Welcoming the New Year with Mary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 2:16-17

Mary went in haste for the Lord

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

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

Haste is not totally that bad at all.

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

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

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

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

From forwarded cartoon at Facebook, December 2019.

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

Luke 2:18-19

Mary meditating in silence

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by author, 24 December 2019.

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

Luke 2:21

The faith of Mary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

The vessels of God’s grace to us

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 08 December 2021
Genesis 3:9-15, 20 ><}}}*> Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12 ><}}}*> Luke 1:26-38
Photo by Rev. Fr. Gerry Pascual at Santuario di Greccio, Rieti, Italy in 2019.
Praise and glory to you,
O God our loving Father
in giving us a Mother in Mary
who gave birth to your Son Jesus
in order to save us from our sins!
Indeed, nothing is impossible 
with you, dear God as you willed
Mary to be conceived immaculately
free from any sin to be pure and
clean to receive Jesus in her womb.
Because of that, she is rightly
called as our "advocate of grace"
and "model of holiness" for through
her, your life and blessings overflowed
upon us in Christ's coming.
And so, we pray to you, Father
in the name of Jesus our Lord
for all the people who have been
channels of your grace to us
like Mary:  our beloved mothers and
fathers who brought us forth into this
world and nurtured us in your love,
still patiently bearing all of life's
beatings and sufferings for our own
good and comfort; we pray for our
siblings, especially our elder brothers
and sisters who have faithfully acted as
our parents too after they were gone
who ensured our safety and well-being,
our sources of joy when life is rough;
we pray for our friends who have remained
faithful by our side through thick and 
thin, still believing in us despite our sins
and failures; we pray for our employers
and superiors and colleagues at work
who give us the chance to earn our
living with dignity and honor so we can 
keep ourselves and loved ones warm and
secured specially in this time of the pandemic.
Most of all, we pray for your Holy Spirit,
dear Father, to always enlighten our
minds and our hearts so that like Mary
we may always be open to Christ's
coming not only to share him with 
others but most of all like Mary his Mother,
we too may be conformed in him
our Savior as you have willed since
the beginning.  Amen.

Mary, advocate of grace and model of holiness

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 08 December 2021
Genesis 3:9-15, 20 ><}}}*> Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12 ><}}}*> Luke 1:26-38
Photo by Rev. Fr. Gerry Pascual at Palazzo Borromeo, Isola Bella, Stresa, Italia, 2019.

Recently I saw on a Facebook post the photo of American model Kendall Jenner in a swimsuit showing what for many is the “perfect body” in a woman. The photo had reportedly gone viral last year.

What caught my attention was the other photo posted opposite Jenner: that of 19-year-old Alyssa Carson who became the youngest female in history to pass all NASA aerospace tests to train as astronaut for future travel to Mars! The caption said it so well, lamenting the fact how the world gives so much attention to “fashion models” with many going insane imitating their bodies forgetting the more essential like inner beauty and intelligence.

More sad is how we have fixed our human understanding and analogies of a “model” as someone who poses and remains still to be painted or photographed for glossy magazines and giant billboards that people are willing to buy or pay for just to view and let their senses feast on.

It may sound funny but those two photos accompanied me while praying and preparing for our celebration today of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Sorry, I am not going to show you the link to those photos but wha I want to share with you are the two beautiful expressions depicting Mary as “advocate of grace” and “model of holiness” found in the Preface of today’s Mass (that is the prayer before the Holy, Holy leading to the consecration): “She, the most pure Virgin, was to bring forth a Son, the innocent lamb who would wipe away our offenses; you placed her above all others to be for your people an advocate of grace and a model of holiness.”

Photo by Fr. Gerry Pascual at Einsiedeln Abbey, Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 2019.

So often with Marian feasts, many people complain and find it hard to relate with the Blessed Virgin because they find them as celebrations of the privileges of Mary who was so blessed and unique, thinking she’s almost a god, not human anymore whom we cannot imitate and emulate.

That is totally untrue and baseless!

