Becoming a Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 10 July 2022
Deuteronomy 30:10-14 ><}}}*> Colossians 1:15-20 ><}}}*> Luke 10:25-37
Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA7-News, May 2022.

After telling us last week to “do not rejoice because spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Lk.10:20), Jesus today answers a scholar of the law asking him what he must do to gain eternal life.

It is the very same question we often ask others because inside us we are convinced there is something else deeper than the laws and commandments of God written in the Bible. Like the scholar of the law, we have experienced that God’s commandments and statutes – his very voice, his very words – are written in our hearts.

Moses said to the people: “If only you would heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and keep his commandments and statutes that are written in this book of the law, when you return to the Lord, your God, with all your heart and all your soul. No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”

Deuteronomy 30:10, 14

God’s commandments and laws are not just mere codes of conduct like in other religions. The Law of God is no dead letter but his living Word right in the depths of our hearts no matter how hard we deny his existence. More than a code, the Law of God evokes a relationship that is a fruit of one’s conversion of heart and soul in union with God and with others.

It is here that we find the novel approach by Jesus in narrating the parable of the good Samaritan in answering the scholar of the law who wanted to test him by asking, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk.10:25) that was followed up with a second one, “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk.10:29) to justify himself. In narrating this parable, Jesus showed us how we must live as neighbors, as brothers and sisters in him who is our head.

Photo from americamagazine.org.

We are all neighbors.

We have heard so many times this beautiful parable by Jesus which only Luke had narrated while the Lord was “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk.9:51). Too often, we see this parable as a reminder of something we are all aware of, that everyone is our neighbor.

Like the scholar of the law, we are not surprised at all with Christ’s question, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” because we have always thought of the question in our own point of view! We are the ones looking at the victim of the robbers that it is always easy to assume we would be good Samaritan to him which is so presumptuous on our part. Fact is, so often we have failed being a good Samaritan to so many in need who came to us for help because we were like the priest and Levite with many excuses, with more important matters to attend to that they both passed by the robbers’ victim.

Like the scholar of the law, we have failed to see the whole point of Jesus who was asking us to be in the victim’s point of view, to be in his shoes: would anyone be a good Samaritan to help me if I were the victim?

Jesus had reversed the point of view – instead of looking through the window from the outside, we are asked to look at the window from the inside! Would somebody stop to be kind with us?

From inquirer.net.

Many times we have felt so disappointed at some people we were expecting to be our friends, who would be on our side but when trials came, they turned their backs from us and left us alone when suddenly, somebody we least expected or even hardly knew came to help us!

How many times have you found yourself saying, “I thought they considered me as their friend but it turned out, somebody I hardly knew was the one who helped me out of my plight!” Worst, there were times we have said strangers are even better than our family and friends, saying, “Mabuti pa yung ibang tao kesa kamag-anak o kaibigan”.

Hence, to our most Frequently Asked Question (FAQ), “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”, Jesus is asking us to act and live in such a way that everybody sees us as their neighbor, not the other way around. When it is others who see us as their neighbor, it means we are living the gospel, we are like Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan who came to save us all. It is different when it is us who claim to see everyone as our neighbor – it holds nothing at all but an idea in the mind, a plan or mere intention no matter how noble it may be.

Most of all, to see others as one’s neighbors is a sign of a malady of our faith and religion: that we are not yet evangelized though sacramentalized wherein Jesus is just in our minds but not yet in our hearts, not yet flowing through our very being.

Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images, Laoag City, 08 May 2022.

The preeminence of Jesus Christ

This oneness in Christ is the gist of Paul’s beautiful exposition about Jesus in our second reading this Sunday. Paul wrote the Colossians while in prison to prevent them from joining some preachers encouraging them to adopt ascetic practices in order to have angelic powers as well as appease higher powers. Paul insisted Jesus Christ is God and what he had accomplished on the cross is sufficient for our salvation.

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or principalities or powers; all things were created through and for him. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.

Colossians 1:15-16, 19

In presenting the preeminence of Jesus Christ, Paul is also telling us that Jesus is the foundation of our moral life. Our lives, our actions must flow from our communion and oneness in Christ. That is when others see us as a neighbor, when they see us as one of them too!

This is the fulfillment of Moses’ teaching in the first reading, that the “voice of the Lord”, the word of God is not far from you for it is in your hearts – that is Jesus Christ who is not only the fulfillment of the laws but the Law himself. After all, as John had expressed in the fourth gospel, Jesus is “the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us”, the Emmanuel, the God-with-us.

From Facebook of Marivic Tribiana, 2021.

Today, Jesus is inviting us that in order to gain eternal life, we must do what he does, that is, to love and be kind with everyone, to be seen as a neighbor and a friend others can count on. In becoming human, God became one of us in Jesus Christ, the one who crossed the street to reach out to us victims of robbers on the way to Jerusalem. He not only healed our wounds but even lifted us to regain our dignity as beloved brothers and sisters. And neighbors.

