From shadow to image

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, Bishop & Doctor of the Church, 24 January 2023
Hebrews 10:1-10   ><]]]]'> + <'[[[[><  -  ><]]]]'> + <'[[[[><   Mark 3:31-35
God our loving Father,
help us grow from being 
your shadows into your
image and icon among peoples;
thank you for sending us
your Son Jesus Christ who came
to do your will of offering his
very self as a sacrifice for the
forgiveness of our sins
so that in the process,
we too may learn to
offer ourselves to you, 
surrender ourselves wholly to
you like Jesus to become your mirror.

Brothers and sisters: Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of them, it can never make perfect those those who come to worship by the same sacrifices that they offer continually each year. Then he (Jesus) says, Behold, I come to do your will. He takes away the first to establish the second. By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:1, 9-10
There are times, dear Jesus,
that I listen and speak of your words, 
very much "inside" with you
in the church, 
in our community,
among our family and friends;
but sadly, Lord, I am so far
from doing the will of the Father
after listening and preaching
your words.
Teach me to be like your Mother,
Mary:  though she was "outside"
that house where you were staying
teaching the people gathered around you,
she was very much "inside",
in you in her total identification with you
and your mission until the end.
Enable me, Jesus,
like St. Francis de Sales
who used to have a fiery temper
and problem in handling his anger
to surrender myself to you,
to make the Father's will my own,
experience liberation from sin
and sanctification in your Spirit
to become united as one in 
the Father, his mirror
and image.
Amen.

Maturing in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, 09 January 2023
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 ><}}}}*> Acts 10:34-38 ><}}}}*> Matthew 3:13-17
Photo by author, September 2022.
God our loving Father,
thank you for this most wonderful 
Monday when we close 
the Christmas Season 
with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, 
we also celebrate the feast 
of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo 
which is the most popular
devotion in our predominantly
Catholic nation. 
As you opened the heavens
with your outpouring of love
and life upon us today like
what happened at the baptism in Jordan,
open our minds and our hearts, Father,
to recognize Jesus as your Anointed One;
most of all, may our double celebrations
this Monday remind us of the need for us to mature
in our faith in you.
Photo from flickr.com by Mark S. Abeln, Resurrection Cemetery in Affton, Missouri, USA, 16 November 2010.
Fix our eyes on your Chosen One,
Jesus Christ, upon whom you have 
put your Spirit who brought forth
salvation to us all,
not crying out,
not shouting,
not breaking a bruised reed
nor quenching a smoldering wick;
let us imitate the gentle humility
of your Servant, our Lord Jesus Christ
in whose person you have made your
covenant, a light for the nations,
healing us of our infirmities of 
body and most especially of soul,
not yielding to anyone nor anything
because you and him are one
(cf. Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7).
Let us continue the teaching of Peter
in the house of Cornelius with our own
experiences and meditations, with our
own witnessing "of how God anointed 
Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. 
He went about doing good 
and healing all those oppressed
by the devil, for God was with him"
(Acts 10:38).
Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, Quiapo, 09 January 2020.
God our loving and merciful Father,
let us see Christ's presence and
coming in our lives daily,
his coming out of Jordan
with your mission to save us,
to journey with us in this life;
most of all, let us heed your voice,
Father, to be one in Jesus in all
sufferings and trials, standing 
and fighting for truth and justice
even to the point of death on the 
Cross because he is your beloved Son
with whom you are well pleased
(Matthew 3:16, 17).
Lord Jesus Christ,
our Nuestro Padre Nazareno,
make us realize that more than
the devotions and panata,
more than that lovely robe of your
royalty as King of kings,
help us penetrate your dark skin
in Quiapo to realize your being
called "Nazarene" does not only mean
your origin, Nazareth, but most of all,
from the Hebrew word "nezer" or shoot -
that you are, O Lord Jesus is the "shoot
from the stump of Jesse" (Is.11:1),
the one completely consecrated
to God from your mother's womb
until your death on the Cross.
Make us realize this, Jesus Nazareno,
that we too, in our baptism, are 
consecrated to God:  let us manifest
your love,
your justice,
your humility,
your healing,
your mercy
in our lives.
Amen.
From google.com.