Of course, only she has the distinction of being immaculately conceived, one never stained by sin but, aside from that, Mary is like all of us, so human; and we too can be like her, full of grace and holy!

Brothers and sisters: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will.

Ephesians 1:3-5

Very clear in this reflection by St. Paul in our second reading that our truest destiny is to be holy and without blemish – that is, immaculate. It is the plan of God since the beginning that we all become his people until sin came and destroyed momentarily that divine plan as we have heard in the first reading.

With the coming of Jesus through his sacrifice on the Cross, we were redeemed from sin to become God’s holy people which the same Preface mentions Mary as the “beginning of the Church”. The same prayer reiterates to us our universal calling from God which is to be holy and blameless before God through Jesus Christ. It is very doable and attainable “for nothing is impossible for God” as the Archangel Gabriel told Mary during the Annunciation (Lk.1:37). And Mary is our proof to that!

Photo by Rev. Fr. Gerry Pascual at Santuario di Greccio, Rieti, Italy in 2019.

While it is very true that nothing is impossible for God, today’s celebration of the Immaculate Conception reminds of how God “needs” us to cooperate and participate in his beautiful plans for us like Mary to be his instrument or seedbed for his Divine Word to receive and grow and bloom.

That is the meaning of Mary as “advocate of grace” who became the vessel in the coming of Jesus Christ. See how St. Luke was very clear in narrating Mary’s “supporting” role and place in the plan of God: she remains a human being – not God – like us except she was full of grace, that is, immaculately conceived.

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end… 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.”

Luke 1:31-33, 35

The Church Fathers used to call Mary as the “aquaeductus ecclesiae” or neck of the Church connecting Jesus the caput or head and us the corpus or body. Mary as an advocate of grace is that vessel of all blessings we now have in Jesus Christ because of her obedience and participation in that plan of God of sending Jesus.

Keep in mind that as advocate of grace, Mary brings us all to Jesus as the one Mediator, not away from him. True devotees of Mary bring others to Jesus not away from him for he alone is the Mediator. A true and authentic devotion to Mary always result in deeper knowledge and intimacy with Jesus and his gospel. Notice this in her apparitions especially at Fatima in 1911 where her messages call us to get closer to Jesus, not her.

Mary continues as our advocate of grace telling us the very same words she had told the servers at Cana to “do whatever he tells you” (Jn.2:5).

Do we do the same? Or, mislead others into putting Mary at par or even above Jesus her Son and Lord? In this time of pandemic, are we like Mary as an advocate of grace, a vessel and instrument of blessings to others or do we grab every credit of “charity” and “kindness”, grandstanding for more media mileage of “likes” and “followers” to be viral and trending?

Photo by Fr. Gerry Pascual at the Cathedral of Barcelona, Spain in 2019.

From her being an “advocate of grace”, Mary thus becomes our “model of holiness” too as she reminds us of God’s original plan for us, created in his image and likeness destroyed by sin with the fall of Adam and Eve. See how God immediately promised salvation through the woman fulfilled in Mary as he reprimanded the serpent in tempting Eve:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike you at your head, while you strike at his heel.”

Genesis 3:15

Because of her being the advocate of grace of God by giving birth to Jesus, Mary stands before us as the perfect reminder of Christ’s work of purification and recovery of the image of God in us. Described as the “perfect disciple” and “doer of the Word”, Mary had shown us in her very life which continues to this day in her intercessions and apparitions how discipleship is a life-long process and commitment of holiness. From giving birth to Jesus to his dying on the Cross until his burial, Mary had always been with Jesus that on Easter, it was to her that the Risen Lord first appeared because she was the first to believe totally in him.

At the Pentecost, Mary was with the Apostles awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit that became the coming out party of the Church. In her life, Mary is the model of holiness because she keeps on working with us and in us, guiding us in following Jesus our Lord and Master so that we might be “conformed to his image” (Rom. 8:29).

Photo by author, Christmas 2020.

