Practical blessedness

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday in the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 05 February 2023
Isaiah 58:7-10 ><}}}}*> 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ><}}}}*> Matthew 5:13-16
Photo by author, Bolinao, Pangasinan, 2022.

We are still at the sermon on the mount by Jesus Christ that opened last Sunday with his teachings on the beatitudes. We have reflected that the beatitudes are actually Jesus Christ himself that are supposed to be the very disposition of his disciples by being like him who is “poor in spirit”, “meek”, “afflicted”, “hungry and thirsty for righteousness”, “merciful”, “clean of heart”, “peacemaker”, and “persecuted”.

Every disciple is already blessed in Christ because blessedness is primarily a being like status in Facebook, not a mere doing. What a dignity we all have in Jesus in being called blessed! That is why this Sunday Jesus is teaching us the practical side of our blessedness, of being “the salt of the earth” and “light of the world” that call on the characteristics and demands of being like Christ, of conforming to his gospel of salvation.

See that being a salt and a light perfectly match the beatitudes when we say, “Blessed are you who are the salt of the earth and the light of the world”! For this Sunday, let us focus on the call of being the light of the world.


After praying over today’s gospel, I saw on a friend’s FB this post from Meralco inviting anyone interested in becoming a lineman. The tag-line was very catchy, “Handa na ba kayo maghatid ng liwanag?” (Are you ready to bring light?) with a hashtag, #BuildingABrilliantFuture.

From Meralco/fb

I felt the Meralco advertisement so brilliant, extolling the great honor of being a lineman who brings light to homes and schools, offices and factories, and everywhere. Requirements are actually minimal except for that most important thing of not having fear of heights. Of course!

But, Jesus Christ’s call to us all is more pressing, more important. More than the linemen building the facilities that will bring light to towns and cities, Jesus invites us to be the light ourselves.

Jesus alone is the light of the world. The light we carry is his. We are all Christ-light who reflect the very light of Jesus Christ in our good works and loving service to others, in our witnessing to our faith.

Words are not enough to bring his light to the world. The light of Christ shines brightly in us when we are witnessing truth and justice, kindness and mercy among our brothers and sisters, when we bear all pains and sufferings in continually working for peace and uplifting of the lowly despite so many accusations by those in power. Here we find that being the light of the world is to put into practice the beatitudes of having a clean heart, of being peacemakers, and being persecuted. It is when we work on them that our light shine before others that upon seeing our good deeds, it is God whom they glorify and not us:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

Matthew 5;16

See the following verses when Jesus described in details his teachings of being good, of witnessing his gospel values, he also warned us his disciples to never do good deeds for the sake of being known and popular. It is very clear that in being the light of the world, it is God who must be seen in us not our selves. Living the beatitudes is not having the most “likes” and “reactions” in Facebook nor of being viral nor trending. Moreover, it is definitely not being an “influencer” whatever that word means.

At the same time, Jesus Christ’s call for us to be his light ourselves is also a call for us to work as a community, not just as individuals. It is perfectly good if every disciple will shine brightly as a light of Christ but it is better when all disciples as a community of believers shine in gospel values!

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.

Matthew 5:14-15
Photo by author, La Mesa Dam Eco Park seen from OLFU-Quezon City, 01 February 2023.

How sad that lately, the world has grown darker not only because of fewer men and women sharing the light of Christ with their witnessing of the gospel but because nations and regions have abandoned the faith. Many are getting de-Christianized on a wholesale basis these days.

Nobody seems to care at all anymore of not going to Mass face-to-face while everyone is so glued on their cellphone and computer screens without a whimper of opposition or rejection even disdain with all the trash coming out in social media like TikTok so saturated with sexual content ranging from same sex relationships to display of too much skin and use of indecent language.

Making matters worst are the many priests and religious lacking understanding in communication who do all the stupid things on camera that instead of evangelizing are demoralizing the faithful. And the tragedy is how most of these media practitioners in the Church are simply playing on novelties than creating innovations in employing the modern means of communications that result in just creating cults around themselves and miserably fail in evangelizing the people. This is the message of St. Paul in the second reading, reminding us that faith rests on the power of God than in the personality and eloquence of the priests and bishops.

Christ’s call for us to be the light of the world is a resounding call we must all respond to in this present age through deep prayer to be immersed in the person of Christ, the light of the world. It is only Jesus and always Jesus whom we must share and give to the people by realizing and affirming our prophetic functions in denouncing the ways of the world of injustice against the poor and the hungry like what Isaiah described in the first reading.

The world badly needs prophets these days, men and women like Christ who are “light rising in the darkness who would turn gloom into midday” (Is.58:10) for indeed as the psalmist declares, “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.” Amen.

Have a blessed and illuminating week ahead in Jesus Christ!

Photo by author, 01 February 2023.

True blessedness

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday in the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time, Year A, 29 January 2023
Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13 ><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ><}}}*> Matthew 5:1-12
Photo by author, 2020.

Blessedness is a very contentious term for us Filipinos. Very often, we equate blessedness with being rich and wealthy like having a lot of money, a beautiful house, and the latest car model as well as clothes and gadgets. Being blessed sometimes means being lucky or fortunate like winning the lotto or having a child graduating in college or getting promoted in one’s job.

In the Visitation, Elizabeth defined for us the true meaning of being blessed like Mary as someone who believed that what the Lord had promised her would be fulfilled (Lk.1:45). Blessedness is essentially a spiritual reality than a material one; however, it implies that being blessed results from doing something good like being faithful to God.

Today in our gospel from Matthew, Jesus shows us that blessedness is still a spiritual reality than a material one but, it is more of a being – like a status in Facebook – than of doing.

Most of all, being blessed is not being in a good situation or condition when all is well and everything proceeding smoothly in life; blessedness according to Jesus at his sermon on the mount is when we are on the distaff side of life like being poor, being hungry, being persecuted and insulted – being like him!

Photo by author, Church of the Beatitudes, Israel, 2019.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

Matthew 5:3-12

After going around the shores of Galilee, preaching and healing the people, Jesus went up a mountain upon seeing crowds were following him. They were mostly poor people with deep faith in God, hoping and trusting only in him for their deliverance called the anawims.

They were in painful and difficult situations, maybe like many of us, fed up with the traffic and rising costs of everything, fed up with the corruption among public officials and most of all, disillusioned with our priests and bishops!

Then, Jesus called them blessed.

Now, please consider that it is more understandable and normal to say that after being persecuted or after losing a loved one, after all these sufferings that people would be blessed, that the kingdom of God would be theirs.

But, that is not the case with the beatitudes whereby Jesus called them already blessed now, right in their state of being poor, being persecuted, being maligned!

Keep in mind that Matthew’s audience were his fellow Jewish converts to Christianity. By situating Jesus on the mountain preaching his first major discourse, Matthew was reminding his fellow Jewish converts of their great lawgiver, Moses who stood on Mount Sinai to give them the Ten Commandments from God.