There is a very beautiful word in English that captures this reality of our being neighbors or brothers and sisters in Christ: “kind” or “kindness” which came from the root kin or kindred. When we say “she or he is kind to me”, it means he or she treats me as a kin or a kindred, not as different like a stranger.

Artwork by Fr. Marc Ocariza based on Marivic Tribiana’s photo, 2021.

We are all kins or kindred in Christ. And every time we choose to be unkind and indifferent with others especially those in need, we are bothered by our conscience because it is an affront to our very personhood. It is unnatural like what the American writer George Saunders had realized:

“So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.”

George Saunders from “Congratulations, By the Way” (page 22)

Avoid having such regrets later in life. Whatever good deed you may do at the moment, do it for it could be Jesus Christ who is passing by, who is the one in need. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead.

Lent calls us to be free

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Fifth Week of Lent, 06 April 2022
Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95   <'((((>< + ><))))'>   John 8:31-42
Photo by author, sunrise at Camp John Hay, Baguio City, 2018.
Dear God our Father:
I have heard it so often
from your Son Jesus Christ
that "the truth will set you free"
but I must admit how I feel 
too far from that reality of
being truly free.
So many times in my life, despite
my strong profession of being free
like the Pharisees asserting 
to Jesus they have never been
"enslaved to anyone", that is really
when I am enslaved - to sin, to ego,
to the world, to my past especially
my hurts and pains, and to a lot of
other people expecting a lot from me, 
demanding so much from me 
that, ironically and funnily,  
I work so hard to please and fulfill
without realizing how I am in fact
enslaved!  

Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”

John 8:31-33
To be free, O God, 
is to belong to you alone, 
our loving and eternal Father;
from the very start, Jesus had
always professed his belonging to
you like when he was found by
his parents in the temple when he
told them "why are you looking for me, 
don't you know I should be in my 
Father's house?"; during his ministry, 
he repeatedly declared his oneness with you;
to be free, therefore, is to owe nothing
to anyone at all but to you alone.
It is when I feel I owe others when I
begin to cheat and lie, when I sin
because I cannot express freely and
truly what is in me - YOU whom I 
disown and betray always.
Give me, O Lord, the courage to be
my true self like Shadrach, Meshach,
and Abednego who boldly declared
to King Nebuchadnezzar they would
rather be thrown into the fiery furnace
than worship false gods; true freedom is
when we are able to accept death gladly
and wholeheartedly because that is when
nothing and no one holds us back;
we are truly free when we are able to 
express our deepest longing and desires
in life which is to finally be one with our
source and end - YOU!
In these remaining days of Lent,
grant us dear Father through Jesus
the grace to shed off the many layers 
of false freedom we convince ourselves
to have so that we may finally be free
to love you and follow you, free to be our
true selves as your beloved children.
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!

What God is asking from us

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Week XIX, Year I in Ordinary Time, 13 August 2021
Joshua 24:1-13   ><]]]]*> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]*>   Matthew 19:3-12
Photo by author, modern chapel at the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem, the Holy Land, 2019.
I know, dear God our Father,
you have no need of our words 
nor works in exchange for your 
abounding love and grace given us 
in Christ Jesus; and there lies 
your goodness and holiness when 
all you ask of us is our fidelity
to your covenant, that we remain true 
to you by dealing with love and justice
to one another which is all for our own good too.

“I gave you a land that you had not tilled and cities which you had not built, to dwell in; you have eaten of vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.”

Joshua 24:13
You have given us everything, O God:
the earth and everything on it that we have
wasted and destroyed; worst of all, you
have given us family and friends, every person
 and people to love and cherish, respect and
be kind with but whom we have always
hurt with our words and actions when we
see only our very selves, failing to see
others as brothers and sisters in you
as Father from the the very beginning.

“Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.”

Matthew 19:4-6
Forgive us, merciful Father
for the "hardness of our hearts" (Mt.19:8),
in our building walls among us instead
of bridges to bring us close together
as your children reconciled in Jesus Christ;
help us to find the common grounds that
make us all the same, not different;
make us find and accept our vocation
in life so we may fulfill your calling
by serving you through one another
with love and respect, kindness and mercy
especially in this time of the pandemic.
Amen.

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.

Eat, pray, live, and love

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Memorial of St. Clare, Virgin, 11 August 2020
Ezekiel 2:8-3:4 >><)))*> ||| >><)))*> ||| >><)))*> Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

O God our Father, we praise and thank you in sending us your Son Jesus Christ to show us how in the most ordinary and essential aspect of our lives – eating – we can either be far away from you or very near you.

Yes, O Lord! Just like in the movies, eat, pray, live, and love.

