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!

Learning from Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Memorial of St. Clement, Pope and Martyr, 23 November 2020
Revelation 14:1-3, 4-5     >><)))*>  >><)))*>  >><)))*>     Luke 21:1-4
Photo by Red Santiago, his youngest son at prayer in our Parish, 21 November 2019.

Two things have struck me today, Lord, in your words: first is how St. John could say “No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been ransomed from the earth” (Rev. 14:3) when he heard them singing before you in his vision of heaven; and second, how did you know that the “poor widow put in more than all the rest” (Lk.21:3) into the treasury?

Of course, you are the Son of God, Jesus, who knows everything and can read everything in our hearts but, aside from that fact, one thing that truly best describes you is how you can give up anything even your very self for us, completely trusting the Father like a child.

In the gospel, you must have seen how the poor widow thought more of God, more of the temple, more of those in need than her self that she gave two small coins’ offerings worth a fortune for her. She was willing to let go of everything she has for God because she trusted him so much!

May we keep in our minds and in our hearts that it is when we are able to give up what is most precious in us that we truly love because that is also when we truly have faith in you that whatever we lovingly surrender is never lost but gained in eternal life like the 144,000 souls singing the new hymn for the Lamb in heaven seen by your beloved disciple.

As we close the current liturgical year this week, teach us, Lord Jesus, to learn more of these things from you so we can prepare ourselves for your daily coming especially this coming Season of Advent leading to Christmas.

Like St. Clement, may we entrust everything to God’s providence and care our whole lives. Amen.

A “postscript” to St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 19 October 2020
St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome from en.wikipedia.org.

It is really funny these days at how things we grew up with have changed so differently like the postscript we used with initials “P.S.” at the end of letters as an afterthought we sent relatives and friends about 40 years ago.

Today, a postscript is more of a trademark and an application in computers but for my generation, it is from the Latin “post scriptum” that means “written after”.

Consider this piece, my dear Reader, as a postscript or PS to St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians we heard proclaimed during weekdays from October 5-14, 2020 where he explained and reflected about faith in Jesus Christ whom he loved so much.


Faith is having a relationship with God, 
not to obtain things from him.

We always hear people say “have faith” in everything we pray for. Always believe that God will hear us, God will grant us what we need and ask for.

But what happens when we do not get what we are praying for like when a loved one is not healed or recovers from a sickness and eventually dies? Or, flunk an important exam or maybe fail to close a major deal in business? Does it mean we lack faith? Or, is that the main purpose of having faith in God, to obtain things and favors from him?

See how St. Paul called the Galatians “stupid” for being misled by false teachings on the gospel of Jesus Christ: some preachers had come to Galatia at that time telling them of the need to be circumcised like the Jews who converted to Christianity in order to be saved. He wrote the Galatians primarily to rectify those errors they have seemed to believed, where he introduced the doctrine of “justification (salvation) by faith in Christ”, not by rituals and other practices men do. It is not to dismiss our traditions but to stress the primary role of faith in Jesus Christ who died for our sins to save us.

O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. I want to learn only this from you: did you receive the Spirit from works of the law, or from faith in what you heard? Are you stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, are now ending with the flesh?

Galatians 3:1-3

Sometimes like the Galatians, we end up with the flesh, believing more in things we do like rituals and other things than truly believing Jesus because we use faith to obtain things from God.

No! We believe because we relate: every relationship like marriage always presupposes faith in the other person. Even Jesus in teaching us how to pray, he taught us the “Our Father” which is an expression of a relationship.

Wedding of my former student, Micah and Lery Magsaysay, February 2020.

Being faithful means being realistic.

Jesus himself assured us that faith can move mountains and do other great things for us if we truly believe. This is perhaps the reason we always equate faith in asking for so many things from God.

Not at all. We also have to be realistic with things we ask from God. He is not a magician who has to please and entertain us with his miracles and powers. When we were in high school seminary, the late Fr. Nick Cruz, SJ gave us a recollection and told us we cannot simply ask anything from God like a rose blooming from your toothpaste to prove he calls you to the priesthood!

Being realistic in our faith by praying first of all to have Jesus, only Jesus and always Jesus!