Tasting Jesus Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, 18 November 2022
Revelation 10:8-11   ><000'> + ><000'> + ><000'>   Luke 19:45-48
Lord Jesus Christ,
as we celebrate today the
memorial of the Dedication of the
last two Basilicas in Rome -
St. Peter's in Vatican and 
St. Paul's Outside the Walls -
you give us a "taste" 
of what is to be your Church,
your Body,
and your accompanying mission.

I took the small scroll from the angel’s hand and swallowed it. In my mouth it was like sweet honey, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then someone said to me, “You must prophecy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.”

Revelation 10:10-11
Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ,
for the sweet taste, 
for the sensation of being a Christian,
of listening to your words,
of being a Catholic,
of serving you,
of worshipping you,
of being loved by you.
Definitely so sweet indeed
to experience you in the Church!
But everything becomes sour
and bitter when we internalize
your words,
your call,
your mission
for that is when reality happens,
when we realize being your disciple
is a way of life in you,
a way of the Cross,
of giving one's self
to others like
the two pillars of your Church,
St. Peter and St. Paul.
Sometimes, Lord Jesus,
give us a taste of your anger
like when you cleansed the temple; 
let us taste your strong words
when we make the church a den of thieves
literally speaking;
let us have a taste of your discipline
when we dirty your Body,
when we hurt your Body,
and worst, 
when we mutilate your Body,
the Church with our lives so far from
your calling and mission
especially us your apostles.
Let us learn to love and accept
being Christian is savoring both
the sweet and sour tastes of
proclaiming your gospel 
both in words and in deeds.
Amen.

*Photos from en.wikipedia.org.

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.

Refresh my heart in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of St. Leo the Great, Pope & Doctor of the Church, 10 November 2022
Philemon 7-20   ><]]]'> + <'[[[><  ---+---  ><]]]'> + <'[[[><   Luke 17:20-25
Photo by author, 25 October 2022 in Dau, Mabalacat, Pampanga.
Your words today are so lovely,
dear Jesus, spoken through St. Paul
in his letter to Philemon asking him 
to take back his former slave Onesimus:
"I, Paul, write this in my own hand:  I will pay. 
May I not tell you that you owe me your very self.
Yes, brother, may I profit from you in the Lord.
Refresh my heart in Christ" 
(Philemon 19-20).
So nice of St. Paul to ask Philemon
to "refresh my heart in Christ"...
but, can we refresh one's heart in you, Lord?
Are you not the only one who can refresh our hearts?
Dearest Jesus,
many times in life like St. Paul
when we face so much difficulties,
we seek rest and affirmations 
that you are still with us,
that you have never left us
not because we doubt you
but because we feel tired,
we feel weak,
our spirits sag;
but when we hear people
doing your work,
expressing their faith, hope and love
in you in the most extraordinary ways
like doing the almost impossible,
our hearts are renewed,
our hearts are refreshed in you!
Like Philemon who had been cheated
or placed on the losing end when his slave Onesimus
fled from him; it must be so difficult for him
to take back Onesimus, to forgive and forget
his transgressions, most of all, 
to regard him as a brother without casting 
any doubts on his conversion
and reason for being a Christian.
So many hearts must have also been
refreshed in you, O Jesus Christ,
by the saints like St. Leo the Great
in his great works explaining your 
mystery of Incarnation,
in his touching homilies,
and handling of the barbarians
attacking Rome at that time;
his zeal and faith in you in achieving
so much feats as a pastor and administrator
refreshed many hearts in Christ
in those dark times following the fall of Rome
that until now upon learning his story
others continue to strive to be holy;
The Good Nurse is another notable
disciple you have used to refresh our tired
hearts in setting things right even if the
big bosses could not stand up against
systematic evil in their organizations.
Indeed, Lord Jesus,
"the Kingdom of God is among us"
not outside observable things
as you explained to the Pharisees 
its coming in today's gospel (Lk.17:20-21);
 touch us and fill us with your grace
to do your works, to be more loving and kind,
merciful and forgiving
so that in our witnessing, 
in our apostolate and ministry,
in our daily living of your Gospel
we may refresh the hearts
of those with sagging spirits
and joy in making you present
in the world.
Amen.