How wonderful it is to think that it was in eating the forbidden fruit at Eden that we have fallen from your grace while it is in partaking in the Supper of the Lord in the Eucharist that we have become blessed to be one in you, sharing in your holiness.

Help us to sink deeper into the inner reality of “eating” that leads us to praying, living and loving.

Like your prophet, may we realize that the key in understanding fully your words is in immersing ourselves into them like eating when we savor the aroma of food, biting and chewing in pieces to let its taste cover our palate, digesting it into our whole body system to nourish our lives.

Son of man, he then said to me, feed your belly and fill your stomach with this scroll I am giving you. I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. He said: Son of man, go now to the house of Israel, and speak my words to them.

Ezekiel 3:3-4

So many times in life, O Lord, we complain at how difficult are your laws and teachings, your words without ever trying them.

Open our selves like Ezekiel and your saints, specially St. Clare who left everything behind after being inspired by your words through St. Francis of Assisi to be poor and spend life praying to you.

Leaving the world in exchange of a life in poverty and simplicity, of prayer and witnessing, her life was sustained by your words that eventually nourished countless souls in search of you and meaning in life.

If we can just plunge ourselves into your words and eat them like real food, digest their meaning to savor its sweetness and wonderful taste like St. Clare and other saints, then we would no longer be so concerned with things of this world like in knowing who is the greatest among us.

Give us the simplicity of children who delight in the most ordinary food offered them, enjoying life with the sense of awe and surprise of your presence. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

The goodness of God our Father

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XIV, Year II in Ordinary Time, 09 July 2020
Hosea 11:1-4, 8-9 >><}}}*> >><}}}*> >><}}}*> Matthew 10:7-15
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019 in Carigara, Leyte.

This is the fourth straight day, O God when you have come to me in the most touching and personal manner through your prophet Hosea. It is so comforting to dwell on the tenderness of your love for me but at the same time so embarrassing too at what I have given back to you.

Thus says the Lord: When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the farther they were from me, sacrificing to the Baals and burning incense to idols. Yet it was I who thought Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms. I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks. Yet, though I stooped to feed my child, they did not know I was their healer.

Hosea 11:1-7

These expressions are so true and so lovely, O God! I could feel your personal closeness to me as my Father, feeling all your love and concern for me, teaching me how to walk, taking me into your arms. And most especially that part of being fostered and raised like an infant to a father’s cheeks.

That’s how close you have been to me in many instances but sadly, it is true that the more you called me to stay closer to you, the more I drifted apart from you in sin and evil.

Forgive me, dearest God our Father, in taking you for granted in the same manner we I disregard the love and affection of those closest to me.

And that is where I feel most your personal love for me — when despite my sinfulness and turning away from you, you prefer not to give vent to your “blazing anger” to me because you are God, not human.

In fact, when your Son Jesus Christ came, his first order to his disciples was to cure the sick among us, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and exorcise those possessed by evil spirits. You only have our good always in your mind that we always fail to see or even refuse to accept and believe.

Today, Lord, we ask you for the grace to bask in your goodness and grace! Amen.

Photo by author, Church of the Our Father outside Jerusalem where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer.

“Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson (1987)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music, 19 January 2019

Photo by Jenna Hamra on Pexels.com

Today we are celebrating an extension of Christmas Season with the Feast of the Sto. Niño that falls every third Sunday of January.

It is a special indult granted by Rome to the Philippines in recognition of the crucial role of the image of the Child Jesus we fondly call Sto. Niño given by Magellan to Queen Juana of Cebu almost 500 years ago when the Spaniards came to our shores to colonize and Christianize us as well.

The Sto. Niño is the second most popular Catholic devotion in our predominantly Christian nation, next to the Black Nazarene of Quiapo which we celebrated two weeks ago.

“Sleeping Sto. Niño” at our altar, 19 January 2020 photo by Jasper Dacutanan.

But a lot often, people forget the deeper meaning within the Sto. Niño that the path leading to becoming true disciples of Jesus, of following him to the Cross starts in becoming like a child, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.18:3).

We will never be able to carry our cross and follow Jesus in selfless service and love to others unless we set aside our attitudes of being adults who know everything, insist on everything.

And that is why for this Sunday we have chosen the late Michael Jackson hit from his 1987 “Bad” album, Man in the Mirror.

It is one of the two songs in the album Michael Jackson did not write. It was written by Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard who eventually both carved names for themselves in the music scene composing for other artists later.

According to stories, Michael and his producer Quincy Jones have asked their pool of composers to come up with a song that would serve as “an anthem” for the Bad album that would “spread some sunshine on the world”.

Michael liked the song right away and even after he had died, the song has become a classic with its timeless message that if you want to change the world, change yourself first.

And we say that looking on the man or woman on the mirror is the first step in becoming like a child as Jesus would want us all to do to enter the kingdom of heaven.

A blessed Sunday to you, dear reader and follower!