When Jesus told us to seek and you shall find, to ask and it shall be given to you, and to know and the door shall be opened to you (Lk.11:9-10), he was not telling us to ask for money and gadgets. If we are going to be realistic in our faith, Jesus is telling us to seek God and you shall find him, to ask God and you shall have him, and most of all, God is the only door when we knock would surely open us to new beginnings.

In explaining the unique call we have received from God in Christ, St. Paul gives us the whole reality of our being Christians, of having a faith that is realistic.

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:27-29
Photo by author, August 2020.
Faith demands conviction and consistency.

God’s gift of faith in us is not everything; we have to cultivate and deepen our faith to experience its wondrous fruits and grace. See the kind of conviction of St. Paul in proclaiming and explaining his faith in Jesus Christ.

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the Gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:11-12

Like the Galatians, many of us are easily swayed by so many other beliefs and teachings that are misleading, claiming to be a part of the faith we have received. Without firmness and conviction in our faith, some among us have gone to accommodating modern thoughts and lifestyles that run contrary to our faith in Christ like abortion, same sex marriage, and in-vitro fertilizations or test tube babies.

A believer without conviction and consistency in faith and actions is not faithful at all. What happens with our “faith is a relationship” when the chips are down, when we are confronted of either being for God or against God?

Sometimes we try “moving the lines”, convincing ourselves that we are not crossing the line of morals and morality like when we are bent on accommodating others and ourselves in some occasions to justify personal preferences.

Sad to say, it happens even among us clergymen like when we tinker with the liturgy and the sacraments in the name of modernism and of arts and worst, with some issues pertaining to acts intrinsically sinful and immoral.

Maybe if we would have the conviction and consistency of faith, we would all be like the good Samaritan in the Lord’s parable – a neighbor to everyone especially those in need, willing to cross the street to faithfully reach out to others in Jesus Christ (Lk. 10:25-37).

Try examining our faith today. Has it bloomed into a relationship we keep with God our Father in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit or has it remained as it is, a given, a safety net just in case we need?

Have faith, have God and we’ll journey far, together! Amen.

From americamagazine.org.

On Wednesday, we reflect on being faithful and free, and how faith works through love. Have blessed Monday and see you again!

You may also check our prayers from October 05-14, 2020 based on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians at the archives of http://lordmychef.com.

Prayer for deep conviction in faith

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Week XXVII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 05 October 2020
Galatians 1:6-12     >><)))*>   |+|   <*(((><<     Luke 10:25-37
From America Magazine via Google.

God our loving Father, I praise and thank you for the gift of faith in you that have greatly helped me finding fulfillment in you. As I grow and continue in this journey in faith, I have realized too that it is not enough to just believe in you but also be convinced in this faith in you.

Like during the time of St. Paul especially among the Galatians, until now many of us are easily swayed by so many other beliefs that are misleading. claiming to be a part of the faith we received from you through Jesus Christ.

Teach us to be like St. Paul in his firmness and conviction in his faith no matter what modern thoughts claim to be a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ that try to accommodate certain thoughts and lifestyles, like masquerading as being “politically correct”.

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the Gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:11-12

If we can have St. Paul’s kind of conviction in faith, maybe we can be more authentic Christians or believers of God like the good Samaritan unlike the priest and Levite who just passed by the victim to robbers on the road to Jericho.

Forgive us Lord when our faith and lives do not match because so often our faith have no roots within us, we are not personally convinced in believing and following you. Amen.

Primacy of love

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, 01 October 2020
Job 19:21-27     >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>     Luke 10:1-12
Photo by author, white roses at our altar, 2019.

On this Memorial of the most loved saints of today, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, I pray O God parents who have lost a child, those diagnosed with serious illness, and those heavily weighed on with simultaneous trials and problems in family.

It is so refreshing on this first day of October that we celebrate the life and holiness lived in total simplicity by St. Therese, a modern Job in our time after she had undergo many hardships and trials at a very young age as a contemplative nun.

I pray dear God for those feeling almost crushed by so much tribulations in life, those about to give up, losing hope and meaning or those who could no longer find their sense of mission amid the heavy or enormous weights on their shoulders.

