Making the Kingdom a reality

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday in the First Week of Advent, 29 November 2021
Isaiah 2:1-5   ><]]]]'> + <'[[[[><   Matthew 8:5-11
Photo by author, Basic Education Department Chapel, Our Lady of Fatima University, 28 November 2021.
Praise and glory to you,
loving God our Father in heaven
in giving us your beloved Son
Jesus Christ who had come, 
now comes, and would come again
at the end of time.
In him you have fulfilled your promised
liberation and establishment of a "temple
as the highest mountain and raised above
the hills" where "all nations shall stream
toward it and many peoples shall come"
(Isaiah 2:2-3) to worship you and follow
your path.

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Isaiah 2:5
As Christians, we still have a lot
of work to do to bring the spirit of 
Jesus Christ and his Gospel into the
world to make this more humane, 
where peace and justice reign; 
remind us that Christmas is more
than mere celebrations and parties
or shopping and gift-giving.
In this Season of Advent, teach us to
reflect on the real meaning of your
coming, dear God, in Jesus who became
human like us to live and work among us;
Christ has not failed in his mission -- it is
us who have done so little to carry on,
to continue what he had began like bringing
healing and comfort to those afflicted and
suffering, joy and forgiveness to those losing
hope in the face of many sins and evil.
It is true, O Lord, that "we are not worthy to
have you enter under my roof but only say 
the word and we shall be healed" (Matthew
8:8); let us listen and respond to your 
invitation and calls, Jesus, filled with faith like
that centurion so that eventually, your Kingdom
may become a full reality among us.  Amen.

“Hey Look At the Sun” by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’77 (1973)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 28 November 2021
Photo by author, sunrise at Lake of Galilee, Israel, 2017.

A blessed happy New Year, everyone!

It is the first Sunday of Advent, the start of another year in our Church calendar as we officially prepare for the coming Christmas these next four Sundays. And that is why we have chosen this 1973 music by Sergio Mendes and his Brasil ’77 for this Sunday, “Hey, Look At the Sun”.

From their third studio album called “Love Music”, Hey Look At The Sun sounds so personal with that Hey! – which is close with the spirit of Advent when Jesus calls us to be vigilant for his Second Coming (https://lordmychef.com/2021/11/27/beginning-with-the-end-in-sight/).

Sometimes I wonder if sunrise happens only once or twice a year, maybe every nation would stop and pause on those days so that everybody could see the beauty and charm of life every morning brings with the rising of the sun.

It is my favorite time of the day, of catching the rising sun that makes me feel so alive.

And so loved.

all of my life
there were things i wanted to do
but they all change the moment i set my eyes on you
the magnet is on that attracted me to you
there’s something inside i just can’t explain
but now i know what i must do

hey look at the sun
it’s fin’lly shining on my life
shining on my life
and it’s because of you
it’s finally shining on my life
for me and for you

Sergio Mendes and his lovely singers were suave and sophisticated, so to speak. Their songs are very inviting and melodious as they fused bossa nova with jazz and funk. Most of all, their lyrics – even the ones they covered – always touched on the human experience of love.

In Hey Look At the Sun composed by Nelson Angelo which was covered a decade ago by local artist Sitti, the main character speaks of how everything changed in her life after discovering love in a man who suddenly came to her life. Everything changes in our lives when we love and when we are loved.

This is the reason Jesus tells us in the gospel this Sunday to “beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties daily life” today along with St. Paul in the Second reading” (Lk.21:34), meaning, to love more the other person not only our very selves focused on material things.

To wait for his Second Coming at the end of time means to remain in loving service for one another; hence, the need for us to change our ways to rediscover love by rediscovering the next person to us as brothers and sisters in Jesus.

all of my life i’ve wondered round time and again
but i’ve never thought that i am searching with to an end
and then you came along
and my world of love began
so now i’m gonna change my ways
you’re all i want
you’re all i need

hey look at the sun
it’s fin’lly shining on my life
shining on my life
and it’s all because of you
it’s fin’lly shining on my life
for me and for you

A blessed week ahead of everyone!

*We have no intentions of infringing into the copyrights of this music and its uploader except to share its beauty and listening pleasure.

From YouTube.com

Beginning with the end in sight

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
First Sunday of Advent-C, 28 November 2021
Jeremiah 33:14-16 ><}}}*> 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2 ><}}}*> Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Photo by author, Malolos Cathedral, 2019.

Blessed happy New Year, everyone!

Today we are celebrating a new calendar year in the Church with this First Sunday of Advent. From the Latin word adventus meaning arrival or coming, it was adapted by the early Christians from the Roman practice of preparing for the visits or assumption to power of their emperors then considered as “gods”.

It is most fitting that we prepare not only outside but most especially inside our very selves for the coming of the true God and King of kings, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior!

Hence, Advent not only opens but also defines our whole liturgical year that is centered on Christ who has come, who comes now and will come again in the end of time. This is the reason why our gospel this Sunday is looking towards the end of time at the beginning of our Church calendar.

The three comings of Jesus Christ

Advent has two aspects: beginning today the First Sunday of Advent until December 16, all readings and prayers are oriented towards the Second Coming of Christ; from December 17 to the evening of the 24th, our focus shifts to the first coming of Jesus at Christmas.

Between these two comings of Jesus that the Season of Advent reminds us is what St. Bernard of Clairvaux called as the Lord’s “third coming” – his coming everyday into our lives, especially in the celebration of the Sacraments, particularly the Holy Eucharist.

Photo by author, 2019.

Again we find that tension of his being here but not yet. It is in that between his first coming more than 2000 years ago and his Second Coming which no one knows exactly when where we are situated daily, making everyday Christ’s Advent.

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

Luke 21:27-28

It may sound frightening to hear Jesus spoke of the signs of his coming but at closer look and reflections, we find it filled with joy because our redemption is at hand!

Yes, every ending forebodes destruction and passing of the old but that is in order to give way to something new, something better which Jesus had promised his disciples then and us now.

The grace of this season of Advent is the reawakening of our hope in the salvation that has already come in Jesus, who still comes now, and will surely come again in the end of time which is happening in every here and now.

That is why, there is also the sense of urgency and vigilance this Advent.

We are already living in the end-time Jesus had predicted as we have seen in the wars and conflicts going on among nations, the natural calamities happening around the globe made worst by the climate change plus this pandemic we are now having. But, it does not mean the creation will end soon as portrayed in many Hollywood films because these signs are calls for us to be ready and prepared for the final end that will prelude the new beginnings of all.

The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah… In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure; this is what they shall call her: “The Lord our justice.”

Jeremiah 33:14, 16
Photo by author, 2018.

Meeting Jesus in Advent

Notice how Jeremiah’s prophecy so “pregnant” with meanings: more than the coming of the promised Messiah is the radical newness of the whole creation. Judah and Jerusalem, the main province and city of Israel at that time will be transformed, referring to John’s vision in the Book of Revelation of “new heaven and new earth”.

