The Visitation: Waking up from our “sleepwalking Christian existence”

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 31 May 2022
Romans 12:9-16   ><}}}}*> + <*{{{{><     Luke 1:39-56
Photo by author, Church of the Visitation, Ein-Karem, Israel, May 2017.

Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Luke 1:39-43

It always happens with us, too, when we experience great privilege and honor be given us by others, most especially by God when like Elizabeth, we have that sense of awe and wonder to ask “who am I” to be accorded with such great honor. 

Many times we find ourselves asking God, “why me, Lord?” when given a great blessing in life (and also when experiencing extreme suffering and difficulty).  We believe there is somebody better and smarter than us, one who is more capable than us that we always wonder if God really has a plan for us. 

It is good to maintain such a sense of humility before God and others like Elizabeth, but sometimes, it can happen that after seeing clearly our role in the plan of God, we back out or worst, we pretend to be doing our part.  This is what the Orthodox Christian theologian Olivier-Maurice Clement, a friend of St. John Paul II who warned about “sleepwalking existence” wherein we pretend to be real disciples of Christ when we are actually dreaming.

As we come near to the closing of the Easter season with the approaching midyear on this last day of May after our recent elections, this Feast of the Visitation is the time for us to wake up from our sleepwalking existence, to face the discomforting realities of being disciples of Jesus Christ.

During our diocesan celebration of the World Communication Sunday, one of the more than 300 young people who attended our recollection asked our guest speaker Fr. Ilde Dimaano of the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Social Communication how does he see our “failure in the Church in communicating the gospel with results of the recent elections?” I was so glad with Fr. Ilde’s answer when he clarified to the young people that we did not lost in the recent elections because we have all done so well in harnessing various forms of communications in spreading the gospel by educating the people. Without sounding partisan nor political, Fr. Ilde challenged our young parish communicators to review and study our communication efforts to find ways of getting better.

It is about time that we in the Church must accept that the recent elections show how we have disappointed the people again, of how we have been more aligned with the rich and powerful and our claims about “Church of the poor” are just poster signs than reality. 

Photo by author, Chapel of Basic Education Department, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City, 2021.

We in the Church should never be surprised at all that we are maligned and misunderstood because that was how Christ was treated during His time.  It is time for us clergy to wake up from our sleepwalking existence and get real with our vocation of truly shepherding the Lord’s flock, of finally putting an end to our adventures and forays into partisan politics. Like Mary, we priests must first of all immerse ourselves in the Word, Jesus Christ, which Vatican II has long stipulated us to do. See how Elizabeth called Mary “blessed” because she believed in the words spoken to her would be fulfilled. Instead of continuing to stir into flame the frustrations and disappointments of the people, like Mary we priests must “go in haste to the hill country” to reach out to everyone and inspire them to find God’s plans for us in the next six years.

Whether in good times or in bad, God comes to us in Christ Jesus. Do we truly carry him like Mary or are we just sleepwalking?

This Feast of the Visitation is a good celebration for us to accept the real hard stuffs of Jesus Christ like witnessing to his love and mercy among the poor and the disadvantaged, of bringing him to those forgotten by their families and the society like Mary sang in her Magnificat.

And like Elizabeth, let us doubt no more that despite our nothingness, we are worthy before God, that he has plans for us in bringing Christ Jesus in this world even if our mission may look so different from others yet so closely related in establishing his kingdom here on earth.

May the calls of St. Paul in our first reading awaken us from our “sleepwalking Christian existence” to be like Mary and Elizabeth in nurturing the seeds of God’s kingdom here on earth by truly walking the dusty and difficult roads in this life. 

Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good, love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.

Romans 12:9-12

These are the real hard stuff we need these days as we seem to be having some semblance of end of pandemic – it is time for us to visit like Mary the many Elizabeths who have been into “seclusion” during these past two years. So many feel so lost, trying to find directions at this time as they try to pick up the pieces of their lives wrecked by COVID-19.

God is visiting us daily because he loves us, he believes in us. Most of all, he comes to us in Jesus so that we can share him to more people to experience the Father’s love and mercy, kindness and blessings. Amen.

Photo by author, Church of the Visitation, Ein-Karem, Israel, May 2017.

