pandemya na dapat magtulungan at magmahalan saka puro karahasan?” (why all the the violence happening during pandemic when we are supposed to be helping and more loving to one another?).

What a year indeed of natural calamities worsened by some public officials so detached from the sufferings of the people.

And that, my friends, is why we have to celebrate all the more – meaningfully – Christmas.

God is perfect and cannot suffer; hence, He sent us His only Son Jesus Christ to be one with us in our sufferings and miseries, to suffer with us – cum passio – express His compassion.

On this last day of our novena to Christmas, we see how Zechariah comes into full circle singing praises to God (called Benedictus in Latin) after being forced by the angel into full silence becoming speechless when he doubted God’s gift of a child to him and his wife Elizabeth.

Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.”

Luke 1:67-69
Photo by author, Advent Week IV, 20 December 2020.

Jesus already present among us in the coming of John

During the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Luke never mentioned Zechariah around the house so that Elizabeth and her baby in her womb were the only ones were filled with the Holy Spirit upon hearing Mary’s greeting.

Now, after naming his son “John”, Luke tells us how Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit too that he prophesied the meaning of the coming of his son as “prophet of the Most High” in 1:76.

See the three verbs he used after blessing God in his canticle called Benedictus: “Blessed be the Lord… he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.” The verbs are all in the past tense when in fact, what he was saying was supposed to be of what would happen after the birth of John, the coming of Jesus Christ.

Here we find the complete faith and trust of Zechariah to the plan of God like Mary in her Magnificat. Zechariah had seen something so big, something momentous taking place while still in the midst of darkness of his time and world just like us in this pandemic and calamities, callous officials in government and police.

Dear friends: Jesus has come, had set us free (saved us), and had risen to work all His wonders! Let us keep our faith and hope like Zechariah that God has already started working in our favor to turn the tide and soon, things will surely get better if we remain consistent to our response to His calls, standing for life and dignity of every person through whom Jesus comes, for what is true and just.

Photo by author, Church of St. John the Baptist at Ein-Karen, Israel (2019).

From the hand of God into the heart of God

Yesterday we reflected on how we have to allow ourselves to be “the hand of God”, to let Him do His work among us through our hands. Today in Zechariah’s Benedictus we find a movement from the hand of God to His very heart in Jesus Christ our Savior.

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Luke 1:78-79

After seeing the coming of the Christ in the birth of his son John, Zechariah now summarizes to us the very essence of Jesus our Savior, of God Himself: tender compassion or in the original Greek, splaghna or “tender mercy” of God.

It is not just compassion which is to suffer with us but at the same time be filled with tenderness that one is so moved to reach out, to do something by going down with the one suffering.

Like courage, mercy is a movement in the heart called misericordia in Spanish from the Latin mittere, meaning to be moved, to be stirred. It is something dynamic, not static. It is a deep feeling that moves toward someone in pain and suffering. An identification of Jesus with every person going through so much hardships and sufferings in life.

Zechariah’s heart is no longer hardened with negativity and cynicism – it was so stirred by God that he mentioned His tender mercy or compassion because he had personally felt it as he recovered his voice and speech. With the birth of John, he now believes that God’s love for his suffering people is deep and personal. As we say in Filipino, “tagos o sagad sa buto” which may be translated as “through and through”.

And that is perhaps one of the things we sorely miss so much these days from everyone, tenderness. The tender compassion, tender mercy of Jesus. Recall how during His ministry all four evangelists would narrate how Jesus was moved with pity and compassion to the people who were lost, tired and sick “like sheep without a shepherd” that no matter how tired He may be, He would always find time to teach them, heal their sick, and even feed them.

That is the mercy of God that Jesus had brought forth to us in His coming, experienced by Zechariah himself that he could foresee its coming at the birth of John.

Photo by author, Advent Week IV, 20 December 2020.

We priests and religious pray the Benedictus in our morning prayer called lauds (Latin for praises). It is so fitting because at the start of each day, that must be the one thing clear with us always – that the Lord is come to save us, to forgive us, to love us.

One saying I have always loved mentioning in my talks to people came from an anonymous writer I found on the table of a good friend long before I became a priest. It says: “If you have love in your heart, you have been blessed by god; if you have been loved, you have been touched by God.”

That is the Benedictus, the song of every faithful disciple of Jesus introducing His coming, His birth. So many people have forgotten God, do not know God, refused to believe in God because many among us He had lavishly loved have refused to share His love with others.

Have a blessed and meaningful Christmas! Thank you for following our reflections. Share it if you have been blessed.

Photo by author, Christmas 2019.