As we have said, Advent not only opens our liturgical calendar but also defines the whole year which is the daily coming of Jesus who had come over 2000 years ago and will come again at the end of time which nobody knows.

Meanwhile, in this “third coming” of Jesus everyday, we find God working in him silently and subtly in the human history and right in our individual lives.

It is in our faithful waiting when Jesus Christ comes. It is the beauty and joy expressed by Jeremiah’s words “the days are coming” that assure us no matter how dark and bleak are our days, despite all the destructions and even death around us, the days are coming when we see everything getting better because God never stops working in our midst in Jesus, the Emmanuel.

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Luke 21:34-36

Last Sunday in our celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King we have reflected how Jesus spoke of the “truth” of his kingdom being among us, of how he had made us into his kingdom which is the reason why he was born and came into the world to testify to this truth (Jn.18:37).

See now the clearer picture of our life, of our time: we start our Church calendar preparing for the coming of Jesus our King and we end every year with the celebration of Christ the King. And we begin each new year with the end in sight of his Second Coming.

On this season of Advent, we are reminded how in our joyful waiting through prayers especially in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist that Christ’s presence is little by little being unveiled, unfolding before us, and being revealed.

It is a call for us of deepening our prayer life to truly experience Christ’s coming in our daily life. This new year in the Church, St. Luke will be our guide in our Sunday readings during the Ordinary Time; one distinction of his gospel is his portrayal of Jesus in prayer always.

Jesus comes to us first of all when we pray, when we enter into communion with him, when we listen to his voice and follow his instructions. In prayer, we are filled with God, allowing him to work his wonders in us and through us and thus make Christ’s coming a daily reality.

That is how prayer truly leads to holiness: when we are filled with God, our prayers are translated into a life of kindness and acceptance, mercy and forgiveness and most of all, of loving service to one another especially those in need.

There will always be sins and shortcomings on our part but in prayers and vigilance, we slowly “increase and abound in love for one another… strengthening our hearts to be blameless before our God our Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen. (1 Thess. 3:12,13)

A blessed happy new year again and a more blessed first week of Advent to you!

Advent is tenderness of God

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul-9
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Advent Week IV, 24 December 2020
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16     >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<     Luke 1:67-79
Photo by author, altar at our sacristy, 19 December 2020.

One thing that have really made this pandemic so bad and so sad is the lack of tenderness of our many officials to the people they are supposed to serve. Consider all these pains and inconveniences they have caused us the public from the fatal shooting of that Marawi veteran in Quezon City to the detention of Mang Dodong at the height of the lockdown to the closure of the largest network in the country mid-year then on to stupidities of first the motorcycle barrier, then the closure of U-turn slots at EDSA capped by the insane RFID at NLEX and now the inhuman shooting of mother and son by an off-duty policeman.

As one of my friends wrote on his FB page last April, “bakit kung kailan panahon ng pandemya na dapat magtulungan at magmahalan saka puro karahasan?” (why all the the violence happening during pandemic when we are supposed to be helping and more loving to one another?).

What a year indeed of natural calamities worsened by some public officials so detached from the sufferings of the people.

And that, my friends, is why we have to celebrate all the more – meaningfully – Christmas.

God is perfect and cannot suffer; hence, He sent us His only Son Jesus Christ to be one with us in our sufferings and miseries, to suffer with us – cum passio – express His compassion.

On this last day of our novena to Christmas, we see how Zechariah comes into full circle singing praises to God (called Benedictus in Latin) after being forced by the angel into full silence becoming speechless when he doubted God’s gift of a child to him and his wife Elizabeth.

Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.”

Luke 1:67-69
Photo by author, Advent Week IV, 20 December 2020.

Jesus already present among us in the coming of John

During the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Luke never mentioned Zechariah around the house so that Elizabeth and her baby in her womb were the only ones were filled with the Holy Spirit upon hearing Mary’s greeting.

Now, after naming his son “John”, Luke tells us how Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit too that he prophesied the meaning of the coming of his son as “prophet of the Most High” in 1:76.

See the three verbs he used after blessing God in his canticle called Benedictus: “Blessed be the Lord… he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.” The verbs are all in the past tense when in fact, what he was saying was supposed to be of what would happen after the birth of John, the coming of Jesus Christ.

Here we find the complete faith and trust of Zechariah to the plan of God like Mary in her Magnificat. Zechariah had seen something so big, something momentous taking place while still in the midst of darkness of his time and world just like us in this pandemic and calamities, callous officials in government and police.

Dear friends: Jesus has come, had set us free (saved us), and had risen to work all His wonders! Let us keep our faith and hope like Zechariah that God has already started working in our favor to turn the tide and soon, things will surely get better if we remain consistent to our response to His calls, standing for life and dignity of every person through whom Jesus comes, for what is true and just.

Photo by author, Church of St. John the Baptist at Ein-Karen, Israel (2019).

From the hand of God into the heart of God

Yesterday we reflected on how we have to allow ourselves to be “the hand of God”, to let Him do His work among us through our hands. Today in Zechariah’s Benedictus we find a movement from the hand of God to His very heart in Jesus Christ our Savior.

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Luke 1:78-79

After seeing the coming of the Christ in the birth of his son John, Zechariah now summarizes to us the very essence of Jesus our Savior, of God Himself: tender compassion or in the original Greek, splaghna or “tender mercy” of God.

It is not just compassion which is to suffer with us but at the same time be filled with tenderness that one is so moved to reach out, to do something by going down with the one suffering.

Like courage, mercy is a movement in the heart called misericordia in Spanish from the Latin mittere, meaning to be moved, to be stirred. It is something dynamic, not static. It is a deep feeling that moves toward someone in pain and suffering. An identification of Jesus with every person going through so much hardships and sufferings in life.

Zechariah’s heart is no longer hardened with negativity and cynicism – it was so stirred by God that he mentioned His tender mercy or compassion because he had personally felt it as he recovered his voice and speech. With the birth of John, he now believes that God’s love for his suffering people is deep and personal. As we say in Filipino, “tagos o sagad sa buto” which may be translated as “through and through”.

And that is perhaps one of the things we sorely miss so much these days from everyone, tenderness. The tender compassion, tender mercy of Jesus. Recall how during His ministry all four evangelists would narrate how Jesus was moved with pity and compassion to the people who were lost, tired and sick “like sheep without a shepherd” that no matter how tired He may be, He would always find time to teach them, heal their sick, and even feed them.

That is the mercy of God that Jesus had brought forth to us in His coming, experienced by Zechariah himself that he could foresee its coming at the birth of John.

Photo by author, Advent Week IV, 20 December 2020.