Holiness is not being sinless but being filled with God who is all-holy, being like Jesus Christ. Mary showed us the way to holiness is being humble before God, seeing herself as the “handmaid” or servant of the Lord.

If there is one thing the world needs now so badly in this time of the pandemic, it is holiness. Before the pandemic came, mankind was so filled with self, so arrogant and proud acting like god, manipulating everything.

How ironic that a microscopic virus with the simplest signs similar to the common colds made the world stood still for some time, reminding us that there is a God all-powerful who is in control of everything.

Through Mary, may this Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception lead us back to God to recover in us his image and likeness, cleansed and purified of our blemishes and wrinkles of sin by having an enlightened devotion to her, the servant of the Lord par excellence. Amen.

A blessed day to everyone!

Losing to win, lesson of Our Lady of the Rosary

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, 07 October 2021
Acts 1:12-14   ><}}}*> + ><}}}*> + ><}}}*>   Luke 1:26-28
Photo from canningliturgicalarts.com.

This feast of the Holy Rosary has its origin in the victory of Christian forces against the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Lepanto Bay in 1571 that decisively stopped the Moslems from occupying Europe.  The first Dominican Pope, St. Pius V attributed that victory to the recitation of the Holy Rosary.  Popularity and devotion to the Rosary eventually grew and spread when subsequent other victories in various parts of the world, including the Philippines’ La Naval were attributed to our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. 

In our gospel today, we find the key behind every victory attributed to the praying of the Holy Rosary:  it is when we “lose” that we actually “win”!  After explaining to her the plan of God, Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  Then the angel departed her (Lk.1:38).  In a sense, Mary was a loser— she “lost” herself to God and eventually became an instrument for our victory in the salvation through her Son Jesus Christ.  The Lord Himself was crucified, another “loser” in a sense but truly a victor because in dying on the cross, Jesus Christ resurrected on the third day and won over death and sin.

Sometimes it can happen we feel at a loss, when we have lost in some battles in life when later on, we find out we have actually won

Some may have been bullied while in school. Or, sometimes we fail an exam or flunk a semester but eventually we graduated, now have a career, a wonderful family.

In business, sometimes investors and entrepreneurs may go bankrupt before hitting gold.

That’s how it is with life. Win or lose, in the end, it is always a win. Especially when we in God.

When we choose to be like Mary, to submit ourselves to the will and plans of God, we must be ready to endure so many sufferings and hardships in life that sometimes we feel like we are at the losing end.  When we try to be patient, when we try to understand, when we forgive, when we bear all the pains because we love, that is when we win as we lose ourselves and begins to be filled with Christ Jesus like Mary in the gospel. 

True, a lot often we lose so many battles when we try to stand for what is true and good but in the end, we actually win the war against evil.  That is the greatest victory Christ had gifted us, first His Mother Mary:  salvation.  Hence, we find in Marian prayers and hymns the requests for the Blessed Mother’s prayer for us sinners to be saved from hell and be brought to her Son Jesus Christ in eternity.  That’s the final victory we all hope for in praying and living out the Holy Rosary with Mary. 

But first, lose yourself to Jesus.  

On the path of holiness with Mary

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, 07 October 2021
Malachi 3:13-20   <*(((><  +  ><)))*>   Luke 11:5-13
Photo by author, December 2020.
Glory and thanksgiving
to you God our loving Father
in fulfilling to us your promise
to the Prophet Malachi in
sending us Jesus Christ, our Light
of healing and wholeness born 
by the Blessed Virgin Mary.

But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.

Malachi 3:20
But, still, times and people have
not truly changed that much since the time
of Malachi as many of us are easily tempted
to seek the easier way to the good life
through evil and sins; many of us choose
to simply pay lip service to calls of faith,
going through external religious observances,
and worst of all, still refuse to pray and 
reach out to be one with you, O God. 
Teach us to rediscover prayer through 
the beauty and efficacy of the Holy Rosary 
of the Blessed Virgin Mary that has guided
nations and history for almost 2000 years,
enabling us to contemplate the face of Jesus
your Son through Mary his Mother.