The Good Nurse: every one must be good

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 08 November 2022

Still streaming in Netflix is The Good Nurse that will surely make you feel good that despite all the evil going on in this world, there are still good people who make our planet a safer place to live. Truly, St. Paul’s words ring so true in this Netflix movie, “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Rom. 5:20).

Based on the 2013 true-crime book of the same title by investigative journalist Charles Graeber, The Good Nurse is about how a good nurse named Amy Loughren stood her ground to cooperate with two hardworking detectives in New Jersey to arrest and eventually put into jail her fellow nurse Charles Cullen who is considered as one of America’s most prolific serial killers. According to the movie, Cullen admitted to have killed 29 patients by administering harmful drugs in nine different hospitals he had worked as nurse in a span of 16 years although authorities believe he may have killed up to 400 patients!

The only reason I watched The Good Nurse – in three installments while watching Black Butterflies two weeks ago – is because I am assigned as a chaplain in a University offering BS Nursing with a Medical Center. I was hoping to learn some “talking points” for my Masses and spiritual conferences with them from the movie; however, what actually happened was they prepared me to appreciate deeply this kind of movie with my many interactions with them both in school and the hospital.

I just have to warn you that the movie is too long, more than two hours. And very slow. But, it is well worth it especially in the last 50 minutes when tempo changes and shifts to high gear of action and suspense that you get so involved with the movie even if you are watching it alone on a laptop like me. There is that urge you actually talk to Amy not to fall in love with Charlie, especially in that part he was fired from their hospital and he suddenly spent the afternoon with her kids, sending their babysitter home as he prepared even their meal!

Yay…naku!!! I was really telling Amy to spit out that piece of meat Charlie had cooked as it may be laden with poison or insulin and digoxin!!! Hahaha!!!

Dramatic and suspenseful, most of all, feel good is what The Good Nurse is all about.

What I like most in the movie is the courage of Amy to secretly meet with the two detectives after realizing herself Charlie was not exactly true as himself – kind and diligent, silent and reserved. She eventually researched and discovered the many evidences that established Charlie’s culpability that finally put him behind bars serving 18 consecutive life sentences.

Most touching part was when Amy visited Charlie in the police headquarters after his arrest where the detectives have failed to extract any confession from him for the mysterious deaths of patients in their hospital. In one part of the interrogation it was revealed that Charlie had a deeply disturbed and dangerous personality similar with that kid in an old movie also streaming in Netflix, Primal Fear. He just kept shouting and shouting the answer “no” to every question given him, sounding like a deranged man with his face contorting and eyes so menacing.

Everything changed when Amy came inside the interrogation room. The detective warned her not to get near Charlie who was extremely dangerous. Despite that warning, Amy requested Charlie’s cuffs be removed as she sat near him at his side. When she noticed Charlie freezing inside the room, she took off her sweater and put it on him while the detective stood on guard, worried for any untoward incident to happen.

Charlie was at first cold toward Amy, refusing to look at her directly.

When Amy began speaking by apologizing to Charlie, telling him how she felt sorry that despite his being kind to her, despite their being friends, she had to tell everything to the cops. Actress Jessica Chastain who played the role of Amy was able to perfectly exude that kind of warmth and caring self despite the fears in being with a mysterious suspect that slowly, Charlie softened and confessed his crimes.

And that is where the high point of the movie is when Amy asked him to tell her the truth why he did it, Charlie simply said because “nobody stopped me”. He sobbed, covering his face.

Then, Amy asked him for names of his victims and Charlie readily identified them one by one with the next scene showing him being led down the hallway of the prison. The final scene showed Amy in bed with her two daughters, being awakened by the eldest daughter telling her it is a school day.

Amy told her, “today we stay in bed”, finally giving her daughters with the much needed quality time they sorely missed from her who had to work so hard for their needs. According to the notes after the movie, Amy now lives in Florida with her daughters and grandchildren. She eventually had her heart surgery.