However, in the sermon on the mount, Matthew was presenting Jesus not just as the new Moses but in fact more than Moses because Jesus himself is the Law. His very person is what we follow that is why we are called Christians and our faith is properly called Christianity so unlike other religions that are like philosophies or any other -ism.

To understand the beatitudes, one has to turn and enter into Jesus Christ for he is the one truly poor in spirit, meek, hungry and thirsty, merciful, clean of heart, who was persecuted, died but rose again and now seated at the righthand of the Father in heaven. Essentially, the Beatitudes personify Jesus Christ himself. Those who share what he had gone through while here on earth, those who identify with him in his poverty and meekness, mercy and peace efforts, and suffering and death now share in his blessedness.

Therefore, the Beatitudes are paths to keeping our relationship with Jesus Christ who calls us to be like him – poor, hungry and thirsty, meek, clean of heart and persecuted. The Beatitudes are not on the moral plane like the Decalogue that tells us what to do and not to do. Have you ever used the Beatitudes as a guide in examining your conscience when going to Confessions? Never, because the Beatitudes are goals in life to be continuously pursued daily by Christ’s disciples.

Photo by author, Church of the Beatitudes, Israel, 2017.

The Beatitudes are more on the spiritual and mystical plane of our lives that when we try imitating Jesus in his being poor and merciful, meek and clean of heart, then we realize and experience blessedness as we learn the distinctions between joy and happiness, being fruitful and successful.

That is when we find fulfillment while still here on earth amid all the sufferings and trials we go through because in the beatitudes we have Jesus, a relationship we begin to keep and nurture who is also the Kingdom of God. Of course, we experience its fullness in the afterlife but nonetheless, we reap its rewards while here in this life.

As we have noted at the start, we must not take the beatitudes in their material aspect but always in the spiritual meaning. This we find in the first beatitude, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Actually, this first beatitude is the very essence of all eight other blessedness. Everything springs forth from being poor in spirit, of having that inner attitude and disposition of humility before God. We cannot be merciful and meek, nor pure of heart nor peacemakers unless we become first of all poor in spirit like Jesus, who, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness and humbled himself” (Phil. 2:6-7, 8).

The prophet Zephaniah showed us in the first reading that poverty in the Old Testament does not only define a social status but more of one’s availability and openness to God with his gifts and calls to us to experience him and make him known. Experience had taught us so well that material poverty is one of life’s best teacher as it leads us to maturity and redemption best expressed in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

In this sense, the beatitude is also the “be-attitude” of every disciple who carries his cross in following Christ. See that each beatitude does not refer to a different person; every disciple of Jesus goes through each beatitude if he/she immerses himself/herself in Christ. That is why last week Jesus preached repentance which leads to conversion. Notice that the beatitudes of Christ are clearly opposite and contrary to the ways of the world as St. Paul tells us in the second reading with God calling the weak and lowly to manifest his power and glory.

Many times in life, we fail to recognize our blessedness when we are so focused with what we are going through, with our work and duties and obligations. This Sunday, Jesus takes us up on the mountain, in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist for us to see ourselves blessed and loved right in the midst of our simplicity and bareness, sufferings and pains. Stop for a while. Find Christ in all your troubles or darkness in life. If you do not find Jesus in your labors and burdens, you are just punishing yourself. If you find Christ because you see more the face of other persons that you become merciful, you work for peace, you mourn and bear all insults and persecution… then, you must be loving a lot. Therefore, you are blessed! Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Photo by author, Church of the Beatitudes, Israel, 2017.

The human child, mystery of God’s love

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday in the Second Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 15 January 2023
Isaiah 9:1-6 ><]]]]'> Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18 ><]]]]'> Matthew 18:1-5, 10
Photo from reddit.com.

The photo above is a sculpture called “Love” by Ukrainian artist Alexander Milov he created in 2015. I have kept the photo as a bookmark in one of the books I have read and saw it recently. Milov rightly called it “Love” because it shows how that mystery of love expressed to us by God in Christ’s coming continues if we could only be like a child!

See how the sculpture depicts two adults after a disagreement sitting with their back to each other while their inner child in both of them wanting to connect. What a beautiful expression of our condition when despite our vast learning and knowledge, we seem to can’t live without ego and pride, hatred and grudges that prevent us from forgiving and moving on in life. The free spirit exhibited by children in this sculpture shows our true nature which is the very core of Jesus Christ’s teaching, of being a child always.

At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven… See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

Matthew 18:1-3, 10

On this Sunday of the second week in Ordinary Time, we extend our Christmas celebration for a day with the Feast of Sto. Niño or Child Jesus in honor of the crucial role of that image gifted by Magellan to Queen Juana of Cebu 500 years ago. It was the Sto. Niño who actually conquered our country to become the only Christian nation in this part of the world – proof enough of Christ’s teaching about being a child so powerful in God’s eyes!

This Feast is a very timely for us too as we go into the busyness of our lives to be reminded anew even for a day of the meaning of Christmas, of Jesus Christ’s coming in love. He came because of love, coming as love himself by being a child, an infant.

It was only recently as a chaplain in the hospital have I felt and realized why a baby is called a “bundle of joy” – my heart melts whenever I visit mothers with their newborn babies especially twins. It is said that even the most hardened criminals are softened upon seeing babies and children. And that is because of what Jesus told us today in the gospel,

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

Matthew 16:10

What is there with children and the face of God?

I think that is God’s gift of love in each of us, so innately in us right during our moment of conception when life begins as the Church rightly insists based on Sacred Scriptures. It is nurtured and cared for first by the mother that even after we have matured, we call on our mother when surprised or shocked as in “Inang ko po!” or “Nanay ko po!”. See how those approaching death would always speak of seeing their departed mother, coming and visiting them.

This shows and proves to us the deep impact of a mother’s love to each of us because she is always the first to make us experience God’s love in her womb that even long after our umbilical cords have been cut off at birth, there remains an invisible line always between us and our mothers.

It is not only with our mother but also with everyone. This love innately gifted upon each of us by God who is our very first love remains in us through our family and friends and later the people we meet in life as living representatives of that invisible love of God in us. This is what Jesus meant when he warned his disciples in the gospel today,

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

Matthew 18:10

How sad when this love that has always been in us and in the world suddenly becomes unrecognizable – even unrealistic – because of the darkness of sins and evil. When the child is born and begins to see, experience and realize the absence of love in the family, of a lack of that love between the child’s mother and father who quarrel or separate, or when the child himself/herself is threatened or hurt by anyone he/she looks up to, then trouble happens.

Children can only grasp the gift of life and of their existence when they experience the concreteness, the reality of love first right in their homes. One thing we adults always forget which I insist on every man and woman entering marriage that it is always the children who bear all the pains and sufferings when they separate. Experts claim that criminals mostly come from families where children witness domestic violence, especially when the husband beats the wife.

