Finding God and our mission

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Memorial of St. Camillus de Lellis, Priest, 14 July 2021
Exodus 3:1-6, 9-12   <*(((>< + ><)))*>   Matthew 11:25-27
Photo by author, site of burning bush inside St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt, 2019.
Your words today, Lord,
speak of being surprised,
of how wonder can lead us
to you, dear God, the biggest
and most beautiful surprise of all
in this life.
There an angel of the Lord appeared
to him in a fire flaming out of a bush.
As he looked on, he was surprised to see
that the bush, though on fire was not consumed.
So Moses decided, "I must go over 
to look at this remarkable sight, 
and see why the bush is not burned."
(Exodus 3:2-3)
At that time Jesus exclaimed:
"I give praise to you, Father,
Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden
these things from the wise and the learned,
you have revealed them to the childlike.
Yes, Father, such has been
your gracious will."
(Matthew 11:25-26)
Like Jacob at Bethel 
upon waking up from a dream,
Moses was surprised and wondered
what was with the burning bush
only to find out it was you, Lord,
calling him, sending him to a mission.
The same is true with Jesus our Lord
who exclaimed after being surprised
with the faith of the little ones in him;
what a beautiful flow of things in
every sense of wonder and surprise
when first we find and meet you, then you send us.
We pray, dear God,
you continue to surprise us
in this time of pandemic and trials;
may we take off our sandals like Moses
to realize the whole earth is sacred
because of your divine presence.
Like St. Camillus de Lellis,
open our eyes to find and see you
in various forms of the "burning bush"
like pains and suffering, failures and losses,
or victories and gains where you are always present
calling and sending us to our specific mission in life.
Amen.

Life in the Spirit

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Week X in Ordinary Time, 08 June 2021
2 Corinthians 1:18-22   ><)))'> + <'(((><   Matthew 5:13-16
Photo by author, sunrise at the Lake of Galilee, the Holy Land, 2017.

Praise and thanksgiving to you, O God our loving Father, for this brand new day, so blessed and filled with many opportunities for us to change and grow in the Holy Spirit, to test our limits and see your wisdom in calling and sending us to make you known in the world.

How amazing that in every day you give us, you keep qualifying your call so that even if we are not qualified at all, you still call us because you believe in us.

Not that of ourselves
 we are qualified to take credit for anything
as coming from us; rather, our qualification
comes from God, who has indeed qualified us
as ministers of a new covenant, 
not of letter but of spirit; 
for the letter brings death,
but the Spirit gives life.
(2 Corinthians 3:5-6)

Forgive us, dear Father, when so many times we refuse to obey your laws especially when they go against our whims and caprices, claiming them to be archaic and irrelevant but at the same time, when we complain of the Church’s many changes and reforms that do not suit us, when we choose to revert to the pass than embrace the changing world.

Let us understand the gospel today where Jesus declares, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt.5:17).

Let us live in the Holy Spirit to find and rediscover daily the person of Jesus Christ so that we may be gentle and kind like him with one another than being stuck in the rigidity and stagnation of our conservatism that make us harsh and legalistic in our relationships.

Let us live in the Holy Spirit so we may be free and faithful to you always, bubbling with spontaneity and creativity that express your glory, O Lord.

We pray today for those who choose to be sad, who insist on bringing back the past without understanding the true meaning of growing and changing in Christ, of maturing in freedom and love to fully appreciate the beauty of your gift of life. Amen.

Photo by author, 2018.

Prayer to respond faithfully to calls by Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Friday, Memorial of St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr, 22 January 2021
Hebrews 8:6-13     >><)))*>  = + =  <*(((><<     Mark 3:13-19
Photo by author, Dominus Flevit Church, the Holy Land, 2017.

Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him. He appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and have authority to drive out demons. He appointed the Twelve: Simon, whom he named Peter; and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.

Mark 3:13-16, 19

How great indeed is your love for us, O Lord Jesus Christ! I just wonder how or what are your criteria in calling those you wanted to follow you? You do not seem to reject anyone at all! You want all because you love us all!

Thank you very much, dear Jesus! Despite our many flaws and weaknesses, you still want us, you still call us, and most of all, even send us despite our imperfections.

And amid your great love for us is your “poor memory”, of always forgetting or disregarding our sins against you. Like when you called Simon and named him Peter to lead the Twelve as attested in all accounts as being the first among the list of the Apostles; but, at the same time, always mentioned last in every list of your inner circle is Judas Iscariot who betrayed you. Why called him at all?

