Lent is uncovering our sins

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Fifth Week in Lent, 22 March 2021
Daniel 13:41-62   ><}}}*> + <*{{{><   John 8:1-11

Praise and glory to you, O God our loving Father for the gift of life, for this final week of Lent you are giving us to continue uncovering the sins we hide from you, from others and even from ourselves. And worst, the sins of others we bare to cover our own sins.

How wonderful are your words today, Lord, of two women accused of adultery – one falsely, the other guilty – but, the same story of your justice and mercy.

Susana in the first reading was spared from death when her two accusers who were both elders and judges of the people were convicted of perjury following the courage and wisdom of your prophet Daniel.

As she was being led to execution, God stirred up the holy spirit of a young boy named Daniel, and he cried aloud, “I will have no part in the death of this woman.” All the people turned and asked him, “What is this you are saying?” He stood in their midst and continued, “Are you such fools, O children of Israel! To condemn a woman of Israel without examination and without clear evidence? Return to court, for they have testified falsely against her.”

Daniel 13:45-48

Stir in us, O God the same Holy Spirit that like Daniel we may have the courage to defend and stand for those wrongly accused of any wrongdoing whether in our homes or community or in the courts.

I pray most especially for women who are often at the receiving end of false accusations, of gossips and of hurtful lies. The victims of rape and molestation and sexual harassment cry in the silence of their deep pains and sufferings just because they are women and sadly, because their accusers are men of stature and position. Send us more Daniels, dear God to defend them.

Let us take into our hearts the challenge of your Son Jesus Christ to let the one who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at anyone guilty of sins (Jn.8:7). It is not that we must be silent with the evil persisting around us but so we may be cautious against hasty pronouncements and judgement against those guilty of any sin.

Worst of all is when we accuse sinners of evil they are guilty of doing only to cover our own sins we have been hiding from you and others, even foolishly from ourselves. Give us some decency, at least like those people, “beginning with the elders (Jn.8:9)” who left guilty of sins without casting any stone to the woman caught in adultery.

Have mercy on us, Jesus, when we act like those Pharisees and scribes who look for sinners, accuse them in public in order to look good and find something against you. Amen.

Roadtrip in time of COVID-19, Part 2

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 26 January 2021

Every road trip is filled with music. A lot of music. In fact, it is not a road trip without any kind of music! As I was telling you, this road trip was inspired by that line from Steely Dan’s Kid Charlemagne, “Is there gas in the car?”

As we drove to Tanay from Baras Church, our playlist had Rod Stewart singing one of our generation’s staple music so “relate much” with our own experiences…

I didn’t know what day it was
When you walked into the room
I said, “Hello” unnoticed
You said goodbye too soon

Breezing through the clientele
Spinning yarns that were so lyrical
I really must confess right here
The attraction was purely physical (oh, yeah)

Okay. Suspend your judgments for now and let me say too that when men get together whether on a road trip or not, surely topic would always be on women and past relationships.

Always. Even with priests like me who had studied and worked for a long time “outside” the seminary. There is always that somebody in the group who would pop up with that question “have you had a girlfriend before”?

Sorry… you have to go with me in an actual road trip to hear my stories while I am obliged with the “seal of confession” of sorts to keep my lips zipped with Dindo’s stories as we talked about our past relationships while singing with Rod Stewart on our way to Tanay. One thing for sure, though, like real gentlemen, when we talked about women, it was very true, so divine, like those lines …

My love for you is immeasurable
My respect for you immense
You’re ageless, timeless, lace and fineness
You’re beauty and elegance

You’re a rhapsody, a comedy
You’re a symphony and a play
You’re every love song ever written
But honey, what do you see in me?

You’re in my heart, you’re in my soul
You’ll be my breath should I grow old
You are my lover, you’re my best friend
You’re in my soul

Main altar of the Parish of St. Ildephonse in Tanay, Rizal declared by the National Museum of the Philippines as “National Cultural Treasure”, another example of maintaining the noble simplicity of old churches.

The way we relate with women
indicates how we relate with God.

Twenty years ago, I have read from one of the writings by Papal Preacher Raniero Cardinal de Cantalamessa how an American Dominican exegete had put forward that the way we relate with women mirrors our way of relating with God.

That is very true.

Women are God’s loveliest creations that without them, we men would never be complete. Some even claim that women must be the one closest to God in appearance, more perfect than us men that is why she was created last.

What is amazing again with this road trip is how our second stop at the Tanay Church confirmed our discussions of women.