In praise of the Community Pantry

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 19 April 2021
The beauty of this movement 
sweeping our country
called "Community Pantry"
is its essential Christianity:
"The community of believers
was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any
of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common."
(Acts 4:32)
Earlier in our Church history
the esteemed theologian Tertullian
was so delighted to see
how the early Christians 
loved one another
and how they were ready
to die for each other
exactly the same scenery
we are having in our country this 21st century.
It all started simply
when in the street translated loosely
as living comfortably (Maginhawa)
somebody suddenly see
"any body" as a "some body"
can help alleviate our poverty
when we start to see "every body"
as a brother and a sister living simply
with one community pantry so "no body" goes hungry.
And the rest was history
as the story of good deeds inspired many
putting up their community pantry
and the best part of the mystery
there is no talk of money and popularity
plain and simple spirit of humanity
in the spirit of fraternity and equality
fulfilling the minimum requirement of charity
that is justice and mutuality.
There is a saying that
"Necessity is the mother of invention"
but this community pantry that I see 
is more than an invention or an innovation
but an extension of the fellowship of the table
where Jesus Christ is the invisible guest
appearing, speaking, and sharing a meal 
that fills our stomach and delights our soul
animating our hopes for a better future.
This community pantry
is a bright ray of hope,
a silver lining in the storm
that hit our nation last year
when this administration 
not only belittled but was also 
unprepared for the pandemic.
Is it a new kind of people power revolution?
Then, by all means, let it bloom!
Posted by Jean Palma on Facebook, 18 April 2021 with the caption: “All these community pantries in four days, and counting. What a powerful movement.” #CommunityPantry

*All photos used are from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17 April 2021.

Celebrating family in COVID-19

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 30 December 2020
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Trying to relax a day after Christmas, I felt so good watching the limited BBC series at Netflix called “JAPAN with Sue Perkins”. It is so unique that it presents the Land of the Rising Sun in a different perspective by this spunky and bubbly British journalist not afraid to admit her prejudices then be rectified in this short documentary.

At the same time, Ms. Perkins presents us with the latest trends in Japan, others are good while others are not so good especially its aging population with falling birth rates and many Japanese men delaying or not getting married at all.

One solution the ingenious Japanese have found are “wives for hire” – a growing business that offers women who act as wives to unmarried men who present to their aged parents as their “wives”. One man explained to Ms. Perkins how his elderly mother enjoys more in spending time together with a “family member” like a “daughter-in-law” than just with a care-giver. They tend to converse more freely and joyfully about so many things as a “family” — at least for a day.

That is how important a family is! That is why it is called the basic unit of the society from which springs forth life itself – biologically, emotionally, and spiritually.

That is why Vatican II rightly inserted in the Christmas Season the Feast of the Holy Family to remind us of the deep character of the mystery of the Incarnation that the Son of God came into the world to save us through the family, through the husband and wife of Joseph and Mary.

It is a great reminder to us in this time when family is quickly disintegrating and maybe in a funny twist, we have in the COVID-19 pandemic a great opportunity for us to go back to our family.

Photo by author, entrance to the Flight to Egypt Cavern Church in Cairo, 2019.

Human family a creation by God, a call from God

Since the very beginning, men and women have always banded together not only as a family we know of today, a nuclear unit of father, mother, and children. It was really more of an extended family like a clan or a kin who lived together as siblings and cousins, uncles and aunts along with neighbors who all would have been in and out of the house.

Some peoples like the Hebrews do not really have the term cousins where everyone is a brother or a sister, a kin; hence, we find in the gospels Jesus being told of having brothers and sisters.

To understand this is to think of our own concepts and terms in our extended Filipino family. Like the word pinsan for cousin. When I was in kindergarten until elementary, every summer some cousins would come home to the province for vacation. We would all sleep together on the sahig (floor) with banig (local mat) like puppies or kittens together — that is, magkakapisan usually in the old house or bahay na matanda of our grandparents.

My nieces, 2017.

On the other hand, uncles and aunties refer to their nephews and nieces in Filipino as pamangkin, from the expression “para namang akin” that literally means “just like my own child”.

Both pinsan or cousin and pamangkin or nephew/niece express togetherness, of being one as a family.

But in the Bible, we find something deeper in this banding together of peoples as families sharing joys and sorrows, work and play but also coming together as a creation by God as well as a call from Him.

See how in the Ten Commandments that only the fourth commandment carries a promise from God to underscore the importance of family life and of our parents: “Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you” (Ex.20:12).

In the assigned first reading for the Feast of the Holy Family from the Book of Sirach we find the author elaborating and reflecting further on this beautiful nature of the human family that is divine in origin and orientation. We find at its first part the emphasis on children honoring and obeying their parents, the father and mother. This instruction is then capped by a touching reflection on the solemn duty of taking care for an aging parent with all the respect and patience due him/her. Likewise, we find at its conclusion something that echoes God’s covenant, of the need to be kind and merciful to everyone especially those in need.

Kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins — a house raised in justice to you.