We priests and religious pray the Benedictus in our morning prayer called lauds (Latin for praises). It is so fitting because at the start of each day, that must be the one thing clear with us always – that the Lord is come to save us, to forgive us, to love us.

One saying I have always loved mentioning in my talks to people came from an anonymous writer I found on the table of a good friend long before I became a priest. It says: “If you have love in your heart, you have been blessed by god; if you have been loved, you have been touched by God.”

That is the Benedictus, the song of every faithful disciple of Jesus introducing His coming, His birth. So many people have forgotten God, do not know God, refused to believe in God because many among us He had lavishly loved have refused to share His love with others.

Have a blessed and meaningful Christmas! Thank you for following our reflections. Share it if you have been blessed.

Photo by author, Christmas 2019.

The hand of the Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-8 for the Soul
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Advent Week IV, 23 December 2020
Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Luke 1:57-66
Photo by author of the entrance to the site believed to be where the Lord’s Precursor was born below the side altar of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Ein Karen, Israel (2019).

We are almost into the completion of our nine-day novena for Christmas as we heard today the story of the birth of the Lord’s Precursor, John the Baptist. It is a story narrated so simple by Luke but filled with beautiful meanings specially for us today in this time of the pandemic.

First thing we see is how Zechariah’s speech was restored upon declaring the name of his son is “John”:

He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.

Luke 1:63-64

Luke did not tell us what kind of praise did Zechariah speak about God when his speech was restored but here we find that basic truth in our lives that for every blessing we receive from the Lord, right away – immediately! – we must praise and thank God first.

Moreover, this scene shows us the good effect of the “imposed quarantine” on Zechariah when he was made deaf and speechless after doubting God’s gift of a child to him and his wife Elizabeth during the annunciation by the angel while incensing the Holy of holies in Jerusalem.

God restored the power of Zechariah to speak again and greatly renewed him that this time, he had become obedient to the Father to his plan. In a sense, Zechariah was not merely freed to speak again but most of all, he was freed to believe and trust in God again!

As we have reflected last Saturday morning, Advent is quarantine. So many times in life, we have to step backwards, be silent to listen to God and just let Him do His work in us! Sometimes we think of so many things that are not really necessary and has nothing to do with God’s plans or work. With Zechariah able to speak now, he shows us that in the exercise of our powers we must first get in touch with God how to use His gifts to us.

This we shall see in our second point: allowing God to use us as His hand.

Photo by author, dome of the Church of St. John the Baptist at Ein-Karen, 2019.

Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

Luke 1:65-66

From rejoicing at the birth of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son, their neighbors now moved to being amazed when the child is named “John” that coincided with the restoration of his father’s ability to speak.

Luke tells us how it was such a big thing, maybe so “viral” and “trending” like today that everybody was discussing it. They must have felt God so near, almost there that Luke used an Old Testament expression, “For surely the hand of the Lord was with him”.

It is a beautiful expression indicating power too, just like the ability to speak.

Our hands are so powerful that we are able to move and do so many things because of these.

To say “the hand of the Lord was with him” is to portray the image of God’s immense power, His omnipotence, of being able to do whatever He deems needed to life on earth.

In the Old Testament when Elijah was being pursued by the soldiers of Queen Jezebel after he had shamed the priests of baal for failing to light a pile of firewood for worship, the prophet escaped by running beyond human ability considering his old age because “the hand of the Lord was on Elijah” (1 Kgs. 18:46).

Sometimes, the “hand of the Lord” can be scary as it means judgment or punishment from God like when King David disobeyed God when he ordered a census of Israel to find out how many men can fight in their wars, doubting the power of the Lord. David was given with three options for his punishment by the seer Gad: a natural disaster or a victory by his enemies, or a time of God’s judgment. David chose the third option, saying “I am i dire straits. But I prefer to fall into the hand of the Lord, whose mercy is very great, than into the hands of men” (1Chronicles 13:21).

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center in Novaliches, QC (2014).

The late Jaime Cardinal Sin of Manila used to tell of the story about the hand of God: he said sometimes, the hand of God would “spank” or hit us with pains and trials in life to discipline us and make us strong; sometimes, the same hand of God would caress and soothe our tired bodies or give us that proverbial pat on the shoulder to affirm us. But what is most important to remember according to Cardinal Sin is the fact that whether we are being disciplined or touched by the hand of God, it is always loving and merciful, most of all grace filled.

The recent news of that trigger happy cop who brutally shot and killed Sonia and her son Antonio in Tarlac recently is a reminder to us all most especially this Christmas in the time of pandemic, of the need for us to let the hand of God take control of our lives, guide us to life through more patience, love, kindness, and understanding.

It seems that so often, whenever we let our hands do everything, they always go out of control like our mouth and lips that lead us to more disasters and even deaths.

Beginning this Christmas, may the hand of God lead us back to Him and with each other.

Let us imitate the praying hands, of two hands touching each other but always creating a space between. That space is for Jesus born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, asking us everyday to take Him into our hands to care for Him, to protect Him through one another.

Amen.

Photo by Emre Kuzu on Pexels.com

Our song, our life

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-7 for the Soul
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Advent Week IV, 22 December 2020
1 Samuel 1:24-28     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Luke 1:46-56
Photo by Marc Angelo Nicolas Carpio, 20 December 2020.

When I was about to enter the high school seminary, an aunt would always comment on our way to school how I would become a priest when I am a big fan of rock and roll music. You know, the usual stuff ever since with old folks about rock music as evil and everything…

Looking back, I just imagine what if I had told her and my other relatives the meaning of Steely Dan that is my most favorite band? Most likely they would have fainted! And I would tell tell them too that I am the only priest who had played Stairway to Heaven in Radio Veritas where I used to co-anchor a show, playing only good, old rock n’ roll to the delight of many listeners despite protests from management.

Lately I have been blogging every week linking secular music with the Sunday gospel that had enabled me to reach new and younger generations I hope had rediscovered Jesus in the music I had offered them.

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer had said that “music is the food of the soul” and it is very true for it transcends cultures and languages that even if you do not understand the lyrics, music always touches the soul.

Meanwhile, the great English playwright William Shakespeare is said to tell his audience at the start of his plays that “If music be the food of love, play on.” That’s very beatiful. Like love, music is best served with another person; when we sing, it is always to pour our hearts out. We let others hear our song even if we sing alone because that is what music is all about – it is meant to be shared.

This is the reason why Mary sang her Magnificat during her Visitation of Elizabeth, not by herself in Nazareth after the angel had left after announcing to her the birth of Jesus.

Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.”

Luke 1:46-49
Photo from Pinterest, Our Lady of Fatima Centennial in Portugal, 17 May 2017.

Mary praised and thanked God with her “Magnificat”

Recall how Elizabeth praised Mary twice and her baby Jesus in the womb once yesterday at the Visitation. Naturally for us, when we are praised we always return it by praising too whoever spoke nicely of us.

