The human child, mystery of God’s love

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday in the Second Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 15 January 2023
Isaiah 9:1-6 ><]]]]'> Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18 ><]]]]'> Matthew 18:1-5, 10
Photo from reddit.com.

The photo above is a sculpture called “Love” by Ukrainian artist Alexander Milov he created in 2015. I have kept the photo as a bookmark in one of the books I have read and saw it recently. Milov rightly called it “Love” because it shows how that mystery of love expressed to us by God in Christ’s coming continues if we could only be like a child!

See how the sculpture depicts two adults after a disagreement sitting with their back to each other while their inner child in both of them wanting to connect. What a beautiful expression of our condition when despite our vast learning and knowledge, we seem to can’t live without ego and pride, hatred and grudges that prevent us from forgiving and moving on in life. The free spirit exhibited by children in this sculpture shows our true nature which is the very core of Jesus Christ’s teaching, of being a child always.

At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven… See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

Matthew 18:1-3, 10

On this Sunday of the second week in Ordinary Time, we extend our Christmas celebration for a day with the Feast of Sto. Niño or Child Jesus in honor of the crucial role of that image gifted by Magellan to Queen Juana of Cebu 500 years ago. It was the Sto. Niño who actually conquered our country to become the only Christian nation in this part of the world – proof enough of Christ’s teaching about being a child so powerful in God’s eyes!

This Feast is a very timely for us too as we go into the busyness of our lives to be reminded anew even for a day of the meaning of Christmas, of Jesus Christ’s coming in love. He came because of love, coming as love himself by being a child, an infant.

It was only recently as a chaplain in the hospital have I felt and realized why a baby is called a “bundle of joy” – my heart melts whenever I visit mothers with their newborn babies especially twins. It is said that even the most hardened criminals are softened upon seeing babies and children. And that is because of what Jesus told us today in the gospel,

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

Matthew 16:10

What is there with children and the face of God?

I think that is God’s gift of love in each of us, so innately in us right during our moment of conception when life begins as the Church rightly insists based on Sacred Scriptures. It is nurtured and cared for first by the mother that even after we have matured, we call on our mother when surprised or shocked as in “Inang ko po!” or “Nanay ko po!”. See how those approaching death would always speak of seeing their departed mother, coming and visiting them.

This shows and proves to us the deep impact of a mother’s love to each of us because she is always the first to make us experience God’s love in her womb that even long after our umbilical cords have been cut off at birth, there remains an invisible line always between us and our mothers.

It is not only with our mother but also with everyone. This love innately gifted upon each of us by God who is our very first love remains in us through our family and friends and later the people we meet in life as living representatives of that invisible love of God in us. This is what Jesus meant when he warned his disciples in the gospel today,

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

Matthew 18:10

How sad when this love that has always been in us and in the world suddenly becomes unrecognizable – even unrealistic – because of the darkness of sins and evil. When the child is born and begins to see, experience and realize the absence of love in the family, of a lack of that love between the child’s mother and father who quarrel or separate, or when the child himself/herself is threatened or hurt by anyone he/she looks up to, then trouble happens.

Children can only grasp the gift of life and of their existence when they experience the concreteness, the reality of love first right in their homes. One thing we adults always forget which I insist on every man and woman entering marriage that it is always the children who bear all the pains and sufferings when they separate. Experts claim that criminals mostly come from families where children witness domestic violence, especially when the husband beats the wife.

It is unfortunate that today’s gospel did not include Jesus Christ’s most terrible curse against those inflicting harm on children when he said in the same scene that “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and drowned in the depths of the sea” (Mt. 16:6).

As chaplain of a university, I have been hearing the confessions of our students, recently from junior and senior high school. After listening to their stories and woes, I tell them point blank about their parents and family, of the love among them and they start crying. I do not blame parents for their apparent lack of love for their children nor for their separation nor for their need to work abroad; I stress to young people human love is always imperfect. Only God can love us perfectly.

When the world and the people around us miserably fail in showing us the face of our loving God, that is when all the more we have to be like children anew as Jesus tells us today. It is is in going inside our inner child within, in becoming like a child trusting in the great love of God in us like when we were in our mother’s womb can we grasp again this invisible love poured upon us in Jesus Christ.

This is the challenge for us of the Sto. Niño: let us keep the face of God aglow in us, on our face and in our lives like the light Isaiah spoke of in the first reading when the Messiah comes. Anyone who lives in the gospel of Jesus Christ, even amid all pains and sufferings, would always be aglow with that radiant face of God filled with love and mercy, kindness and compassion despite our many imperfections. The beloved disciple said it so well, “No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us” (1 Jn. 4:12). Simply love, love, and love. No ifs nor buts. Just love.

Let us remain children of God most especially in our adulthood like Jesus Christ who upon his death on the Cross called God Abba – Father – because he has always been the Son, the Child of God. Remember how at the Last Supper when he gave the new commandment of loving one another as he loves us: it is “new” because unlike the love the world knows which is all feelings and self-centered, Christ’s love is rooted in God through him, in him, and with him.

Let us pray:

Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
every spiritual blessing in the heavens (Eph. 1:3),
as he chose us to be born
and be filled with his love as 
icons and representatives of his love;
enlighten the eyes of our hearts, Father,
so we may always answer your call
in your Son Jesus Christ for us to follow
him in being like a child
manifesting your face full of
warmth and love,
kindness and care
especially to those 
feeling unloved.
Amen.

