The gift of “today”

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday in the First Week of Ordinary Time, 12 January 2023
Hebrews 3:7-14     ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>     Mark 1:40-45
Photo by Mr. John Ryan Jacob, Liputan Island, Meycauayan, Bulacan, 10 January 2023.
The word "today"
resonates so clearly this day
in your words, O Lord our God:
indeed, let us not harden our hearts
if today we hear your voice;
let us not be like your people at 
Meribah who quarreled and rebelled
against you for lack of water in the
desert; let us not be like your people 
in Massah where they failed your test
of faith and trust, even Moses who
struck the rock twice instead of once
as you have commanded him.
Meribah and Massah continue to exist
today right in our hearts when we rebel
against you and those above us like 
our parents and teachers, 
our elders and superiors
and leaders in the Church;
until now we refuse to heed your
voice,
recognize your presence
in Jesus Christ in every
here and now,
in each day,
in the TODAY.
Forgive us, merciful Father,
let us hold on to faith to be
"partners in Christ"
by finding him, loving him,
and serving him in the
here and now.
Like that leper,
let us have that complete
trust and faith in you, Jesus,
waiting for you each day,
in every TODAY to tell you,
"If you wish, you can make me
clean" (Mk.1:40) because you
have always been present with
us in all our lives, especially in
our pains and sufferings;
you always have that compassion
for us that always, your grace appears
most when we are in our crosses.
And for that, we praise and
thank you,
dear Jesus!
Fill us with your Spirit,
make us enthusiastic like
that leper in every TODAY
to proclaim you saving presence.
Amen.

Coming to Jesus who comes

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday in the First Week of Advent, 28 November 2022
Isaiah 4:2-6   ><000'> + ><000'> + ><000'>   Matthew 8:5-11
Photo by author, 27 November 2022.
Thank you very much,
dear Jesus for the gift of Advent,
for your promise to come again
after you have come
and still come;
let me come rejoicing
to your house, O Lord!

I rejoiced because they said to me, “We will go up to the house of the Lord.” And now have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem. Because of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you!” Because of the house of the Lord, our God, I will pray for your good.

Psalm 122: 1-2, 8-9
As I look back to 2022 about to end,
the more I believe in your Second Coming,
Lord Jesus; with grateful heart,
I praise and thank you, Lord,
in letting us survive this year,
in letting us survive this pandemic
as you washed us all clean from our sins
that was long seen by Isaiah
and fulfilled in your coming.
Let me come to you, Lord,
like that centurion,
filled with faith and trust
in his belief in you,
in your powerful coming
even in words.
Amen.

Inviting Jesus into our lives

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday in the Thirty-Third Week of Ordinary Time, Year II, 15 November 2022
Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22   ><000'> + ><000'> + ><000'>   Luke 19:1-10
Forgive us, dear Jesus,
when many times in life
we appear to be so good and pious,
religious and devout in our religion
when in fact we lack faith in you
like the people of Sardis:

“I know your works, that you have the reputation of being alive but you are dead. Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember then how you accepted and heard; keep it, and repent.”

Revelation 3:1c-3a
Your words are so timely, Lord,
as we ourselves often hear the same words,
of how our Church is dying
because we are already dead in our faith;
we have been so complacent in our faith,
so focused with 
duties and obligations,
rites and rituals,
tasks and schedule
but so empty of YOU.

Come, Lord Jesus!
Maranatha!
Give us the holy longing
and desire of Zacchaeus to meet you,
to exert every effort to be with you
and to be filled with you!
But the most truest of your words today Lord
and most disturbing are your words to the
Church in Laodicea:

“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Revelation 3:15-16
Let us be clear with our stand in you, Jesus;
let us be firm in our faith and in our resolve
to follow you like Zacchaeus who gave
half of his wealth to the poor and repaid four times
those he had extorted money;
let us come to you with sincere hearts
and humility, empty us of our pretensions
and fill us with your presence and truth,
Lord Jesus!
Amen.

Remaining in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist, 18 October 2022
2 Timothy 4:10-17   ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>   Luke 10:1-9 
Photo by author, 2018.
Dearest Jesus:
as we celebrate today
the feast of your Evangelist
St. Luke, I pray for the grace
to be like him - prayerful
and faithful to you,
especially when 
things become so tough
and difficult.
Of the four Evangelists,
St. Luke emphasized most
your praying so often
to show your oneness
in the Father, of your
going to deserted places
to pray especially before
major events like the choice
of the Twelve Apostles
and the Transfiguration,
clearly showing that prayer
is the very center of the life 
of every disciple to be able 
to follow Jesus closely by
carrying the cross "daily" (Lk.9:23).