First, it was a woman who directed us to the main entrance to the church because its gate was partly hidden by some obstructions at that time from the main road. Then, inside the church, three women catechists warmly welcomed us near its magnificent altar.

And when I recognized its Patron is St. Ildephonse of Toledo in Spain, I realized again how this road trip “was taking us instead of us taking the trip” on that rainy Thursday, January 07, 2021.

When I was ordained deacon in 1997, I was assigned to help the late Fr. Johann Sebastian in a parish at Pinaod, San Ildefonso town in Bulacan. Of course, San Ildefonso is St. Ildephonse…

Next, Fr. Johann was a resident of San Ildefonso whose house was across the Parish Church where we used to watch the procession during his feast on January 23.

Most of all, it was from Fr. Johann that I learned so much about St. Ildephonse who had lived around the years 607-667 in Toledo, Spain that used to be the main seat of the Church in Spain before Madrid. Outside Fr. Johann’s room used to be displayed a huge painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary appearing to St. Ildephonse while giving him heavenly vestments (chasuble) as gifts for his efforts in propagating devotions to her. In fact, St. Ildephonse was one of the early bishops who had written about the Immaculate Conception of Mary that was finally declared a dogma of the Church in 1854.

Here we are in the beautiful church of Tanay recently declared by the National Museum of the Philippines as a “National Cultural Treasure” under the patronage of St. Ildephonse, truly a holy and a gentleman with a great devotion to the Mother of God that mirrored his fidelity in serving God his Master and Lord!

Shortly after praying and exchanging stories with the three catechists, the Parish Priest, Msgr. Rigoberto de Guzman came to meet and formally welcomed us in his church. Actually, we were hesitant to meet Msgr. Rigs as we did not want to disturb him but we were told that he usually welcomed pilgrims to their parish.

Likewise, I was not so sure if he could still recall me since we have met only twice ten years ago when he was the Rector of the Antipolo Cathedral during the time of Bishop Gabby Reyes while I was with Radio Veritas. And, lo and behold — Msgr. Rigs still knew me, even telling me how he had come across some of my reflections in the Sabbath publication!

A very soft spoken and kind-hearted man of God, Msgr. Rigs thanked me on behalf of our diocese in forming many of their priests who have graduated from our Major Seminary. As a token of his appreciation especially after learning that I teach and serve as a spiritual director in our major seminary, he gave me a framed image of Our Lady of the Poor and Suffering known also as Our Lady of Banneux in Belgium where she appeared eleven times to an 11-year old girl in 1933.

Oh my God!

First, it was St. Joseph who greeted us at Baras; now, we have my second most favorite image of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Banneux welcoming us in Tanay! As I thanked Msgr. Rigs for his gift, he led me to the side of their church where stood an exact replica of the Virgin of Banneux — something we have overlooked earlier due to the rains!

At that very moment, I felt the Blessed Mother’s comforting assurance of love and guidance, especially with my new assignment as chaplain of the Our Lady of Fatima University and Medical Center effective February 16, 2021. What a pleasant morning talking about the women in our lives now capped with the most wonderful woman of all, our Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The first time I learned about Our Lady of Banneux was when I met the sisters in charge of the Boys’ Town and Girls’ Town in Cavite way back in 2007 after learning about the works of their founder, the Venerable Fr. Al Schwartz, an American priest who worked here among the poorest of the poor. He was a devotee of the Our Lady of Banneux who is very much like the Our Lady of Fatima, so lovely and very simple. Both appeared in the early 20th century in Europe to show Mary’s oneness with humanity going through so many sufferings and afflictions up to this age. It is something many devotees in our diocese in Bulacan seem to be missing with their pomp and pageantry in crowning every image of the Blessed Virgin to be found, even in a bodega or a patio!

That is the beauty and charm of the two old churches we have visited in Baras and Tanay: both are simply elegant, not extravagant nor loud where one can have time with God and the sacred.

After the rains have stopped, Msgr. Rigs prayed over us and blessed us as we left for Pililla while listening this time to Hall and Oates. More rock and roll reflections in our final installment. See ya!

Dindo Alberto, Msgr. Rigs de Guzman, and author.

E-mail me at <lordmychef@gmail.com>.

Thank a woman today

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, 15 September 2020
1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27-31     || + ||     John 19:25-27
“Mater Dolorosa” also known as “Blue Madonna” (1616) by Carlo Dolci. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Glory and praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, in giving us the Blessed Virgin Mary to be our Mother too, to join us and accompany us in this life journey especially when there are pains and sufferings like when she stood by you at the foot of the Cross on that Good Friday.