The movie is very timely. In fact, I have been using it in my homilies. It is very Christian and Catholic as it presents our so-called universal call for holiness, of how each one of us must strive to be good or perfect and holy like our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:48), echoed by Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium over 50 years ago calling us all to strive in creating a more just and humane society in this imperfect world.

There was no mention of religion nor any scene from the church or of anyone praying but it is very clear in the movie about the need for us all to be good like the good nurse, Amy.

According to the movie based on Graeber’s book, Cullen went on a killing spree as a nurse for 16 years because none of the hospital where he used to work at acted decisively on his case despite their suspicions over the mysterious deaths of some patients. Ironically, according to the movie, those hospitals never bothered to take drastic steps and measures in solving the mysterious deaths of their patients amid the suspicions on Cullen because they were afraid of the legal cases that might be filed against them by the families of his victims that is now exactly happening as per the movie.

There is that quotation attributed routinely to Edmund Burke that says “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”.

The Good Nurse Amy Loughren did not let the evil of Charlie Cullen to triumph. Against all odds of losing her job as a nurse, of losing herself as she was afflicted with a heart ailment, Amy proved to be so good indeed that she did everything to stop Charlie who said it so well that he did all those killings “because nobody stopped me.”

Here comes the true relevance of this good movie that challenges us all in this time to be good as always, fighting and standing up against every form of evil, regardless of who is committing them. Of course, it is not enough to just speak and fight without any evidences and most especially efforts to personally confront the evil-doers like the good nurse.

Jesus himself reminded us that “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk.14:26).

This is most challenging for us in the Church, most especially among bishops and priests who chose to be silent, to let evil triumph right inside our hallowed houses of worship and apostolate when all these sex scandals occurred even a long time ago and still continues these days. We in the clergy must be above all most good than others in stopping evil from happening among our ranks. It is so sad and deplorable, even shameful when we priests and bishops are so vocal in denouncing injustices in the society perpetrated by civil authorities and politicians when we would not even raise our voices against the evil happening in our own turfs, of clergy and religious breaking all vows of chastity and poverty completely selling their souls to the devil for sex, money, power and fame.

The Good Nurse is a call for us all to return to being good, of saying no to sin and evil, of being truly human who respects and cares for life always which is at the core of our Lord’s teachings and of our humanity too. Happy viewing everyone!

Prayer against complacency

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday in the Thirty-Second Week of Ordinary Time, Year II, 08 November 2022
Titus 2:1-8, 11-14   ><]]]'> + <'[[[>< === ><]]]'> + <'[[[><   Luke 17:7-10
Lord Jesus Christ,
as we approach the end of the year
before we get carried away
with the excitement of your birthday
that is Christmas, help me focus on you
more earnestly these days.
Do not let me be complacent.

Jesus said to the Apostles: “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table?’ When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'”

Luke 17:7, 10
Forgive me, Jesus
when there are times I feel so entitled
to you after I have done your assigned
task and mission;
let me keep in my mind always
that more than fulfilling the will of the Father,
what matters most is our relationship with God.

Do not let me be complacent in being good,
in being faithful,
in being a good example to others
as St. Paul instructed Titus
to remind everyone,
both the elder men and women,
 and younger men and women too!

For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14
Keep me temperate,
dignified, self-controlled,
sound in faith, love and endurance,
showing myself as a model of good deeds
in every respect, with integrity in teaching,
dignity, and sound speech 
that cannot be
criticized.
Amen.

Prayer to be good

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday in the Thirty-Second Week in Ordinary Time, Year II, 07 November 2022
Titus 1:1-9   ><000'> + ><000'> + ><000'>   Luke 17:1-6

Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the one through whom they occur. Be on your guard!