It is unfortunate that today’s gospel did not include Jesus Christ’s most terrible curse against those inflicting harm on children when he said in the same scene that “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and drowned in the depths of the sea” (Mt. 16:6).

As chaplain of a university, I have been hearing the confessions of our students, recently from junior and senior high school. After listening to their stories and woes, I tell them point blank about their parents and family, of the love among them and they start crying. I do not blame parents for their apparent lack of love for their children nor for their separation nor for their need to work abroad; I stress to young people human love is always imperfect. Only God can love us perfectly.

When the world and the people around us miserably fail in showing us the face of our loving God, that is when all the more we have to be like children anew as Jesus tells us today. It is is in going inside our inner child within, in becoming like a child trusting in the great love of God in us like when we were in our mother’s womb can we grasp again this invisible love poured upon us in Jesus Christ.

This is the challenge for us of the Sto. Niño: let us keep the face of God aglow in us, on our face and in our lives like the light Isaiah spoke of in the first reading when the Messiah comes. Anyone who lives in the gospel of Jesus Christ, even amid all pains and sufferings, would always be aglow with that radiant face of God filled with love and mercy, kindness and compassion despite our many imperfections. The beloved disciple said it so well, “No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us” (1 Jn. 4:12). Simply love, love, and love. No ifs nor buts. Just love.

Let us remain children of God most especially in our adulthood like Jesus Christ who upon his death on the Cross called God Abba – Father – because he has always been the Son, the Child of God. Remember how at the Last Supper when he gave the new commandment of loving one another as he loves us: it is “new” because unlike the love the world knows which is all feelings and self-centered, Christ’s love is rooted in God through him, in him, and with him.

Let us pray:

Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
every spiritual blessing in the heavens (Eph. 1:3),
as he chose us to be born
and be filled with his love as 
icons and representatives of his love;
enlighten the eyes of our hearts, Father,
so we may always answer your call
in your Son Jesus Christ for us to follow
him in being like a child
manifesting your face full of
warmth and love,
kindness and care
especially to those 
feeling unloved.
Amen.

Christmas is “manifesting” Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, 08 January 2023
Isaiah 60:1-6 ><}}}}*> Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6 ><}}}}*> Matthew 2:1-12

Still, a blessed Christmas to everyone! As I have been telling you, let us continue greeting one another with a Merry Christmas for it is still the Christmas Season. Forget those happy new year greetings. Insist on Merry Christmas especially today when our celebration reminds us that Christmas is manifesting, showing Jesus Christ!

In fact, our celebration today is a high point of Christmas – even the Christmas in some parts of Europe, the US and even the Philippines. As a result, so much focus have been given on the magi that we forget the very essence of Epiphany is Jesus Christ – not the names of the magi nor their gifts nor their number.

From the Greek word epiphanes that means “manifestation”, the Epiphany of the Lord celebrates the discovery of Jesus by the foreigners known as magi from the East, learned men who were seeking the truth. In discovering Jesus, he was made known to all the world as the Savior and the King of Kings.

It is very interesting that what we have we heard proclaimed in the gospel today is the first conversation ever recorded by Matthew in his account that was uttered by the magi searching for Jesus:

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

Matthew 2:1-2

That spoken question by the magi which stirred the whole of Jerusalem and bothered even King Herod – “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? – is a theme that resonates throughout Matthew’s gospel because in the Jewish thought, God is their only king. King for them is more than a political ruler but a manifestation or reflection of the face of God who alone is the king of the universe.

Matthew is teaching us something very important in recording the first conversation spoken in his gospel account was by the magi asking “where is the newborn king of the Jews” to remind us that every day, it is Jesus Christ whom we must seek first in our lives, in our prayers, especially in the scriptures.

Upon waking up in the morning, what is the very first thing you do – check on your cellphone for messages? turn on the radio or TV or laptop? What or who do you look for first thing in the morning? Do you at least light a candle on a little altar in your room to pray the Morning Offering or meditate on the scriptures of the day?

The person(s) or things that we immediately focus upon waking up indicate very much the persons or things that rule us daily. See how the magi from the east were seriously seeking Jesus Christ by daring to ask even King Herod about the newborn king of the Jews! Don’t you find that funny considering that the magi were regarded as men of wisdom but dared to inquire and trouble Herod with that question? Were they insulting Herod?

Definitely not. They were just sincerely searching for the true King of all!

That is the essential point in Matthew’s telling us of the magi searching for Jesus: the experts of Jerusalem knew where their newborn king was born based on the scriptures but they never bothered to look for him! Many times we are guilty like them when God is just in our head as an idea or a concept but not a reality in our life.

Next to assiduously seeking Christ, I love to reflect on that aspect of these wise men asking (with sarcasm?) King Herod where is the newborn king of the Jews: the magi must have noticed and felt King Herod was not a true king after all in the Jewish thought and tradition. They must have heard and personally proven upon meeting him that he was indeed ruthless and evil when he ordered the massacre of all boys two years old and below in Bethlehem and vicinity after they have left by going through a different route.

See how Matthew as well as the other gospel writers showed in their accounts the kindness and goodness of Jesus in healing the sick, forgiving the sinners, teaching and guiding the people who were so lost. When we pray the gospel accounts, what we find and experience is the immense love and mercy of God through Jesus Christ. He is rightly called the face of the unseen God – so gentle, so loving, so humble, so merciful. Because of Jesus, we were able to have a glimpse and experience of the great love of this God Jesus taught us to call as Father. That is why at his crucifixion we saw Jesus hailed as truly the “King of the Jews, truly the Son of God” (Mt. 27:37, 54) because he manifested God’s love and holiness, compassion and mercy, kindness and care.

This is the essence of the Epiphany. It was not just the discovery of Jesus by the magi nor his manifestation to all the nations but most of all, the making known of God’s goodness when like the magi who “departed for their country by another way” (Mt.2:12), we change our ways to become icons of Jesus Christ.

Don’t worry; it is a lifelong process. The magi saw Jesus as a child, not as an infant anymore because of their long journey. What matters is that like them, we never stop persevering in following and manifesting Jesus in our lives.

Perhaps this Sunday, we must examine ourselves in the way we deal with other people especially in our family and in our office or school, especially in our parish and community: do we reflect the Kingship of Jesus Christ or that of the world like Herod in our lives?