Like St. Luke,
may my life be a prayer,
a gospel in writing.
Photo by author, 2018.

Beloved: Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Luke is the only one with me.

2 Timothy 4:10-11
Let my prayers,
O dear Jesus, 
lead me to deeper
faith in you especially
when in severe tests
like St. Luke who remained
faithful to you by standing
by his mentor St. Paul 
even in prison.

Like St. Luke, keep me faithful
to you, Jesus, by always remembering 
the poor and marginalized in the
society especially the women
and the sinners this Evangelist
had put on the limelight
like Elizabeth, Anna the Prophetess 
and the widow of Nain 
as well Zacchaeus and Dimas.

Like St. Luke, keep me faithful
to you Jesus by being faithful too 
to your Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary: 
St. Luke was the only one who sought her
in Ephesus to give us the lovely story
of Christmas from the Annunciation 
to the Visitation, the Nativity and 
the Presentation up to her presence
at the Pentecost found in his
second book called the Acts,
the gospel of the Church
which is the other side of 
every fidelity to you and Mary
is fidelity to your Church!
Dearest Jesus,
in writing the Gospel 
and the Acts of the Apostles, 
you have touched St. Luke so deeply 
that he narrated your story in great details
as if he was touching you 
that in the process,
he has touched us too,
enabling us to experience 
as well as paint and picture 
your Divine Mercy for everyone
Amen.
Painting of “Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin” by Flemish painter Roger van der Weyden (1400-1464); photo from en.wikipedia.org.  

Free and faithful in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle-C, 26 June 2022
1 Kings 19:16, 19-21 ><]]]]'> Galatians 5:1, 13-18 ><]]]]'> Luke 9:51-54
Photo by author, Bolinao, Pangasinan, 20 April 2022.

“Free and Faithful in Christ” by the late Redemptorist Fr. Bernard Haring is one of my favorite textbooks in the seminary that I have kept all these years not because I love moral theology but due to its title I have found so true especially in life and ministry.

The more we love Jesus and others, the more we become free, the more we become faithful and committed to God and others, the more we become trusting too.

For many people, commitment and freedom do not seem to jibe well because they think freedom is being able to do whatever you want, that freedom is absolute. Of course not! St. John Paul II clarified in Veritatis Splendor that since the beginning, God had limited freedom to choosing only what is good when he told Adam and Eve they were free to eat all fruits in the garden except the fruit of the tree of knowledge.

True freedom is not defying our parents and authorities to insist on what we want, regardless of the well-being of others like driving recklessly that harm those on the streets or posting pictures and statements in social media without respecting other people’s beliefs and sensibilities.

We can only be truly free as a person if we care for other people by seeing them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Brothers and sisters: For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.

Galatians 5:1, 13
Photo by author, wailing wall of Jerusalem, May 2019.

Jesus, the one truly free

After two Sundays of celebrating the Solemnities of the Trinity and of the Body and Blood of Jesus, we finally feel the Ordinary Time with our green motif this Sunday that shall continue until November before we end the liturgical calendar with Christ the King to usher in Advent Season and Christmas, which is just six months away from today.

But before thinking of the merry December, we are reminded this Sunday of our journey in life with Jesus guided by Luke who expertly expressed the tempo of Ordinary Time which implies the importance of being free and faithful in Christ:

When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village.

Luke 9:51-56

Here we find the complete freedom of Jesus Christ, his fidelity and commitment to his mission from the Father to be fulfilled in Jerusalem where he would face death to rise again and usher in new life in him, new relationships with God and with others.

Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza, Malolos Cathedral, 12 June 2019.

I love the way Luke wrote our opening lines of the gospel this Sunday which shows the total freedom of Jesus in fulfilling his mission, his fidelity and love to the Father, “When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem”. There was no turning back for Jesus, no second thoughts about going to Jerusalem where he knew so well he would be arrested and killed. Jesus was totally free and faithful in his love for us and to the Father.

