Holiness is being true

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Wednesday, a.k.a. "Spy Wedneday", 31 March 2021
Isaiah 50:4-9   ><}}}*>   Matthew 26:14-25
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.
The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, 
that I might know how to speak to the weary 
a word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear;
and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.
(Isaiah 50:4-5)

God our loving Father in heaven, it is now the eve of the Sacred Paschal Triduum called “Spy Wednesday” or “night of traitors” when Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and offered to “hand Jesus over” to them for thirty pieces of silver.

Bless us, dear Father, to be holy like you by being true to you in Jesus Christ.

Give us the grace to be like your “Suffering Servant” in the first reading to remain true to you by not turning our backs from you.

Let us not rebel against you especially when we insist on our own agenda and plans in life.

So many times in life we are like Judas, and even Peter, when we betray Jesus especially after breaking bread with him in the Holy Mass, when we malign people around us, spread lies about them so we may look good; when we deny knowing you or standing for family and friends because we are afraid for our safety; and, so many times we have been remiss in our responsibilities and obligations at home, in the office, in the school and in the community like the church.

Teach us to be true and holy not only to you but most especially to one another.

May we be like the tall tree that is an image of being true: firm and reliable, dependable, trustworthy, and most of all, deeply rooted in you through people we love and care and serve. Amen.

Holiness is faithfulness

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Tuesday, 30 March 2021 
Isaiah 49:1-6   ><}}}*>   John 13:21-33, 36-38
Photo by author, December 2020
Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
yet my reward is with the Lord, 
my recompense is with my God.
(Isaiah 49:4)

So many times, dear Father in heaven, I feel like your “Suffering Servant” feeling that nothing is happening with all my efforts, with things I persevere, as if they are all useless until I realize what matters most is my being faithful to you.

Thank you for the sign of the Cross of Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord and Master: when things become so difficult and frustrating for me, I just look at him there on the cross, “dead” like me who had failed in your mission.

But as I contemplate his Cross, I remember how before all my sadness and sufferings, Jesus was there first for me to be good with others, to be kind, to be understanding, to be merciful and forgiving, to be patient, and most of all, first to be holy in being faithful to you and your call, Father.

Remind me the words of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta that we are called to be faithful, not successful.

Let me focus more on you, Lord, instead of wondering how I have been doing, how good I have been.

Let me stop competing with others, asking who is not faithful to you, who is going to betray you like Peter during the last supper when he told the beloved disciple to clarify it with Jesus:

He leaned back against Jesus' chest
and said to him, 
"Master, who is it?"
(John 13:25)

How lovely is the context of that question when what we must contemplate with is whether we have been faithful to Jesus in his Holy Eucharist.

How sad, O dear Father, that we are most unfaithful to you when we betray you right in the Eucharist – when do not listen to your words and message to us, when we do not live and practice the essence of thanksgiving to you by being faithful in witnessing Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross in our daily lives. Amen.

The “heart is false”

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Week XIV, Year II in Ordinary Time, 08 July 2020
Hosea 10:1-3, 7-8, 12 <*(((><< >><)))*> Matthew 10:1-7
Photo by Dr. Mai B. Dela Peña, statues of the Twelve Apostles on the facade of the Church of our Lady of Montserrat in Spain, 2019.

How beautiful are your words today, dearest God our Father. You never fail to surprise me with your deep personal involvement with us all that you can capture exactly what is inside us without any doubt at all.

After praising Israel’s great achievements that have brought them material prosperity, you remain impartial and fair in pronouncing your judgement:

Israel is a luxuriant vine whose fruit matches its growth. The more abundant his fruit, the more altars he built. The more productive his land, the more sacred pillars he set up. Their heart is false, and now they pay for their guilt. God shall break down their altars and destroy destroy their sacred pillars.

Hosea 10:1-2

Indeed, only you can read our hearts, our inmost beings.

How many times have we been deceived by outward appearances like material prosperity in life, thinking these are the crowing glory of one’s great efforts in balancing prayer and work only to be rejected by God for their hard headedness and pride?