As we celebrate the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, we remember also and pray for all the women in our lives, specially our mother and sisters, the wife of every spouse, our teachers, the nuns, and all those women who somehow “completed” our lives.

Because of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the word “woman” became so noble and wonderful again after it was marred by sin with the fall of the first woman, Eve.

But what is so striking with Mary and the word “woman” is how she was addressed in that word in the fourth gospel, beginning at the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:4) that comes to full circle at the foot of the cross.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

John 19:26-27

Lord Jesus and Mother Mary, I pray for all the women of the world, especially for those who stood by their men and children in times of trials and sufferings.

There at your crucifixion where everything was so sad with the stark realities of human sufferings and death, Mary and the other women present gave some breath of life and hope to the scene.

Photo of painting from stswithuns.org.uk.

With those faithful women led by the Blessed Mother around you at the foot of the Cross, your Passion O Lord, had a peaceful and calming ending, leading to your joyful and glorious Resurrection.

Their love and devotion, and compassion remained intact before you, O Lord after you had died. Is this also the reason you first appeared to women too on Easter? Beautiful.

These are exactly the same things the many women in the world and in our lives do when our chips are down like during this pandemic.

It is always the women who bring out the extra jolts and sparks needed to restart our lives, to jumpstart us when we are all down and desperate. Like your Mother Mary, Lord, most women are our greatest sources of inner strength and courage, and faith to forge on in this life.

How sad that we often forget to thank them and worst, neglect to recognize their presence and dignity as persons. May we imitate you, dear Jesus that in your dying moments, you remembered to entrust your mother to your beloved disciple to look after her.

O dearest Mother Mary, our Lady of Sorrows, please pray for the women we love, the women we have forgotten, the women we have used and abused for their kindness to us; so many women are crying in pain alone, some of them have been mourning for a long time after losing a beloved child or husband, a friend and a sibling, parents and those dearest to them. Soothe their pains, our Lady of Sorrows, a great woman of faith, woman of calmness, a woman for everyone. Amen.

Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us!

Nobility of motherhood

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of St. Monica, Married Woman, 27 August 2020
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 >><)))*> || + || <*(((><< Matthew 24:42-51
Photo by author of a pilgrim writing petitions to the Blessed Mother at a Madaba Church in Jordan, May 2019

This prayer, O Lord, is specially offered for all mothers as we celebrate today the Memorial of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, one of the great Saints of the Church.

Thank you, dear God our Father for St. Monica and all the other mothers who have offered their whole lives forming and transforming their children to reflect your image and likeness of holiness.

Truly, the gift of motherhood is one of your greatest grace ever bestowed to the human race for because of mothers, countless men and women selflessly work for peace and development.

This selflessness of mothers, in working hard for the success of their children, is the nobility of motherhood which is also a call for everyone exemplified by St. Paul in our first reading today:

I give thank to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all the discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you await for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:4-7

What a beautiful trait of every mother like St. Monica to imitate St. Paul’s joy, thanking God for the maturity of their children, to see their sons and daughters growing deeper in faith, hope, and love.

So many mothers can forgo their own career, forget their own well-being for the sake of their children. So often, they hide their tears when they are deeply aching from our many sins and lack of concern even respect for them because they do not want us to go out of focus with our goals in life.

To your question, dear Jesus, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time?” (Mt.24:45) — there is no other most faithful servant true to your calling except our mothers, Lord!

Photo from Google.

Bless all mothers today and always, Lord; lighten their burdens, be their joy in moments of sadness, clarify always their minds and their hearts so that every decision and action they take may always be through the leading of your Holy Spirit like in the experience of St. Monica.

Strengthen their faith especially of mothers who have lost their spouse or children to COVID-19 and other sickness and accidents; fill them with hope in you when things are getting so rough and tough for them especially at this time of the pandemic.

Many mothers are also suffering not only from COVID-19 but also other sickness during this pandemic. Heal them, dear Jesus.

Keep them healthy not only in body but also in mind, heart and soul so that they may continue to lead and enlighten their families in moments of darkness and trials.

Most of all, like St. Monica, fulfill their dreams and prayers for their children.

Likewise, dear Jesus, we remember and pray today for the souls of all the mothers who have gone ahead of us, now with St. Monica whose only request on her death to her sons was to bury her anywhere by including her always in St. Augustine’s celebration of the Eucharist. Amen.

St. Monica, pray for us especially for all the mothers to be like you!

Best Gifts of Christmas, II

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 28 December 2019

Italian artist Giorgione’s “Adoration of the Shepherds” (1510) showing an intimate scene set up against a distant landscape. The shepherds’ gently kneeling and bowing their heads down show their humility and fascination with the Infant Jesus while the long road behind them shows the long and tiring journey they have taken before reaching their destination.