It is the same route, the same journey we take daily with Jesus to Jerusalem where we suffer and die with him in our fidelity to our vows and promises, to our loved ones, to our Motherland, and to God our Father. Like Jesus Christ, we must be focused on the mission of love, finding ways to accomplish it instead of entertaining fancy thoughts of display of powers as proposed by the brothers James and John at a Samaritan village they were rejected. To think of getting even with a revenge against bad people is not only a waste of time and energy but most of all means we are not free at all, that we are enslaved by evil and sin, by our emotions. A true disciple of the Lord leaves everything to God, especially the punishment of those who harm and do us wrong. Being resolutely determined to go to Jerusalem like Jesus is having complete faith in him that he would take care of us, that we need not worry at all of petty things like power and wealth, fame and glory.

Being free and faithful, resolutely determined like Christ

Of course, there would always be occasional “stops” for rests in the Lord along the way with some “perks” of serving him though not always in the way the world offers it. Luke would always narrate in his gospel how Jesus would ask his disciples to have some time for themselves in deserted places to rest and pray.

Being free and faithful in Christ, resolutely determined to go to Jerusalem means to go opposite the way of the world which is a folly in the eyes of human wisdom characterized by those ads shouting out to everyone to “Just do it” or “Obey your thirst”, putting premiums on wealth and power, popularity and comfort.

Photo by author, “homeless Christ” at the entrance to Capernaum, the Holy Land, 02 May 2019.

To follow Jesus to Jerusalem is to die daily to our comforts for we are not tourists but pilgrims on earth without fixed or permanent dwelling because our true home is in heaven. This is the first thing Jesus clarifies with anyone wishing to join him in his journey, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Lk.9:58).

That is the reason we priests do not get married, trying to lead simple lives without the trappings of the material world to show everyone what is life in heaven. But, how free and faithful are we in keeping our vows of the priesthood is another topic….


Being free and faithful in Christ is to “prefer nothing to the love of Christ” as St. Benedict would insist to his followers in Rules which is the gist of the shocking reply of Jesus to the second man who asked him permission to bury first his dead father so he could follow him.

When Jesus told the man “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Lk.19:60), he was speaking about the perennial sickness of many religious people who are tied up with their religious laws without realizing its intentions like justice and love. Many times, we practice our faith without really believing in God but believing more in our laws and rituals that we forget the persons we must love. Paul expressed it so well in his letter to the Romans when he wrote, “Owe nothing to anyone except love for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (13:8).


Being and free and faithful in Christ means having Jesus and only Jesus as our priority in life. Notice how the third man came to Jesus wising to follow him but “first let me say farewell to my family at home” (Lk.9:61). It is very clear that for him his priority was his family which is exactly the opposite of what Christ tells us that anyone who loves his father and mother, brother or sister more than him is not worthy to be his disciple.

Jesus is not telling us to disregard our family, especially the fourth Commandment of God; Jesus here is emphasizing the primacy of the gospel, of himself. It is not an issue about morality but keeping our eyes fixed on the Lord we must follow completely like Paul who declared how he had come to consider “everything as a loss” in knowing Christ (Phil.3:8).

It is totally different from the context of Elisha who asked Elijah’s permission to bid goodbye to his family before joining him; see how he slaughtered the oxen he used in farming with his implements as firewood in cooking a meal for Elijah. Elisha literally did what Jesus told the third man trying to join him by burning his plow, indicating his resolute determination to fulfill God’s mission as his prophet by not looking back to his past life.

Jerusalem as seen from the Mount of Olives with a Jewish cemetery at the foreground facing its eastern wall where the Messiah is believed would pass through when he comes. It is the very route Jesus had taken more than 2000 years ago on Palm Sunday before his Passion, Death and Resurrection. Photo by author, 04 May 2019.

When Ordinary Time started in January and was briefly paused until three weeks ago by Lent and Easter Seasons, we have already embarked in the journey of Jesus beginning around the shores of Galilee.

As we resume the Ordinary Time with Jerusalem as destination, Jesus continues to invite us to come and follow him. His call is very simple. Follow me. And, it is sometimes funny that the first time we accepted his invitation, we just followed him without even saying yes. Oh, how free and faithful we were!

But, after many detours and changes of directions along with the many trials and sufferings, we begin to ask questions, seeking clarifications, wondering if we should still continue or just leave and go back to our old ways.

What, who is holding us from being totally free and faithful to Christ?

May the love of Jesus guide us and increase our faith in him so we may also be resolutely determined, free and faithful to continue with him in this journey to fullness of life in him. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead, everyone!

Photo by Fr. Pop Dela Cruz in San Miguel, Bulacan, 15 June 2022.

Faithful, and most loving!

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
A Wedding Homily for Cristopher T. San Pedro & Fatima Macam
National Shrine of St. Jude, Manila, 22 February 2022
Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, 21 February 2022.