Advent is being small again

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday in the First Week of Advent, 29 November 2022
Isaiah 11:1-10   ><))))*> + ><))))*> + ><))))*>   Luke 10:21-24
God our loving Father:

Thank you for this gift of Advent,
especially for the gift of our guide,
your prophet Isaiah who was the first 
to announce from afar 
the coming of the Christ,
your Son Jesus.
And today he speaks your words
that are so beautiful and lovely
but, so radical and contrary 
to what we believe,
to what we always hold on to.

On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.

Isaiah 11:1
How wonderful, 
that when Jesus finally came, 
he called us to be small again,
to be weak and insignificant
like children even to the point
of being nothing, of losing and 
dying in one's self.
A day
a shoot sprouting
and a stump.
Then, a bud
shall blossom.
Empty me, O God,
of myself and everything
that fills me so that you
may fill me with your spirit
and form me into your
desired being;
keep me rooted in you
through Christ who had come,
would come again and
comes always.
If I have to be reduced
even to a mere stump,
let it be, Lord;
grant me patience to await
the sprouting of a shoot
until the bud comes
forth to bloom
and make us experience
Isaiah's prophecy:
"Then the wolf shall be a guest
of the lamb, the leopard shall
lie down with the kid;
the calf and young lion shall
browse together with a little child
to guide them. 
The cow and the bear shall be
neighbors, together their young
shall rest while the lion eat hay
like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra's den,
and the child lay his hand on the
adder's lair" (cf. Is. 11:6-9).
Keep us awake, Jesus
as we await and work
for your peaceful presence
here and now.  Amen.

What surprises you?

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 25 August 2022
Photo by author, 20 August 2022.

I recently attended a children’s party when the youngest daughter of a friend, Mimi, turned seven years old. And I was so glad that I came because of the great fun I had at the magic show, clapping my hands and cheering along with all the kids and their parents.

It was so “aliw” as we say in Filipino.

Very comforting.

Not just entertaining.

Photo by author, 20 August 2022.

There was total sense of wonder in me, of pure joy seeing doves and flowers suddenly coming out of the magician’s clenched fists or folded handkerchief even if I knew it was just a trick or a sleigh of hand.

The most beautiful part of the party, of the joy and comfort was the chance for me to be like a child again as Jesus had repeatedly told us in the gospel that “unless you become like little children, you shall never inherit the kingdom of heaven.”

Imagine the great joy and comfort of believing again at what one sees and hears.

Of suspending reason and logic.

Of just enjoying the moment, of not thinking so much.

Of being like a child again at the circus or fair – “perya” as we call it in the province.

Most of all, of being caught in the magic of wonder and surprise, eagerly awaiting what’s next or how did it happen as you scratch your head while looking at the person next to you with those eyes so bewildered as you laugh out loud because you both know it was just a trick yet so true, so real.

It was so comforting because I had lost senses of time, of reason and of reality that often lead us to many anxieties of things to do and accomplish. Like Mimi the birthday celebrator, I felt I have grown and matured after regaining life, of enjoying life, of believing again in the many mysteries of this life that we can never explain nor even understand at all except to accept simply as it is like children.

Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son in our former parish in Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan, January 2020.

To be like a child means to owe one’s existence to another, of being open to every possibility in life, of trusting that there is someone greater than us or anyone we call God who can talk to us through others who may even be different from us like the magician in his tuxedo and magic wand. That is why magic shows are not only entertaining but also comforting or nakakaaliw in Filipino. The word comfort is from the two Latin words cum fortis that literally mean “to strengthen”.

This is the reason why I think children “grow so fast” – they are always surprised because they are open that they are emboldened to try everything, trusting they can do it, that somebody is watching over them, that they are in good hands. Try observing an infant asleep in a crib when suddenly would kick his/her feet or move hands. My mom used to tell me that when babies are surprised – nagugulat – that means they were growing.

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, sunrise at Atok, Benguet, 01 September 2019.

See how the Blessed Virgin Mary had grown and matured after being told by the angel that she would be the Mother of the Messiah to be sent by God. She was probably 15 or 16 at that time but had kept that child-like attitude of openness, of being surprised which her Son would be teaching later. Mary must have been so wrapped in awe and wonder upon hearing the angel’s annunciation to her.

But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Luke 1:29

Try to feel the resulting joy and fear of Mary in hearing the good news of the birth of the Messiah through her!

Right there, we could feel her faith in God at work, listening intently as the angel explained everything to her.

In the Old Testament, we find Jacob the younger son of Isaac having that same attitude of being like a child, of being open to God coming in every possibility. Remember when he fled to escape the murderous plot of his elder brother Esau after he had duped their father in bestowing his blessing to him?

On his way toward Haran, Jacob stopped at a certain shrine at sundown and took one of the stones there to place under his head as he slept for the night. It was then when he dreamt of “stairway to heaven” where angels were going up and down before God who spoke to assure him of his protection.

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he exclaimed, “Truly, the Lord is in this spot, although I did not know it!” In solemn wonder he cried out: “How awesome is this shrine! This is nothing else but an abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven!”

Genesis 28:16-17
Photo by Dr. Mai b. Dela Peña, Mt. Carmel, Israel, 2016.

Every time we are surprised by something or someone, it brings out the child in us, our wonderful sense of wonder, of believing, of trusting, of being open. Ultimately, of living again, of forging on in life amid all the darkness and uncertainties around us because we have that firm faith in a loving and merciful God who is also a Father to us.