But that was not the case with Mary. She took the occasion to praise and thank God for all His goodness and salvific work in her and in Elizabeth. Like Hanna in the first reading and responsorial psalm today who sang praises to God in giving her a son in the prophet Samuel, Mary while filled with the Holy Spirit sang this canticle, narrating how God worked in her and through her.

Our lives is a song of thanksgiving always to God who never stops doing great things for us not to make us famous but to bring His divine will into fulfillment. Mary affirmed this when she admitted her own blessedness, “From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.”

Yesterday we have reflected that true blessedness is to trust in God. Likewise, Mary added another dimension in what is to be blessed before God and that is being His servant, His slave or in her very words to the angel at the annunciation, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

A handmaid is the feminine form of “slave” but more than being poetic in her identification as a female slave of God, Mary through her Magnificat showed us a glimpse of the lives of the early Christians at that time who were considered “weird” and “odd”, even “bizarre” among the Roman pagans who could not understand why they worshipped Jesus Christ they saw as “a crucified criminal”.

Worst of all for the pagans, they could not understand why the early Christians who were mostly poor would give themselves to Jesus in loving service to others like the sick, the elderly, the hungry, widows and orphans and those living in the margins.

In fact, the Roman historian Pliny recorded in his writings how during the persecution the emperor’s soldiers rounded up Christians in every town and city by looking for anybody doing good, serving the poor and needy! It is something to think about for us Christians today: Would any one of us be arrested because we are doing something good like serving the less fortunate?

Photo by author, Our Lady of the Poor at Boys Town in Cavite (2009).

Mary, the first model disciple, the first to live out the Gospel

In singing her blessedness by God, Mary had assumed her being the spokeswoman of the early Christians, the poor ones or anawim of Israel who were truly poor materially, trusting entirely on God.

Here lies her challenge to us who love to sing her Magnificat: do we allow God to work in us His salvation?

“He has mercy on those who fear him. He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he remembered his promise of mercy…”

Luke 1:50-54

Again, we find many similarities in the Mary’s Magnificat and Hanna’s song we heard in the responsorial psalm. But, more than that is the striking similarity of Magnificat with the Beatitudes to be preached by Jesus according to Luke.

In Matthew’s gospel, there are eight Beatitudes preached by Jesus at his sermon on the mount; Luke narrated it differently by citing only four Beatitudes he paired with four woes that Jesus preached in His sermon on the plain (this is due to the different audience Luke and Matthew addressed):

Blessed are you who are poor… Blessed are you who are now hungry… Blessed are you who are now weeping… Blessed are you when people hate you…

Woe to you who are rich… Woe to you who are filled… Woe to you who laugh now… Woe to you when all speak well of you…

Luke 6:20-26

Magnificat is the Gospel in a nutshell. See the works of God cited by Mary perfectly jibing with the Beatitudes of Jesus. Here we find again how Luke has shown us the consistency of Mary as a disciple of her Son Jesus Christ by witnessing to His teachings, living them out for which she was crowned as Queen of heaven and earth.

This is the reason why I love so much the image of Fatima and of Banneux known as Lady of the Poor with Mary portrayed as so simple yet so lovely and beautiful. What a scandal for the Church in our time with all those lavish processions and coronations of the Blessed Virgin Mary where the poor are left out, becoming more of a social function among the rich and famous. What a shame most especially amid the pandemic when some parishes can spend so much fortune in these rituals that look more as a show which the Blessed Virgin would definitely disapprove. Keep in mind how Mary identified herself as “handmaid of the Lord” — do away all those pomp and pageantries please!

Every night, we priests and the religious sing the Magnificat in our Evening prayers to examine ourselves if we have lived out the Gospel message of the Lord, if we have been poor and hungry, if we have allowed ourselves to be used by God to effect His salvation among the suffering.

The same is true with every disciple of Jesus: when we sing the Magnificat or “Ang Puso ko’y nagpupuri”, we have to do some soul searching how consistent we have been as a disciple of the Lord like His Mother Mary.

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24 July 2016.

How sad late yesterday when some people -whether they are trolls or not – had come out expressing support to that cop who brutally shot and killed Sonya Gregorio and her son Anton in their home in Paniqui, Tarlac Sunday afternoon.

How can some people be not affected and even defend or belittle such unspeakable crime of a man supposed to uphold the law, protect civilians?

What had gone wrong with us as the only Christian nation in this part of the world?

Can we sing “Ang puso ko’y nagpupuri sa Panginoon, nagagalak ang aking espiritu, sa aking Tagapagligtas” while we rejoice and defend all forms of brutalities and violence around us?

As we strongly condemn this unspeakable crime and demand justice for Sonya and Anton, let us work hard and pray hardest to imitate Mary to effect change in the society we live in and create by being a voice of the poor and vessel of God’s salvation. Amen.

True blessedness this Christmas

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-6 for the Soul
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Advent Week IV, 21 December 2020
Zephaniah 3:14-18     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Luke 1:39-45
Photo by author, Church of the Visitation, the Holy Land, May 2017.

The Bible rarely tells us conversations between women, except for the Book of Ruth which records to us the story of two women, Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth who became the grandmother of King David, and therefore, a kin of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But more rare in the Bible are conversations between two pregnant women, mostly conversations even fights among pregnant mothers and their midwives or rival wives found in the Old Testament. It is therefore so unique is Luke’s account of the Visitation when Mary meets Elizabeth. There must be something so significant for Luke – and for us most especially – in this encounter and exchange.

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, blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:39-45

Women as vessels of God’s blessings

Recall Matthew’s genealogy dominated by the male figures as it was the prevailing culture at that time when women were not really given much attention. But to show the immense power and freedom of God, Matthew mentioned five women who made the coming of Jesus Christ possible.

Most of the women were not really that good whom we would rather describe as a problematique: Tamar pretended to be a prostitute to entice her father-in-law Judah to get her pregnant while Rahab was a real prostitute (a mamasan in fact) at Jericho who helped the spies sent by Joshua before attacking that ancient city; Ruth was a foreigner, not purely Jewish while Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah whom David had killed after she got pregnant with Solomon. And Mary, the wife of Joseph, was found pregnant while still a virgin! (That is what I like most with God – he has a great sense of humor all the time!)

Very interesting with the gospel by Luke is that he got a lot of stories not found in the three other gospels but we find him unique in having a special place for women. He was one of the earliest champions of women in the Church by mentioning many females in his stories to show their important roles in God’s plan for mankind.

Photo by author, frescoes at the Church of the Visitation depicting the Visitation and then the infamous Holy Innocents Day of how an angel helped save the child John the Baptist from Herod’s executioners (2019).

