Jesus, our glorious temple

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Week XXV, Year I in Ordinary Time, 24 September 2021
Haggai 1:15-2:1-9   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]*> + ><]]]]'>   Luke 9:18-22
Good Friday 2020 in my former parish.
I could feel and hear you, Lord
speaking to me, asking me like Haggai:
"Who is left among you that saw
this house in its former glory?
And how do you see it now?
Does it not seem nothing 
in your eyes?" (Haggai 2:3)
When I remember the images 
of the first few months of pandemic
last year that fell on the Holy Week
and Easter Season, I felt like Haggai
and the returning exiles to Jerusalem
seeing their temple in ruins, still under
construction;  how I long, O Lord, to those
glory days when we celebrate and adore
you in our beautiful church!
But now, with the pandemic's second 
year, our churches remain half empty.
How long shall we wait, Lord,
for COVID-19 to end so we can
go back to our church to celebrate
your presence, your love, your
salvation in Jesus Christ?
Strengthen us, dear God;
deepen our faith in you,
awaken our hope in you;
let us take courage like your
priests and returning exiles
to Jerusalem to await your promise
to "shake the heavens and the earth,
the sea and the dry land...
to shake all nations" (Haggai 2:6-7)
when you bring back the glory days
of worshipping you again in your
temple.
Most of all, open our minds
and our hearts to be shaken
inside for us to realize and 
wholly embrace the Passion,
Death, and Resurrection of 
Jesus your Christ (Luke 9:22), dear Father:
he is our glorious temple,
more magnificent than any church
or edifice when found in the hearts
of your people who abide in you,
who rely only on you.  Amen.
Easter 2020 in our former Parish.

God our rock, our life

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of the Dedication of St. Mary Major, 05 August 2021
Numbers 20:1-13   ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*>   Matthew 16:13-23
Photo by Vigie Ongleo, 03 August 2021, Singapore.
Glory and praise to you, 
O God, our loving Father!
You are our rock and foundation, 
our life and meaning especially
when dark clouds hover above us.
Bless us on this eve of our lockdown
due to a surge in COVID-19 infections.
May the responsorial psalm be our prayer too:
"If today you hear the voice of the Lord,
harden not your hearts."
Your words today speak a lot
of your goodness and holiness
and of our sinfulness;
so many times we have been like 
your people at the wilderness with Moses:
always grumbling and complaining
at the slightest discomforts and difficulties,
easily forgetting your many blessings
like when they were at Meribah
and Massah without water to drink.
Then, raising his hand,
Moses struck the rock twice
with his staff, and water gushed 
out in abundance for the peoples
and their livestock to drink.
But the Lord said to Moses
and Aaron, "Because you were not
faithful to me in showing forth my 
sanctity before the children of Israel,
you shall not lead this community 
into the land I will give them."
(Numbers 20:11-12)
Forgive us, dear God, when even
like Moses whom you trusted so much
we falter in our faith in you, giving in 
to our "small" doubts of you that like him
we disobey your "little" instructions -
instead of speaking and just raising his staff 
before the rock at Meribah, he struck it twice,
 doubting you and your words 
but despite that, you still let waters
gush forth for the peoples and their animals.
The situation is so different at Caesarea
of Philippi, the pagan capital north of Israel
blessed with plenty of water where Jesus
stopped and asked his disciples what people say
 who he is, their answers were so varied 
like our answers these days because we rarely 
get to know you personally, always focused
on your blessings than your very self!
Forgive us, O Lord, for always forgetting you,
when there is plenty of "water" like at Caesarea Philippi.
He said to them,
"But who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter said in reply,
"You are the Christ, the Son
of the living God."
Jesus said to him in reply,
"Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
for flesh and blood has not revealed
this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build
my church, and the gates of the
netherworld shall not prevail against it."
(Matthew 16:15-18)
Open our minds and our hearts,
let Jesus reign in us, revealing to us
your plans and your will, God our Father;
let us be faithful to you in the Church
Christ had founded as vessel of your grace
and salvation to nourish us in this earthly journey;
as we celebrate the memorial of the dedication
of St. Mary Major in Rome, may we remain 
united and faithful with the Mother Church
led by the Pope as successor of Peter, the Rock.
Amen.

Sts. Peter and Paul, Mirrors of the Church

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, 29 June 2021
Acts of the Apostles 12:1-11 + 2Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18 + Matthew 16:13-19
Easter Sunday 2019 at St. Peter’s Rome with Pope Francis, photo from vaticannews.va.

God our loving Father, thank you for this Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul who both mirror to us our primary tasks as stewards of the Church founded by your Son Jesus Christ. Despite our many differences in our personalities and backgrounds, help us find in them what the Church should be and would be by our love and faith in Christ Jesus and the mission he entrusted us.

Remind us we are stewards of the kingdom of heaven among our brothers and sisters – not their masters even if we are entrusted with the power of binding and unbinding

“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

Let us be won over by Jesus Christ, by giving him entirely our faith and love despite our many weaknesses. Like Sts. Peter and Paul, may we keep in mind that our primary task in the Church is to serve, not to rule over the people nor amass wealth and fame along the way.