So often, I find that so strange with you who knows everything and reads our hearts; but, the more I pray over your calls and our response, the more I find it more strange on our part when despite your mediating a new and perfect covenant in God (first reading from Hebrews), we still choose to turn away from you in sin.

Forgive me, Lord Jesus, when I cannot resist the temptation to slide back to the past, to seek something already obsolete and imperfect simply because they are easier.

Teach me to have the inner strength like of St. Peter, your prince of the Apostles and of St. Vincent, your Martyr and Deacon whose feast we celebrate today. May we remain faithful and vigilant in our commitment in responding to your call, Lord Jesus so we may always be one in the Father. Amen.

Photo by author, St. Joseph Parish in Baras, Rizal (07 January 2021).

How I found my vocation in life through a simple prayer for faith

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 27 October 2020
Photo by Ms. Anne Ramos, March 2020.

Whenever people ask me about the story how I became a priest, I always begin by telling them that I am more of a “delayed vocation” than a “late vocation” because after graduating from high school seminary in 1982, I was refused admission to the major seminary to pursue the priesthood.

It was the first serious blow I have had in my life as I felt so deeply hurt because I thought God wanted me to become a priest only to be rejected. It was then I realized his saying “many are called but few are chosen” could be so bad as I had to leave the seminary.

Feeling rejected, I decided to go to the University of Sto. Tomas to pursue my “first love” – journalism to totally forget the priesthood specially when I got into the staff of the Varsitarian (1984-86). It was at the Varsitarian where I learned everything about newspaper journalism that on my senior year in college, I opted to have my training at GMA-7 News to try broadcast journalism.

And I was so amazed at how TV and radio can quickly report the news as it happened, specially whenever I would hear those alarms ringing from the telex machines of United Press International (UPI) and Philippine News Agency (PNA). (By the way, the first thing I learned in broadcast news was changing the newsprints for those telex machines.)

After graduation in college, I got hired as news writer for GMA radios DZBB-AM and 97.1 DWLS-FM. Two years later, I was assigned to cover the police beat at the graveyard shift for our television newscasts.

With former co-staffers and fellow alumni of UST’s The Varsitarian during our 2017 homecoming.

One morning before “going to bed”, I read a copy of the Columbia, the magazine of Knights of Columbus my father had insisted me joining while in college. At the last page was a vocation campaign written by a Carmelite priest who claimed something like “faith is a very important gift of God we must keep because if we lose it, we could also get lost in life”.

I cannot remember the priest’s explanations but those words got stuck in me that very morning when I just felt praying again after a very long time of being a nominal Catholic in college and GMA-7. The words simply flowed from my lips to become my only prayer in the next four years:


"Lord,
let me grow in faith 
in you."

Everything happened so fast for me at GMA-7 with all the breaks and opportunities given me which I never asked nor even dreamed of. I have never wanted to be “on camera” and have always preferred working behind the scenes (even now as a priest).

As I look back and count my blessings, I always consider it as a grace, a gift from God when Ms. Jessica Soho recommended me to take her place covering the military/defense beat when she was promoted to hosting her own morning show and doing special reports that have established her now as the best in the field.

Despite the recognition that came along with a career in broadcast news, deep inside me I started feeling empty as early as 1988. Most strange of all, I felt God calling me back to the priesthood that I vehemently dismissed, knowing personally how sinful and evil I have been!

When the emptiness and priestly call persisted, I slowly returned to our parish thinking that maybe, I was just missing my old ways of going to Mass and singing with the choir. But, the more I thirsted and yearned for God!

It was so funny and even ridiculous for me at that time seeing myself praying more often, choosing to be alone inside the church like when we were in the minor seminary. I even did not know if I were praying at all except that I felt complete in silence until one day, I found myself begging God:


"Lord, 
let me know
my vocation 
in life."

I thought of leaving broadcast journalism in 1989 to teach English language to Vietnamese refugees in Morong, Bataan after reading its ads in the Manila Bulletin. It seemed to me that was what I was searching for, something I can enjoy with a deeper purpose and meaning like serving others.

For several weeks I would read the ads in the newspaper until my interest died down as I got into a lot of action doing police stories in the dead of the night. It was also the time when I got so busy covering the 1989 December coup attempt and the destructive Luzon earthquake of July 1990.

Though I felt good reporting the news from the fields, one thing I noticed every time I went home was how I still felt empty inside when alone. Life had no meaning that I tried seeking it in bottles of beer, then in shots of brandy and whiskey until I thought I have found it in glasses of Tanqueray gin tonic. Mr. Marlboro in blue seal bought along Timog Ave. became my constant companion too.

