Praying for those persecuted

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Thirty-Fourth Week of Ordinary Time, Red Wednesday, 23 November 2022
Revelation 15:1-4    ><000'> + ><000'> + ><000'>  Luke 21:12-19
Today, O Lord Jesus Christ,
we join your whole Church in 
observing "Red Wednesday"
to voice our concern
and make our stand against
the persecution of Christians
and all faiths globally that sadly
remain unnoticed.
According to the 
Pew Research Centre,
"Christians suffer persecution -
from harassment to murder -
in more countries than any other
faith group.  What a disturbing fact
that too often we thought have ended
many centuries ago!
You have warned us about this persecution
a long time ago while still here on earth;
it had never stopped but simply persisted
maybe partly because many of us have chosen
to be silent and deaf to its realities especially
where Christians are a minority.

Jesus said to the crowd: “They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

Luke 21:12-13, 19
No action,
no contribution,
no prayer
is too small for each of us
to make a difference this year
in supporting our persecuted 
brothers and sisters
and most of all, 
in putting an end to this kind of hatred
and violence simply because
of faith and belief in you our God!
We pray that one day.
we will finally sing face to face
with you Lord Jesus Christ in heaven
the hymn of praise and adoration
John saw in his vision those
"who had won the victory over the beast";
enable us to make the right choices 
like them on this Red Wednesday to
both pray and act 
for the suffering members of
your Body, the Church.
Amen.

Tasting Jesus Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Memorial of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, 18 November 2022
Revelation 10:8-11   ><000'> + ><000'> + ><000'>   Luke 19:45-48
Lord Jesus Christ,
as we celebrate today the
memorial of the Dedication of the
last two Basilicas in Rome -
St. Peter's in Vatican and 
St. Paul's Outside the Walls -
you give us a "taste" 
of what is to be your Church,
your Body,
and your accompanying mission.

I took the small scroll from the angel’s hand and swallowed it. In my mouth it was like sweet honey, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then someone said to me, “You must prophecy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.”

Revelation 10:10-11
Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ,
for the sweet taste, 
for the sensation of being a Christian,
of listening to your words,
of being a Catholic,
of serving you,
of worshipping you,
of being loved by you.
Definitely so sweet indeed
to experience you in the Church!
But everything becomes sour
and bitter when we internalize
your words,
your call,
your mission
for that is when reality happens,
when we realize being your disciple
is a way of life in you,
a way of the Cross,
of giving one's self
to others like
the two pillars of your Church,
St. Peter and St. Paul.
Sometimes, Lord Jesus,
give us a taste of your anger
like when you cleansed the temple; 
let us taste your strong words
when we make the church a den of thieves
literally speaking;
let us have a taste of your discipline
when we dirty your Body,
when we hurt your Body,
and worst, 
when we mutilate your Body,
the Church with our lives so far from
your calling and mission
especially us your apostles.
Let us learn to love and accept
being Christian is savoring both
the sweet and sour tastes of
proclaiming your gospel 
both in words and in deeds.
Amen.

*Photos from en.wikipedia.org.

Grateful for the gift of Church

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, 09 November 2022
Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12 ><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17 ><}}}*> John 2:13-22
Photo of the Lateran Basilica by Fr. Gerry Pascual.
On this feast of the Dedication 
of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
which is "the mother and mistress
of all churches in Rome and the world"
being the Pope's church as Bishop of Rome,
we praise and thank you O God
for the gift of the Church. 
So often, we rarely think of the
Church as your gift, dear God;
sadly, many times we hurt the Church
not only with our attacks that defame
the Body of Christ here on earth
but most especially when we your
priests cause it to bleed with so many
wounds following our sins of
infidelities.
Help us realize this holy giftedness
of the Church as a means for us
to be closer to you, O God,
for us to be saved in Christ,
for us to be blessed and made holy
as your people finally gathered
as one in your Most Holy Name; 
most of all, in giving life
and sustaining life abundantly in Christ.