Yes, it is a Marian prayer method but
strongly Christ-centered because it is
Mary who truly knows Jesus so well
that through her Holy Rosary, we are able
to enter into the Lord's very life expressed
in its Mysteries that hopefully help us to
become like him through Mary. 
Most of all, open our eyes
to the wonder and joy of praying,
of coming to you, loving Father,
that is pure grace from the Holy Spirit
who enables us to call you in
Jesus Christ your Son; in the Rosary,
"we plead to you with Mary, the 
sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, interceding
for us before you Father who filled her
with grace and before the Son born
of her womb, praying with us and
for us" (St. John Paul II, Rosarium 
Virginis Maria, #16). 

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Luke 11:9-13
On this day of remembering
the intercession of our Lady of the
Holy Rosary at the Battle of Lepanto Bay,
we praise and thank you Father
for this unique grace of praying
to be like Jesus Christ your Son
victorious over sin and evil at his Cross
where he gave us his Mother Mary
to be our teacher in following and
imitating him our Lord and Master.
Amen.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Mary, our model in time of sorrows

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, 15 September 2021
Hebrews 5:7-9   ><)))*> + <*(((>< + ><)))*> + <*(((><   John 19:25-27
“Mater Dolorosa” also known as “Blue Madonna” (1616) by Carlo Dolci. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Lest we forget
a day after the Feast of 
the Exaltation of the Cross,
you remind us today O Lord
Jesus Christ of your beautiful 
gift to us, your own Sorrowful Mother
not only to comfort us in times of
trials and sufferings but also as our
model in discipleship when things
become harsh and unbearable 
like during this pandemic. 

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Hebrews 5:8-9
The first to obey you,
dear Jesus from the very start
has always been Mary your Mother;
no wonder as your beloved disciple
had told us unlike the other evangelists,
your Mother and her sister stood by
your cross that Good Friday,
remaining there with you until
your last breath, until the soldier
pierced your side from which flowed
blood and water.
Bless us with the same courage
of your Mother, dear Jesus to remain
faithful to you, to keep on hoping and 
believing even in the face of so many deaths
these days; bless us with the same dignity
and serenity of Mary in the face of so much
agonies especially those mothers who
have lost sons and daughters 
in this pandemic.
Most of all,
it was there at the foot of the cross
when you called again your Mother
as "Woman"
like at the wedding feast at Cana
and entrusted her to your beloved disciple
to make her the image
of the "New Israel", the Church,
your Body here on earth.
Bless us with the courage and
humility, the silence and hiddenness
of Mary to "give birth" to new members
of your Church now under attacks
from within by her members
led by unfaithful priests;
and from the outside world
that has turned away from you,
refusing to accept your truths
in this age of individualism
and relativism.
Our Lady of Sorrows,
pray for us to comfort the many
among us suffering and crying
in silence with so many pains
 especially from their own families
and people supposed to love
and care for them.
Amen.
Photo by the late Mr. Noli Yamsuan, Pieta at the Manila Cathedral, 2012.

Being small, and blessed

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 08 September 2021
Micah 5:1-4     ><]]]]*> + ><]]]]*> + ><]]]]*>     Matthew 1:18-23
“The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, a 1305 painting by Renaissance artist Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. The two babies are Mary: below is Mary upon birth wrapped in swaddling cloth and washed by attendants and then above being handed to St. Anne her mother. Photo from en.wikipedia.org.

We rarely celebrate birthdays in our liturgy, except for the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ on December 25 and of his precursor John the Baptist on June 24. Feasts of the saints are often based on the date of their death or when their remains were transferred for proper burial.

Today is different: it is the birth of the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary. And so we celebrate!

Nine months after her Immaculate Conception celebrated as a Solemnity on December 8, we now have the Feast of her Nativity which is lower in status or ranking of celebrations. Nonetheless, aside from Jesus and John the Baptist, her birth is still celebrated as it is the completion of her Immaculate Conception by St. Anne.