Sirach 3:14

In the second reading, we find several challenges to every family to be kind, merciful, forgiving and peaceful because we are “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (Col.3:12). That is our identity as children of God our Father, making us members of His one, big family.

This is something many families have seemed to have forgotten due to so many concerns in life like the need to earn money, pursue one’s career that is interspersed with breaks that sometimes costly to family members like separation or migration, by choice or by circumstances.

This is one value that we hope to recover at this time of the pandemic when most parents and children are all working and studying from home. May families take this opportunities to renew their ties with one another, to pray anew together and renew or adjust their visions and dreams where they may all grow to maturity in Christ.

Photo of my mom with my two nieces, 2017.

Purifying our family in Christ

One beautiful thing that is so outstanding with the Holy Family is the fidelity of Joseph and Mary to God through temple worship, of how they sincerely and dutifully strive to fulfill all obligations stipulated by the Laws that we find reflective of Jesus in his adult life when He would come to attend synagogue worship.

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord… and to offer sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance wit the dictate of the law of the Lord. Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon… and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary is mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted — and you yourself a sword will pierce — so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Luke 2:22-25, 34-35

Part of the good news of this feast is for us to realize too that the Holy Family was not spared of problems and trials just like us. In our gospel today, Simeon assured Mary of her heart being pierced with a sword, of facing trials and conflicts to happen like when Jesus was lost only to be found a day later in the temple when he was 12 years old. It must have caused too much stress and worries to Mary and Joseph.

Or when Jesus finally left home to begin His public ministry when people, including relatives thought he had lost his mind in His preaching!

And finally, when He was crucified. It must have been a terrible experience for the Blessed Virgin Mother.

No family is so perfect to escape trials and conflicts but the Holy Family teaches us something so perfectly valuable that can help us resolve our many imperfections in our family — of remaining in God, of being rooted in Him who is our identity as family, as a person.

The Presentation of Jesus by Mantegna from wikipediacommons.org.

It is in the family where we first encounter and experience God, both His presence and His “absence” if we may call that.

There are times when we feel so close, so near with God especially when everything is going so well with our lives when we have everything; but when the going gets rough and tough, sometimes that is when we feel too far from God or He is totally nowhere around us.

What a paradox that it is both in the family where we first experience love and care but at the same time where we also first taste our pains and hurts, and disappointments.

But between those two extreme realities of life, that is also when we find the conviction that God is real, Who is one with us in our joys and sufferings, never leaving us.

It is during those moments when the sword pierces our hearts when we discover who is inside us really, the ones most valuable to us, the ones we look up to, the treasures we have always kept and cared.

Sometimes, it is only when the heart is pierced by the sword do we find the treasures we keep inside.

This Christmas amid a pandemic, may we find anew the more important we need in our hearts — not things but persons we care most, who remind us of our identity as blessed and beloved. This pandemic period is the most opportune time for families to resolve conflicts, face trials in the light of Jesus Christ through prayers and openness to one another. Let us not take it for granted. See it as a blessing in disguise when we are finally able to heal all those festering wounds in us that have eaten us up as persons, families and Christians.

How sad that families often compete for material things that can always be easily superseded; but if we compete for kindness, for understanding, for love, for forgiveness, then nobody loses, everybody wins.

Sometimes, true peace in the family happens when we are willing to disarm ourselves of our natural defenses so we can carry or hold Jesus into our arms like Simeon, or like Mary when our heart is pierced with the Word to expose Jesus within who is love and mercy. Amen.

Photo from Aleteia.com.

Growing in Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Week XXIX, Year II in Ordinary Time, 24 October 2020
Ephesians 4:7-16     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Luke 13:1-9
Motorized procession or “Paglilibot” of the Blessed Sacrament around our Parish last summer at the height of COVID-19.

Praise and thanksgiving to you, God our merciful Father for the grace of some bit of good news these past few days with the declining number of COVID-19 infections specially in the National Capital Region. We are still far from controlling the spread of corona virus but that is enough for us to rejoice! Thank you, dear God!

As we come to close this week and inch closer to the penultimate month of 2020, we pray like St. Paul that we may live holy and righteous lives worthy of our dignity in Jesus Christ your Son.

Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole Body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the Body’s growth and builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:15-16

Make us grow in you, dear Jesus: let us see and find you in things and events in our lives.

Make us see ourselves first of all in need of seeking your forgiveness and mercy for our many sins to cleanse ourselves of any claims to self-entitlement as you have warned the people in today’s gospel.

Most of all, may our lives bear fruits like in the parable of the fig tree wherein we keep in mind, always aware of our identity in you, dear Jesus so that we may live accordingly in the grace of the Father through the Holy Spirit. Amen.