See how this call for us to be childlike, of being surprised has become difficult even almost impossible to achieve in our world that has become so technical and “sophisticated” as we seek to shape and manipulate everything according to our own design.

In this age of the social media all around us, nothing is hidden anymore. Everything is bared open even to the skin and bones we enjoy so much like in Tiktok as if we are a planet of sex-starved, foul-mouthed, filthy rich and wanna-be’s flaunting everything and anything that can be shown by the camera.

Unfortunately, the world of “macho” men and glamorous women we love to relish with delight in the secular and even religious world in all of its trappings of fads and fashion and “hard talks”, of showmanships that we try so hard to project cannot hide the hypocrisies within, of keeping grips and control on everyone, leaving us more empty, more lost, and more alienated with one another and with our very selves.

Photo by author, 20 August 2022.

Many times in life when we feel tired and burned out, we go somewhere for some “me time”, of recharging. But, after some time, we feel lethargic again that we go out of town to find one’s self until we find nowhere else to go for retreats because the problem is actually within us.

Be like a child. Stop insisting of being an adult who knows what he/she is doing.

Set aside everything, especially your own agendas in life and open yourself to God and others to allow yourself to be surprised again, to regain that spark of rediscovering simple things without much thinking and reasoning, of just believing and be comforted that everything in this life is taken cared of by God. Like that magician in a children’s party.

May your week be filled with more surprises to gladden your heart and your spirit! God bless!

Being small and powerless, God’s path to power

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time, 13 July 2022
Isaiah 10:5-7, 13-16   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   Matthew 11:25-37
Photo by Mr. Red Santiago, January 2020.
Your words today, O God our Father
remind us of your oft-repeated
wisdom and reality that the path
to real power and greatness is in
being small and powerless like children.
How foolish are we, Lord, 
since the beginning when our
common knowledge always taught
us that size does matter, that the 
bigger a nation and its army like
Assyria, the more powerful it is:
partly true for a moment because
you are always greater than anyone,
O God with every nation, every individual
surely in your mighty hands!

Will the axe boast against him who hews with it? Will the saw exalt itself above him who wields it? As if a rod could sway him who lifts its, or a staff him who is not wood! Therefore the Lord, the Lord of hosts, will send among his fat ones leanness, and instead of his glory there will be kindling like the kindling of fire.

Isaiah 10:15-16
Your Son Jesus Christ himself
had revealed that in knowing
and discovering you, O God and your ways
it is not about being a genius nor of 
knowing all but in being simple, being
open and knowing less because everything
is God's work, not ours even if everything
seems to be clear and fixed with us and in
our points of view.

At that time Jesus exclaimed: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”

Matthew 11:25
Lord Jesus, 
keep me simple,
let me rely only in you
for you have all the answers
in the world.
Amen.

In our Father’s house

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Feast of the Sto. Niño, Sunday II in Ordinary Time, 16 January 2022
Isaiah 9:1-6 ><}}}*> Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18 ><}}}*> Luke 2:41-52
Photo by author, Sto. Niño exhibit at the Malolos Cathedral, 13 January 2022.

We Filipinos celebrate the longest Christmas season in the world which starts – unofficially -every September first when radio stations begin playing Christmas songs, ending officially today, the third Sunday of January with the Feast of the Sto. Niño (Holy Child Jesus).

Today’s feast is considered a part of the Christmas season which is in recognition of the crucial role of the image of Sto. Niño given by Magellan 500 years ago to Queen Juana of Cebu in the evangelization process of the Philippines. As the late Nick Joaquin would rightly claim in his essays, the Philippines was colonized by the Sto. Niño which is clearly seen in its widespread devotion coming in close second with Nuestro Padre Hesus Nazareno of Quiapo we celebrate every January 09.

What a wonderful “coincidence” or Divine intervention that the two most popular Christ devotions in the country happen on the same month of January, immediately after Christmas, reminding us despite our many shortcomings as the only Christian nation in this part of the world, Jesus reigns supreme in our hearts and homes.

And churches.

Despite the many accusations hurled against our brand of Christianity, of being sacramentalized but not evangelized, we can find hope and consolation in our being as very “church people” – our coming to the church even outside during this pandemic period in itself is a child-like trait, a grace we can deepen for a more matured faith that can lead to our transformation as a people.

This we see in our gospel today which we have heard proclaimed last month at the Feast of the Holy Family, a day after Christmas that was also a Sunday.

Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:41-43, 46, 48-49
“The Finding of the Savior at the Temple” painting by William Holman Hunt (1860) from en.wikipedia.org.

We are all children of the Father in Christ

When we examine Christ’s life and teachings, we find how everything is anchored in being a child of God the Father as he would always remind everyone that unless one becomes like a child, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

This Jesus clearly showed when he was 12 years old after staying behind at the Temple in Jerusalem that left Mary and Joseph so “anxiously looking for him”.

We see in this gospel scene how Jesus must have been so rooted in his own childhood experience that he could speak with familiarity about the child’s being and dignity. Most of all, of being the Son of God, a child of God when he told his Mother Mary, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk.2:49).

As he grew up and matured during his ministry, Jesus frequented the synagogues and later the Temple as a devout and faithful Jew.

What a beautiful expression of his being a child of the Father, always coming to the “Father’s house” to worship and praise, to be one with God and with the people.

What a beautiful expression of his – and our being children of God the Father!