But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust; whom I myself shall see: my own eyes, not another’s, shall behold him, and from my flesh I shall see God; my inmost being is consumed with longing.

Job 19:25-27

Most of all, dear God, as we go through so many difficulties in life during this pandemic, may we be more loving not only in words but in deeds, even the most simplest deeds like St. Therese:

Photo by author, 01 October 2019.

Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation… O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Office of Readings, 01 October, Volume IV

May we break all walls that divide us as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ your Son, almighty Father.

Most of all, heeding your Son’s call, we pray to you O God our harvest-master to send us with more laborers for your abundant harvest (Lk.10:1-2) of people hungry and thirsty for you and meaning in life. Send us workers in your field whose hearts are filled with love and fervor in doing the mission of evangelization wherever they may be like St. Therese, who, despite her being a cloistered in a monastery, had become patroness of the missions in prayers and in her little ways for God.

Indeed, when there is enough love in one’s heart, there is always so much to give and share with everyone hungry and thirsty for love. Amen.

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!

Mary in the hiddenness of God

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 10 September 2020
Chapel of the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem where the Holy Family hid before fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s murder of innocent babies. According to tradition, a drop of milk from the Virgin Mary fell on the floor of the cave that turned color of the stones to white.

We have just celebrated the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most perfect example of one who had experienced God’s hiddenness in her life, teaching us with some important lessons in rediscovering and keeping God’s hiddenness specially in this age of social media when everything is shown and has to be seen.

We have mentioned in our previous blog that hiddenness is different from being invisible that simply means “not visible”; hiddenness is more than not being seen per se but that feeling with certainty that God is present though hiding because he wants to surprise us. If God were not hidden, we would have not found him at all. And the more God is hidden, the more we are able to see him and experience him too as seen in the life of Mary (https://lordmychef.com/2020/09/04/the-hiddenness-of-god/).

The hiddenness of Mary.

Simplicity and humility of Mary as venue for the perfect setting of God’s coming in Jesus Christ. Consider her origins: her town of Nazareth in the province of Galilee was definitely outside the more popular city of Jerusalem that was the place to be at that time. Most of all, it is the only town in the New Testament never mentioned in the Old Testament nor by the prophets for lack of any significance in the coming of the Messiah.

Nazareth was largely unknown with some hint of notoriety as expressed by Nathanael (aka, Apostle Bartholomew) when he expressed disbelief to Philip who told him they have found the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, by saying “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

Photo by author of chapel at the grotto believed where Mary received the good news of bearing Jesus Christ in her womb underneath the Basilica of the Annunciation at Nazareth, Israel (2019).

But that is how God works in his hiddenness, coming to us in the most ordinary places and circumstances, even least expected like Mary who was definitely not “in” if we go by today’s popular standard of “who’s in and who’s out?”

In fact, she was so “outside” the circle of influence of their time with her being promdi as we say these days, without any illustrious lineage to be proud of like her spouse Joseph who was from the royal Davidic line or her cousin Elizabeth from the priestly branch of Aaron, the brother of Moses whose husband, Zechariah belonged to another priestly clan in Israel.

Yet, God chose Mary to be the Mother of Jesus Christ because of her hiddenness expressed in her simplicity and humility. It is a far cry from our extreme “Marianism” when we almost worship Mary forgetting Jesus Christ her Son and our Savior! Worst still is the growing trend of “triumphalism” in many parishes racing for the so-called “episcopal” and “canonical” coronation of their various images of the Virgin Mary that come in all kinds of names and titles that has come to look more of a fad than authentic Marian devotion.

Without any intentions of denigrating the role and stature of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our faith as well as her proper place in the life of the Church defined by Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, I dare ask the following questions:

Photo by author, a replica of Our Lady of the Poor of Banneux, Belgium at Girlstown, Cavite (2009).

Is her coronation in heaven as Queen of heaven and earth not enough?

Why the need for these lavish spectacles for the coronation of the most simplest and humblest woman to have lived on earth?