The angel brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the facade of the temple was toward the east; the water flowed down from the southern side of the temple, south of the altar. He said to me, “Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish, for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh. Along both baqnk of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall ot fade, nor their fruit fail. Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary. Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”

Ezekiel 47:1, 9, 12
Since Jesus had ascended into heaven,
his Church has always been his sign of unity,
of communion that has continued to exist to this day
despite so many efforts by many men and women
to destroy it both from within and from outside;
all these years, the Church has remained like that
beautiful vision by Prophet Ezekiel from
which all life springs forth.
Cleanse us, dear Jesus,
whip us with your cords,
overturn our various tables of
comforts and new thoughts
especially our attachment with 
the ways of the world
so that we may truly be called
"the Father's house" (Jn.2:15-16).
Most dear Jesus,
let us stop hurting your Church,
let us stop lording over your Church,
let us stop desecrating your Church
as we keep in mind and heart
that it is you, O Lord,
who is the true foundation
of this Church
that begins right in our hearts.
Amen.
Photo of the Cathedra of the Lateran Basilica by Fr. Gerry Pascual.

Called to build, not destroy

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Feast of Sts. Simon & Jude, Apostles, 28 October 2022
Ephesians 2:19-22   ><))))*> + ><))))*> + ><))))*>   Luke 6:12-16
It has always been your desire,
O God our Father that we may
all be one in you that was fulfilled
in Jesus Christ your Son who
had come to call and gather 
first his Twelve Apostles 
who prefigured the Church
representing all the peoples 
of the world.

Brothers and sisters: You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you are also being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22
What a beautiful way to cap
this week with these words 
reminding us of our great honor 
in being called in Jesus Christ
to build up his body the Church 
here on earth,
of being a part of the bigger
whole of peoples gathered 
as one in God;
may we realize that you call
everyone - regardless of color
or gender or status or whatever
differences we may all have
just like the Twelve who 
were united in Christ.
Help us, dear Jesus,
to imitate your two Apostles,
Sts. Simon and Jude whose feast
we celebrate today; fill our hearts
with the zeal and ardent love
for you and your Church
like Simon called the Zealot -
whether he was in fact a member
of such political party or not, 
his love for you must be so evident
that he came to be known as a Zealot;
in this time when Catholics are declining
in numbers in going to church
and even in professing their faith, 
may we be filled wit enthusiasm in
making you known O Jesus especially
in our actions and celebrations.
Grant us also the strength,
clarity and courage like that of
St. Jude Thaddeus in dealing with
the many contradictions of the world
we live in today as Catholics and 
Christians:  "But you, beloved, 
build yourselves up on your 
most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit;
keep yourselves in the love of God;
wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus
Christ unto eternal life.
And convince some,
who doubt..." (Jude 20-22).
Bless us, dearest Jesus,
through the help St. Simon and
St. Jude, to rediscover
the beauty of our Christian
faith and of our Catholic Church
by working hard to build it up
without tiring through our silent 
and peaceful witnessing
of the Gospel.
Amen.

Poverty in priesthood

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 01 September 2022
Photo by author, Dominus Flevit Church overlooking Old Jerusalem, 2017.

Along with the vow of celibacy, the vow of poverty has become very contentious even among us priests these days which is very sad that one wonders why they got ordained in the first place if they were not totally sold out to being celibate and poor.

For most people especially Filipinos, how their priests practice poverty weighs more than their fidelity to celibacy, claiming they could understand and forgive priests getting into relationships with women than priests becoming “mukhang pera” (money-faced). For them, a priest falling in love with a woman is natural and therefore, understandable and “forgiveable”; but, a priest who worships money to the point of making his ministry a business endeavor even stealing from the church funds and donation boxes is what people detest most. In some parts of Bulacan and Cavite, they have a saying which is so vulgar to stress this point, “hindi bale madapa and pari sa puki kesa sa piso” (better for a priest to fall on a vagina than peso).

Photo by Ka Ruben, 24 June 2022.

Of course, it is always wrong to break any of these two important vows priests have made along with the third one which is obedience to his bishop because celibacy and poverty are closely related with each other for they both lead us priests to intimacy with God, our Caller. That is why, most often, when a priest has become “mukhang pera”, falling into the trap of money and luxuries, most likely he also has problems with celibacy. Even St. Ignatius had warned in his Spiritual Exercises that money is the first temptation the devil uses against every priest.

Like celibacy, poverty is a spiritual reality that is lived and felt by everyone in the material sense. More than being poor or having less in life, poverty is a choice we make for it to be real.  It is our attitude with material things in life: there are priests with so much and yet still feel poor like in advanced countries where cars and appliances are very common and ordinary while there are those with almost nothing and yet so attached with the little they have or wish to have and possess! One priest may have a brand-new car extensively using it to reach and serve his parishioners while another may have a second-hand car or owner-type jeep he tinkers daily, possessing him in the process. 