Every time we come to the church to celebrate the Sacraments especially the Holy Eucharist, every time we come to pray inside the church, we express our being children of the Father. It is the most beautiful expression of our being child-like before God when we come to him in his house of worship in total surrender, on bended knees to plea for his grace and mercy.

Photo by Ms. Mira Mandal Sibal, September 2021.

To believe in the Church and come inside the church is part of our faith in the mystery of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ we profess in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church”.

Recall that after cleansing the Temple, Jesus declared to those asking him for signs to “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn.2:19) with the Evangelist’s added note, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (Jn.2:21). Eventually on Good Friday as he died on the cross, we are told in another gospel account how “the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mt.27:50), indicating a new phase in worshipping God in his Son Jesus Christ who has become the Body of the new people he had called that includes us today, the Church.

Therefore, every time we come to the church as a community of people, it is an act of being child-like as taught by our Lord Jesus Christ in the same manner he told his parents that “I must be in my Father’s house”.

Our being able to come to the church for the Mass and the other sacraments is a pure grace from God, an act of being child-like before him when we submit ourselves to him, when we try to listen to his words proclaimed, when we believe in the power of prayers and Sacraments.

At the height of this pandemic when religious gatherings were banned, so many faithful expressed their child-likeness to God by turning to on-line Masses and prayers.

However, as we slowly open up churches for live celebrations, there now arises the call for us to return into the Father’s house. The very nature of the Church as the Body of Christ and the Sacraments presuppose presence.

Here, we find the great relevance of today’s Feast of the Sto. Niño to return to the Father’s house and reconnect anew with our fellow disciples without disregarding health protocols of course.

When the Spaniards returned to the Philippines in 1565 (40 years after Magellan), they saw the Sto. Niño venerated on an altar above other anitos inside a hut presumed to be a house of worship of the natives. Most likely, the natives felt the Sto. Niño as the superior deity always answering their prayers for abundant harvests, healing from sickness or avoidance of pestilence, and fertility for more children to work in the fields. Again, the imagery of that child-like attitude of coming into the “Father’s house” to commune in prayer by those natives.

Photo by author, National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 14 January 2022.

It is perhaps the new challenge we will be facing as the COVID-19 virus wears off as experts claim, how to bring back people into the Father’s house. Confounding the problem is the lure of the convenience of online Masses that have commodified the Sacrament, a clear indication of lack of any child-like attitude but more of manipulation.

Added to this is the relativistic attitude of modern time when some people claim to believe in God without necessarily having the need to believe in the Church that is deeply embroiled in cases of sexual abuses by its clergy.

All of these are calls for everyone in the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church which is a mystery in itself for its members, clergy and lay alike, to recapture that child-like attitude of Jesus himself to always affirm his being in the Father’s house. Amen.

A blessed week ahead to everyone. Stay safe!

We are One

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday Week XXVII-B in Ordinary Time, 03 October 2021
Genesis 2:18-24 ><]]]]'> Hebrews 2:9-11 ><]]]]'> Mark 10:2-16
Photo by Ms. Isa Avendaño-Umali at UP-Diliman via reddit.com.

Part of my fond memory of traveling to old Baguio will always be that long stretch of road in Tarlac with the colorful caballeros or “fire trees” abloom every summer, their vibrant shades of hot orange and tangerine serving like a canopy to a magical tunnel.

Making the scene lovelier were the branches and treetops arching over the road as if trying to “connect” with the other trees at the opposite side to remind us of nature’s design that we are all created one.

This is the gist of this Sunday’s readings from Genesis as cited by Jesus in the gospel.

The Lord God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with a flesh. The Lord God built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man.

Genesis 1:25

Sometimes the Bible presents to us God acting so naive as if not knowing something at all like in this creation story when he said “it is not good for man to be alone”. Did he not know in his infinite knowledge and wisdom that man will only be happy with another human being like him “who is flesh of my flesh and bones of my bones”?

Of course, God knows everything but he wants us to realize ourselves – firsthand, that we can never be complete without another person, a fellow human being. There are times we learn our lessons best through our own experiences, the more painful and difficult, the better! Like this pandemic that has made us realize the value of persons, of family and friends over things like money and gadgets or any material possession.

Note that the creation account could have ended very well in man’s “discovery” of the woman but the author continued on with an explanation “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24) to show not only the reality of marriage as a creation by God but also to remind us it is a part of our nature to reach out to the other person to enter into a communion. The “I-Thou” relationship put forth by philosopher Martin Buber has always been part of human nature until sin came and hardened the human heart, misleading us often by impulses of carnal and selfish instincts towards others.

The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation… Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

Mark 10:2-6, 9
Wedding of my former student Lery with Micah in January 2020, Malolos City.

God made all things good and beautiful

Jesus and his disciples were still in Capernaum when some Pharisees approached him to test him about their legal debates on the issue of divorce. And though he was fully aware of their evil plans against him, Jesus answered their question so well without going down to their level of discussions based on petty quarrels and differences with each other.

See how Jesus was clearly focused to his mission by asserting to everyone that he had come to reveal the will of the Father, that God created everything good and beautiful with man and woman as the crowning glory of his creation that he had to cite to them the Book of Genesis. There was no need for him to involve into the legal debates of his time about divorce that unfortunately continues to this day.

For Jesus, divorce is clearly a result of man’s sins, of human weakness due to the “hardness of your hearts” which Moses tried to remedy.

And now that he has come as our Christ and Savior, Jesus assures everyone of his grace and help in overcoming our weaknesses and sins especially in upholding the purity of marriage and the Creator’s intention when he declared, “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mk.10:9).