It is a clear case of triumphalism – that exaggeration or overdoing our worship and rituals – especially if the Marian image is less than 200 years old without widespread devotions like the ones at Sto. Domingo (Quezon City) and Manaoag (Pangasinan).

I do not think the Blessed Mother would favor this considering her simplicity and solidarity with the poor and marginalized peoples seen in her many apparitions.

See the quaint and charming simplicity of Mary at Fatima in Portugal (1917) and lately at Banneux in Liege, Belgium (1933) where she identified herself as “Lady of the Poor”.

Note how the Virgin Mary reads “the signs of the times” in her apparitions and appearances when during the 1500’s at the height of European royalties and expeditions, she was always portrayed as victorious in regal clothes; but since Fatima in the 20th century as the world sank into the excesses of Industrial Revolution and affluence, Mary appeared simple, always in solidarity with the poor and suffering.

It is a cue we are sorely missing and sad to say, instead of renewing the world as St. Paul had asked us, we have allowed ourselves with the Mother of God to be transformed into the ways of the world by immersing in its showbiz frenzies, focusing on the material aspects like expensive clothes and jewelries.

Second example of Mary’s hiddenness is her oneness with Jesus Christ. She was never on her own, always seen in Jesus, with Jesus her Son and Lord. She believed in him so much, making him the focus at the wedding feast at Cana as well as at the foot of the Cross where she expressed in the most strongest terms her solidarity with the Savior of the world.

This has always been insisted by the Church since Vatican II regarding our devotions to Mary that must always be in relation with Jesus and his mission — never on her own.

Photo by author, 2019.

In all her apparitions, the Blessed Mother has always been consistent with her messages of conversion and return to God through her Son Jesus Christ, the frequent reception of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession or Reconciliation.

Mary’s Christocentricity is best seen in her oneness with him in pains and sufferings like in the Pieta and the Mater Dolorosa where Jesus is the one standing out, not her. Nor anybody else.

When Mary, or anybody else for that matter goes on one’s own, Jesus is no longer hidden but removed from the scene. Then his Cross disappears and all that is seen is Mary in all her “beauty and glory” that are empty, very secular because these attributes come precisely from her communion in Jesus!

Perhaps, this pandemic is teaching us today to review our Marian devotions and processions that have become more of a show and a spectacle for Instagram than for deepening of our faith.

I pray that the Cofradia that holds the annual December 8 processions at Intramuros would take a rest this year until 2022 to discern their noble efforts before that have degenerated to pomp and pageantry among “devotees” specially camareros and camareras trying to outshine and outclass each other with some participation at the sidelights of their pastors and sacristans.

Keeping the hiddenness of God while we remain hidden in contemplation.

Of all the qualities of Mary we all must imitate to help people rediscover God’s hiddenness is her being hidden in prayer and contemplation.

St. John Paul II noted in Rosarium Virginis Mariae when he launched the Luminous Mysteries in 2002 that although the scriptures are silent about where was Mary during the other significant moments of the life of Jesus, especially at the institution of the Holy Eucharist, it was most likely that Mary was also present deep in prayer.

This we find clearly at the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary while they were praying at the Upper Room in Jerusalem (Acts 1:13-14).

Modern rendition of the Pentecost with Mary among the other disciples of Jesus. From Google.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI shares with us his profound insight in his second Jesus of Nazareth book series (Birth of Jesus) how after the annunciation of the the birth of Christ to Mary, the angel left her totally without ever coming back to warn or instruct her unlike with Joseph. After saying “Yes” to the plan of God to be the Mother of Jesus, Mary immersed herself deep in prayers and contemplation, becoming hidden herself in God.

Since then, she never doubted Jesus her Son as the Christ, nurturing her faith with prayers beautifully expressed by St. Luke in saying how “Mary treasured things in her heart” when facing difficult situations like during his birth and his finding at the temple. It is not surprising that in the contemplation by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Risen Lord must have first appeared to his Mother upon rising from the dead because she was the first to believe totally in him (which became the basis of our tradition of the Salubong).

Mary has always been present in the hiddenness of Christ from his coming in the darkness of the night on a manger in Bethlehem, to his hidden years in Nazareth, to his ministry when he would always retreat to a deserted place to pray, to his Crucifixion and death and burial on Good Friday and finally, in the darkness of Easter.