This Solemnity of the Epiphany is inviting us not just to seek Christ our King but most of all, to manifest Christ’s Kingship based on loving service to others. That is the best gift we can offer Jesus, our very gift of selves just like him. Let us pray:

Dearest Lord Jesus Christ:
let me search you always in my life,
in my prayers,
among the people I meet,
in the Sacraments;
most of all, 
let me manifest you Jesus
not only my words and thoughts
but most of all in my daily living,
in my actions
of loving service to others
especially the sick and lowly,
the marginalized and misunderstood;
let me be your light, O Lord,
to guide people in darkness of sin
and ignorance and indifference;
most of all, let me reveal like St. Paul
your mystery of love and salvation
to the many among us who have turned
away from you,
seeking to follow and imitate
King Herod in his ruthless ways
of control and too much pride.
Amen.

Christmas is about accepting

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourth Sunday in Advent, Third Simbang Gabi, 18 December 2022
Isaiah 7:10-14 ><]]]]'> Romans 1:1-7 ><]]]]'> Matthew 1:18-24
Photo from vaticannews.va, 14 December 2020.

We are now at the final stretch of our Advent Season, getting closer to Christmas Day with our gospel today directly telling us how it all happened. And it was not very easy – in fact so difficult – just like with most of us in our many experiences in life when everything did not go so well as planned.

It would not be surprising at all that so many times, many of us would have also thought of giving up, of letting go everything like St. Joseph!

Now 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.

Matthew 1:18-19

Christmas is a story of accepting difficulties in life especially persons dearest to us suddenly thrown into challenging situations. Exactly what happened to St. Joseph and Mama Mary.

Many times in life, we advise people going through problems to just simply accept how things are –“tanggapin na lang” – with some sense of resignation as if there is nothing we can do.

Sometimes it is true but many times, not at all true like with St. Joseph’s predicament. He accepted first Mary and then Jesus on a totally different manner worthy of our emulation. It was not out of resignation to the situation but was first of all focused in accepting and valuing persons.

St. Joseph decided to silently leave Mary because of his great love for her. He did not want to expose her to shame and public humiliation that would surely result in being pregnant with a child not his. He did not merely accept the situation as if it were his lot to be “scooped” out by somebody else faster than him with Mary. Keep in mind how the evangelist described St. Joseph as a righteous man, a holy man that despite Mary’s pregnancy, he loved and valued her so much, totally as a person. His leaving her silently was a testimony to his great love and respect for her!


We demand "understanding" in order to "accept" 
without realizing that it is different 
with persons and with life in general 
when we must first "accept" in order to "understand"!

Unlike with us these days when everything has to be explained and spelled out in details before anything or anyone may be accepted. In this age of instants, we want instant explanations too on everything before making any decision, demanding many information to understand anything.

And everyone.

We demand “understanding” in order to “accept” without realizing that it is different with persons and with life in general when we must first “accept” in order to “understand”!

That was exactly the accepting attitude of St. Joseph. He might have not totally understood everything when explained to him by the angel in a dream. Imagine how very difficult it must have been to listen to instructions and explanations in a dream that are already difficult to grasp when done in normal circumstances while awake. But that shows the great maturity and deep spirituality of St. Joseph, of how he accepted everything told to him by the angel in a dream that upon waking up, he absolutely obeyed God’s instruction by taking Mary as his wife.

Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, Basilica of San Padre Pio, Italy, 2017.

One of my favorite singers is the late Marvin Gaye whose 1971 hit What’s Going On I have used extensively in lessons and recollections to young people. Its lyrics are so poetic yet so deep, with its first two stanzas calling for “loving” before it could lead to “understanding” at the third stanza after the chorus. It calls for acceptance first of everyone, of respect so we could love and understand more.

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me
So you can see
Oh, what’s going on (What’s going on)
What’s going on (What’s going on)
What’s going on (What’s going on)
What’s going on (What’s going on)

People can never be understood really. There are some people who are truly difficult to understand or as we say, “mahirap ispellengin”. Many times in life I have learned that we simply just have to accept everyone as unique, that God comes through everyone in each one’s uniqueness and peculiarities.

Situations become more difficult to accept unless we accept first the persons involved.

That begins with our very selves when we have to set aside our pride, our own good, even our own plans and agendas like St. Joseph in order to let God lead us truly to fulfillment.

Very often this is the problem with us when we insist on ourselves, on our own ideas and own plans. We get blinded with what we know and even with what we believe in like King Ahaz in the first reading.

Photo from Aleteia.org, “Let Mum Rest”, 2019

St. Joseph as an accepting person was also a very welcoming man like St. Paul in the second reading who took pride in being called and sent by God to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. A truly accepting person is always a welcoming one, full of warmth and joy because he/she has Jesus!

See the beauty of St. Joseph’s acceptance of God’s plan: when he accepted Mary, that is when Jesus came.

Thus, we must first accept God.

If we truly accept God, we must accept others as his gifts to us. No matter what.

It is in accepting others with all their differences when Jesus Christ truly comes.

When we learn to accept and welcome people, that is when Christmas truly happens. Not only in December but all year through! Let us pray:

Lord Jesus Christ,
thank you for coming to us daily
not only in our very selves and the many
events that happen to us but most especially
among people you send us;
there are times they are good and so faithful
like St. Joseph who are easy to accept;
but there are also times, they are very
difficult to accept or even understand
especially when they happen to be those
closes to us whom we also love.
Teach us to appreciate the value of silence
like St. Joseph so we may be accepting like him
because it is in our accepting of people and difficult
situations in life when you often come.
Amen.

Rejoicing amid disappointments

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Third Sunday in Advent-A, Gaudete Sunday, 11 December 2022
Isaiah 35:1-6, 10 ><}}}*> James 5:7-10 ><}}}*> Matthew 11:2-11

Photo by author, 2019.

Today our altar bursts in lovely shades of pink in celebration of the third Sunday of Advent also known as Gaudete Sunday from the Latin gaudere that means “to rejoice”. We rejoice this third Sunday because the Lord’s Second Coming is getting nearer each day and so is our awaited celebration of Christmas with the start of Simabang Gabi.

There are still many reasons for us to rejoice but when we reflect deeper in life, our rejoicing in itself is a paradox.

Because rejoicing is more joyful when seen amid darkness and uncertainties, disappointments and failures.

Because joy is more than feeling happy but that certainty within us that no matter what happens in this life, even if things get worst, everything ends according to God’s plans.

Because God loves us so much!

That is why we rejoice this Sunday – and everyday in our lives – that no matter what happens to us, God is with us in Jesus Christ, loving us, saving us.

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

Matthew 11:2-6
Photo by author, 2021.

How fast things happen and change in life, especially when there is a sudden change or reversal, from good to bad, from top of the world to bottom into the unknown like John the Baptist.

Last week, John was on top of the world as people were coming to him for baptism, listening and believing his preaching; today, we heard him in prison!

Herod Antipas, the son of King Herod when Christ was born, had him imprisoned after John told him that it was wrong for him to take as wife his brother Philip’s former wife, Herodias. Eventually, John was beheaded in prison upon Herod’s order after making a promise to grant whatever request the daughter of Herodias would ask him after entertaining guests in his birthday party; the daughter asked for John’s head on a platter and immediately, Herod dispatched his executioner.