In bringing back to God as the starting point of the man and woman relationship, Jesus elevated marriage to a higher status than ever, making it a “sacrament” or a sign of his saving presence among us.


In the process, Jesus reminded his disciples and us today
 of the nature of human relationships as reflection of God's beauty and holiness.  
Every human relationship is always a gift from God, a grace and a blessing 
that must be nurtured with love and care.  
More than the unity of husband and wife, 
Jesus reminds us in today's gospel of our unity as humanity, 
as children of the Father who loves us so much.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

But the beauty of Jesus Christ’s lesson on marriage continued as they went “in the house” in Capernaum, when his disciples asked him to explain to them what he had told the Pharisees.

In the process, Jesus reminded his disciples and us of the nature of human relationships as reflection of God’s beauty and holiness. Every human relationship is always a gift from God, a grace and a blessing that must be nurtured with love and care. More than the unity of husband and wife, Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel of our unity as humanity, as children of the Father who loves us so much.

How sad when we destroy, disfigure or alter this image of God in us and in our relationships that harm human life and nature that have led to endless cycles of disorder and imbalance like wars and conflicts in various forms as nations and peoples compete for supremacy.

This is the reason why Jesus reiterates today his central message of becoming like children to enter into the kingdom of God.

And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.

Mark 10:13-16

It was a fitting way to cap his lessons that day about marriage and unity of men and women with creation. Becoming “indignant” with the disciples who have “rebuked” their parents in bringing them to Jesus, he stressed anew the nature of the kingdom of God being open to those who are small and weak, those with the attitude like that of children who trust, depend and rely on the powers of those above them most especially God.

Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son, 2019.

It is deeply sad when couples separate or divorce, hurting the children most in the process. And indeed, it is the most tragic of all when priests and bishops abuse children when they are tasked by Jesus himself to care for the children as we have heard on many occasions in the gospel.

But, God has never stopped calling men and women to the sacred vocations of married life and priesthood even if he perfectly knows our weaknesses, including hardness of our hearts sometimes, or most of the time.

As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews had reflected, the more we must strive to be one in Jesus Christ who calls us all “brothers” and “sisters” having been consecrated to God as our origin and final end.

Last Sunday, Jesus told us “sky’s the limit in doing good” regardless of our religious affiliations “For whoever is not against us is for us” (Mk.9:40); sin is the only obstacle we must avoid, striving hard to stop its occasions when he metaphorically said it is better to enter heaven with just one hand or foot or eye than lose the body to the fires of hell.

This Sunday, Jesus is inviting us back to the very root of our relationships – God, the Supreme Good of all. Let us pray for the softening of our hearts to be more loving and forgiving, kind and understanding. Like at the beginning when he created everything, God trusts us and believes in us for we are all good like him, that his grand design of communion is very possible in Christ Jesus. Amen. Have a blessed week!

The “Little Way” to God

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Virgin & Doctor of the Church, 01 October 2021
Baruch 1:15-22   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]*> + ><]]]]'>   Luke 10:13-16
Photo by author, 2019.
Glory and praise to you,
God our loving Father in heaven
who opens so many ways for us 
to be with you, to experience heaven
while here on earth; Tuesday you showed us
the path of martyrdom of St. Lorenzo Ruiz 
and companions; today, we celebrate
your Little Flower, St. Therese of the Child Jesus
who taught us her "Little Way" to you 
with her writings, prayers and short life.
But we all know that whether 
it is the "big" way of martyrs or the "little way" 
of St. Therese, it is always one and the same path 
of Jesus Christ our Lord who is "the way and 
the truth and the life" (Jn.14:6) that we implore
you dear Father through him your Son
that we may be gifted with docility and trust
in you like that of a child.
Most of all, may our obedience and trust 
in you dear God be rooted in that love for you
which you have sowed ever since in our heart
and soul if we could only be humble enough like
St. Therese to admit:

“Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.”

St. Therese of the Child Jesus
O merciful God our Father,
in this age of social media where
everyone is vying for exposures
and shots to prominence,
make us realize that life is not a show
to perform but a gift to cultivate and
nurture in our relationships with you
through others; give us the sense of
sinfulness to be ashamed of our arrogance
and pride before like Baruch and St. Therese:

During the Babylonian captivity, the exiles prayed, “Justice is with the Lord, our God; and we today are flushed with shame, we men of Judah and citizens of Jerusalem… We have neither heeded the voice of the Lord, our God, nor followed the precepts which the Lord set before us… but each one of us went off after the devices of our own wicked hearts, served other gods, and did evil in the sight of the Lord, our God.”

Baruch 1:15, 18, 22
May this pandemic period
be a purifying process for us, O God,
that in the midst of sufferings and
hardships like St. Therese we rediscover
and realize your loving presence
in Christ Jesus.  Amen.
Photo by author, 01 October 2019.

The Paradox of the Cross

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday XXV-B in Ordinary Time, 19 September 2021
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20 ><]]]]'>James 3:16-4:3 ><]]]]'> Mark 9:30-37
Photo by author, Church of Dominus Flevit overlooking Jerusalem, 2017.

From the pagan capital of Caesarea Philippi where he revealed himself as the Christ or Messiah, Jesus turned back to travel south towards Jerusalem to fulfill his mission. He did not want people to know about his journey as he was intensively teaching the Twelve with important lessons before his approaching pasch.