In this age of social media where everyone and everything has to be seen and shown with nothing hidden anymore even without qualms and shame at all, part of our mission and ministry as priests and religious is to lead people back to God’s hiddenness like the Virgin Mary so they may realize anew that the best things in this life are not always seen.

To fulfill this is for us first of all to imitate God like Mary — be hidden!

How unfortunate that instead of leading the people back to God’s hiddenness, we priests and religious have in fact joined the secular world, imitating the “influencers” like bloggers and vloggers that instead of focusing on God who is hidden, we are concerned with our selves and all the “porma” for the sake of number of “likes” and “followers” we have in our posts.

The more we try so hard to make God visible in our ministry by imitating the styles and gimicks of some media personalities that make our liturgy look like a variety show complete with song and dance numbers with our altars heavily decorated like a studio set with giant tarpaulins like in EDSA, that is when we remove God totally – not only his hiddenness – from the scene and inverse proportionately, the more we priests and pastors become more popular than the Lord himself.

“The Assumption of the Virgin” by Italian Renaissance painter Titian completed in 1518 for the main altar of Frari church in Venice. Photo from wikidata.org.

And that is how cults begin, with or without Jesus. It is very sad, even tragic and ironic because we have removed God himself – even Mary! – by unconsciously making ourselves the center of attention like pop icons and idols.

Mary had shown us the most perfect example of discipleship which is more of Jesus, less of self.

Can we not post without using our own pictures – no matter how profound our thoughts are – so the people may see the hiddenness of God in a photo of a lovely flower or a magnificent sunset? Unless you are a bishop or the Pope himself, having your photo published specially in the news is part of the information process about the person in focus. It is totally different in Church communications which is all about God and his message of love, not us.

The quarantine period invites us in the Church to appreciate and share this wonderful hiddenness of God by first becoming incognito, unknown and hidden from others, preferring to be at the background or “behind the camera” as we follow God in his hiddenness until we go to that great beyond of totally hidden from everybody except God.

Do not worry. We have Mary in every step along the way. Amen.

“Something’s gotta give”

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
First Friday, Week XVIII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 07 August 2020
Nahum 2:1, 3, 3:1-3, 6-7 >><)))*> || + || <*(((><< Matthew 16:24-28
Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima, Batanes, 2018.

While praying on your words today, O Lord, thoughts of the beach came through my mind. I do not know why; maybe this is the only year when I would have not gone to a beach that I miss so much.

But, as my former spiritual director during our 30-day retreat, the late Fr. Arthur Shea, SJ, used to assure me, “the most difficult prayer is always the most meritorious”.

Indeed, sweet Jesus!

Like your prophet Nahum in the first reading looking forward to the defeat of Nineveh, I remembered those days in the past when I felt so fearful on many occasions whether I can overcome the many trials and challenges that have come my way.

See, upon the mountains there advances the bearer of good news, announcing peace! Celebrate your feasts, O Judah, fulfill your vows! For nevermore shall you be invaded by the scoundrel; he is completely destroyed. The Lord will restore the vine of Jacob, the pride of Israel, though ravagers have ravaged them and ruined the tendrils.

Nahum 2:1, 3

Like Judah, I have won and prevailed in my many battles in life in your power, Lord, when I entrusted myself to you totally.

When I look back in my life, it is so true that it is in giving that we receive, it is in losing when we have, and it is dying when we truly live. That is the lesson of the waves at the beach that keep on coming to shore, as if trying to take it to the sea.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

How I wish I could be like the sea, always moving, always light without anything except water unlike the shore that is so adamant as if it would never budge in.

But in reality, it is the sea that always prevails because water is always willing to give up itself to follow the form of the shore, to take the shape of every container where it is poured while the shore through time, its sand and rocks eventually give into the waves to get lost in the sea.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 16:24-25

Dearest Jesus Christ, teach me to give up myself to you completely. Teach me to learn to get lost to you in order to find myself, to find fulfillment in life.

This COVID-19 pandemic reminds us today in this age of abundance and affluence that still — the key to authentic living is in giving up, in having less.