Luke 17:1, 3
Praise and glory to you,
Lord Jesus Christ for this great Monday!
Thank you for reminding us how sin
will inevitably occur in this life,
in this imperfect world.
Bless us, dear Jesus,
to be always on guard;
guide us and keep us strong
with clear mind and conscience
to never allow ourselves to 
cause others to sin;
Like St. Paul reminding Titus today,
help us to be blameless before you
and others, "not arrogant, 
not irritable, not a drunkard, 
not aggressive, not greedy for sordid gain"
(Titus 1:7).
Help us, dear Jesus,
to be on guard by being good always
like being "hospitable, a lover of goodness,
temperate, just, holy, and self-controlled,
holding fast" (Titus 1:8) 
to your Gospel message of
love and mercy, 
kindness and justice.
Amen.

Called to build, not destroy

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Feast of Sts. Simon & Jude, Apostles, 28 October 2022
Ephesians 2:19-22   ><))))*> + ><))))*> + ><))))*>   Luke 6:12-16
It has always been your desire,
O God our Father that we may
all be one in you that was fulfilled
in Jesus Christ your Son who
had come to call and gather 
first his Twelve Apostles 
who prefigured the Church
representing all the peoples 
of the world.

Brothers and sisters: You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you are also being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22
What a beautiful way to cap
this week with these words 
reminding us of our great honor 
in being called in Jesus Christ
to build up his body the Church 
here on earth,
of being a part of the bigger
whole of peoples gathered 
as one in God;
may we realize that you call
everyone - regardless of color
or gender or status or whatever
differences we may all have
just like the Twelve who 
were united in Christ.
Help us, dear Jesus,
to imitate your two Apostles,
Sts. Simon and Jude whose feast
we celebrate today; fill our hearts
with the zeal and ardent love
for you and your Church
like Simon called the Zealot -
whether he was in fact a member
of such political party or not, 
his love for you must be so evident
that he came to be known as a Zealot;
in this time when Catholics are declining
in numbers in going to church
and even in professing their faith, 
may we be filled wit enthusiasm in
making you known O Jesus especially
in our actions and celebrations.
Grant us also the strength,
clarity and courage like that of
St. Jude Thaddeus in dealing with
the many contradictions of the world
we live in today as Catholics and 
Christians:  "But you, beloved, 
build yourselves up on your 
most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit;
keep yourselves in the love of God;
wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus
Christ unto eternal life.
And convince some,
who doubt..." (Jude 20-22).
Bless us, dearest Jesus,
through the help St. Simon and
St. Jude, to rediscover
the beauty of our Christian
faith and of our Catholic Church
by working hard to build it up
without tiring through our silent 
and peaceful witnessing
of the Gospel.
Amen.

Standing before God

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 23 October 2022
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18 ><}}}}*> 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 ><}}}}*> Luke 18:9-14
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

Standing is a very powerful posture. It expresses our stance or – stand – on everything. Where we stand tells who we are, both positively and negatively. It is always good to make a stand on our beliefs, defending them, making a “gallant stand” on whatever or whomever we hold so dearly. However, no matter how hard we make a stand on just about everything and everyone, we cannot fake our stand because people could surely recognize if it is just mere “grandstanding” or self-serving like what politicians always do.

That is what Jesus is telling us today in his second series of teaching about prayer, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, of how two men stood before God in prayer at the temple.

Painting by French artist James Tissot, “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector” (1886-1894) from commons.wikimedia.org.

Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

Our lost sense of sinfulness

Right at the start, Luke tells us the purpose of this parable, “Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” But, we have to be careful in reading this parable lest we end up like the Pharisee of not seeing ourselves being addressed too by the Lord!

While the Pharisee is clearly in the bad light in his kind of prayer that revealed his self-centeredness, feeling so self-satisfied with his holiness that in fact he felt no need for God, his character invites us to guard against this temptation within us that we are not sinners. That is the sin of the Pharisee, the reason his prayer was not heard unlike that of the tax collector: the Pharisee saw himself as clean and spotless like God! And that is what we have to keep guard of ourselves in this time when we have lost our sense of sinfulness.

Photo by author, Jerusalem 2017.