We continue with our enumeration of the best gifts of Christmas which is above all the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And because of his coming as human like us, we have come to share in his dignity and glory, thus, making us also the best gifts to share and receive every Christmas!

We await Christmas every year because we await Jesus Christ, the most beloved person of all we can know and have as friend.

We wait only for persons, not things.

Waiting is beautiful because we never wait alone. There is always another person waiting with us, waiting for us. And when we finally come and meet with the other person also awaiting us, then we become present, a gift for one another.

In our presence with each other comes the wonderful gift of intimacy.

“God became a human being so that in one person you could both have something to see and something to believe.”

St. Augustine, Sermon 126, 5
The spot where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born now covered and protected by this hole under the main altar of the Church of the Nativity of the Lord in Bethlehem. May 2019

Christmas is a story about persons called by God to bring us his Son Jesus Christ. It is a living story that continues to our own time. Here are some of the best gifts of Christmas coming from the gift of our personhood.

  1. The gift of family. Christmas happens in a family of husband and wife and children. Very much like Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. Remove one and the Nativity scene becomes incomplete. Let us be thankful for our family, let us pray for the unity of our family. When Jesus was lost at the age of 12, Joseph and Mary decided to return to Jerusalem – symbolizing God – and eventually found him there in the temple. Let us always turn to God, ask for his guidance and protection of every family, for the healing of our family, for the mending of our broken relationships. Let us pray for all broken families whose members from the husband and wife to their children are all aching deep inside for the pains of separation.
  2. The gift of women and of motherhood. When God created man, he found “it is not good for man to be alone” that is why he created the woman as man’s “suitable partner” (Gen.2:18). What a beautiful term for woman, part-ner, a part of man who is never complete by himself alone. How sad that until now, it is right inside the home where every woman first experience physical, verbal and emotional pains. Women are the best signs of fidelity and faith: Elizabeth called Mary “blessed” because she believed the words spoken to her by the angel from God will be fulfilled. Let us pray for the women in our lives especially own own mother and sisters, lola and aunties, cousins and nieces. Remember, the way we relate with women reflect to a great extent the way we relate with God. Love and bless the women!
  3. The gift of men and fatherhood. When Jesus taught us how to pray, he taught us that God is like a “Father” whom we shall call “Our Father”. There is a crisis in fatherhood and manhood these days because many men have forgotten to be truly man enough like God our Father: a giver of life and protector of life as well. Most of all, when children lose this gift of life, it is the father who restores the life lost like the merciful father of the prodigal son in Luke’s gospel chapter 15.
Aleteia, December 2019.

This Christmas break, spend time with your family, hug your mommy and your daddy tightly and feel their presence again.

Thank your family, your mom and dad.

Pray for your departed loved ones, visit the cemetery and say a prayer for them, talk to them. Most of all, listen to them and feel them again.

Blessed are the women!

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe, 21 December 2019

Zephaniah 3:14-18 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> Luke 1:39-45

Bronze statues of Mary and Elizabeth fronting the Church of the Visitation in Judah; inscriptions on the wall are Mary’s “Magnificat” in different languages including Filipino. Photo by author May 2017.

For most Filipinos, being “blessed” (mapalad) and “lucky” (suwerte) are often used interchangeably because they both mean the same which is being fortunate. And most of the time, we mean blessedness as being endowed with wealth and material things.

Anyone with a stable job or a flourishing career or a growing business with at least a car and a house and lot is always considered as blessed. If you go big time or have made it to the top, then you are most blessed!

Parents who have put all their children through college, especially in expensive and exclusive Catholic schools and universities are also considered blessed in our culture that puts a high premium on education.

For most of us Filipinos, being blessed means to be financially stable and secured with some degrees of fame and accomplishments.

But our gospel today says nothing about these things as being blessed. Fact is, nowhere do we find in the Bible, especially in the gospel accounts where Jesus tells us that financial viability is a blessing. On the contrary, his teachings teem with a lot of moral aspersions against reliance and worship of money and material wealth.

True blessedness is having faith in God, believing that his words would be fulfilled!

Church of the Visitation, the Holy Land. Photo by author May 2017.

Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 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, “Most 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? Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:39-43, 45

Conversations between women

The Bible rarely records conversations exclusively between women. And even less frequent in the Bible is a conversation between two pregnant women that makes St. Luke’s account of the Visitation unique in itself.