As they always say, “something’s gotta to give”. Amen.

Beneath the surface


The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Week IX, Year II of Ordinary Time, 06 June 2020
2 Timothy 4:1-8 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> Mark 12:38-44
Photo by author, Sonnen Berg Mountain View, Davao City, 2018.

Imagining and praying this whole scene at the temple, Lord, is so chilling, demanding each of us to examine our being your disciple especially in this time of social media when every good deed being presented is no good at all.

There you are, Lord, warning us against doing every piety and religiosity for a show:

“Beware of the scribes , who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers.”

Mark 12:38-39

Forgive us, dear Jesus and have mercy for those moments we think more of getting famous, of getting known, of having more likes and more followers, when everything is done for the sake of setting a trend and becoming viral.

How sad that we miss the more important that is always beneath the surface, of what is in our hearts.

Photo by author, Church of St. Anne in Jerusalem, May 2017.

As I prayed on your next scene when you “sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury”, that’s when the veracity of our prayers and deeds are proven, when what is in our hearts are trul poured out.

If anything is done not coming from the heart, nothing can truly come out from the heart!

Grant us, Jesus, the same gift of selflessness of St. Paul that at the end of each day, we can sincerely pray to you,

“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

2 Timothy 4:7

If possible, Lord, teach me today to be like that poor widow to draw from my inmost being what is most precious to give and offer you. Amen.

Christ’s ascension, our mission

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, 24 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11 ><)))*> Ephesians 4:1-13 ><)))*> Matthew 28:16-20

Paschal candles at the entrance to the burial site of Jesus inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Photo by author, May 2017.

We are now at the penultimate Sunday of the Easter Season with the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. Next Sunday we close the season with Pentecost and begin the Ordinary Time following Monday.

But, with our situation expected to last until 2021 when we shall have a vaccine against COVID-19, it still feels like Lent for many of us who now feel the economic and psychological impact of this pandemic.

More than ever before, we are challenged today to give testimony to Christ’s Resurrection so we can grasp the meaning and beauty of our celebration today.

The Ascension of Jesus is not about his movement or change of residence from earth into heaven or some remote part of the deep space to start his “working from home”: the Ascension of Jesus is the “leveling up” of the relationship of Christ with his disciples who include us all today.

Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20
Dome of the Chapel of the Ascension beside a mosque outside Jerusalem. Photo by author, May 2019.

Giving testimony to the Risen Christ

Notice how our gospel today does not speak much about Jesus Christ’s ascension or his being taken up to heaven unlike with Luke both in his gospel account and Book of Acts of the Apostles.

With Matthew, it is very clear that with Jesus Christ’s departure comes the mission to give testimony to him who is risen from the dead. Every disciple’s testimony is essentially his/her mission to proclaim to the world that Jesus is alive, that he is Life itself.

Like during his Ascension on a hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus is calling us all today to gather again around him, to seek those who are lost and forgotten in order to bring them all together in Christ especially at this time when people suffer more from the neglect and double-standards of this government than from COVID-19 itself.

Where is God?

We are about to end two great seasons in our liturgical calendar but it seems that we are stuck in the Holy Week. We wonder what have happened to us in this pandemic when every scene we see, every situation we are into are unbelievable, something we see only in movies. And this one’s for real!

For those of us who have not lived through wars like our parents, the atrocities of Martial Law like others, or great catastrophes like the Baguio earthquake of 1990 and the recent “Yolanda” in Samar and Leyte, when the only sufferings we can “brag” are “Ondoy” and EDSA traffic, we now live life in the most uncertain way. In between the temporary escapes and respites offered by Netflix and social media platforms, we go through a lot of self-doubts, sometimes with fits of depression or sadness and loneliness especially when the day ends and darkness begins to envelop us.

For the first time, many of us have truly experienced of not having that much in life, whether they are family and friends, or money and things.

Window inside the Chapel of Ascension, May 2017.

This is the call of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord: that we gather ourselves anew, our families and friends, our memories, most of all, our faith and hope in God whom we have always taken for granted all these years.