In this story of the Visitation, we find a totally different presentation of women even in today’s world. What do I mean? Recall how during the lockdown the memes of pictures of women meeting with a caption “mga nagbabagang balita” (today’s news headlines) portraying women as rumor mongers or chismosas. Later when classes resumed, another meme circulated of women gathered together exchanging class modules of their children as if to show they are stage mothers.

Luke always presented women so dignified in stature like in the Visitation, so blessed by God.

First thing we notice in the story is how Luke never mentioned Mary and Elizabeth were pregnant. He merely indicated their situation by saying “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb” at 1:41 while at the following verse 1:42, Elizabeth proclaims to Mary, “Most blessed are you among women, blessed is the fruit of your womb”. Biblical scholars say that perhaps, Luke wanted to assure his readers that God’s powerful blessings marked both women, over each of whom the Holy Spirit overshadowed them with a child: Elizabeth in her barrenness and old age, Mary in her being a virgin before living with her husband Joseph.

What a display of the power of God so simple, so unassuming!

But the most beautiful part in this conversations by these two great women is the meaning of being blessed. So often when we think of being blessed, especially us Filipinos, it is something more of being “lucky” or “swerte” that means having money to spend and buy things. Sometimes being blessed for us is having achieved something that makes us and our loved ones famous.

The Visitation story tells us something entirely different: to be blessed means to believe in God, that His words would be fulfilled in us like with Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk.1:45).

True blessings

Luke’s Gospel teems with so many occasions of blessings beginning in the infancy narratives up to the Presentation to the temple and then of Jesus pronouncing His blessings especially to those who listen and act on God’s words or those who accept Him as the Christ.

It is at the Visitation where Luke shows us the true meaning of blessedness through Mary because of her faith and trust in God’s word spoken to her by the angel at the annunciation of the birth of Jesus Christ. Her faith makes her a model disciple to be imitated by all followers and believers of her Son Jesus Christ.

And here we find again the artistry of Luke because it is not only Mary who is blessed in the Visitation, but also Elizabeth as another model disciple like the Blessed Mother. Elizabeth was the first to call and recognize Jesus Christ as Lord, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk.1:43).

Photo by author, Advent Week IV, 2020.

See that when Elizabeth heard the greeting by Mary, like when Mary heard the greeting by the angel at the annunciation, it signaled the coming of the messianic age. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI even claims the annunciation is the beginning of the New Testament.

Elizabeth is the first person as far as Luke is concerned to call Jesus “Lord” and the first to call Mary “blessed” whom she will confirm later in her Magnificat, “all generations will call me blessed” (Lk.1:48).

Two women so blessed by God because they both believed in His words, both believed in the Christ still in the womb. Mary and Elizabeth are in fact the first two Christian disciples who showed us the essential task of every disciple: after hearing the word of God and accepting it, we must share it with others not only by repeating it but interpreting it in our very lives that everyone would see it as the good news.

With barely a week left on this final week of Advent, let us ask ourselves how are we going to show to others what we believe happens in Christmas in this time of the pandemic, that true blessedness is not being rich with material wealth but being enriched by a deep and animated faith in Jesus Christ who is Christmas Himself.

A blessed Monday to everyone!

Advent is being consistent

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B, 20 December 2020
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16  >><)))*>  Romans 16:25-27  >><)))*>  Luke 1:26-38
Photo by author, Christmas 2019.

We are now on the final week of our four Sundays of preparations for Christmas. We have been saying Christmas 2020 is surely the most different and difficult in our lives due to the pandemic. However, it may also be the most meaningful when we have more of spiritual values, less of material things; more of the other persons, less of ourselves; and, more of Jesus, less of the Christmas trimmings.

Today we heard the beautiful story of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus Christ found only in the gospel of Luke, the source of many inspirations in arts for many centuries even today. The scene reveals to us the artistry and spirituality of Luke believed to be a medical doctor who was a disciple of St. Paul. He is the only evangelist who admitted he had “investigated everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence (the events about Jesus Christ) so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received” (Lk.1:3-4).

And what is that certainty Luke looked into? That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises to the patriarchs and prophets, who is the very presence of God among us. That is why Luke wrote a second volume to his gospel, the Acts of the Apostles to show us Jesus still present in the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit. In this beautiful canvass painted to us by Luke on Jesus the Christ in his Gospel and Acts we also find in a supporting role the Blessed Virgin Mary, His own Mother and model disciple.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. then the angel said to her, “do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end”

Luke 1:26-33

The discipleship of Mary

As a former journalist, I have always considered the four evangelists as the premiere reporters of Jesus Christ. Mark is the old school type of straight news reporting, writing the basic who, what, where, when and why, making his gospel the first to be written and shortest as he was in a hurry, a true journalist. Matthew is more of a feature writer or interpretative reporter while John was a news analyst, an op-ed columnist.

Luke is the modern journalist using the “digital platform” who goes on “live as it happens” with all the colors and actions without losing depth and focus like the BBC and Al Jazeera. He brings us where the news is happening as you must have noticed yesterday in the story of the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah which also served as introduction to his lead story of Christmas, the annunciation of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Here we see the unique position of Mary as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke tells us how Mary is the only one to have believed in a “situation of contemporaneity” as Fr. Cantalamessa would love to say, meaning, she believed while the event was taking place and prior to any confirmation by the event or history.

See how Matthew presented some facts already known to him in narrating the annunciation to Joseph where the angel clarified Mary’s pregnancy was due to the Holy Spirit. Luke, on the other hand, is like reporting live in real time, so realistic with Mary and the angel conversing to each other!

Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, mosaic of the Annunciation at the San Padre Pio Church in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, 2016.

Writing in Greek like the rest of the authors in the New Testament, Luke did not use the usual Hebrew greeting of “Shalom” when Gabriel appeared to Mary, addressing her instead with chaire or “Rejoice favored one” that means especially graced from which came our translation from the Latin “Hail, full of grace!” in 1:28.

The favor or grace of Mary has found with God in 1:30 is explained in 1:31 in the future tense, “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son“. What is amazing here is that there is the sense of certitude on the part of the angel that the future will definitely take place because Mary has already been highly favored one by God before this event. How?

Though Mary will finally become a disciple at the end by saying “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” in 1:38, we find in 1:29 how she had always been disposed to the will and grace of God when Luke described how “she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be“.

Mary “pondered – meaning, she prayed, she meditated right away the greetings to her, indicating her openness and disposition to listen and follow the will of God. That shows how even before the annunciation happened, Mary had always been obedient to God that is why she could say yes to Him when asked to be the Mother of the Savior.

Here we find Mary’s consistency as a disciple of the Lord, her Son Jesus still to be born but already existing in eternity!