A heart that is false is also a heart that has turned away from you, O God; sometimes, these are not evident right away because a heart can always fake outside what is inside.

A heart that takes pride in its grand designs and visions is a heart that is false. Most of all, a heart that refuses to look into the pains and hurts of others, their shortcomings and sins, is a heart that is false because it denies humanity, its being a human flesh tormented by love amidst pains and sufferings. A heart that is false is a heart that refuses to see other hearts with many hurts because it believes more with its self than with God’s love and mercy.

A heart that is false is a heart that has refused to grow and outgrow its previously held convictions and beliefs, more intent in looking at its own heart than into Christ’s meek and humble heart, eventually betraying Jesus and loved ones.

Incline our hearts into the Father’s loving heart, dear Jesus, and give us a heart that is both true and humble, accepting our many limitations, full of hope in becoming a better person in you like your Apostles who started out like us all with imperfect hearts. Amen.

Photo by author, Davao City, 2018.

When darkness becomes light

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe, Holy Wednesday, 08 April 2020

Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

Tonight is “Spy Wednesday” – the night traitors and betrayers are put on the spotlight because it was on this night after Palm Sunday when Judas Iscariot struck a deal with the chief priests to hand them over Jesus for 30 pieces of silver (Mt. 26:14-16).

The “Tenebrae” is celebrated in some churches when candles are gradually extinguished with the beating of drums and sounding of matraca to evoke silence and some fear among people as they leave in total darkness to signal the temporary victory of evil in the world for tomorrow we enter the Paschal Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil of the Lord.

From Google.

Darkness generally evokes evil and sin, uncertainties and sufferings. But, at the same time, darkness preludes light!

That is why Jesus Christ was born during the darkest night of the year to bring us light of salvation.

Beginning tonight, especially tomorrow at his agony in the garden, we shall see Christ entering through darkness reaching its climax on Friday when he dies on the cross with the whole earth covered in darkness, rising on Easter in all his glory and majesty.

Our present situation in an extended Luzon-wide lockdown offers us this unique experience of darkness within and without where we can learn some important lessons from the Lord’s dark hours beginning tomorrow evening of his Last Supper.

St. John gives us a glimpse into how we must deal with life’s darkness that plagues us almost daily with his unique story of the Lord’s washing of his disciples’ feet on the night he was betrayed.

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over. So, during supper… he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter…

John 13:1-2, 4-6
Photo from aleteia.org.

It is very interesting to reflect how Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter dealt with their own inner darkness on that night of Holy Thursday when Jesus was arrested.

Though Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter are poles apart in their personalities, they both give us some traits that are so characteristic also of our very selves when we are in darkness. In the end, we shall see how Jesus turned the darkness of Holy Thursday into becoming the very light of Easter.

Getting lost in darkness like Judas Iscariot

Right after explaining the meaning of his washing of their feet and exhorting them to do the same to one another, Jesus begins to speak of Judas Iscariot as his betrayer.

When he had said this, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me …It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I had dipped it.” So he dipped the morsel and handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. After he took the morsel, Satan entered him… and left at once. And it was night.

John 13:21, 26-27, 30
Photo from desiringgod.org

The scene is very dramatic.

Imagine the darkness outside the streets of Jerusalem in the stillness of the night and the darkness inside the Upper Room where they were staying.

More darker than that was the darkness among the Apostles not understanding what Jesus was saying about his betrayer because they thought when Judas left, he was being told to buy more wine or give money to the poor!

Most of all, imagine the darkness within Judas.

To betray means to hand over to suffering someone dear to you.

That’s one darkness we always have within, of betraying Jesus, betraying our loved ones because we have found somebody else to love more than them. Satan had taken over Judas. The same thing happens to us when we sin, when we love someone more than those who truly love us or those we have vowed to love always.

And the darkest darkness of all is after handing over our loved ones, after dumping them for something or somebody else, we realize deep within the beautiful light of truth and love imprinted in our hearts by our betrayed loved ones – then doubt it too!