Finally I sought spiritual direction from some priests I have known in the seminary like our former rector Fr. Memeng Salonga and our Sunday Mass presider in our barrio chapel, Fr. Boie Agustin. They have greatly helped me in discerning my vocation that I decided to take the entrance exams to the seminary in February 1991.

With my former colleagues at GMA-7 News as we rest on the steps near the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem during our Holy Land pilgrimage in 2017; from top is Ms. Marissa Flores, SVP of GMA-News with her nurse, Ms. Jessica Soho of “State of the Nation” and KMJS, and Ms. Kelly Vergel de Dios, the former VP for Personnel of GMA News.

It was the last exam date for the coming academic year and frankly, I was still hesitant to give my vocation a second try because I felt unworthy of the call and most of all, afraid of failing again like in high school seminary.

For a while I felt a strong basis for my doubts with my vocation: just when I was about to take the entrance exam, our boss, Ms. Tina Monzon-Palma asked me to cancel my day off that Saturday to search for the lone survivor of the 1911 Taal eruption in Talisay town when that “small but terrible” volcano showed signs of activity.

In my mind, God must be using Ms. Palma to inform me I got it all wrong, that he wasn’t calling me at all to the priesthood that is why I was given a job that Saturday, the last exam date to the seminary.

Of course I was so glad missing the entrance exam with a valid reason that I immediately went back to “happy hours” after coverages until late March when I had a severe attack of gout one weekend. It was so painful that I could not go to work the following Monday and Tuesday.

While in total bed rest for my gout, I felt my vocation coming back again, more persistent than before that I had the stupid idea of asking God for one last sign that would clearly convince me he wanted me to become a priest.

And God heard my prayer!

By Thursday I was back to work covering the newly-assigned AFP Chief Gen. Lisandro Abadia inspecting the troops in Abra and Kalinga. Everything went well until we flew to Laoag City for the final leg of Gen. Abadia’s troop inspection when one of our plane’s tires blew on landing!

Boom! Everything was so fast as I remembered the loud explosion of the tire on my side of the plane, followed by thick smoke seen from my window and tilting of plane as I ducked my head down on my lap, repeatedly praying in silence, over and over again, “Yes, Lord! Magpapari na po ako!”

It was the big news that evening: a tire of the plane with the new AFP Chief blew upon landing at Laoag City airport.

And the bigger news among newsmen was me —- everybody was teasing I was the next Jessica Soho who used to figure out in accidents while covering soldiers and military officials.

More teasings and laughters welcomed us when we got back to Manila but all throughout our trip until I got home that night, I felt deep inside like the prophet Jonas so relieved and convinced of God’s call after being spitted out from the belly of a giant whale like that PAF’s Fokker plane. From that day also, I have never dared to ask God for signs anymore.


Faith is a relationship with God;
we pray with faith not to obtain favors 
but to grow deeper 
in love and unity
in Him. 
 

It was not very easy for me when I finally returned to the seminary in 1991 until our ordination to the priesthood in 1998. There were more trials and hardships, more tests that required from me more prayers, more faith…. to which I got in return from God more love, more mercy, more calls.

From that simple prayer to grow in faith, God has blessed me more abundantly not materially but spiritually and emotionally, of being fulfilled in him. Since becoming a priest in 1998, I have stopped asking God for any specific things in prayers. All I ask him is to give me with more firm faith, fervent hope and unceasing charity and love so that in every here and now, I may say yes to his calls.

My first months in the seminary in 1991.

In his book reflecting his 50 years of being a priest published in 1999, St. John Paul II described the priesthood as both a gift and a mystery. Indeed, every vocation from God – priesthood, religious life, married life, and single-blessedness – is always a gift and a mystery, something so personal and so deep between me and God, or you and God.

This I realized more when public Masses were suspended during the lockdown in March. It was in that being alone and sad when I existentially experienced the Mass as truly a union, an intimacy of the priest with the Eternal Priest, Jesus Christ. With or without the people.


Let me close this with another prayer I have made during our annual retreat in the seminary in 1994 facilitated by a Cenacle sister. It is one of my core prayers next to that about growing in faith:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you have given me with so much
and I have given you with so little;
teach me to give more of myself,
and most of all, 
more of your love,
more of your kindness,
more of your mercy and forgiveness
and most of all,
more of YOU to others.
Amen.

Enjoy and grow in your faith journey in the Lord until you find your vocation in life in him!

Photo by author, 22 September 2020.

Sitting beside at the feet of Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Memorial of St. Bruno, Priest and Founder of Carthusians, 06 October 2020
Galatians 1:13-24     >><)))*>   |+|   <*(((><<     Luke 10:38-42
Photo by author, antique door of a resthouse in Silang, Cavite, 22 September 2020.

