Following Jesus in lights and darkness by Caravaggio

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 20 September 2021
Detail of Caravaggio’s painting, “Calling of St. Matthew” from en.wikipedia.org.

That beautiful painting by Caravaggio, “The Calling of St. Matthew” completed in 1600 for the French congregation of San Luigi Francesi in Rome is said to be the favorite of Pope Francis among the many other masterpieces found in the eternal city.

It was through the Holy Father that I have started to fall in love with Caravaggio’s works, promising myself to see them if given another chance to return to Rome. His paintings like the meeting of Thomas Didymus with the Risen Lord and his breaking of bread at Emmaus evoke body movements and inner motions among the characters that lead us to continue the beautiful story of his subject.

And that is what I wish to share with you on this Feast of St. Matthew, a reflection on his sitting, arising and standing to follow Jesus who had called him while at work as a tax collector.

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Matthew 9:9
From shutterstock.com.

Sitting. Many centuries from now, anthropologists and other experts will be studying our generation on how humans have evolved – or retrogressed – with our spending too much time sitting. Doctors warn of the many health risks that result in prolonged sitting like obesity and heart disease. They have recently sounded the alarm anew following a surge in zoom meetings and webinars as well as the new set ups of classes on-line and work from home that entail sitting for long hours.

When the term “couch potato” was coined in the 1980’s, potato growers in the US complained against the association of their beloved crop with those people glued on their seats watching TV, doing nothing at all.

Sitting is an important human movement especially in studying and learning lessons through reading and writing, meeting and discussions. Meals become more satisfying and fulfilling when taken while seated in a leisurely manner whether at the table or even on the ground like picnics in the park or forest. In fact, it is when we are seated at the table for meals we are most peaceful and neutral – nobody eats with weapons laid on the table or while holding a gun or clenching a fist which is the reason why we are not supposed to rest our elbows on the table!

Imagine St. Matthew when he was called by Jesus, while sitting at the customs post: here we find sitting at its worst imagery of being stuck on our seats of comfort and complacency, sins and other vices. Worst is see how in our modern time we have given so much premium on where we sit to insist on our ego trips and sense of territory as well as claims to fame and prominence not realizing that what really matters in life is not where we sit but where we stand (https://lordmychef.com/2019/02/22/it-is-where-we-stand-that-matters-most-not-where-we-sit/).

From en.wikipedia.org.

Following Jesus

Going back to Caravaggio’s painting, we notice everybody seated at the table with St. Matthew dressed in the artist’s period of the 1600’s to show that Jesus continues to come in our own particular time in history.

Most of all, the gospel tells us that St. Matthew was seated at his customs post when called by Jesus but Caravaggio’s painting portrays them to be inside a tavern to tell us that we are also St. Matthew whom Jesus visits and calls daily while we are busy or drunk sitting at our comfort zones, in our vices and sins, in our complacency and mediocrity.

And like St. Matthew, we, too, are invited to rise and follow Jesus right away!


Don't you hear how Jesus is calling you daily, 
asking you, "will the real you please rise up and stand for who you really are"?
See yourself the way Jesus sees you - forgiven and beloved,
precious and loved.  No need for us to look good before Jesus.
Just rise and stand with him!

Standing. Following Jesus demands that we must first rise from our seats to make a stand for Jesus and his teachings of love and kindness, mercy and forgiveness, service and self-sacrifice. Notice how St. Matthew, the fat man at the middle with a black hat like a beret pointing to the man bowed down to the table.

See and feel the hesitancy of St. Matthew – like us – always wondering, asking God, “is it I, Lord?” So many times we cannot believe Jesus really looking for us, wanting us, calling us, believing in us!

And in all that beautiful interplay of light and darkness by Caravaggio in his painting, we feel the eyes of Jesus looking at our beloved apostle as if telling him, “yes, you, Matthew; Follow me”.

Cast all your doubts if Jesus were really calling you, believing in you, trusting you – he does! Jesus always comes to each of us in the most personal manner like with all his apostles, telling us, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit” (Jn.15:16).

Don’t you hear how Jesus is calling you daily, asking you, “will the real you please rise up and stand for who you really are”? See yourself the way Jesus sees you – forgiven and beloved, precious and loved. No need for us to look good before Jesus. Just rise and stand with him!


Photo from Facebook of nuns delivering relief goods to people in far-flung areas during the pandemic last year.

Walking. It is not enough for us to remain standing. Making a stand for Jesus means to follow him in his path of justice and love, mercy and forgiveness, being small and the least serving the weak and the poorest of the poor.