In our previous blog, we have mentioned that people should rejoice when their priest gives away their gifts because that means Father is not selfish, acting as the vessel or conduit of God’s graces and blessings to the poor and needy (https://lordmychef.com/2022/08/08/prayerful-requests-of-a-priest-to-parishioners/). 

Photo from inquirer.net, 2021.

Poverty is not a question of how much do we have but more of the question of how much do we share. See that very often, we are preoccupied thinking what we already and must still have without ever thinking how much do we share.

It is in sharing when we truly experience poverty; a priest who hoards everything – even people like benefactors and friends – is a priest in trouble. Here we find the direct relationship of poverty and celibacy: we renounce marriage which is a wonderful kind of wealth in the spiritual sense for something higher and better which is to be solely for Jesus Christ. That is the essence of our poverty, our being poor and empty so that we are wholly for Christ alone and his Church. It is being poor, materially and spiritually do we find our true wealth as priests, Jesus Christ and his Church or “people of God” as Vatican II rightly called.

Like everyone else, no priest can have everything in life; nobody is perfect but it is always the truth that we evade, priests and lay alike. Many people including priests often convince themselves of being self-sufficient, that we are the greatest, the most powerful so that we never ran out of construction projects in the church.  This is the mentality of the “dream-teams” or the “powerhouses” who claim to have everything and yet in reality, they rarely last long nor achieve much.  When everybody feels like a “heavyweight” – literally and figuratively speaking, always throwing their weight around, soon enough, he/she would surely sink. The Greeks call it hubris, another common ailment among us priests.

Photo by author, Capernaum, Israel, May 2017.

In my 24 years in the ministry, I have found and experienced that the key in any community and organization including family, profession and vocation like the priesthood is not in having everything, materially and non-materially speaking like talents and abilities that always end up into a mere show, a “palabas” even if it may be spectacular.  Life is not about dazzling others with our gifts and abilities but finding our limits and poverty. When we focus on what we do not have like our weaknesses and other limitations, our poverty becomes a wealth because that is when we are most creative and productive, achieving more in life.  Why is it when we do not have much on the table that there is always a leftover with everyone feeling satisfied? But when there is a plethora of food, we just feel satiated, filled up but not satisfied? 

Look at how many of our churches have become like birthday cakes that are so kitschy or baduy, tastelessly overdecorated looking like dirty old men (DOMs) and their counterparts, the matronix afflicted with hepatitis with all their gold trimmings. Many parishes are afflicted with a different virus more contagious than COVID without a vaccine where priests go “imeldific” in church decorations and renovations including liturgies that even the Blessed Virgin Mary is turned into a Miss Universe being “crowned” amid all pomp and pageantry. It is the virus of triumphalism with its ugly face of priests have too much of everything except God. The best priest, the holiest priest is often the poorest one, the one with less because that is when we have more of God. It is in poverty – and celibacy – we priests witness Christ’s lesson that “whoever saves his life loses it and whoever loses his life gains it” (Mk. 8:37-38). 

The problem of the priesthood for me is among other things a problem of poverty. I know that not all priests are necessarily committed, by their priesthood, to absolute poverty. But for my own part it seems to me that the two are connected.

To be a priest means, at least in my particular case, to have nothing, desire nothing, and be nothing but to belong to Christ. Mihi vivere Christus est et mori lucrum. In order to have everything, desire to have nothing.

Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas, page 191.
Photo by Fr. Howard Tarrayo, August 2021.

Poverty is blessedness because in our weak and fragile humanity, God chose to be one with us so that we can share in his divinity and thereby share in his life.  When we see each other’s wealth, the more we feel so poor and helpless; but when we see each other’s poverty, the more we see each one’s value. And we start enriching each one’s life.  This is the beauty of our poverty as priests when being poor is not to be destitute but be available to God and everyone. No wonder, poverty is the first of all beatitudes taught by Christ, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Mt. 5:3).

When we try to have less and become poor, that is when we discover the value of life, of every person created in the image and likeness of God. Then, we begin to share and give, to sacrifice and let go, truly loving one another by being forgiving and merciful and kind like Jesus Christ, “who, though he is God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at but rather emptied himself by being born in the likeness of men” (Phil.2:6-7).

Again, help us your priests live simple lives, to be poor so it would not be difficult for you to support us too. Thank you and God bless! 