The flickering light of truth and love within is short lived that we immediately extinguish it, plunging us into total darkness of destruction like Judas when he hanged himself.

See how Judas went back to the chief priests because “he had sinned”, giving them back the 30 pieces of silver to regain Jesus.

Here we find the glow of Jesus, of his teachings and friendship within Judas still etched in his heart — the light of truth and love flickering within.

Any person along with their kindness and goodness like Jesus, our family and true friends can never be removed from one’s heart and person. They will always be there, sometimes spurting out in our unguarded moments because they are very true.

That is the darkest darkness of Judas – and of some of us – who think we can never be forgiven by God, that we are doomed, that there is no more hope and any chance at all.

See how the evangelist said it: “Judas left at once. And it was night.”

And that is getting lost in darkness permanently, eaten up by darkness within us because we refuse to believe in the reality of a loving and forgiving God who had come to plunge into the darkness of death to be one with us so we can be one in him. What a loss.

Groping in the dark into the light like Peter

Photo by author, Church of Gallicantu, Jerusalem where the cock crowed after Peter denied Jesus the third time, May 2017.

Of the Twelve, it is perhaps with Simon Peter we always find ourselves identified with: the eager beaver, almost a “bolero” type who is so good in speaking but many times cannot walk his talk.

“Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”

John 13:6-8

Here is Peter so typical of us: always assuming of knowing what is right, which is best, as if we have a monopoly of the light when in fact we are in darkness.

See how during the trial of Jesus before the priests, Peter denied him thrice, declaring he never knew Jesus while outside in the dark, completely in contrast with Jesus brilliantly answering every question and false accusation against him inside among his accusers!

Many times in our lives, it is so easy for us to speak on everything when we are in our comfort zones, safe and secured in our lives and career. But when left or thrown out into the harsh realities of life, we grope in the darkness of ignorance and incompetence, trials and difficulties.

How often we are like Peter refusing Jesus to wash our feet because we could not accept the Lord being so humble to do that simply because he is the Lord and Master who must never bow low before anyone.

And that is one darkness we refuse to let go now shaken and shattered by the pandemic lockdown! The people we used to look down upon are mostly now in the frontlines providing us with all the comforts we enjoy in this crisis like electricity, internet, security, food, and other basic services.


Bronze statue of the call of Peter by Jesus. Photo by author, May 2017.

We have always thought of the world, of peoples in hierarchy, in certain status where there are clear delineations and levels of importance, totally forgetting the lessons of Jesus of being like a child, of service and humility: “whoever wants to be great must be the least and servant of all.”

According to Matthew and Luke, Peter realized his sins – the darkness within him – of denying Jesus thrice after the cock crowed that he left the scene weeping bitterly, feeling so sorry. Eventually after Easter, Peter would meet Jesus again on the shores of the Lake of Tiberias, asking him thrice, “do you love me?”

Peter realized how dark his world has always been but in that instance when he declared his love that is so limited and weak did he finally see the light of Christ in his love and mercy!

Unlike Judas, Peter moved out of darkness and finally saw the light in the Risen Lord right in the very place where everything started when he was called to be a fisher of men, in his humanity as he was called by his original name, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?”.

Human love is always imperfect and Jesus knows this perfectly well!

The best way to step out of darkness within us is to be like Simon — simply be your imperfect self, accepting one’s sins and weakness for that is when we can truly love Jesus who is the only one who can love us perfectly.

Overcoming darkness in, Jesus, with Jesus, through Jesus

Though the fourth gospel and the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke differ in providing us with the transition from the Upper Room of the Last Supper into the agony in the garden, the four evangelists provide us with one clear message at how Jesus faced darkness: with prayer, of being one in the Father.

Even on the cross of widespread darkness, Jesus spoke only to pray to the Father.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress.

Matthew 26:36-37
Photo by author, altar of the Church of All Nations beside the Garden of Gethsemane, May 2017. The church is always dimly lit to keep the sense of darkness during the Agony in the Garden of Jesus.