When we were growing up, our mother would always tell us that once our names are called either by her or by our father, we only say one thing, “Opo… ano po iyon?” (Yes, what is it?). That is old school discipline where we literally obeyed first even without any instruction yet because we have always been assured parents would never tell kids to do something bad or wrong. And we believed that. Unlike today’s generations where the usual reply to parents’ call is “wait” that no wonder, we now ask God wait before he can speak to us. Thank God I did not get married….

Going back to Mary, we now find the contrast with yesterday’s annunciation to Zechariah: Mary pondered and felt everything in her heart and soul while Zechariah reasoned out, used more his head than his heart – something we must ponder this Christmas. Mary right away had her heart, her very self onto the Christmas Nativity while Zechariah was stuck in his negativity.

Mary believed while the event, the annunciation, was taking place, prior to any confir­mation by the event itself or by history. Later we shall see that expression “pondering in her heart” repeated often by Luke and also by John in presenting Mary: after listening to the words of the shepherds who came to see baby Jesus at His birth in Bethlehem, at finding Jesus at the temple aged 12, and during the wedding feast at Cana where He did His first miracle.

Photo by author of the site where the annunciation to Mary took place found below the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth (2019).

The faith of Mary

From the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to His crucifixion, Easter and Pentecost, Mary always believed. During the Visitation, Elizabeth praised her, becoming the first to call Mary as “blessed” because “you believed what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk.1:45).

Eight days after Easter, Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe! ” (Jn 20:29). Early at the annunciation, Mary was the first to have believed without having seen Jesus Christ!

Mary teaches us the importance of subjective faith or the act of simply believing and trusting God, a person-to-person relationship with Him.

But it is not enough because it could lead to isolationism when we become individualistic and begin to have our own concept of God like what is happening these days especially with many Catholics with their own interpretations of God, heaven, evil and sin among other things.

Like Mary, we need to cultivate also objective faith, believe in the content of faith of the community. Mary believed God relating with the ancient prophets and patriarchs of Israel which the angel mentioned to her during the annunciation. See that after the annunciation, Mary hastily went to visit Elizabeth to share her good news and her faith. In her we learn that faith leads to a mission that is seen in the context of a community, the Church where Mary was portrayed to us praying with the disciples of Jesus during the Pentecost at the Upper Room in Jerusalem.

So here we find the consistency of Mary even before the annunciation that continued on in the life of the Church we still experience today in her many apparitions and messages always centered on Jesus not herself.

That is the call of Advent to us all: to be consistently clear with our faith with the one to be born at Christmas, Jesus Christ who is the Son of the Father, our Savior promised in Old Testament, now the very presence of God among us.

People kneeling on the streets during our Christ the King celebrations, 22 November 2020.

It is not enough that we just pray and believe; like Mary, we need to get out of ourselves and give ourselves to God and the Church. This is especially true with us priests who seem to believe more to himself and to media than with God! We must constantly examine ourselves if we truly believe in what we preach, in the kind of lives we lead. Is Jesus still center of our lives or us that we are so concerned always with our “image”, always seeking “likes” and “followers” than anything else?

If there is anyone who should be the first to be consistent in faith in God in any community, that must be the priest or pastor.

A few weeks ago while striving through the many challenges of my personal life and my ministry since this pandemic began, a parishioner told me how they draw strength and inspiration from me. I asked her why and how? What does my personal life has anything to do with them?

She explained that whenever they see me still going through with my ministry, holding on in my prayers and daily Masses, still smiling and can still laugh and crack jokes — they just feel they too can overcome their trials and difficulties.

I have realized in that short conversation more than preaching and explaining faith and its content, people look more at how faithful are we truly are as men of faith. That aside from dispensing the sacraments and doing all the ministries in my parish, there is also the task so unknown to me before of enkindling the faith of my flock, of guiding and leading them to God based on how do I live that faith in God with joy and patience.

People believe in God and the Church when they experience their pastor believing first in God and the Church. Like the COVID-19 virus, faith is contagious that spreads by coming into contact with. We priests must be the first to be “infected” with faith in the parish so that everyone would be “positive” with it, creating a “pandemic” in faith!

That is the consistency of Mary as a disciple — she is a “carrier” of a deep, joyful and active faith in Jesus, “infecting” everyone so positively that despite the difficult and trying situations we are into, we celebrate Christ’s coming amid the pandemic.

A blessed Sunday as we prepare for Christmas!

Advent is a quarantine

The Lord is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-4 for the Soul
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Advent Week III, 19 December 2020
Judges 13:2-7, 24-25     <*(((><<   +   >><)))*>     Luke 1:5-25
Photo by author of our altar after a “private Mass” at the height of the lockdown last summer when public Masses were suspended.

I just realized the other day how fast really time flies after seeing photos of some of the couples I have married early this year now happily cuddling their babies… It did hit me hard that we have been in quarantine for nine months already, enough time to conceive and deliver a baby!

It sounds funny but it is the reality showing us how the birth of every child is a milestone not only to the parents but even to everyone and to history in general. We shall wait until next year to find out if there was a big increase in babies born this 2020 due to the long imposition of lockdowns and the quarantine we are into.

It is interesting to know that “quarantine” was actually borrowed from our Catholic practice of Lent, the 40 days of preparation for Easter called Quadragesima or Quaresma, from the Spanish word for forty.

When plagues became so common in Europe with devastating effects even before the middle ages, officials in the port of Venice in Italy ordered all incoming ships to spend “quaranta giorni” or 40 days of being moored first before entry to ensure they carry no plagues. Quarantine had always meant a period of time until lately it had also referred to a place or holding area as in “quaratnine area” to cleanse and disinfect people, animals, plants and things.

Advent 2019.

Its concept of spending days for purification had always been in our Judaeo-Christian traditions dating back to the Old Testament when the prophets of God would go to mountains and desert to meet Him who were later emulated by holy people including John the Baptist, Jesus, monks and hermits.

The Church imitated that practice that led to our Seasons of Lent and Advent. In fact, Advent used to be as long as Lent in duration, starting a day after the Martin Mass, the feast of St. Martin of Tours on November 11 but was later reduced to four Sundays to distinguish it from Lent that is meant to be more serious in preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Now you see, my dear Reader, how interesting it is this year 2020 when we actually went back to our old practices of Lent, and now Advent in truly preparing for the Lord’s coming going through the quarantine.

Going back now to our gospel which is from Luke, we have heard how Zechariah doubted the good news he and Elizabeth would finally have a son after so many years of praying to God. For that, the angel Gabriel chastised Zechariah and made him speechless that people waiting outside the temple were amazed when he emerged from the Holy of holies unable to speak.

Then, when his (Zechariah) days of ministry were completed, he went home. After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.”

Luke 1:23-25
Photo by author, Church of the Visitation at Ein Karem (2017) where Elizabeth and Zechariah had a summer residence where they stayed when Elizabeth went into seclusion after getting pregnant with John.