For St. Luke, this encounter and exchange is significant because here are two women who bore a child in the most miraculous manner. Observe that St. Luke never used the word “pregnant” to describe the two women but simply told us that it is obviously the situation of both Elizabeth and Mary.

Exegetes explain St. Luke may have never used the term “pregnant” to emphasize to his readers God’s powerful grace on the two women in bearing a child: Elizabeth in her old age and barrenness and Mary in her youth and virginity.

What is most remarkable here is the way the two women were so “absorbed” in their conversation that one can imagine the “holy ground” they were standing so filled with Divine presence with the Holy Spirit hovering above them as two great souls met to honor God!

Even now if you go on a pilgrimage to the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, you can still experience that serenity and joy both women must have experienced on that hallowed ground.

Left painting on the dome is the Visitation while the other at the right is a depiction of how the angel saved St. John the Baptizer with St. Elizabeth from the murder of Holy Innocents ordered by Herod after learning the birth of Jesus Christ. Photo by author, May 2017.

True Blessedness

St. Luke tells us a lot of stories about “blessings” in his gospel account like here at the Visitation.

The most significant of these story of blessings is found in Luke 11:27-28 when Jesus was preaching, “a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.’ He replied, ‘Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.'”

And that “blessed one who hears the word of God and observes it” is none other than his own Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the first and par excellence “Doer-of-the-Word” for St. Luke!

Here at the Visitation, Elizabeth became the first human person, a woman, to call Mary “blessed” – the first of many disciples from future generations who will address the Blessed Mother in this manner as proclaimed by Mary herself in her Magnificat, “from now on will all ages call me blessed” (Lk.1:48).

Mary blessedness is primarily due to her faith and trust in God’s word spoken to her by the angel Gabriel. Unlike Zechariah, Mary right away submitted herself to the will of God by asking “how can this be”, indicating her deep faith.

Mary’s faith makes her a model disciple whom we must all imitate in following and believing Jesus Christ our Savior.

Likewise, Elizabeth can also be considered as a model disciple to us all because she believed and recognized the coming of the Christ by calling Mary “the mother of my Lord” (Lk.1:43). And again, holds the distinction as the first person and woman in St. Luke’s gospel to call Jesus “Lord”.

Here we find again the story of the Visitation that true blessedness and holiness is to be filled with God like St. Joseph the other day.

The Immaculate Conception at the Cathedral Basilica in Malolos City. Photo by author, December 2019.

In praise of the women of the world, man’s part-ner

Another beautiful trait of St. Luke’s gospel account is it emphasis on the important roles of women not only in the spread of the Gospel but most especially in the world. He is the first champion of women’s rights, next only to Jesus Christ.

In narrating to us this brief story of the Visitation, we rediscover the beauty and blessedness of womanhood – and that is the celebration of Messianic age. Mary and Elizabeth are great women because of their faith, we now celebrate Advent and Christmas.

They both brought Jesus Christ into the world, something that women always do until now, especially mothers who faithfully teach and form their children to become good and faithful Christians.

Both women are a testament to Isaiah’s portrayal of God as a woman who is like faithful mother:

“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”

Isaiah 49:15

Christmas is a beautiful reminder to us all of the very noble and important role of women in the world that unfortunately many of us, especially men, have continually refused to accept or ignored since the Fall of Adam and Eve.

In Genesis, we find God declaring “let us make man a suitable partner.”

And he created the woman, a part-ner of man, taken from one of his ribs because she is equal in dignity with him, created in the image and likeness of God. In fact, she is the most beautiful of his creation, being the last and most perfect!

During his recent concert in the country, U2’s Bono praised the women and human rights activists in the country, dedicating to them their song “Beautiful Day”.

“Human rights drown out human wrongs, that’s a beautiful day. When sisters around the world go to school with their brothers, that’s a beautiful day. When journalists don’t have to worry about what they write, that’s a beautiful day. When women of the world unite to rewrite history as herstory, that is a beautiful day.”

Bono from news reports

Because of Mary and Elizabeth, we now have that beautiful day of the year, Christmas that led to the most beautiful day of all, Easter.

In a fitting rejoinder to our gospel today, another woman the other day gave us a beautiful day to celebrate justice and democracy in the country when Quezon City RTC Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes convicted Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. and other members of his influential clan for the murder of 57 people in the Maguindanao massacre that happened ten years ago.

Throughout history, we have seen that it has always been the women who make it happen for us all to have a beautiful day because they are the ones who bring life, who nurture life, who deepen life.

Let us make each day more beautiful by loving and caring always especially for those special women in our lives who have shown us the beauty and meaning of life, beginning with our own mother. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.