For the second time, he mentioned to the Twelve of his coming Passion, Death and Resurrection but they did not understand it again; but, instead of asking Jesus for explanations, they argued among themselves who was the greatest, presumably thinking who would get the best post once Jesus becomes “king”.

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.

Mark 9:30-34

The pandemic as a prolonged sabbath

This whole pandemic period may be considered a prolonged sabbath for everyone when we, along with nature in some instances are asked to take a rest, be silent and still. And return to God. That is the beautiful imagery of Mark telling us last week how from Caesarea Philippi in the north Jesus and the Twelve took a U-turn to go back south towards Jerusalem, hidden and silent.

It is along this way that Jesus is inviting us also to spend these quarantine periods to rediscover him and his teachings. Primary of these lessons from him is the paradox of the Cross, of Christ’s glory in his crucifixion and death that has always been a great stumbling block for many of us throughout the ages.

Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images, Baclaran Church, February 2020.

Any disciple of Jesus can easily identify with the Twelve, of not understanding why Jesus had to suffer and die first in order to rise again on the third day. And like the Twelve, we have learned our lessons so well at Caesarea Philippi not to question it or be clarified lest we too are rebuked by the Lord like Peter!

There are times we cry out or complain to God when we are going through sufferings and trials why we have to get sick, why we have to lose a loved one, why we have to fail, why we have to suffer so much when we have tried our very best to be good and honest, sharing our time, talent, treasures and very selves in loving service to others?

But, let’s accept that it is often a sense of entitlement on our part, of trying to manipulate God when we surreptitiously tell him as if he does not know what we are really thinking and feeling that we are following Jesus to avoid pains and sufferings, or at least to have lighter cross because we believe we are good and better than others, therefore, we deserve better treatment.

And this is also the reason why like the Twelve “along the way”, we argue a lot on who is the greatest because it is better to think of the coming glory than contemplate every Good Friday we go through as Christ’s disciples. Sad to say, there are times we “compete” with one another for having the most pain gone through.

It can happen that whenever we are passing through some difficulties in life that we really do not see Christ at all but our selves alone because we are more focused on the rewards and gains we may have for the efforts, not really sacrifices.

See how Jesus asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”; recall how he declared during the Last Supper in John’s gospel, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (Jn.4:16). How come we do not see him along the way?

How could we have missed that while we are on the way (of the cross), our thoughts are focused on the coming glory than on Jesus himself in every undertaking? This is the problem with “health and wealth” kind of preaching and ministry when Jesus is more seen as giver and dispenser of material blessings than Lord and Savior. It is a clear case of what Jesus told Peter last week, “you are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mk.8:33).


"...in this paradox of the cross lies another paradox, 
that of human living wherein the more we try to live uprightly, 
striving to be good and loving, 
the more we are attacked and confused by the devil...
Holiness always engenders hatred
 among men and women filled with evil 
as we have been witnessing in the news lately."

Photo by author, Dominican Hills, Baguio City, January 2019.

And no wonder, in this paradox of the cross lies another paradox, that of human living wherein the more we try to live uprightly, striving to be good and loving, the more we are attacked and confused by the devil through others as we have observed last week.

Holiness always engenders hatred among men and women filled with evil as we have been witnessing lately in the news. This had been foretold long ago by the author of the Book of Wisdom we have heard in the first reading:

The wicked say: Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.

Wisdom 2:12, 20

Since the fall of Adam and Eve, see how man had always put God on trial like a criminal, being accused with all the miseries and sufferings on earth that reached its lowest point when Jesus was hanging on the cross with his enemies mockingly telling him, “If you are really the Son of God, come down and we will believe… He had saved others, now let him save himself!”.

The core of the paradox of the Cross

At the core of this paradox of the Cross is Jesus Christ’s central teaching of being like a child which he had first expressed clearly in his Incarnation and Birth by the Blessed Virgin Mary – the almighty God being born an infant, so small and so weak just like everyone of us! In coming to us a child and later dying on the cross, Jesus showed us that true greatness is in becoming small to become a part of the larger whole.

Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

Mark 9:35-37

To be a child means to owe one’s existence to another which we never outgrow even in our adult life. It is an attitude of being open to every possibility in life, an attitude of trusting others, of having clean mind and clean heart.

The world of men, of macho men we love to relish with delight in the secular and even religious world in all of its trappings of fads and fashion and “hard talks”, of external showmanships that we try so hard to project cannot hide the hypocrisies within, of keeping grips and control on everyone and everything like the disciples of Jesus.

The tragedy of that scene of the Twelve arguing who among them is the greatest to get the best position when Jesus comes to power continues to happen in our time with some people actually living in darkness are the ones who pretend to be seeing the light that in the process are misleading people towards darkness and destruction! Even in the church when we keep on referring to ourselves as “servants” of the poor when our lifestyles as priests and bishops, nuns and religious are that of the rich and famous!

The key to greatness is to be like a child – be simple, be trusting because children lack jealousy and selfish ambitions which according to James in the second reading are signs of the presence of “disorder and every foul practice” (Jas.3:16).

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

This Sunday, Jesus is inviting us to examine ourselves truly why are we following him?

What have become of us in serving him – argumentative and divisive or welcoming of others especially the weak and marginalized?

Does my way of life speak of who I am as a disciple of Jesus, like a child, open to God and to others?

Have a blessed week, everyone!