“Sleeping” in Christ, trusting in God

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul, Apostles, 29 June 2022
Acts 12:1-11 ><}}}}*> 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18 ><}}}}*> Matthew 16:13-19
Photo by Fr. Howard John Tarrayo, August 2021.

Our readings today are a parable of the Church, of what we should and would be as the Body of Christ celebrating the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, the pillars of the Church.

Despite their personalities being poles apart while their social, cultural and religious backgrounds were greatly different, both men were won over by Jesus Christ to proclaim his good news of salvation, eventually dying as martyrs like the Lord. Both apostles displayed deep trust in Jesus Christ whom they have come to know on a personal basis.

Let us reflect first on St. Peter, the “prince of the Apostles” and servant of all. Notice how Peter could sleep soundly inside prison, even between two soldiers as narrated to us by Luke.

Photo by Cristian Pasion, Easter Vigil, National Shrine of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 2021.

On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter, secured by double chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison. Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, “Get up quickly.” The chains fell from his wrists. The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.” So he followed him out, not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real; he thought he was seeing a vision.

Acts 12:6-9

It is very amusing, even funny, but facts can truly be stranger than fiction!

How could Peter sleep soundly after being arrested and thrown into prison with two soldiers sandwiching him inside his cell while a host of other guards secured the area outside?

We think again of St. Joseph sleeping soundly in a similar critical situation when he decided to silently leave Mary who was found pregnant with a child before they were married. Too often, we find it difficult to sleep when we have problems because we cannot decide decisively as we lack trust and faith in God. Both Joseph and Peter slept soundly under critical situations because of their complete trust and faith in God.

But, Peter shows us another dimension of his trust in God – his total trust also in the Church, believing that they were all praying for him.

Photo by Cristian Pasion, Easter Vigil, National Shrine of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 2022.

It is a beautiful imagery of the Church then and now, always in darkness like during night time when Peter was imprisoned. And that is the parable of this scene: it is always a time of Exodus for us in the Church, of passing over from every trials and difficulties, always trusting our leaders, trusting our faithful and most of all, entrusting everything to God!

If there is one thing most needed these days in our Church especially in the Philippines is this attitude of being in an Exodus, of exiting from our excesses from the past, of submitting ourselves more to God than to our own thoughts and plans especially in politics that we have forgotten the more crucial proclamation of the gospel by reaching out to the grassroots level, of witnessing our faith in God instead of lording it over among people, exerting our influences. The recent elections is a dark period of our imprisonment with secular thoughts and dispositions, forgetting our sphere of influence in spiritual matters.

May we, both clergy and laypeople, imitate Peter by abandoning everything to God in deep prayers, following God not our plans as symbolized by his putting on his belt and sandals as commanded by the angel.

Photo by Cristian Pasion, Easter Vigil, National Shrine of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 2021.

Meanwhile, we find the same kind of total abandonment by Paul of himself to God while in prison where he wrote some of his finest letters like this Second Letter to Timothy, the last of his captivity letters which we heard in the second reading today.

Imagine the stress of being in prison but without any hint of duress on Paul while awaiting death amid all humiliations with his incomparable eloquence:

I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4:6-7, 17, 18

Very evident in all his letters, Paul had always expressed his total abandonment of self to Christ, of his faith in God. Here in this portion of his second letter to Timothy, we find two important lessons so apt in our celebration of this solemnity.


First is the nature of Christian life lived as a worship: am already being poured out like a libation. That is what I like most with Paul, his mastery of language, always using the most perfect words to express his experiences and ideas. For some, especially first-time readers of Paul, they may find it so “mayabang” as we say in Filipino. But no. For me, Paul is the most sincere and most humble writer in the world of letters then and now.

A libation is a drink offered to gods in ancient Greece and Rome. Here, Paul as he approached death, summarized his entire life as an offering to God that we also see in his other writings.

And that is the challenge of this solemnity to us, that we live our lives as a form of worship to God.

Photo by Fr. Pop dela Cruz, 15 June 2022.

Our very lives in itself are a prayer, always centered on God, something so foolish when we go by the standards of the world today that is all show – palabas – with nothing substantial inside because only money and fame matter. Paul was very much like Peter who lived their lives as prayers that like Christ in the end, both offered the highest offering of all, martyrdom.