We may not have the kind of self-righteousness of the Pharisee in public or in private, of claiming to be not like other people who are sinful and corrupt; but, still deep inside us is the temptation of forgetting that even a true saint remains a sinner who must constantly pray deep in his/her heart, “O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Such attitude is the deeper meaning of why we must be powerless before God in praying like the persistent widow last Sunday. It is not that only God is capable of giving us whatever we need but most of all, we have to accept and own by embracing wholeheartedly the fact we are all sinners. Recall how in 2013 after being elected as Pope, on his first interview Pope Francis was asked to describe himself as a person and he simply said, “I am a sinner.” Beautiful!

Holiness is not being sinless but being filled with God. Anyone who is filled with God is one who is always aware of his/her sinfulness. The more we get nearer to God, the more we see our sinfulness, our being dirty and weak. Hence, the more we pray to become better persons, to be one with God; we cannot be one in him and with him unless we realize our sinfulness. That Pharisee in the parable comes so strongly, so proud to God as if he were God himself too! Worst, he wanted God to commend him, to reward him for being so good. Why prayed at all if he did not need God?

We pray because we need God and that is the prayer that “pierces the clouds; that does not rest till it reaches its goal” – God – as Ben Sirach tells us in the first reading. That is the reason we begin our Holy Mass first with admission of our sins, of being sorry for them. We come to Mass because we need God first of all to cleanse us of our sins.

How true are we in admitting our sinfulness before God?

Consistency and humility in prayer

On the surface, the Pharisee in the parable was really commendable as he tried to be a good person, avoiding all kinds of sins, piously observing the demands of his faith like fasting and tithing. However, he lacked consistency and humility.

Consistency in prayer means our lives become a prayer itself. The prayers we recite and say to God expressed in so many ways should make us become more like God – loving and caring, kind and understanding, merciful and forgiving of others, not judgmental like the Pharisee.

St. Paul in the second reading offers us an example of how he had considered his life his prayer, an offering of himself to God like a “libation”.

Beloved: I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.

2 Timothy 4:6-7
Photo by Ms. Mira Mandal Sibal, 2021.

Sometimes, people comment how they find St. Paul as too proud especially when he speaks of his virtues and works like when he wrote “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). But, reading all his letters, one finds his powerlessness before God like the persistent widow last Sunday as well as his being powerful in God like the unjust judge who was converted like him and channelled all his talents and energies in proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles!

Most of all, in today’s parable, we find St. Paul who referred to himself as “the very least of the holy ones” (Eph.3:8) so much like the tax collector, sinful yet sorrowful for his sins. In short, not just consistent but most of all, filled with humility.

It will always be difficult to be consistent in life as every saint had proven to us. That is why we should never forget that reality – even the saints are sinful, needing God’s mercy and forgiveness. Nobody is perfect. When there is inconsistency in our lives and prayers, surely there is sin. But, are we humble enough to accept that fact like the saints?

That is why humility is so important as exemplified by the tax collector at the temple. He could not look up to heaven because he was so humbled by his sin, looking more into himself, into his heart, of how he had strayed so far from God that he longed to be near him again.

It is only in humility when we can realize also the sad truth that when we sin, we actually offend ourselves, not God! That is why our conscience bother us, we feel untidy. God remains God and perfect even if we sin. The Pharisee wrongly thought he was not offending God as he believed he was clean and sinless that is why he felt so entitled too. Unknown to him, the more he had sank deeper in misery in his lack of sense of sinfulness.

Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son, January 2020.

When we lost our sense of sinfulness, that is when we are most inconsistent, when we are most lost. Without humility, we live in our false selves, wrongly believing we can do everything, including earning our own salvation which only God had done in Jesus Christ.

This Sunday, let us pray for the grace and virtue of humility that St. Teresa of Avila described as “walking in truth.”

Being humble is not putting ourselves down but actually the path to true greatness, exaltation. When we humbly accept our sins and sinfulness, that is when we are forgiven by God and we are able to rise to greater heights as we lose ourselves in God and in his wonderful plans for us.

This Sunday, let us stand before God admitting our sins like the tax collector, our being poor and lowly, insufficient and weak as in the first reading needing his grace so that like St. Paul, we may compete well in this life to finish this race by keeping the faith in Jesus Christ. Amen. A blessed and fruitful week ahead for all of us!