Becoming God’s children

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Feast of the Sto. Niño, 17 January 2021
Isaiah 9:1-6  >><)))*>  Ephesians 1:3-6.15-18  >><)))*>  Mark 10:13-16 
Photo by author, 16 January 2021.

Today we spend an extra Sunday for the Christmas Season’s Feast of Sto. Niño granted by Rome to the local Church in recognition of the important role played by that image of the Holy Child gifted by Magellan to Queen Juana of Cebu in 1521.

Its role in the Christianization of the country cannot be denied, considering the historical fact that when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived in Cebu 44 years later after Magellan to claim the country for Spain, they were surprised to discover how the natives venerated the Sto. Niño inside a special hut for worship along with their other anitos.

Legazpi’s chaplain Fray Luis Andres de Urdaneta attested to how that devotion to the Sto. Niño in Cebu enabled them to Christianize other natives without difficulties as the Holy Child image at that time has become the favorite among the people in asking favors like children and bountiful harvests as well as protection from calamities and wars.

The late National Artist Nick Joaquin was absolutely right to claim in his many writings and talks that it was really the Sto. Niño who truly conquered the Philippines that continues to be the most popular Christ-devotion in the country along with the Nuestro Padre Jesus de Nazareno of Quiapo.

More powerful than the swords and cannons or any force in the world indeed is the Child Jesus who has continued to be a paradox in world history: the Son of God born in a lowly stable in a small town called Bethlehem because there was no room for them in the inn during the time of the powerful Caesar claiming to be the king of the whole world by ordering a census of all his subjects in the vast Roman Empire now totally forgotten, his kingdom long gone.

What an irony the God who came so weak like all of us, without any title to His name nor an army at His command still influencing the world in His weakness and silence, in His childlikeness. A reality in life until now we have refused to accept even in the Church.

People were bringing children to Jesus that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then Jesus embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.

Mark 10:13-16
A child praying in our Parish, 07 November 2019; photo by Mr. Red Santiago.

Christ’s path of weakness vs. the world’s path of power

It is so timely that during this Ordinary Time we have this Feast of the Sto. Niño to remind us of the central teaching of Jesus Christ to be childlike that gets lost in the novelty and sentimentality of our Christmas celebrations.

See how this call for us to be childlike becomes more difficult even almost impossible to achieve in our world that has become so technical and “sophisticated” as we seek to shape and manipulate everything according to our own design.

The world of men, of macho men we love to relish with delight in the secular and religious world in all of its trappings of fads and fashion and “hard talks”, of external showmanships that we try so hard to project cannot hide the hypocrisies within, of keeping grips and control on everyone and everything like the disciples of Jesus. The tragedy of that scene continuing to happen in our time is how some few people who live in darkness pretend to be seeing the light that in the process are actually misleading people towards darkness and destruction.

Every time we refuse to allow others to come forward with their new thoughts and new ideas, fresh perspectives in governance and management, in the ministry, in theology, when we close our minds to hear others ideas and opinions in doing things, then we are into serious power plays that can be pernicious at the same time.

When this happens, we are all the more challenged to be child-like before God in taking all the risks in exposing what is true, what is real like those kids shouting “the emperor has no clothes”!

To be a child means to owe one’s existence to another which we never outgrow even in our adult life. It is an attitude of being open, that Jesus can be talking to us through people not necessarily like us, even different from us. It is an attitude of trusting others, unlike those hungry for power who only believe in themselves, so afraid they might be proven wrong because their minds are either narrow or closed.

Are we not surprised at all that these control freaks around us who try so hard to project images of power and strength are often the perverts and deviants hiding their childishness and immaturities and other skeletons in the closet?

Photo by author, “Sleeping Sto. Niño”, January 2020.

Becoming and living as God’s children

Jesus shows us today in this feast of the Sto. Niño that it is in the path of being weak like children when we are truly free like Him – free to be a child of God indeed! This He accomplished by dying on the Cross not only to forgive us for our sins but made us a “new man/woman” in God as His children.

Brothers and sisters: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in then heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundations of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.

Ephesians 1:3-6

How sad that in our efforts to be in the man’s world of power and dominance, we try so hard becoming somebody else whom we are not only to end up alone, lost and unfulfilled.

Our being children of God is something innate in us, already within us that was accomplished by Christ for us at the Cross.

The key is to always go back to Jesus at the Cross.

We have said earlier that to be a child is to owe one’s existence to another that is, ultimately speaking, to God alone.

Hence, one sure sign of being like a child is having the sense of gratitude, of thanksgiving.

Incidentally, the Greek word for thanksgiving is eucharistia or eucharist! In the gospel accounts, we find so many instances of Jesus thanking the Father for everything that beautifully reminds us of His childlikeness.

The moment we feel strong enough without need for others, then we stop being grateful, then we lose that childlikeness in us as we start tinkering with power and influence, assuming to ourselves that everybody owes us, the world needs us.

That is when we stop growing and sooner or later, we collapse and eventually fall so hard on our faces.

How amazing that the Sto. Niño image given by Magellan to Queen Juana holds an orb or a globe. It is very interesting where did the maker of that image got that idea that the world is round when in fact it was the theory that Magellan had in mind in setting out to his ambitious expedition by sailing westward and returning from the east?

Records show that the first images of the Child Jesus or Sto. Niño as we know came from Flanders, a region in the Netherlands. The Flemish people have been making those images as early as the late 1400’s. That is why there is also that popular image of the the Child Jesus in Prague in the Czech Republic.