Second thing we find in this short but rich excerpt from Paul’s letter to Timothy is the deeper meaning of death as a passage to heaven, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom”. Like the gospel last Sunday when we heard Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” wherein Jesus freely chose to face his death to fulfill his mission and express his deep love for the Father and for us. To the Philippians Paul declared that “for me life is Christ, death is gain”. Here in his letter to Timothy, Paul freely accepts his death, making it a blessing for others, something we must emulate. Instead of having those bucket lists of things to do before dying, Paul is teaching us death comes in every present moment that we must always prepare for its happening so that the next generation may continue the good things we have started. And that is exactly how until now the Church’s missionary zeal is kept aflame by Paul’s letters and works.


Photo by author, 2019.

In the gospel proclaimed today about the investiture of Peter as the head of the church of Christ, we heard Jesus entrusting to him “the keys to the kingdom of heaven that whatever he binds on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever he loosens on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (cf. Mt.16:19).

As I end this reflection for this Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, I wish to use the word “key” in a different sense – the key to unlocking how Peter and Paul achieved so much for God and for the Church lies in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Both apostles who have become the pillars of the Church today truly experienced Jesus in their lives in the most personal and in timate manner that in the process they have mirrored the true Christ himself.

The problems we have in the Church today, notably the declining number of the faithful following an all-time low in credibility is largely due to the many wrong answers we give Jesus to his question “who do people say I am?” Many Christians are losing their faith and interest in the Church because of the mixed signals we give them on what do we say who Jesus is.

The Church grew so wide during the time of Peter and Paul because both apostles shared the true Jesus Christ not only in their words but also in their deeds. May we have the courage to open ourselves to Jesus Christ again so we may know him more clearly, love him dearly, follow him closely and preach him daily. Amen.

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, QC, 2017.

Won over by Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul, Apostles, 29 June 2022
Acts 12:1-11 ><}}}*> 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18 ><}}}*> Matthew 16:13-19
Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza, Malolos Cathedral, 12 June 2019.
God our loving Father,
as we celebrate today the
Solemnity of the two pillars
of the Church, St. Peter and St. Paul
who are poles apart in their 
temperament and in their social,
cultural, and religious backgrounds,
help us imitate them in being open
to your grace always, in being open
to your plans so we may set aside
our own agendas in order to be won
over by your Son Jesus Christ. 
Nothing is impossible with you,
dear Father:  
Peter denied Jesus
during the passion while 
Paul persecuted Jesus in
the persons of his disciples;
Peter was impetuous and 
presumptuous but sometimes
hesitant yet solidly loyal to
Christ while Paul was proud 
of his Roman citizenship and of
his being a Pharisee, demanding
his title as Apostle but likewise,
admits his fragility as a "pot of
clay", most unworthy vessel of Christ; 
Peter was attached to his Jewish
roots and convictions but did not resist 
the Holy Spirit in leading him where 
he did not want to go while Paul was 
resolute in being led by the Spirit in
proclaiming Jesus to the gentiles
while deep inside was torn within 
by the resistance and
rejection of his fellow Jews.
Merciful Father,
let your Son Jesus Christ
win over us like what he did
to St. Peter and St. Paul
who both gave their lives as 
a living worship to you,
witnessing your love and mercy,
kindness and majesty;
give us the grace to know Jesus
and love Jesus first so we may
follow him to his Cross 
for your greater glory.
Amen.
Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza, Malolos Cathedral, 12 June 2019.

In praise of women

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church, 06 June 2022
Genesis 3:9-15   ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>   John 19:25-27
Photo by author, 2018.
Praise and glory to you,
God our loving Father
for all the women of the world
as we resume Ordinary Time
in our Church calendar honoring
Mary, Mother of the Church.
How wonderful to recall how
all four evangelists narrated the 
presence of women at the crucifixion
of your Son Jesus Christ:  what a 
most wondrous sight that continues 
to this day when behind every sufferings
we go through are the women who
often join and accompany us even
until death, giving us strength and 
courage, comfort and consolation.
But most wondrous, O God,
is the account of the beloved disciple
of Mary, the Mother of Jesus at the
foot of his Cross on Good Friday,
being addressed as "woman".