Now at his lowest point in life awaiting certain death, John was “disappointed” with what he had been hearing about the works and preaching of Jesus Christ whom he had baptized at Jordan. Recall how John preached a message of “fire and brimstone” as he expected the Christ would bring punishment and destruction to those doing evil, warning them that the “ax lies at the root of the trees…ready to cut down those not bearing fruits” while his “winnowing fan in his hand is gathering his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:10, 12).

John was expecting the Christ would immediately make sweeping changes in the world, punishing the evil doers but what he heard and perhaps may have witnessed too was the gentleness of Jesus, always ready to forgive the sinful, heal the sick, and most of all, keeping company with the most sinful people of that time like the tax collectors and the prostitutes!

Many times in life we find ourselves very much in John’s situation – so disappointed with God because what happens in reality are exactly the opposite of what we expected based on what we are taught or what we have read in the Bible! That is why John sought clarification from Jesus himself. We too, when disappointments happen in life along with other pains and sufferings especially after trying our very best to serve God through others, must always have that disposition of humility to seek clarifications from God. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must be open like John in welcoming the Lord in the way he wishes to reveal himself.

Photo by author, November 2022.

How ironic that John who stood preaching the coming of Christ Jesus, of demanding justice and kindness from the people was imprisoned, himself a victim of injustice! Sometimes in life, it is so easy to preach Jesus Christ and his values not until we find ourselves on the distaff side like getting sick or being unjustly accused of something we did not commit. Like John, when we become the very people suffering those things we preach, our expectations even of God may blind us and fail us to see Christ’s coming, becoming so difficult to see God’s mercy and healing acting in other people’s lives but not in our own lives like John who was imprisoned unjustly for telling the truth.

The Season of Advent, especially this third Sunday we call “Rejoice” or “Gaudete” Sunday invites us to examine our own expectations and knowledge of God that may sometimes blind us to his actions and presence in our world.

The key is to have that humility to just let God be God!

Let God do his work and just chill.

Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by God always! It is from those surprises by God when joys burst in our lives even in the most difficult or simplest situations in life.

Photo by author, 2018.

One of my favorite subjects in photography are mosses – lumot – those green clumps or mats found thriving in damp, shady spots and locations. I am no green thumb but I love mosses and ferns because they are very refreshing to the eyes. They evoke hopes and surprises that despite the little sunlight and care they get, they live and thrive so well, teaching us a lot of valuable lessons about darkness and failures in life.

That is what Isaiah and St. James were reminding us in the first two readings, of the need for us to be patient like the farmers in awaiting the sprouting and blooming of crops and plants in the fields, of strengthening each other because the hard times are sure to end. Most of all, the Lord is faithful, always working silently when we are in the most dead situations in life, preparing great surprises for us.

Let us set aside our expectations, even our goals and agenda in life to let God do his work in us, to surprise us with his more wondrous plans because he knows what is best for us.

There are times in life when we are disappointed even frustrated at how things are not going according to our plans even if God had confirmed it in our prayers and in many instances in life – that feeling of suddenly being abandoned by God?

There are times we complain and feel undeserving of the many failures and pains that come our way because we have been so faithful to God, even prayerful that we cry to him, asking him like John for clarifications of whether he is with us or should we still wait more.

Most often in life, we get blinded even by our noble intentions and goodness, of our image and expectations of God that in the process, we are hurt, leaving us with scars and empty spaces within…

Be patient, my friend. Trust God.

The same empty spaces and holes in life would soon be filled with blessings so unimaginable because, remember, God is “greater than our hearts and knows everything” (1 Jn. 3:20). It is only when we are hurt and bruised and emptied, even dried and dead when life and joy burst forth because that is when God can freely work in us in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Have a joyful week ahead!

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, September 2019.

Finding Jesus, showing Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Second Sunday in Advent, Cycle A, 04 December 2022
Isaiah 11:1-10 ><}}}*> Romans 15:4-9 ><}}}*> Matthew 3:1-12
Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images, 09 February 2020, Baclaran Church.

Many years from now, future generations will surely discuss these years of our COVID-19 pandemic, with everyone talking about the face masks we wore. Imagine your great grandchildren repeatedly asking their parents why we were covering our faces during this time.

But, these face masks were also the signs of blessing during this pandemic, teaching us to look onto the face of one another, to recognize each one as brother and sister in Christ. I believe these face masks are reminders from God of how we have forgotten to look and value each one as persons to be loved and cared for, respected and protected.

What a beautiful sight when people meet, exchanging glances, adjusting their glasses and face masks to recognize each one again!

In the Book of Genesis, we are told how God created us in his image and likeness that remind us of his “face” even if we know God is spirit. Face means more than the physical face of the person. It reveals in the most undeniable manner one’s state or condition, of what is in him/her. When a person is filled with goodness and love, joy and contentment or, bitterness and hate, evil and sin, we say it is “written all over his/her face”.

Remember Mang Dodong of Caloocan City who was detained for almost a month in Navotas for not having proper ID’s during the lockdown of March 2020 after he tried to buy fish in order to sell in their neighborhood? At the same time when it happened, there was the shameless news of police throwing a birthday bash to their chief in total disregard of the protocols? The injustice against the poor prevailing then and now was all written in Mang Dodong’s face in the news.

Mang Dodong of Caloocan City, photo by Mr. Vincent Go, May 2020.

Here lies the challenge of Advent 2022, the first face-to-face Christmas we shall have in two years since the pandemic when we have to cover our faces with face masks: have I shown God with others on my face? Or maybe, the better question should be, do I see the face of God in the people I meet?

This Second Sunday of Advent, the gospel invites us if like John the Baptist, do we see Jesus Christ coming among us? Do we see him in ourselves and in others?

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.

Matthew 3:1-3
“St. John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness” by German painter Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779) from commons.wikimedia.org.

John is our second guide during Advent next to the Prophet Isaiah. John did not only see the coming of Christ but he also showed the Christ had come.

Why did people come to listen to him and be baptized from all over Israel at that time?

His preaching must be so powerful and convincing because people must have also seen in him Christ’s coming. In fact, people of his time thought he was already the Messiah everyone was awaiting. But John was very clear in his preaching that he was not the One.

Such was the power of John’s preaching. Everyone believed him because he did not merely point to the coming of Christ but showed them too Christ already present in him. No wonder, he would be the first to die for Jesus and like Jesus by standing for what is true and good.

How was John able to do this?

Aside from the power of the Holy Spirit that came upon him while still in his mother’s womb during Mary’s visitation, John went to a sort of quarantine too – an Advent – when he left the comforts of his affluent family to live a simple life in the desert.

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.