What a wonderful story from St. Paul today of his conversion, Lord Jesus Christ! How lovely to read his story without any airs or pride but full of humility, focused on the mystery of your call for him to be your Apostle to the Gentiles.

Clearly, the fruit of long years of prayers, of sitting beside you at your feet.

Brothers and sisters: You heard of my former way of life Judaism, how I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it… And I was unknown personally to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only kept hearing that “the one who once was persecuting us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” So they glorified God because of me.

Galatians 1:13, 22-24

Lord Jesus, keep me simple and humble like St. Paul in telling my story of your call that is always both a mystery and a gift, something so special known only to you. Purify me and my story of vocation in spending silent moments at your feet contemplating, meditating on your words.

Sometimes, some people complain how their lives are not as colorful as somebody else’s life like St. Paul with a lot of dramatic twists and turns.

We do not need those things, Lord. You call each of us in the most unique and personal way. Every encounter with you Jesus is always personal, always special.

What we really need is a listening heart: no matter how colorful and dramatic our lives may be but if we do not spend time with you listening and praying like Mary in the gospel, everything will always be bland and dry.

Let us reflect more, to treasure every encounter with you by being silent and still, less distracted with the ways of the world that make us forget you to turn our very selves as the center of attention even unconsciously demanding you to focus on us like Martha!

Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him (Jesus) and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Luke 10:40-42

Teach us to follow the examples of St. Paul and Mary, of St. Bruno whose memorial we celebrate today so we may we strive “to seek God assiduously, to find God promptly, and to possess God fully.” After all, as his Carthusian monks motto profess, “while the world changes, the cross stands firm.”

Yes, dear Jesus, nothing is most worthy in this life than to be always at your side, doing your work, speaking your words, living your life. Amen.

The company Jesus kept

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, 21 September 2020
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13   >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<   Matthew 9:9-13
Photo by author, Lake of Galilee at the side of Capernaum where Jesus called Matthew the tax collector, May 2019.

Glory and praise to you, O God our loving Father! Your Son Jesus Christ never fails to surprise us with your wondrous plans for us, with your ways of calling us, and of coming to us!

As we celebrate today on this first working day of the week the feast of St. Matthew, you fill us with hope and inspiration to work harder and pray hardest in life to find fulfillment in you our God.

Thank you for being so kind to come and call us like St. Matthew, Lord Jesus. It was a very extraordinary call not because we are so special but actually unimportant with Matthew also known as Levi belonged to the most despised group of people at that time in Israel, the tax collectors who were always mentioned along with sinners and prostitutes. And so were Matthews’s contemporaries at Capernaum, the brothers Simon and Andrew, James and John who were all fishermen, the most ordinary folks doing the most ordinary jobs of that time.

We were all just like them – nothing special and unimportant! If not for your call, we would be nobody at all even in our family circles.

What a joy that even if some people reject us for various reasons, you O Lord never exclude anyone of us from your friendship. Most of all, you even defend us.

While he was at table in his (Matthew’s) house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Matthew 9:10-13

Give us the readiness and firmness of St. Matthew in leaving everything behind to follow you, Lord.

Like St. Matthew who “got up (rose in some translations) and followed you” (Mt.9:9) right after you have called him, help us realize that following you requires our detachment from our sinful situations, from things and people who prevent us from totally loving you and serving you.

Help us Lord to arise from our dark, sinful past so we can radiate your light in our version of your gospel like St. Matthew. Amen.

“The Calling of St. Matthew”, painting by Caravaggio (1599-1600) said to be one of the favorite pieces of art Pope Francis used to frequent while still a student in Rome. Photo from Wikipedia.org.

It is always the Caller, not the call

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Feast of St. Matthias, Apostle, 14 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 1:15-17, 20-26 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> John 15:9-17

Photo by author, Mirador, Baguio City, 2019.

Lord Jesus Christ, as we celebrate today the feast of St. Matthias your Apostle chosen to replace your betrayer Judas Iscariot, you remind us anew that in every call in life, it is you -the Caller – who matters most not the mission at all.

It does not really matter if we play at the starting line-up or the second team or substitute like St. Matthias who was originally one of your 72 disciples who have witnessed your works and preaching until your Resurrection and Ascension.

The only thing is he was never a part of those closest to you as one of the Twelve.

But, nothing is “second-rate” when we see you Jesus in every task, every mission given to us.

From Google.

Like St. Matthias, may we always be counted as one of your faithful followers ready to counter the evils by some of our traitorous and unworthy members of the Church like Judas Iscariot with our life of witnessing for you our Caller.