But in this time of the pandemic when everyone’s birthday celebration is kept at the simplest level unless you are a police general or a corrupt government official or a callous lawmaker, it is good to reflect anew on the significance of a birthday. Thanks a lot to Facebook in making every birthday so special, alerting everyone of someone’s birth every day.

Photo by author, December 2018.

"Every birthday is a small Christmas 
because with the birth of every person 
comes Jesus Christ."

In his 1995 Encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), the great St. John Paul II beautifully expressed that “Every birthday is a small Christmas because with the birth of every person comes Jesus Christ.”

What makes that so true with every birthday beginning with the Blessed Virgin Mary is God’s great mystery of becoming small, of being a little one. In the birth of his Son Jesus Christ, God revealed to us that true greatness is in becoming small, in being silent. Even insignificant.

This we find right in the place of birth of the Christ prophesied in the Old Testament.

“You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.”

Micah 5:1

And if we go further, we find this true greatness of God in being small found also in the Mother of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary who came from the obscure town of Nazareth, the only place in the New Testament never mentioned in the Old Testament. Recall how the Apostle Bartholomew (Nathanael) belittled the Lord’s hometown after being told by Philip that they have found the Messiah from Nazareth, saying, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn.1:46).

Nazareth was totally unknown.

And so was Mary!

That is why it is so disappointing and sad when many Catholics unfortunately led by some priests have the misimpression of portraying Mary as a “beauty queen” with flawless skin and Western features when she is clearly Middle Eastern woman. Worst of all is the pomp and pageantries we have in the recent fads of processions and coronations.

Photo by author, La Niña Maria at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 07 September 2021.

How sad we have missed how the Blessed Virgin Mary as the model disciple of Jesus was the first to embody his teaching of being small like little children with her simplicity and humility so very well expressed in her 20th century apparitions in Fatima, Portugal and Banneux, Belgium.

Thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic that has given us so much time and opportunities to “reboot” or “reset” our priorities in every aspect of our lives, including in our religious devotions and faith itself.

With a total stop to those Marian “extravaganzas” that have been going out of control in recent years, the pandemic is now teaching us in this Feast of the Nativity of Mary of the need for us to rediscover the values of being small and simple, silent and hidden.

Enough with our imeldific celebrations even in our religious gatherings that have sometimes become egregious display of wealth and power.

Being simple and small like Mary, both as a child and as an adult, enable us to see again the value of life and of every person.


The more simple and true 
we are like Mary and Joseph, 
the more Jesus is seen 
and experienced in us!  

Aside from the lack of any account on the birth of Mary, we heard proclaimed today the birth of Jesus to teach us that truth expressed by St. John Paul II that in every person comes Jesus Christ. The more simple and true we are like Mary and Joseph, the more Jesus is seen and experienced in us!

That is why when we greet somebody a “happy birthday”, what we really mean telling him/her is “I love you, I thank you for making me who I am today.” Through one’s simplicity and littleness in Christ, we are transformed into better persons because we are able to have glimpse of God’s love and kindness.

Photo by author, December 2020.

The true joy of celebrating a birthday is not found in the externalities of gifts and parties and guests with all the fun that come along. In this time of the pandemic as we learn to celebrate simpler birthdays, we are reminded of life’s beginning and direction that is eternal life.

And how do we get there? Through death or dying – the one reality in life Jesus has taught us in his Cross which we have avoided that has suddenly become so common these days of the pandemic.

Like in the birth of Jesus Christ, we are reminded by every birthday that life is precious because it is so fragile – any infant and every person can be easily hurt and harmed, be sick and eventually die.

Like Mary and Joseph, the little Child born in Bethlehem asks us, even begs us to take care of him found in everyone among us. Let us be more loving and kind, understanding and caring, even merciful and forgiving with one another not only in this time of the pandemic.

Such is the wisdom of God in making life small and fragile so that we may care and value it because there lies also its greatness. The best birthday greeting we can express to the Blessed Mother Mary today is to start being small and simple like her to share Jesus with everyone. Amen.