Opening our selves to God and others

I find our gospel today so timely: Zechariah went home while his wife Elizabeth went into seclusion. They went into an Advent preparation for their son John the Baptist. They both went into a quarantine but not for the same reason: it was imposed on Zechariah while Elizabeth went into it voluntarily.

To lose one’s voice is to lose power and ability to lead. Zechariah was forced into silence in order to meditate and reflect more on the good news he had received from the angel. He was forced to go into silence to listen more to his true self, to others and to God to find new perspectives in life. As a priest, he must have been much sought after in their town for his wisdom and intelligence. Now that he is speechless, Zechariah was confined inside his home, to his very self to listen and most of all, to renew himself in God.

On the other hand, Luke shows us how Elizabeth seem to know better than her husband in dealing with their unusual situation by going into seclusion for five months. Observe how Elizabeth right away prayed to thank God as she meditated His mystery in “taking away her disgrace before others”. Remember that during that time, the only reason why a woman marries was to bear a child; failure to have a baby was seen as an embarrassment, almost like a curse or punishment from God.

In the first reading, we have seen this reality too but unlike Zechariah, the wife of Manoah believed the angel from God who told her she would bear a child despite her old age and being a barren. She was also instructed to go through a quarantine during her pregnancy when she was instructed to “be careful to take no wine or strong drink and to eat nothing unclean” (Judges 13:4). Furthermore, she was told not to cut the hair of her son to be born and named Samson “for this boy is to be consecrated to God… who will begin the deliverance of Israel from the power of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5).

Here we find the concept of quarantine, of separation from the usual things and people because of a special mission from God. If we can just truly appreciate the rich lessons we can learn from this pandemic, how wonderful to see that we are being quarantined like Elizabeth and wife of Manoah because God is preparing us for something greater.

From these stories of two old, barren women bearing a child we find Advent as the season that reminds us God comes to us hidden in our very time and space when we need to go to quarantine to create a space within us where we can be silent and be transformed as we listen more to ourselves, to others, and to God.

How sad that in our 24/7 world where we have made nighttime like daytime earning money to have everything, we have become more empty, more alienated, more sad and incomplete. Quarantine is essentially a sabbath when we are supposed to rest and be breathed on by the Lord with His Spirit, exactly what we like Zechariah needed so much

Photo by Ms. Jonna S. De Guzman, 06 December 2020.

Christmas negativity or Nativity?

One of the blogs I have been following for the past one and a half years is by a young Catholic lady in New York who is so full of enthusiasm in sharing Jesus in her writings as well as in the tasty recipes she dishes out weekly. Last week I found her blog so interesting, titled: “Christmas — negativity or Nativity?” (https://beautybeyondbones.com/2020/12/10/christmas-negativity-or-nativity/).

How sad that we are missing a very rare opportunity today during this pandemic not only to spiritually prepare for Christmas but to truly understand the things going on around us and in our very lives amid this pandemic. I have always believed COVID-19 has a spiritual dimension that we must face and address lest it happens all over again despite the discovery of a vaccine.

And what is that spiritual ailment? Too much negativities like Zechariah!

Imagine the very rare opportunity to incense the Holy of holies of the Jerusalem temple once a year with many other priests present and Zechariah was “chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense” (Lk.1:9)? That in itself could have been a great sign for him that something good may be happening.

Then, while inside the sanctuary of the Lord, an angel appeared to him with the good news, his news of a lifetime, something he and Elizabeth must have been praying all their lives: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall name him John (Lk.1:13).”

And we really wonder why did he doubt the angel’s good news? Did he not see it coming or at least, was it not the only thing he was always wishing for?

It is really so unthinkable. “Wow, ang labo naman” as teenagers would say.

What happened to Zechariah could also be going on to many among us these days that even if we have been praying and celebrating the Mass weekly or even daily with all of our professed faith, hope and love in God, we have also grown accustomed to the darkness of this pandemic with all its fears that unconsciously, we sully ourselves with many negativities, even cynicism and pessimism as if we would never make into better days.

Photo by Ms. Jonna S. De Guzman, 06 December 2020.

Sometimes it happens in our lives that our prayers have become mechanical and worst, our hearts have grown apart from God that we have become so resigned to our plight or predicament that we just pray and believe in God because we have to.

Here we need the creative courage of St. Joseph we reflected yesterday by keeping our love alive.

In telling us the story of the coming of John first before Jesus Christ, Luke is telling us to be ready for greater things about to happen with us if we become silent, take a few steps backwards and rest in the Lord to experience his presence in us and among us.

Whenever I feel low with my life, I just think of my other brother priests striving in the Lord’s vineyard or think of the cops and soldiers and simple folks who work so hard because they believe there is meaning in this life.

Let us drive away all negativities and focus more on the Nativity! Believe always in God and most of all, remain in love with Him, that He has plans for us and mission to make Him known into the world that has forgotten Him.

The fact that after almost a year of pandemic there are still so many women anywhere in the world delivering a baby every second, every minute means this planet is filled with life, is suffused in life that comes only from Life Himself, Jesus Christ.

Each one of us is a “John” – a grace of God, a reminder that Jesus Christ had come, will come again, most of all, is come! Cheer up, energize the sagging spirits of our many brothers and sisters who have become so negative this Christmas. Let them see the Nativity in our enthusiasm to live and to celebrate Christmas meaningfully despite the pandemic.

A blessed Saturday to everyone! Amen.

Loving “with a Father’s heart” like St. Joseph

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-3 for the Soul
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II 
Friday, Advent Week III, 18 December 2020
Genesis 49:2, 8-10     >><)))*> + >><)))*> + >><)))*>     Matthew 1:1-17
Photo from Vatican News, St. Joseph and the Child Jesus, 14 December 2020.

Today we continue the second part of Matthew’s genealogy that ended yesterday with a marked shift in its structure of begetting: “Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ” (Mt.1:15-16).

Matthew now fortifies this fact and conviction that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the promise to the Patriarchs, the Son of God who became human like us. See his solemn pronouncement about the coming of Jesus Christ:

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ cam about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Jospeh, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.

Matthew 1:18-19

It is so timely that on this rare occasion when we reflect on Joseph’s role in the coming of Jesus Christ that Pope Francis recently declared December 8, 2020 to December 8, 2021 as the “Year of Saint Joseph” in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the declaration of the beloved saint as Patron of the Universal Church with his Apostolic Letter “Patris Corde” (With a Father’s Heart).

A known devotee of Saint Joseph who popularized in 2015 during his visit to the country the image of the “Sleeping Saint Joseph”, Pope Francis said in writing Patris Corde how the COVID-19 pandemic has helped us see more clearly the importance of “ordinary” people who, though far from the limelight, exercise patience and offer hope every day.

The Holy Father explained that the “ordinary” people like those who kept our lives going especially during the lockdowns resemble Saint Joseph, “the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence,” who nonetheless played “an incomparable role in the history of salvation” (Vatican News, 12 December 2020).