To walk in Christ is to be like Christ because Jesus himself is “the way the truth and the life” (Jn.14:6).

Walking in Christ is following the “road less travelled” that leads to the Cross of self-offering and sacrifice, of love and acceptance.

Notice in Caravaggio’s painting how he portrayed Jesus in his own traditional clothes along with Simon Peter – and they are both barefooted!

There seems to be a slight commotion wherein Simon is like warning the man with a sword close to him to be still, to not make any move for they are walking away soon once St. Matthew rises and stands from his seat. Look at the feet of Jesus and Simon; they are all set to walk, as if telling St. Matthew, “come on, let us go!”

But where to?

While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Matthew 9:10-13

We all first walk home with Jesus, right into our hearts to reconcile again with him and be healed of many hurts and aches in the past. Then, we walk with Jesus to our fellow sinners so that they too may experience Christ’s love and forgiveness.

Following Jesus, walking on his path of the cross means going to those forgotten by us and the society, walking to meet those who are not like us – in beliefs and way of thinking, in clothing and appearances, in disposition and backgrounds.

It can be a lonely walk filled with pains and sufferings, and yes, disappointments like the two disciples who walked back to Emmaus on Easter without realizing Jesus was the stranger who had joined them along the way. That is the beauty of walking with Jesus, in Jesus, and to Jesus: you never see him nor recognize him right away but he is always with us, walking with us by our side even if we are going the opposite direction in life!

Walking the way of Jesus is tough and rough. It is not easy but it is the only way we must follow. That is why we need to rest in Jesus, with Jesus who asks us to be seated again as he washes our feet to comfort and console us, and prepare us for longer walks in the journey.


Photo by Ms. JJ Jimeno of GMA-7News, Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, UP Diliman, 2019.

Kneeling. Of all the body movements modern man has forgotten is kneeling. Again, look at Caravaggio’s painting, take a peek below the table and notice the robust knees of St. Matthew, look at the soft throw of light on his right leg and the softer tone on his left.

Caravaggio must be telling us something about the healthy lower body of St. Matthew despite his sitting position. See Caravaggio’s genius in throwing that soft light on St. Matthew’s legs and knees that were made strong not only by long hours of standing and walking with Jesus but with longer time of kneeling and praying after the Lord’s Ascension.

Kneeling is one very important gesture and body movement we must regain to truly follow Jesus and regain order in ourselves and in our nation. It is the best praying position for it signifies surrender and humility before God. In fact, for the Hebrews, the knee is the symbol of strength that to bend one’s knees – to kneel – means to submit one’s self to God the all-powerful.

How sad when people refuse to kneel because their knees or expensive pants and clothes might get dirty. Worst of all is when we have refused to kneel and bend our knees because we feel so strong and able to accomplish a lot that we would rather be pursuing our own interests than following Jesus.

Photo by author, 07 September 2021.

Like Caravaggio’s painting of “The Calling of St. Matthew”, our lives and nation are into a great darkness due to the pandemic and the worsening decadence in every aspect of our society.

It is not a time to be a fence-sitter or a bystander; Jesus calls us to arise and make a stand against the pervading evils, asking us whom are we really following in this journey in history and life.

Amid the gloom are streaks of light bringing hope and reason, truth and goodness, inviting us to learn from the call of St. Matthew to…

Sit and learn more of Jesus
Rise and stand with Jesus
Walk and follow Jesus 
Kneeling always at the foot of his cross 
to truly follow him our Lord and Master.
Amen.

Pantry for the body, pantry for the soul

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 22 April 2021
The beauty of this community pantry
that have sprouted all over the country
in just a week exactly
is not found only in the wide variety 
of food to the needy but most of all
for food that enrich so many souls:
kindness and tenderness are aplenty
with everyone considered a family.
It was the Lord Himself 
who gave us the first community pantry 
intended for soul when he said:
"All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
Come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread;
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Come to me heedfully,
listen, that you may have life."
(Isaiah 55:1-3)
What is so amazing now happening in the country
is how those with least to offer
are always the ones with most to share
like that widow praised by Jesus in her poverty
gave her all in the temple treasury:
for the community pantry
there was so much camote
coming from hard pressed farmers
from Paniqui and another load from Mindoro
shared by the child of a Mangyan aged nine
while an elderly man peddling chicharon for a living
asked for two cans of sardines
leaving the pantry with a precious smile of gratitude
with a plenitude of goodwill,
donating two packs of his precious chicharon.
Like manna in the wilderness
the community pantries were heaven-sent;
like the feeding of five-thousand in the wilderness
the community pantries of sharing was the miracle;
like Jesus Christ at the Last Supper,
the community pantries have taught us 
to be the bread ourselves, broken and shared
if only to prove there is enough for everyone's needs.