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

John 19:25-27
Only you, O God in your Son Jesus, 
can give that unique gift of womanhood
especially your Mother Mary;
you first called her "woman" at the
wedding feast at Cana and now here
at the Cross, when your hour had come.
What a beautiful image, dear Lord,
of Mary, of the woman in your work of
redemption so close and so near you
that is in direct contrast with the other woman
in Genesis, Eve, who turned away from you
in sin.
Bless us dear Jesus, 
to constantly repeat this beautiful
scene at the Cross, as an individual
and as a community of your disciples:
let us relive this scene in our lives
as Christians taking Mary your Mother
as well as the Church into our own homes
and most especially of respecting every
woman still ignored and taken for granted
in this time; let us remember always our
equal dignity with women as image and likeness
of God as we carry out your final instructions
of remaining one in you in love and mercy.
Amen.
Photo by author, 2019.

Holiness is being faithful

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Tuesday, 12 April 2022
Isaiah 49:1-6   +   John 13:21-33, 36-38
Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, Christ the King Procession, 2020.

Maybe so many times you have felt nothing seems to be happening with all your efforts in school or office, in your relationships, and even in your prayers and devotions. Everything seems to be going to nothing at all.

Have a heart. Just be faithful in your studies, in your work, with your family and friends, most especially with God.

Though I thoughts I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.

Isaiah 49:4

When I was still a seminarian, there was a moment after our class when I went straight into our chapel and slouched on a pew, complaining and whining to God for the many problems that never stopped coming my way despite my efforts to be good. With my head bowed down, I had a litany of complaints to God that I felt like packing my things, go home and forget all about the priesthood. But after getting tired with my monologue and as I raised my head, something struck me that I felt so good while looking at our huge image of the Crucifixion at the altar of the chapel. As I looked in silence, I felt myself praying,

"Lord Jesus Christ, 
before all these pains and sufferings came, 
before all these problems happened, 
you were there first on the Cross - 
suffering for me, dying for me first."
Photo by author, ICMAS Chapel (Theology Dept.), 2020.

My dear friends, holiness is being faithful to God in Jesus Christ. St. Mother Teresa perfectly said that, “We are called to be faithful, not successful.” In my 24 years in the priesthood, I have realized that many times, our success are actually failures with God while our failures are what he often considers as success!

Of course, we need to plan and set goals in life and in work but we need to focus more on Jesus Christ as center of our lives, trying to see everything in his light not in our own limited views and perceptions. There so many things in life that cannot be quantified like our spiritual and emotional well-being on which actually depend many of our other aims in our personal and professional life.

Notice how in our gospel today the Apostles were so focused on themselves instead with Jesus that they totally missed what he was telling them about his coming betrayal by “one of them”. Particularly interesting was Simon Peter who asked the beloved disciple, John, to clarify it with Jesus since he was seated closest to him.

He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, “Master, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I had the morsel after I have dipped it.” So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him.

John 13:25-28

Did you see the comedy, the humor?

Everybody was so focused on everyone and with each self except with Jesus! Were they so dumb not to understand the words of Jesus that to whomever he would give the morsel dipped in wine is the one who would betray him? Not really. Most likely, they were not listening, they were not focused on Jesus but with their very selves.

Being faithful is first of all being focused on God, in Jesus.

How can God fill us with his holiness when our thoughts and our being are always somewhere else or with somebody else? How can God fill us with his holiness when we cannot spend time with him every day in prayer?

Photo by author, Mass by the shore of Galilee, the Holy Land, 2017.

How lovely is the context of Simon Peter’s question that it happened during their Last Supper because that is where our fidelity to God is first nurtured to grow and deepened – at the Holy Eucharist of the Mass.

Remember, the minimum requirement for anyone to be called a good, practicing Catholic is to go Mass every Sunday. That is the most minimum but, have we kept it? It has been more than two months since we returned to alert level 1 in this time of the pandemic with almost everybody going to the malls and many vacation spots but what a shame when many still refuse to go to churches for the Sunday Mass!

Being faithful to Jesus to become holy begins with the Sunday Eucharist where we are nourished by the words of God and by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ himself who enables us to overcome the many trials and difficulties of this life and make it into the Father’s house in eternity.

Have you gone back to your parish church for the Sunday Masses?

Forgive us, Lord Jesus Christ,
for being unfaithful to you, 
for betraying you like Judas Iscariot
right in the context of the Holy Eucharist
when we skip Sunday Masses;
when we come to Mass not for you 
but for our friends to whom we listen more; 
and most especially when we refuse or fail 
to practice the essence of the Eucharist
of sharing the love of Christ to everyone.
Amen.
Photo by author, Parish of St. John the Baptist in Calumpit, Bulacan, 31 March 2022.

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!