You must have heard the saying that “God writes straight crooked lines”. And today that proves so true not only with how God wrote so crooked his straight lines in your life, Cris and Tim, but even wrote in circles to make this date your wedding day – 22 February 2022!

Cris and Tim, God has always been so sure in calling you before his altar on this date, which will similarly happen again in 200 years – 22 February 2222!

God writes straight crooked lines because everything in him is perfect, like numbers. Precise and exact.

Like this date you never chose, 02-22-2022.

When you consulted me last month when priests here offered you this date due to their recent lockdown, right away I told you it is the most wonderful date for your wedding being the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair… St. Peter as in San Pedro like Cristopher Tabafunda San Pedro and later, Mrs. Fatima Macam San Pedro!

It was God who willed in all eternity that you, Cris and Tim, be married today — not last year, not the other week nor next week because today is the day that the Lord has made!

From Facebook of couple.

You are both good with numbers like God, a mathematician who is very precise and exact like an economist and stock trader (Cris) and a marketing and sales executive (Tim) who used to do a lot of chemical research before.

But God has better and deeper plans for you that numbers cannot count nor quantify.

God wants you to always go back to basic numbers, not to those found in equations only you two can understand or multiple digits only you can count.

Jesus said it so well in the gospel today: two is equal to one, just like 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 of the Trinity.

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

Matthew 19:5-6

Life is not about having the most but the least. That is where faith grows and deepens.

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, 21 February 2022.

When we have so much in life, when we feel so sufficient, when we are so filled with things, we forget God. We stop believing in him, we believe more in ourselves.

And when we stop believing in God, we lose our faith and then, we stop loving, too. Sooner or later, we become empty and miserable.

So, be simple, Cris and Tim.

Reduce everything to the barest and simplest. Simplify, simplify, simplify as Henry David Thoreau said: “let your affairs be two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.”

When we get complicated like our Facebook, life becomes difficult as we can’t find right away who and what matters most to us.

Kaya nga isa lang ang asawa, Cris at Tim, kasi hindi puwede marami. Hindi lang magulo. Magastos pa. Imagine kung dalawa o tatlo wedding rings? Pag isa lang, kita agad at alam na this – married na ang mamang ito na may cute na dimple o itong girl na ito na naka glasses at dalawa pa ang dimples! Hayaan ninyo sabihin ng mga makakita singsing ninyo na sayang at taken na pala siya!

You see, the lower the number, the simpler, the better. Madaling tumaya at manampalataya.

That’s faith. Parang PBA game kung saan kayo nagkakilala. And you have both experienced, walang tatalo sa faith in God ninyong dalawa!

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, 21 February 2022.

God is greater and more than the numbers the wizkids and supercomputers of the world can calculate and predict. His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways. He first created just one man and one woman – just two – to be one with each other in him, and to be faithful to him and each other.

Because the more we become faithful, the more we become loving.

That is the message of this Feast of the Chair of St. Peter which is the “Primacy of Rome” or of the Pope: it is the primacy of faith and the primacy of love together which cannot be separated.

Forget all those numbers Cris and Tim, focus only in the One – God in Jesus Christ. Just focus on Jesus, always Jesus.

Love is not about counting or keeping tabs and tallies, like how many “likes” and “followers” we get in our posts.

The true measure of love is when we love without measure, when we simply love, love, love. And love.

That is why we only have one heart so we can love with all our heart. Forget Sana Dalawa ang Puso Ko. It is just a song.

When you have LQ (lover’s quarrel), who should blink first, or smile? Who should take the first move to reconcile, the first to offer the hand of peace?

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, 21 February 2022.

Whenever lovers and couples or even friends quarrel, I always say, whoever has more love to give must be the first one to initiate reconciliation, the first to blink, or smile, the first to offer the hand of peace.

To have the most love to give and share does not mean to be better or superior than the other; to have the most love to give and share is to have more faith, to have a deeper faith the he/she is ready and willing to lose everything for the sake of the loved one.

Like Jesus Christ who gave everything for us on that Cross because of love.

God bless you more, Cris and Tim.

Amen.

Faith + works = discipleship

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Week VI, Year II in Ordinary Time, 18 February 2022
James 2:14-24, 26   ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*>   Mark 8:34-9:1
Photo from inquirer.net, 2021.
Awaken us, O Lord,
from our mistake and
error of insisting 
that our pious and religious 
exercises are the "good works"
that express our faith in you;
let us realize that it is not 
enough that we simply 
celebrate Mass, recite the
Rosary, join processions and
pilgrimages and keep other 
devotions that make us good
practicing Catholics; these are
not the good works that St. James
is asking from us in the first reading:
faith is the true living out 
of our faith in you, Jesus Christ!