Before, darkness for man was seen more as a curse falling under the realm of evil and sin; but, with the coming of Jesus, darkness became a blessing, a prelude to the coming of light.

We have mentioned at the start of our reflection that Jesus was born during the darkest night of the year to show us he that is the light of the world, who had come to enlighten us in this widespread darkness, within us and outside us.

As the light of the world, Jesus was no stranger to darkness which he conquered and tamed in many instances like when they were caught in a storm at sea and in fact, when walked on water to join his disciples caught in another storm.

But most of all, Jesus had befriended darkness and made it a prelude to light.

How? By always praying during darkness. By prayer, it is more than reciting some prayers common during his time as a Jew but as a form of submission to the will of the Father. Jesus befriended darkness by setting aside, forgetting his very self to let the Father’s will be done.

Bass relief of agony in the garden on the wall of the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane. Photo by author, May 2019.

This he showed so well in two instances, first on Mount Tabor where he transfigured and second in Gethsemane before his arrest.

In both events, Jesus showed us the path to overcoming darkness is always through prayers, of being one in the Father.

It is in darkness when God is most closest to us because it is then when we get a glimpse of himself, of his love and mercy, of his own sufferings and pains, and of his glory.

This is something the three privileged disciples – Simon Peter, James and his brother John – did not realize while being with Jesus at both instances until after Easter. We are those three who always fall asleep, who could not keep with praying in Jesus, with Jesus, and through Jesus.

It was in the darkness of the night when Jesus spent most of his prayer periods, communing with the Father up in a mountain or a deserted place.

On Mount Tabor, Jesus showed his coming glory while in Gethsemane he showed his coming suffering and death. But whether in Gethsemane or on Mount Tabor, it is always Jesus we meet inviting us to share in his oneness with the Father, in his power in the Holy Spirit to overcome every darkness in life.

And the good news is he had already won for us!

Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News of Mt. Samat with the Memorial Cross across the Manila Bay following clear skies resulting from the lockdown imposed since March 17, 2020.

In these extended darker days of quarantine period, let us come to the Lord closer in prayer to. experience more of his Passion and Death, more of his darkness so we may see his coming glory when everything is finally cleared in this corona pandemic.

Prayer does not necessarily change things but primarily changes the person first. And that is when prayer changes everything when we become like Jesus in praying.

Jesus is asking us to leave everything behind, to forget one’s self anew to rediscover him in this darkness when we get out of our comfort zones to see the many sufferings he continues to endure with our brothers and sisters with lesser things in this life, with those in total darkness, with those groping in the dark.

Now more than ever, we have realized the beauty of poverty and simplicity, of persons than things.

And most especially of darkness itself becoming light for us in this tunnel.

May Jesus enlighten us and vanish all darkness in us so that soon, we shall celebrate together the joy of his coming again in this world darkened by sin. Amen.

A blessed and prayerful Paschal Triduum to you.

A prayer on “spy Wednesday”

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe, Holy Wednesday, 17 April 2019
Isaiah 50:4-9///Matthew 26:14-25
Photo from Google.

Today O Lord Jesus Christ is “spy Wednesday” for tonight Judas will strike a deal with your enemies to betray you. Tonight is said to be the night of traitors, of betrayers.

O Lord, we hate being called traitors and betrayers, a Judas Iscariot. And yet, too often, it is true whenever we sin, whenever we turn away from you, when we exchange you for things and people we find more valuable than you.

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

Matthew 26:14-16

Please forgive us Jesus whenever we betray you. Most of all, we pray and seek your forgiveness and healing O Lord from this grave sin of betrayal for we do not only do it to you but to those most dearest to us, our family and friends whom we hurt whenever we hand them over to troubles and miseries, to grief and tears.

Help us Lord Jesus to enter into full communion with you, to be filled with your Holy Spirit so that we think and act like you in total obedience to the Father, giving no space in us for satan to trade you off for anything. Amen.