Matthew 3:4

Last Sunday, we have reflected that Advent is a Sabbath when we rest to be breathed on by God, to be filled with God and his Spirit by first emptying ourselves of our sins and pride. Most of all, in coming to the wilderness empty and simple, John showed the importance of prayer, of relying solely to God. It was prayer that sustained John in the desert and it is prayer that would sustain us during this Advent. In fact, we need to handle life with prayer in order to see Christ coming and most of all, to show Christ to others.

In calling for conversion, John challenged the people of his time too to bear fruits in their efforts of seeing the coming Messiah. All these emptying and sacrifices and being breathed on by God must always be evident not only for everyone to see but for each one to truly experience Christ’s coming.

A painting based on Is.11:1-10 called “Peaceable Kingdom” by American Edward Hicks, a Quaker pastor (1780-1849).

In the first reading, Isaiah reminds us that Advent is a time also of healing when we learn to be small again, even to die in our selves to give way for the coming of the Lord.

On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him… Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted… Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.

Isaiah 11:1-2, 3, 4, 5-9

This for me is one of the loveliest scenes in the Old Testament: aside from the poetry of Isaiah, imagine how God envisions for us a “peaceable kingdom” where humans and animals live together in harmony, when there would be no more harm or ruin on everyone!

So beautiful!

And so possible if we can be like John the Baptist with our eyes seeing more beyond the physical realities of this world by being small again like the shoot, even of dying to one’s self like a stump.

It is only in our littleness, in our barrenness and death can we truly see and find Jesus. But, the moment we see Christ in us, it is no longer difficult to recognize him on others as well as find him in all creation. If we could fine tune our eyes to Jesus and live in one accord with God and everyone as St. Paul calls us in the second reading, then Christ becomes present among us in the world with his peace.

Let us pray on this Second Sunday of Advent that we not only see Jesus coming but also show him present in us and among us so that when we go to our places of work, we do not just “earn a living” but also work on building the kingdom of God here on earth.

Let us pray that beginning this second Sunday of Advent that we not only see Jesus but also show him present in us and among us so that whenever we post on social media, we also build relationships in Christ.

Have a blessed week everyone!

Let us pray on this Second Sunday of Advent that the next time we give donations and help to people in need, it is Jesus whom we find in them so that we go the extra mile in our efforts to uplift them and truly make a “shoot sprout forth from the stump” of this dying earth so that the bud of God’s kingdom may finally blossom in us. Amen.

When Advent is also a Sabbath

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
First Sunday of Advent-A, 27 November 2022
Isaiah 2:1-5  ><}}}}*>  Romans 13:11-14  ><}}}}*>  Matthew 24:37-44
Photo by author, November 2022.

A blessed happy new year to everyone!

Yes, our new year in the Church begins this Saturday evening as we usher Advent Season, the four Sundays before Christmas which also falls on a Sunday this year. What a truly blessed Christmas we are having this year since COVID-19 came in 2020. For the first time in two years, we are celebrating Christmas face-to-face which is the essence of the event when the Son of God became human like us in everything except sin so we may experience God in person!

Like a light piercing through the darkness of the night – here and today – we experience Jesus Christ’s coming to us this Christmas 2022 most true that his call in the gospel is so appropriate especially at this time.

Jesus said to his disciples: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your day will come.

Matthew 24:37, 39-42
Photo by author, November 2022.

“Therefore, stay awake!”

Staying awake does not mean not going to sleep. In fact, for us to be awake, we have to sleep and be fully rested always to be awake and alert whether at night or at day.

That is why Advent is a sabbath, a day of the Lord when we pause to rest and allow God to fill us with his breath and spirit so we may be more attuned with Christ’s coming.

To rest in Filipino is “magpahinga” that literally means to be breathed on. Sabbath as a day of rest is to be breathed on by God, “magpahinga sa Diyos, mahingahan ng Diyos”. Unless we are filled with the breath of God, with his spirit, we will never experience Christ’s coming to us this Advent nor this Christmas nor at any time.

This is the whole point of Christ’s teaching today. Advent is an invitation for us to examine and review our attitudes to life, to God, and to others. Like in the gospel, Jesus reminds us how we conduct ourselves in this life, of being attuned to the Holy Spirit, lest “one is taken and the other one will be left”.

Life has been so difficult for everyone these past two years. Some of us have lost a loved one or relatives and friends to COVID. Many have lost their businesses or career and many other opportunities in life. And sadly, there are others who have lost or wounded and bruised relationships too.

But, have we also lost ourselves that in the process lost God too that we have lost all sense of decency and kindness with one another?

Photo by author, November 2022.

The other day, a former classmate suddenly texted me, saying hi and asking when she and her husband may visit me. Such messages coming out of the blue from anyone – especially her – make me wonder what’s wrong? What’s her problem this time?

She said she just wanted to keep in touch, reminding me how she has always been grateful for my help and prayers. However, she insisted that if we can’t meet, can I send her a prayer via text message because according to her, my prayers and blessings have “magic” as they always come true considering her prospering business and finally, her youngest child about to finish medicine.

I did not answer her until afternoon by sending her a prayer she had requested. And a reminder to her that my prayers have no magic powers nor lucky charms. I told her, “you are blessed abundantly by God because he loves you very much. Because he knows how well you pray hard and strive to be good and fair in your dealings with others. Most of all, because you are grateful. Keep serving the Lord.”

Many times even in our faith and spiritual life, we believe more in luck or swerte than in God as a person loving us, blessing us. That is why our faith has no communal dimension at all because we remain self-centered even in our worship and faith without even finding and experiencing God himself in Jesus Christ who had come to us more than 2000 years ago in Bethlehem.

On this first Sunday of Advent, we are reminded to rekindle in our hearts that ardent desire for God and his kingdom, for the return or Second Coming of Jesus Christ who had come and remains with us, and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to keep us awake in finding God always in us and in others.

This first Sunday of Advent is calling us to fine tune our attitudes to God anew, to recall the beautiful lessons of this COVID-19 pandemic we now seem to have forgotten totally like importance of God and prayers, of one another, and value of life.

Like the prophecy of Isaiah in the first reading, we find ourselves today in the same situation of many wars going on not only in Ukraine or Mindanao but also in our families and communities yet, we continue to march forward to God’s final fulfillment of his promises. Imagine and feel the prophecy of Isaiah:

“Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may in his paths. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Isaiah 2:3, 4-5
Photo by author, November 2022.

What a lovely imagery of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks as we walk in the light of the Lord that is happening NOW!

That is one of the challenges of our Advent preparation which is to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts (and arms too!) to find and welcome Jesus Christ already present with us, right here and right now!

That can only happen if we can rest this Advent in the Lord through prayers and meditations of his words that are so rich these days; of having silent moments to find ourselves anew instead of going back to our old ways of crazy Christmas rush shopping and the many external preparations that have become more of a show or a palabas.