For just as a body without spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

James 2:26
True faith in you,
O Lord, is forgetting 
one's self to reach out
to those in need, fighting
for justice and peace,
being more loving and kind,
forgiving and understanding
of others just like you, dear Jesus.
True faith in you,
dear Jesus, is being 
your disciple which is  
a call to deny one's self,
to take up one's cross in life,
and to follow YOU always
(Mark 8:34).
Give me the grace
this day, Jesus, 
to sincerely look into
myself and examine 
how true is my
faith in you, 
how my very life
and actions reveal
the faith I have
or simply do not have
at all.  Amen.

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.

Praying our religions bring us together, not apart

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Memorial of St. Andrew Kim Taegon and Companions, Martyrs, 20 September 2021
Ezra 1:1-6   ><]]]]*> + ><]]]]*> + ><]]]]*>   Luke 8:16-18
Photo from en.wikipedia.org.
On this blessed Monday
as we celebrate dear God our Father
the Memorial of the first Korean priest,
St. Andrew Kim Taegon and his companion
martyrs led by St. Paul Chong Hasang,
we pray you may bless like King Cyrus of 
ancient Persia more world leaders 
and most especially heads of many 
religions to be instruments of unity
instead of divisions.

In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom, both by word of mouth and in writing: “Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: ‘All kingdoms of the earth the Lord, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Therefore, whoever among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!'”

Ezra 1:1-3
How sad, O God
that throughout history
up to the present time,
men have ironically waged
wars on other peoples and nations
primarily in the name of their God,
instead of bringing love and understanding,
they have caused so much hatred
and sufferings; the only truth proven
that in war, nobody wins except
more coffins are nailed with
beloved children inside as victims
and casualties. 

Jesus said to the crowd, “No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.”

Luke 8:16
Dear Jesus,
enlighten our minds
and our hearts with your light
in the Holy Spirit
to illumine the world with
more love and acceptance
of each other and their faith;
please, like King Cyrus of ancient Persia,
may we all realize that our religion
should bring us closer to each other
and not bring us apart.
Amen.

Knowing Jesus with conviction

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday XXIV-B in Ordinary Time, 12 September 2021
Isaiah 50:5-9 ><]]]]'> James 2:14-18 ><]]]]'> Mark 8:27-35
Photo by author, Parish of St. Joseph, Baras, Rizal (January 2021).

Last Wednesday as we celebrated the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a friend told me how on the eve of that feast her eldest son Andrei expressed to her his wish to gift Mama Mary with a cake but did not know how to get to heaven. “Bibili ko sana siya ng cake, mommy, pero paano ako mapupunta sa langit?”

My friend simply told her son how difficult it is to get into heaven because he has to get so many ladders to get there and see Mama Mary and Jesus.

What a beautiful question from a child filled with innocence, “how do we get into heaven?”

Ironically, it is a question we all know the answer but do not care nor take seriously for many reasons, primarily because of fear until this pandemic hit us, forcing us into facing again this reality of death – of going into heaven.

In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches us how we can get into heaven by knowing him truly with conviction, not just according to our own or somebody else’s thinking and ideas of him as the Christ.

Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Christ.” Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him. He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.

Mark 8:27-31

Other’s opinion vs. my conviction

When we look at the gospel of Mark as a whole, we find it is a step-by-step revelation of who is Jesus Christ, following certain stages in his stories. Notice since the beginning Mark has been telling us how the people including the Twelve were asking among themselves who was Jesus for he spoke with authority that even the sea and the wind obeyed him while demons cried when exorcised by him. People were so amazed at his great powers, both in words and in deeds that everybody was getting near him to know him.

Photo by author, St. Catherine Monastery at Sinai, Egypt (May 2019)

It is at Caesarea Philippi where Mark’s gospel reaches the middle section, a turning point when Jesus reveals himself in stages.

From here on, Mark will take a faster pace in his narration and revelation of who is Jesus now making a U-turn from Caesarea Philippi to head towards Jerusalem to face his death. We too are expected to make a U-turn in our knowledge of Jesus, from mere opinions of others to a personal conviction of who Jesus is.

Observe the step-by-step manner by Jesus in revealing himself to his disciples at Caesarea Philippi.