Thank you for the gift of being called by you as a friend.

May we always have the courage to remain faithful to you, Jesus, so we may accomplish our call. Amen.

The joy of Lent

40 Shades of Lent, Saturday after Ash Wednesday, 29 February 2020

Isaiah 58:9-14 +++ 0 +++ Luke 5:27-32

“The Calling of St. Matthew” by Caravaggio. From Google.

Dearest Jesus: I have been imagining in prayer of myself being Levi the tax collector sitting at his post.

It must be so lonely being like him, rich but deep inside longing for something deeper and meaningful than money and wealth.  He had been thinking of making a “lifestyle shift” but he felt hopeless with nobody to help him.

Like in the first reading, your invitation Lord through the Prophet Isaiah seem to be too good to be true that anyone like Levi – or me – could make a big difference in life by “giving food to someone hungrier, abandoning my own comfort to care for someone afflicted, substituting a kind word for a malicious gossip, and worshipping you than pursuing my own interests” (Is.58:10,13).

I felt like Levi – there in his little customs post – that is impossible because everything is hopeless and there is no chance to change.  Everything is doomed, especially for me, a sinner, Lord.

Then, suddenly you came, saying, “Follow me” (Lk.5:27).

How I love looking back, Lord, to those dark days when you suddenly came calling me to follow you!

It was so simple. 

Like Levi, I just stood and followed you and everything changed in my life! 

That was so nice of you, Lord Jesus, to take such a bold step of coming to Levi’s post to call him and, me.  It was – and still is – a gamble on your part to call us sinners to follow you. And since then, you have never stopped calling us sinners Lord Jesus to follow you, even on our darkest and lowest days and hours, Lord, when everything seemed to be so doomed.

As we prepare for the first Sunday of Lent, remind me, O Lord, that this holy season is not all that drab and dry.  After all, Lent originally means “springtime”, the coming joy of Easter which happens every time we turn our hearts to you like Levi.  Amen.

From Google.

In life and in death, one commission

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

Thursday, Memorial of St. Pedro Bautista and companion priest-martyrs, Week 4, Year 2, 06 February 2020

1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-12 ><)))*> 0 <*(((>< Mark 6:7-13

Our merciful God and Father, on this memorial of your great priest-missionaries and martyrs – St. Pedro Bautista, St. Paul Miki and companions who have also worked in the Philippines – we pray today in a very special way for our dearly beloved mentor and brother priest, the Rev. Fr. Danny Bermudo.

We are not complaining, Lord, but year 2020 is a very tough year for many of us, right into January that continues to this month of February with many deaths and sickness, problems and trials not only in our own circles of family and friends but also in our country and the whole world in general.

We trust in you, O God, and can clearly see now in your readings especially that essentially, in life and in death, we are commissioned only to one thing — be faithful to you and your instructions, Lord.

While nearing his death, King David perfectly said it to his son and heir to the throne, Solomon:

“I am going the way of all flesh. Take courage and be a man. Keep the mandate of the Lord, your God, following his ways and observing his statutes, commands, ordinances, and decrees as they are written in the law of Moses, that you may succeed in whatever you do, wherever you turn…”

1 Kings 2:2-3

In a similar manner, at the start of his ministry, Jesus said the same thing while sending the Twelve two by two with authority over unclean spirits: leave everything behind in life and solely be focused on you, Lord, so we may fulfill your work and mission.

Photo by author, 2019.

Thank you, O God, for the gift of Fr. Danny who taught us in his classes and most especially in his personal way of being our seminary formator to always be faithful to you and your laws; to always be good and holy like you, our Heavenly Father.

In words and in deeds, in life and in death, Fr. Danny lived out his life totally for you, Lord, dying after fulfilling his mission and ministry of celebrating the Eucharist.

Bless Fr. Danny, O Lord, and may we carry on his lessons until our death like him. Amen.

A poem after reviewing my life

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 04 February 2020

Photo by author, St. Paul Spirituality Center, Mt. Pico, La Trinidad, Benguet, 04 February 2020
My life may be rife
with so many strifes
causing me to struggle, 
be pained leading into fruition
making life golden.
When I reviewed my life and see 
the past so vast and also fast,
then I realize my life 
is not all mine but His, Divine.
Here in my life
I can see within
where it is going; 
calming, assuring and so promising
the Divine leading me to final joining 
for my life is really in HIM.
Amen.
Photo by author, St. Paul Spirituality Center, Mt. Pico, La Trinidad, Benguet, 04 February 2020