	

Our face mirrors our soul

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, 06 August 2020
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 >><}}}*> 2 Peter 1:16-19 >><}}}*> Matthew 17:1-9
Transfiguration of the Lord by Raphael (c.1520) from wikipedia

Thank you very much, Lord Jesus Christ for this wonderful feast of your Transfiguration happening today at more than half past this very difficult year of 2020.

Perfect at this time of the year in our Ordinary Time of the liturgy when everything seems too slow and laid-back as if nothing is happening or even changing in our lives.

Worst, with this pandemic, many of us are already tired, even losing enthusiasm with everything.

But, here you are, dear Jesus, giving us light and inspiration to keep on and be persistent disciples of yours, journeying with you and ascending with you every mountain of hardships and trials in life so that with you and in you, we may also be transformed from within.

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.

Matthew 17:1-2

In the midst of the darkness and gloom around us today, what a welcome break and relief are the visions of your prophet Daniel in the first reading of your eternal glory in heaven amid great display of lights and flames with your clothes “bright as snow” (Dn.7:9).

But, what I like best is how your “face shone like the sun” at your transfiguration, Lord.

I like that part because most of the time, the depths of the soul are reflected on the face.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

Dearest Lord, help us to remain faithful to you, patiently forgetting ourselves, carrying our crosses, and following you closely in this time of the corona virus.

Teach us to listen to your voice, to heed your words, always attentive to your presence even in the many darkness of our lives in this time of pandemic, reminding ourselves that “Lord, it is good we are here” (Mt.17:4) with you.

Every year, we hear this passage of your Transfiguration on the second week of Lent to remind us of your coming glory at Easter; but, even at this time, Lord, we already feel discouraged at how would Christmas 2020 be!

May this feast of your Transfiguration during Ordinary Time remind us to remain faithful in following you, be your persistent disciples rising above ourselves from the many challenges and trials during this pandemic.

Keep our face aglow with your light amid the many sufferings in this time of COVID-19.

Transform us within to change our countenance so that whenever those people crying in pain see us, they may see and experience you, Jesus, within us.

Keep us open to the workings of your Holy Spirit in these difficult weeks and months ahead so we may be cleansed and purified, and transformed within to become your presence and your joy among those with sagging spirits among us, hoping their face may also mirror you within them. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

Mary’s song is our song too!

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

Thursday, Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, 15 August 2019

Revelations 11:19; 12:1-6, 10 >< )))*> 1 Corinthians 15:20-27 ><)))*> Luke 1:39-56

“Assumption of the Virgin” by Domenico Piola (1627-1703) at the Church of St. John the Baptist, Chiavari, Genoa, Italy. Photo from Google.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed; the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Luke 1:46-49

Glory and praise to you, O God our loving Father in giving us Jesus Christ through Mary – for without the Mother, there can be no Son.

On this Solemnity of her glorious Assumption into heaven body and soul, you remind us also of our blessedness like her, of her being your Divine Presence that she was able to sing the Magnificat.

Fill us with your Holy Spirit, Father. Let your Son Jesus reign in our hearts so we can boldly proclaim “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord”!

Let our lives proclaim your greatness, O God!

We were wrong, O Lord, we were so wrong when we thought that without you life could be greater and better for us. We were wrong when we thought in this age that disregarding you, O Lord, and your precepts like morality life can be better for us.

We were wrong, O Lord, to think, to believe, and to assert that we are the master of our own fate and destiny when we set you aside, assuming you are dead.

Why, despite all the affluence and comforts of modern world and all those liberal ideas that have swamped us, we are still lost and empty?

Because our body and soul are nothing without you!

On this Solemnity of her Assumption, teach us to empty ourselves of our pride and bloated ego, let us be humble before you and welcome you anew into our hearts, into our very selves.

Let us sing anew your greatness, O God with our body and soul in loving service with one another.

We pray also in a special way for our brothers and sisters who are sick, the elderly, and those with disabilities that they may realise their worth is not in being strong or complete or young, but in being alive, in being persons created in the image and likeness of God. May they persevere in their sufferings with eyes focused on that great gift that await us all like the Blessed Mother at the end of time with the “resurrection of body and life everlasting.” Amen.