First, Jesus surveyed the Twelve, asking them “Who do people say that I am?”.

Feel the uncertainty among them while telling Jesus what they have heard the people saying: John the Baptist? Elijah? One of the prophets?

We find a tinge of being unsure even in themselves in what to tell the Lord because they have also heard the questions and accusations by the scribes and Pharisees against their young teacher. “Kabado sila” as we say in Filipino.

But to their surprise, Jesus came up with a second question directly to each one of them at point blank, requiring a deep, personal conviction and commitment: “But who do you say that I am?”.

Like at Capernaum after the bread of life discourse when everybody left Jesus led by his disciples, here he is asking the Twelve -including us – again for a faith decision, to say what we really feel and think about him, without repeating what we have heard from others or read from any book.

Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Christ.” See in this statement by Peter the clear difference from the people’s opinions of Jesus. Feel the conviction of Peter in declaring “you are the Christ.” There must have been something he had experienced deep within that he felt Jesus so real, so new, so alive – not just any prophet from old who had come back but in fact the very one referred to by the prophets before!

Jesus is clearly distinct and different from what we have heard and read, so personal and so true. As we would usually tell others of how convinced we are of someone or something, “ah, basta!” which is akin to Archimedes’ “eureka” experience.

Like at Caesarea Philippi, our lives get on a turning point significantly once we have had that kind of experience of who Jesus Christ is. We can never grow deep in our faith in him and experience him personally without that Caesarea Philippi experience.

However, it is not everything. Even Peter would falter immediately after this turning point.

He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Mark 8:32-33
Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, Quiapo, January 2020.

Christ’s pedagogy of the Cross

It is not enough that we set aside sometimes what others say or write about Jesus; we also have to discard and forget whatever we have entertained in our minds and hearts on who Jesus could be. In telling Peter to “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do”, Jesus is telling us too that it is still a long way to go for us to truly know him.

Remember that in Jewish thought, to know someone is to have a relationship, an intimacy with the other person. Although the disciples have already taken a great step in knowing Jesus as the Christ following Peter’s confession that is so distinct from what others say, such knowledge leads us to the hardest and most difficult stage of knowing Jesus through his Cross.

It is can also be the most painful stage in truly knowing Jesus that is why he warned them not to tell anyone about him like what Peter realized that he reacted that way. Of course, we also know how Peter got to know Jesus more in the most painful way when he denied knowing the Lord thrice on the night he was arrested leading to Good Friday.

Remember, the more we get to know Jesus, the more we experience him so real in our lives, the more we follow him, the more the devil confuses us, the more the devil feeds us with so many thoughts or sends us with people like those in this Administration and politicians now campaigning with grand designs, with great intentions for Jesus and for the poor when in fact detract us from the path of the Cross.

Notice how Jesus insisted in his first prediction of his Passion, Death and Resurrection at Caesarea Philippi that “the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” There is always that qualifier “must” in suffering and pain with Jesus for there is no shortcut nor easy way to get to heaven, to be holy, to be fulfilled in this life which is so unlike the promises of the devil acting in our selfish thoughts or among our politicians and government officials.

Jesus himself had shown us in his Passion, Death, and Resurrection the key to truly knowing him is to have a complete trust in the Father like him as the Servant referred to in the first reading from Isaiah who bore all insults and beatings but never felt disgraced because “the Lord God is my help.”

For so long in our country, many have been duped by politicians who have promised the people of a wonderful life minus sufferings by just electing them into office. All these miseries and misfortunes we are into show us clearly that hardly do we really know who is Jesus Christ as we keep on putting into office people we hardly know as demons in many disguises.

During this pandemic when we have so much time to reflect and pray, let us empty our hearts and minds, exorcise them of many evil thoughts to be penetrated by the divine thoughts found in the scriptures so we may know Jesus clearly, love him dearly, and follow him closely with our lives of faith expressed in works of charity as James exhorts us in the second reading.

It is the clearest sign that we truly know Jesus when our faith in him bears much fruits in works of charity and mercy. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Photo by author, close-up shot of the Seventh Station of the Cross at St. Ildephonsus Parish, Tanay, Rizal (January 2021). Notice one of the men wearing shades believed to be Caiaphas, the chief priest during the time of Jesus; we have to remove our shades to truly know Jesus especially when there are trials and sufferings in life. See our article, https://lordmychef.com/2021/02/04/road-trip-in-time-of-covid-19-the-company-we-keep-in-lifes-journey/