This is the great challenge of our time as Christians: how can we be like the Apostles and other followers of Jesus along with his Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary be filled with joy at his departure, bearing all the pains and sufferings of persecution in this time of the corona virus?

Can we gather ourselves anew – not only our family and friends but our very selves to proclaim in our lives, in our presence, in our social media posts, in everything that Jesus Christ is risen, that he is with us always?

Brothers and sisters: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might….

Ephesians 1:17-19

Opening our hearts

I have always loved that part of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, imploring God that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened, that we may be opened to the truths and realities of Jesus Christ truly alive in our midst.

Giving testimony that Jesus Christ is risen, that he is alive, that he is Life itself needs an open heart.

Our minds will never be enough to capture, to understand and process everything about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ because it is something beyond history, beyond logic. We are sure it had truly happened, leaving imprints in the hearts and persons of all of Christ’s followers, from his first witnesses like the apostles down to us in our own time. What we need are listening hearts, seeing hearts… hearts that are open to the realities of God dwelling in us.

You must have followed the news last week about Mang Dodong of Caloocan City who was detained for more than ten days in Navotas where he was caught buying fish without a quarantine pass.

We were all saddened and affected by the news because it was at that same time when the President had pardoned and retained in position a police general who had violated quarantine rules he had vowed to implement. In fact, so severely in many instances including with Mang Dodong!

Good news is how so many people helped him pay his bail to be set free. That’s the risen Jesus working in our own time!

Fish vendor Joseph Jimeda, aka, Mang Dodong in his detention cell in Navotas. Photo from GMA News.

The path of love towards Easter and Ascension

What really makes this quarantine period too difficult and painful is not COVID-19 itself but the incompetence and injustice of this government personified by officials who are mostly arrogant, inconsistent, liars, and closed from the realities of life. They are so blinded by material things that they see businesses like malls as more essential than houses of worship that remain closed up to this day (unfortunately, even our bishops are so silent about it except for a few of them).

Sometimes, I feel we are not doing enough as witnesses and disciples of Christ, that we must be bolder and more adamant in insisting what is right, what is just with various social media platforms offering us venues for expressing our views.

But, as I prayed more about the pandemic in the light of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the more I see him present in his seeming absence by being silent amidst all these threats of the pandemic worsened by the government’s irresponsibilities, insensitivities, and injustice.

The very site where Jesus is believed to have stood during his ascension now encased in glass inside the Chapel of the Ascension. Photo by ator, May 2017.

To give testimony to the Risen Lord, to make disciples of all nations, and to teach everyone all he had commanded us to observe need not use force. Like Jesus and the Father, we need to remain gentle and patient despite the violence prevailing around us.

See how God patiently waited for the fullness of time before sending us his Son; and when Jesus was born, notice also the many trials he went through from Bethlehem to Egypt and back to Nazareth, reaching its highest point in his Passion and Death on the Cross on Good Friday.

Then came Easter Sunday and now, his Ascension.

Everything happened in silence, so gently and gradually, mostly with only a few people present.

That has always been the way of God from the Old Testament to the New Testament and right into our own time: no use of external powers and violent forces, only freedom to offer and elicit love that conquers all.

Today we are also celebrating the 54th World Communication Sunday, the only feast mandated by Vatican II for us to realize the importance of modern means of communications in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

For this year, Pope Francis has chosen the topic of the human story, of how our individual story is woven into our collective stories as a family, nation, and church. And the good news is, according to the Pope, all these stories of ours are made part of God’s story of love, the greatest story of all, the story that renews us.

Yes, we all have dark stories in this time of pandemic. Or even in childhood or the past. But, if we look into our hearts in prayer and in faith, we find Jesus there, loving us, keeping us, guiding us. Most of all, authenticating his resurrection in us, in our own life!

There are more beautiful stories we can tell during this pandemic that enable others to see the Risen Lord among us. Let us entrust ourselves to Jesus, to keep our hearts open as he authenticates our many experiences of witnessing to his Resurrection like he did to all others ahead of us.

Be assured we are on the right path in him. Amen.

Pilgrims waiting to enter the Chapel of the Ascension in the Holy Land, May 2019.