Advent is a sabbath calling us to come home to God, to find him in Jesus Christ who had come and comes daily inside us, in our family and friends, in everyone and in various occasions and event in our lives. When we find God, that is also when we find our true selves. And that is Christmas – the coming together of man and God.

Advent is a sabbath when we go back to paradise which last Sunday we find also on the Cross with Jesus Christ as he promised Dimas with “today you shall be with me in Paradise” when God takes charge of everything and we just follow him.

Advent is a sabbath when we recover that original attitudes of man and woman to obey God always, to find more of our goodness and of others and nature, and to live in God’s presence.

Let us heed the call of St. Paul to struggle not only to be morally upright in life but most of all to share the light of Christ when he asked us “to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Rom.13;14) so that we become his very presence in this world.

Let us rest in Jesus so we may be awake in his coming in every here and now. Amen. Have a blessed and restful week, everyone!

Photo by author, Advent 1, 2021.

Christ our King & our overcoming of sin

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Solemnity of Christ the King, Cycle C, 20 November 2022
2 Samuel 5:1-3 ><000'> Colossians 1:12-20 ><000'> Luke 23:35-43
Painting of Christ’s Crucifixion by Tintoretto in 1565 portraying Jesus so “kingly”; interesting too were the people dressed as Venetians of his time as reminder that the evils that crucified Jesus continue in our own time. Photo from wikiart.org.

We now come to the final Sunday of our liturgical calendar called the Solemnity of Christ the King with a scene from his crucifixion on Good Friday. All these Sundays since June “When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk.9:51), Luke had been showing us that Christ’s crucifixion and glory are one just like John in his gospel account.

But the most beautiful part of our gospel on this solemn celebration is the fact that inasmuch as Jesus had clearly showed in all eternity his kingship while dying on the Cross, it is also right on the cross of sufferings as we strive to resist temptations of turning away from God that we proclaim Christ’s kingship. Please bear with me, my friends in reflecting Luke’s artistic presentation of Christ’s crucifixion as the expression of his kingship.

Notice how Jesus was “sneered, jeered, and reviled” at the cross, reminding us of the devil’s three temptations in the wilderness after his baptism at Jordan by John. After failing to tempt Jesus at the wilderness, Luke said the devil “departed from him for a time” (Lk.4:13), returning at his crucifixion as the most opportune time to test him.

In the wilderness, the temptations by the devil to Jesus applied very well with us too but, here on the cross, it was totally different. The devil himself was nowhere to be found because he was in the person of the rulers, the soldiers, and the thief! And that is how evil and sin have become so “powerful” in a pernicious manner among us when many times we are the devil in fact.

Here, we are reminded to be aware always of that opportune time when the devil attacks us when we see or face many sufferings in life by reflecting the last three temptations of Jesus on the Cross.

Photo by author, 2017, Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, QC.

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God” (Lk.23:35).

Just like at the wilderness when the devil tempted Jesus with what he can do as the Son of God by changing stone into bread, at the Cross it was the same temptation hurled on him by the rulers of Israel, the priests and the scribes.

How sad that amid the many sufferings in the world today we contemptuously mock others like the poor for not working so hard to liberate themselves from poverty and hunger. There is the tendency among us blessed with better living conditions to look down at others without considering how they never have the same opportunities in life like us in having good education or a caring family or worse, not having the right connections.

The tragic part of this “sneering” by the rulers on Jesus is when we look at others as if they are not humans and persons like us who play gods knowing everything even who should live and who should die like in the systematic approach by state rulers to come up with what St. John Paul II called as “culture of death” in solving poverty and crime with abortions and capital punishments.

Let us examine our attitudes at the way we look at those going through sufferings and pains like sickness, poverty and other social ills we do not go through. Let us stop the mockeries of blaming them for their plight because many times like Jesus Christ, they were betrayed by loved ones like us, by the society, or even by the institutions meant to uplift them.

Photo by author, 2017.

Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out, “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews” (Lk.23:36-38).

Sneering and jeering are both contemptuous mocking or insulting of others; they are both employed by those in vantage positions of power and control like the rulers of Israel. Going “higher” than the priests, the Roman soldiers sneered Jesus by rudely mocking him in loud voice. Sneering is a superfluous display of might, of superiority, of power. It is a kind of vanity that is why in the wilderness, the devil tempted Jesus to have all the kingdoms in the world for him to be famous and popular in exchange of worshipping him.

Sneering is something so prevalent these days in our use of the social media where we practically scream and insist on everyone to notice and recognize us, that we have “arrived” in having the latest and most expensive clothes, food, gadgets and everything. There is so much wild attitude among us like the soldiers at the cross when we use social media in too much talks, even of spewing foul languages and invectives as well as lies. Fake news and lies spread so fast and are sadly taken as true to the detriment of its victims because we have been so gullible for gossips and rumors too.

But the worst part of our imitation of the soldiers jeering at Jesus is when many of us are afflicted with this perversion called exhibitionism – from those salacious posts in TikTok to those “food porns” and too much display of everything about ourselves and of our loved ones. When do we get tired of all these selfies that have become so sickening that we do not realize of how we make known to everyone of our emptiness and lack of the more essential things like love and self-respect? Like the soldiers, the more we promote ourselves, the more we affirm the obvious that Jesus indeed is the King we needed most.

Photo by author, 2017.

Now one of the criminal hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us” (Lk.23:39).

Reviling is also kind of of mocking others like sneering and jeering; however, to revile is the lowest kind because it is to insult somebody you are with in a same situation. To revile is the lack of recognition of one’s faults and sins that he would rather insult others like this thief traditionally identified as Hestas. In reviling Jesus while also hanging on the cross, Hestas went down deeper his lowest point as a convicted criminal when he had the gall to insult Jesus!

And that is the most unkind evil of all when we become so numb, so dense and stupid to even mock others we are with us in a similar situation. It happens daily when even we are in deep shit, we still see ourselves cleaner and better than others! Just read or watch the news about our politicians.

In the wilderness, the final temptation of the devil to Jesus was to jump from the top of the temple because his angels would not let him fall and even touch ground; here at the cross, Hestas saw himself no different from Jesus, feeling so entitled to be liberated. Many times, this is the problem why evil continues among us: when people from below are promoted to higher positions, they forget their roots that they also forget to fix the problems of inequalities and injustices down below where they came from. The key is to always remember. Like Dimas, the good thief.

Photo by author, 2017.

The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk.23:40-4).

See how Luke inserted here the fourth verb “to rebuke” to break the series of sneering, jeering, and reviling of Jesus. Like Dimas, we have to strive in breaking the cycle and series of evil especially in this time.

To rebuke means to express sharp disapproval. Imagine Dimas contradicting Hestas and even the rulers and soldiers as well by defending Jesus Christ while hanging there on the cross.