The mystery remains where did they get that idea of the Child Jesus holding an orb?

Could it be that the Flemish people who were devoutly Catholics at that time must have found the “light” from Jesus Christ in their devotions and prayers as prophesied by Isaiah in the first reading?

Nobody knows for sure but the next time you look at a Sto. Niño, be reminded always that it is the Child Jesus who holds the world in His hands. If you want to have the world in your hand too, be child-like! Be always grateful for who you are and what you have. Jesus promised it anyway.

Blessed week ahead of you!

Welcoming Jesus

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 28 December 2020
Photo by author, 28 December 2020.

“Welcoming Jesus”.

It is not really the title of this piece but the name of this image of the baby Jesus above.

See His smiles and open hands with eyes exuding with warmth and joy to anyone who sees Him. Even with the dusts and cracks held intact by scotch tapes, it is one of my most loved and cherished possessions I would never trade for anything.

Given to me by a brother priest in Christmas 2017, Welcoming Jesus measures about eight inches and seems to be Mexican or African inspired with his dark skin and lively colorful design of baby dress. I have always loved this Baby Jesus who seems so alive that I have kept Him on my desk, giving me so many inspirations and “kicks” in my studies in the past three years.

Small and handy, and so fragile, I have always imagined Him to be just like the infant Jesus when He was born in Bethlehem more than 2000 years ago.

As I turned off my lamp last night before retiring, I saw Him, smiling and yes, “welcoming” to remind me of a story I have read ten years ago about St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India when one of their patients threw to her a crucifix in a fit of tantrum. After pacifying the patient, St. Mother Teresa picked the crucifix and pieced together with a scotch tape an arm of Jesus that was broken. She then gave it to one of her nuns with instructions to hang it again on their wall with a note that says, “Let me heal your broken arm”.

In the same manner, as I looked onto my little image of “Welcoming Jesus”, I felt it my Christmas message for 2020 as we celebrate Holy Innocents’ Day: “Let me show you tenderness, Baby Jesus.”

If there is one thing we all need at this time of the pandemic, this Christmas 2020, it must be tenderness. Like the tender compassion of God, His mercy.

Tenderness is being merciful, being soft in the heart in a very positive sense. Some people think that being tender, being merciful and forgiving is a sign of weakness; on the contrary, it is pure power and strength.

The former US President Theodore Roosevelt who was a military officer before getting into politics used to tell that in any argument or discussion, the first to use one’s fist is always the one with less intelligence, less power who resort to force because they have ran out of reasons to argue.

Very true! Exactly with that off-duty cop who brutally shot and killed mother and son in Paniqui, Tarlac whose tiny brain could not control his humongous body much less understand everything that was going then.

Mercy and tenderness, like courage, are movements within the heart. The Latin word for mercy perfectly captures its meaning: misericordia or a stirring of the heart, a moving of the heart. More than a feeling, it is taking concrete actions to bow down and be one with those suffering.

That is why the Son of God became human, chose to be born as an infant like everybody else, to be one with us, to suffer with us, that is, compassion from cum and passio, to suffer with.

The eminent theologian Fr. Hans urs Von Balthasar, a good friend of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, wrote before he died that “the central mystery of Christianity is our transformation from a world-wise, self-sufficient ‘adults’ into abiding children of the Father of Jesus by the grace of the Holy Spirit. All else in the Gospel – the Lord’s Incarnation, his hidden and public lives, his miracles and preaching, his Passion, Cross, and resurrection – has been for this” (Unless You Become Like This Child).

A baby is always welcoming to almost everyone, and vice versa, anyone even the most hardened criminal would always welcome and be moved by the sight of a baby or a child.

How sad that until now, there are still King Herods among us who are insecured with children and infants. Worst are those who abuse and molest children, the single most damning crime by some in the clergy this century because it is directly opposite the central theme of Christ’s teachings and warning – “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father” (Matt.18:10).

Photo by Mr. Marc Angelo Nicolas Carpio, Baby Jesus in our Parish, Christmas 2020.

Due to COVID-19 pandemic, for the first time in our churches, the traditional kissing (pahalik) of the image of the Baby Jesus is scrapped. Perhaps it is a good reminder to us all to meditate more in our hearts the meaning of Jesus being born an infant – so weak, so dependent to adults like us.

It is a call for us too to do something concrete about the many sufferings children have to go through in this time, on one end those denied of basic goods and services while on the other extreme are the children with all the material needs except the warmth and love of their parents.

One saint I have discovered before our ordination more than 20 years ago is St. Charles de Foucauld, a French priest who lived among the Tuaregs of the Sahara desert in the early 20th century. In his room, he always had a baby Jesus and an altar for the Blessed Sacrament to adore daily.

His core value is founded on “littleness” – of finding Jesus among the little ones, of being little before the Lord.

Have that tender care that expresses itself in the little things that are like a balm for the heart… With our neighbours go into the smallest details, whether it is a question of health, of consolation, of prayerfulness, or of need. Console and ease the pain of others through the tiniest of attentions. Be as tender and attentive towards those whom God puts on our path, as a brother towards brother or as a mother for her child. As much as possible be an element of consolation for those around us, as soothing balm, as our Lord was towards all those who drew near to him.

St. Chrales de Foucauld

What a beautiful reminder of the Child Jesus this Christmas and hereafter. If we can be tender with one another in the most minute detail like Jesus, then we can truly experience His coming to us, fulfilling us with His presence and love which is the spirit of Christmas. Amen.