First of all, be a child of God

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul

Feast of Sto. Niño, 19 January 2020

Isaiah 9:1-6 ><)))*> Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18 ><)))*> Matthew 18:1-5, 10

The Cross and the Bell of our parish church. Photo by Gelo N. Carpio, 12 January 2020.

Looming high always at the center of our Christian faith is the Cross of Jesus Christ. Whether inside or outside any church, there is always the Cross reminding us of our salvation in Jesus and of the path we have to follow as his disciples.

But, so often we forget that the first call of the Cross is for us to be a child of God above all in order to follow his Son our Lord in his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

Here we find the full meaning of our celebration of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord last Sunday, of how in our Baptism we have become the children of God in Jesus Christ who became like us so that we may become like him, blessed and divine as the eternal Son of the Father.

Such is the plan of God in the very beginning of his Creation.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation 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

It is only in our becoming first the sons and daughters of the Father in Jesus Christ that St. Paul declares how we are saved in this part of the second reading skipped by the liturgy today:

In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.

Ephesians 1:7-8
A painting of Sto. Niño devotees by Bulakenyo artist Aris Bagtas, 2018.

Work of Christmas continues

We are already into the second week of Ordinary Time in our liturgy but, we in the Philippines are still celebrating an “extension” of the Christmas Season this third Sunday of January for the Feast of the Sto. Niño, the Holy Child Jesus.

And, for a very good reason! to remind us the story of Christmas continues even after the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism or when all decors have been kept.

The work of Christmas, of sharing Jesus Christ in our loving service with others continues the whole year through. In fact, it is during the 34 weeks of Ordinary Time where we are most challenged to continue Christ’s work he started at Christmas when he became a child among us.

And there lies the very core of his teachings, of his message to us: our being like a child!

At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus 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. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.”

Matthew 18:1-5

Jesus remained the Child of God until the end

If we examine everything in the Gospel, from the Incarnation and Nativity of Jesus, his hidden and public lives, his miracles and preaching, into his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, everything is anchored in Christ’s being like a child, the eternal Son of God.

When he was lost and found in the temple at the age of 12, right away he told his Mother his being the Son of God: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk.2:49)

Painting by Aris Bagtas, 2018.

At Last Supper, Jesus explained his being the Child of the Father: “The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works” (Jn.14:10).

His being one with the Father is due to his being the Eternal Son that reached its highest point of expression at the crucifixion where Jesus repeatedly called God his “Father”.

Here we find as in our gospel today the essential requirement of first becoming a child of God to make it into the kingdom of heaven. It is impossible to follow Jesus to his Cross when we remain adults who know everything!

This is the problem with the Traslacion that has become rowdy, even crazy over the years which is completely the opposite of the Pit Señor de Sto. Niño in Cebu that remains solemn and orderly despite its vast crowd of devotees.

See how in Quiapo the devotees “fight” and insist on their own ways of doing the procession, of how things are now turned upside down with the hijos lording over (pun intended) everything every January 9 with the gall to call Christ “Padre Nuestro Jesus de Nazareno”?

Everybody wants to fulfill one’s panata of jumping into the revered image of the Nazareno, in total disregard of others.

Where is the spirit of being a child, of being generous and kind with others?

What we have been seeing these past years in the Traslacion is more of machismo, of who is the greatest to be able to reach the Nazareno. And included among them are the growing members of media suddenly becoming devotees with the panata to anchor Traslacion!

Being a child is a call to daily conversion in Christ Jesus

Becoming like a child a daily call to conversion to Jesus, a going back to the story of Christmas, of being humble and small. I like that word used by Jesus today – turn – when he declared, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children…”

To be able to carry our cross and follow Jesus, we have to turn first, that is, be transformed from world-wise, self-sufficient, all-knowing adults of the world into abiding children of the Father of Jesus Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Children always have that glow within them that can disarm us of our insecurities and fears. Below is a painting by the Danish-German Modern Artist Emil Nolde (1867-1956) portrayed children with Christ in bright colors while the adults were all dark and gloomy.

“Christ Among Children” (1910) by Emil Nolde.

Being like a child is letting go of our fears and insecurities to entrust ourselves to God’s care and providence. And to others dependability and reliability too!

Maybe that is why as we get older, we mellow: we realize after all that we remain children of God and of somebody else in the end. There is always somebody out there who would look after us especially when we are already old and weak. There is always somebody whose heart would always be moved to come to our rescue or simply to warm our hearts or make us smile.

If each of us can become like a child daily, simply loving and trusting others, then we can bring light into this world deeply plunged in the darkness of sin and pride, of rat race without any winner, or arms race without any war at all.

If we can become like the child, we can become like Jesus Christ, the great light in the land of gloom bringing joy and great rejoicing (Is.9:1-2) with his life of love flowing from the great sacrifice at the Cross. Amen.