How sad when we remain silent, when we just walk away from people sneering, jeering and reviling Jesus in those who suffer in life because we are afraid to make a stand for what is true and good, what is right and just. How ironic that another thief hanging on the cross was the only one who made a stand for Jesus on that Good Friday along with the Mary and the beloved disciple below.

Every time we make a stand for life and dignity of every person, when we stand for what is true, right and just, that is when we imitate the tribes of Israel in the first reading coming to David to pledge their loyalty and allegiance to him as their king.

When we submit ourselves to Jesus Christ as our only King to be obeyed and followed, that is when our celebration today becomes a daily reality.

That is when we also earn heaven right on the Cross of our sufferings like Dimas when we “remember” Jesus.

Normally in the whole Bible, it is God who remembers. People always forget. When we sin, we forget consciously and unconsciously God and all the good things he had done to us. We forget others too.

There on the Cross, see the reversals of roles Luke has presented so beautifully, from the devil replaced by the rulers, the soldiers and the other thief; and now Dimas sort of assuming God’s role who remembered everything and everyone, especially Jesus our Savior. Dimas remembered what St. Paul expressed to the Colossians that Jesus is Lord in whom, with whom and through whom everything was created and renewed because he is the Christ!

From Google.

The word “remember” literally means to make member or part again, that is, “re” + “member”.

When we remember somebody, we make that person present with us again.

In asking Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom, Dimas was assured that right now as he remembered everything including his sins, he already becomes a member, a part of his kingdom.

May we not forget and always remember Jesus and others always to experience Paradise even when we are on the cross. Amen. Have a blessed week ahead!

Silence: the sound of the end, the sound of new beginning

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 13 November 2022
Malachi 3:19-20 ><}}}}'> 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12 ><}}}}'> Luke 21:5-19
Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte in Atok, Benguet, 01 September 2019.

Silence is perhaps the most rare thing in this life that everybody is avoiding. See how that ubiquitous cell phone and ear phone/ear plugs on everyone, always speaking/texting to somebody or listening to something by one’s self.

Nobody appreciates the beautiful sound of silence anymore especially in the privacy of our homes with 24-hour television and unlimited streaming of movies. We are so at home with noise, from our talking gadgets to talking cars and talking elevators. Even jeepneys in my province speak Japanese when it stops!

But, no matter how hard we try to avoid silence, it imposes itself on us silently, telling us so many things for a more meaningful living like the need for us to slow down because the end is near.

In fact, it is right in silence when the end is already happening inasmuch as every beginning happens too!

Our readings today invite us to put some order in our lives because the end of everything is so real which happens not in the future but right in our present moment, in every here and now.

St. Paul in the second reading used the word “disorderly” twice to describe the kind of disorderly living some Thessalonians at that time were leading: “In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat. We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others” (2 Thess. 3:10-11).

So relevant to our time too!

Let us be wary of the devil’s greatest temptation to everyone, that there is still time – there is enough time to change, to be better, to say “I am sorry”, to say “I love you”, to be kind, to be loving and forgiving.

There is not enough time because when we waste time, it is us who pass by not time! We could not bring back time and most of all, everything ends. Period.

While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, “All that you see here — the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”

Luke 21:5-6
Photo by author, Jerusalem, May 2019.

Everything ends to begin anew

Jesus is still in the temple area of Jerusalem giving his final teachings to his disciples and the crowd. And what a great topic he had chosen before his life ends on Good Friday outside Jerusalem in order to rise again on Easter – the destruction of the Jerusalem temple!

For the Jews, Jerusalem is not just their capital city but in fact the center of the world, even of the universe because that is where God is – signified by the temple. Imagine Jesus telling us Catholics how the Vatican City with the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica being destroyed and reduced to rubbles like the wailing wall of Jerusalem? Of course, it will happen but we do not know when as we have seen with other great churches that have collapsed due to earthquakes and fires like the famed Notre Dame Cathedral in France last year. Very often, we find the end unthinkable especially when we think of great buildings and structures like the World Trade Center in New York that collapsed following a terrorist attack on 9/11.

On the other hand, we try as much as possible to preserve in time great moments in our lives that we wish would never end like our first kiss or the significant events of triumphs and achievements we have had.

Jesus assures us today that everything ends.

But, every ending is also a beginning.

While everything ends even his life and mission here on earth as we shall see next Sunday in Christ the King, Jesus tells us that endings are not bad at all especially when seen in his light and life.

Despite his own warnings of many upheavals like wars among nations, natural calamities and disasters, and most of all, of our persecutions even by our own family members and friends, Jesus assures us these would not immediately be the end. Yes, it means there would be longer time and periods of sufferings and pains from the trials that would come our way as individuals and as a nation, most of all as a community of believers but Jesus will give us all the grace and help we need in giving testimony to him as the Christ.

“You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

Luke 21:16-19
Photo by author, Jerusalem, May 2017.

Everything Jesus had foretold have come true, especially the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD, including those wars and calamities as well as all kinds of disasters that continue to happen to our days.

But, hey! Here we are all, still alive and well. Recall how in March 2020 when we were placed under quarantine, worldwide!

The world seemed to have stood still due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At first, we thought it would only be momentary like a few days or weeks but it dragged onto weeks and months! Until now, there is still the pandemic but a lot of great things have happened to us since 2020, for better and for worst.

That is the meaning of our brief first reading from the prophet Malachi reminding us that while the day of the Lord is the “day of judgment”, it is also the “day of salvation, day of redemption”.

And here lies the good news and challenge of this Sunday: while the end is not really an end in itself much to be feared as it is also a new beginning of a better life both here and in eternity, we have to strive harder each day in being more responsible disciples of the Lord, giving testimony to his loving service and mercy to everyone especially those in the margins like the poor and the sick.

I love the words of St. Paul in the second reading “instructing and urging us in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly” (2 Thess.3:12).

What a lovely reminder from the great Apostle who tirelessly – and silently – worked proclaiming the gospel and being an example to his people.

His call for us to work “quietly” in the Lord is an invitation to rediscover the beauty of silence in this noisy world of ours.

It is said that modern man is afraid of silence because he is afraid of confronting the truth of himself, that is he is finite, that everything will end. When we practice silence especially in prayer and in life generally, we come to terms with our very selves, with our life, and with death. That is when we start living authentically.

When we become silent, we learn to trust, we become faithful. No wonder, saints (along with monks and every religious including us priests ideally) are connoisseurs of silence.

Because, the truth is, God works silently in human history. Then and now, we have seen and experienced God working in silence in our lives and in the world, ensuring that history would end according to his Divine plan, not just according to fate or freak accident or human folly.

In the silence of our hearts, we are certain of these things, of God never ceasing in his love and care for us. Even without the prophets proclaiming, right within each of us, we can be sure that every day is a day of the Lord, a day of his judgement and a day of his salvation. Amen. Have a blessed week ahead!

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte in Atok, Benguet, 01 September 2019.