Let us reflect on two beautiful traits of St. Joseph that made him love Jesus and Mary with a father’s heart according to Pope Francis: creatively courageous and being in the shadows.

Photo from Vatican News, 12 December 2020.

Saint Joseph as a creatively courageous father

In describing Joseph as a “creatively courageous father”, Pope Francis showed us his deep devotion to this great saint described by Matthew as a “righteous man” or holy man who obeys the Laws of God.

Having courage is more than being able to do death-defying acts that is more on physical strength; courage is a spiritual virtue, a spiritual strength when we do extraordinary things because of higher ideals and values like love and gaining eternal life in Jesus Christ.

According to Pope Francis, “creative courage emerges especially in the way we deal with difficulties. In the face of difficulty, we can either give up and walk away, or somehow engage with it. At times, difficulties bring out resources we did not even think we had” (Patris Corde, 5).

The word courage is from the Latin “cor” for heart which is the seat of our being. To have courage according to the late Fr. Henri Nouwen means “to speak from the heart, to listen to our heart, and to act from our heart” when we dare to lose ourselves because of love.

A creative person is always someone who is deeply in love with another person or with one’s craft, art, career or whatever passion. See how people so in love become so creative that they can write songs and poems, do wonderful works, and accomplish so many wonderful things.

A “creatively courageous” person like Saint Joseph is someone so deeply in love with Mary and with God: after learning the circumstances surrounding Mary’s pregnancy, Matthew tells us “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Mt.1:24).

Photo by author, Gaudete Sunday 2020.

Matthew tells us how Saint Joseph from the very start has always been creatively courageous when he decided to quietly divorce Mary after learning of her pregnancy: here we find Saint Joseph not only very courageous to face the bitter truth about Mary having a baby not his but also very creative in the sense that because of his great love for her, he did not want her exposed to extreme shame and public humiliation in breaking the seal of their betrothal.

His love for Mary found ways to spare her all the pains and hurts that may result if found with a baby not his; but after learning the truth, the more we find him creatively courageous when Joseph found so many ways to save Mother and Child from all harm and even death.

See that when Joseph accepted Mary, Jesus came forth to us while at the same time, when Joseph accepted God through the angel as expression of his deep faith and love, he took Mary as wife.

And this is what Pope Francis further explains in Patris Corde that at the end of every account in which Saint Joseph plays a role, the Gospel tells us that he gets up and takes Jesus and Mary who are the most precious treasure of our faith.

Taking Jesus and Mary like Saint Joseph as creatively courageous calls us Christians to always love the Church and the sacraments and charity, and most of all in loving the Church, we also love the poor for whom Jesus came and Mary identified herself with in her Magnificat.

In this time of the pandemic, we are called to creatively courageous in finding Jesus among those people too familiar with us and those so different from us because too often, they are the people we always take for granted, those too close to us and the strangers.

Being creatively courageous in this time of the pandemic means also being more sensitive with others especially in our words and actions that many times lack any sympathy or empathy with those living at the margins like the poor and the sick, those living alone, and those forgotten by families and by society.

Saint Joseph, a father in the shadows

I love the way Pope Francis started his Apostolic Letter about Saint Joseph because it is something very much alike with Matthew’s unique style in beginning his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus: the Holy Father began by citing how Joseph loved Jesus according to the gospels “WITH A FATHER’S HEART” written in all caps!

Pope Francis must be stressing to us these days of the need to have a father’s heart which is also rarely heard because most often, the heart is more associated with the mother. But that is what the world precisely needs now, a father’s heart like that of God our Father.

In every exercise of our fatherhood, we should always keep in mind that it has nothing to do with possession, but is rather a “sign” pointing to a greater fatherhood. In a way, we are all like Joseph: a shadow of the heavenly Father, who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt 5:45). And a shadow that follows his Son.

Pope Francis, Patris Corde, 7
Photo is painting on acrylic (48×96) by Bulakenyo artist Aris Bagtas called “Luklukan ng Karunungan” (Seat of Wisdom) displayed at the second floor of the Library of the Immaculate Conception Major Seminary at Guiguinto, Bulacan.  A lively and beautiful rendition by Aris of Mary teaching her Son Jesus Christ while at the background is Joseph looking at them.  Used with permission.

To be with a heart of the father like God’s is to be “most chaste” like Saint Joseph which the Holy Father said is more than a sign of affection but the summation of an attitude that is the opposite of possessiveness.

Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, is it truly love. A possessive love ultimately becomes dangerous: it imprisons, constricts and makes for misery. God himself loved humanity with a chaste love; he left us free even to go astray and set ourselves against him. The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the centre of things. He did not think of himself, but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.

Pope Francis, Patris Corde

I am so glad that Pope Francis mentioned the need to be “most chaste” as opposite of possessiveness because there is an ongoing crisis in fatherhood among us these days. Not just to biological fathers but also to fathers in the other institutions especially the Church.

Are we not priests in deep trouble with chastity these days not only with the scourge of sexual scandals and misconduct this century but also in how we have been lording it over in our parishes that we have remained an institution seen more in terms of power and control that we have never evolved to Avery Dulles’ other models of the Church like a community of disciples?

Are we not also guilty in the Church like fathers in the family and other institutions who “possessed” those below them, totally forgetting it is the Lord’s vineyard, that we are His stewards tasked to lead our flock to growth and maturity when all we think of is our own prestige and popularity that Jesus Christ is forgotten and put to the sidelights because we feel so good, so great?

In this time of pandemic amid the many temptations of social media, we priests must pause before doing all those online projects to keep in mind that we are shadows of the fatherhood of God, that like Saint Joseph, it is best for us to work in silence and as much as possible be at the background because we remain the shadows of the Son.

Fatherhood in the real and Christian sense is being a shadow not only of God the Father but also of his Son, Jesus Christ. Like John the Baptist, fathers must learn to decrease so that Jesus may increase.

Photo by author of the Chapel of St. Joseph in Nazareth (2017); below is the ancient site of his carpentry shop where Jesus grew up as a child.

Lately I have been dreaming of my late father due to so many problems coming my way. When people ask me about my vocation story, asking how it all started, I have always considered it all began with my dad. He never asked me to become a priest nor even taught me how to pray but I grew up seeing him pray daily before our altar before leaving for work and upon coming home. How I love waking up to the scent burning candles wafting through our home as he always lit candles at the altar and our grotto outside. It was from him that I learned that lesson I taught my students to have a rosary in the pocket so we may pray anywhere, any time.

The only other thing my dad taught me by personally telling me was to study hard so that we could be of service to the people and never a burden to the society.

I think that is the best thing any father can do — to form their children into another shadow of the Lord, not necessarily be like them.

A blessed day specially to all Fathers and dads!