Let us strive to be loved than be feared so that in every decision we make people may find and realize your Holy Will.

O dear God, as we face today another serious threat of a new COVID-19 strain called Delta variant that is believed to be more dangerous as it spreads so fast, may we witness in our lives as we proclaim in words and in deeds your saving love and mercy in Jesus Christ.

May we offer our very selves like St. Peter and St. Paul, messengers of your love to everyone especially those in the margins of the society so they may continue to keep their faith amidst the many hardships during this pandemic for you, O God is always among us in Jesus Christ. Amen.

True greatness in being small to become part of the whole

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Solemnity of the Pentecost, 23 May 2021
Acts 2:1-11  ><}}}*>  Galatians 5:16-25  ><}}}*>  John 15:26-27.16:12-15
Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte at Atok, Benguet, 2019.

Today we bring to completion our celebration of the Lord’s Paschal Mystery – his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, Ascension and Coming of the Holy Spirit to his disciples. Although this mystery is one single reality, we have stretched its celebration over a period of 50 days (hence, Pentecost) or more than seven weeks because it will never be enough to fully grasp its whole meaning for it is a continuing reality and mystery in our midst just like the Ascension last week.

Note the upward movement of the Ascension that calls us to “level up” our relationships with God and one another in Christ; today, the downward movement of the coming of the Holy Spirit calls us to being small in order for us to be broken and shared with others. Whenever there is a downward push, what happens usually is a breaking down into smaller parts to fuse with the larger whole like a mix.


...our greatness is in our sharing ourselves with others...  
It is in our becoming small to participate in the whole 
that we truly become great - 
whether in the Church or a community, 
in our personal relationships...

Jesus had taught us in his life and example especially on the Cross that our greatness is in our sharing ourselves with others like him. It is in our becoming small to participate in the whole that we truly become great – whether in the Church or a community, in our personal relationships like family and circle of friends and most especially in the union of man and woman as husband and wife in marriage.

That is why the Pentecost is called the birthday of the Church when the disciples after being filled with the Holy Spirit came out in the open to proclaim the Gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. It was actually more of a “coming out party” of the Church that was established by Christ during his Last Supper.

See that since the very beginning, the Church started as a catholic – a whole – at the Last Supper of the Lord when he also instituted the Holy Eucharist that has become the sign of our unity from then on that enabled the disciples to recognize him at Easter at the breaking of bread.

Jesus promised them at the Last Supper how things would get clear to them when the Holy Spirit comes.

"When the Advocate comes whom I will send you
from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds
from the Father, he will testify to me.  And you 
also testify... I have much more to tell you,
but you cannot bear it now.  But when he comes,
the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth."
(John 15:26-27. 16:12-13)

Believing in the Holy Spirit, Believing in the Church

Every Sunday in the Mass we profess our faith, declaring “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church” but, do we really understand its meaning? To believe in God is to believe in the Holy Catholic Church, to forget one’s own agenda in life, to submit ones self to her teachings from Christ our Lord and Master.

It is a declaration of the mystery and reality of the Pentecost, reminding us that becoming Christian means receiving and embracing the whole Church!

This is the beautiful meaning of the account by St. Luke at the first reading of the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost at Jerusalem when all barriers – physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual – were broken as the disciples went around speaking in various languages to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ.

When the time of Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky a noise
like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house
in which they were.  Then there appeared to them
tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest
on each one of them.  And they were all filled 
with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
(Acts 1:1-4)

Here we find the disciples of Jesus and their converts on that day of Pentecost allowing themselves to be taken up into the Church!

And how did this happen? St. Luke tells us “Then there appeared to them tongues of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.” Each one was parted, was broken down from their sins and selfishness that they became open for each other, trying to understand and accept each one as brother and sister in Christ.

It was a reversal of the story of Babel in Genesis when people were so arrogant and proud building a tower that reaches to heaven who were punished to speak in different languages that led to their confusion and quarrel until they all perished along with their ambitious plan.

Pentecost was different. There were different languages, different peoples with different backgrounds yet they were united and understood each other because everybody tried to become small, to mix into the whole and thus becoming a part of the Church on that day.

Unless we are willing to be parted by the Holy Spirit’s “tongues of fire” and “strong driving wind” like a storm, we can never be filled with God and his holiness to experience his peace and his joy.

It is a lifelong process and that is why Pentecost is a daily reality, happening to us especially when we sometimes have to be shaken by so many events and circumstances that come our way.

In the second reading, we heard St. Paul reminding the Galatians, including us, to “live by the Spirit and not gratify the desire of the flesh” (Gal.5:16). At that time, some missionaries sowed confusion among the Galatians, telling them to follow Jewish practices and Mosaic prescriptions to be fully Christians like circumcision. The issue had long been settled at the Council of Jerusalem but some Jewish converts persisted.

Here, St. Paul teaches us a valuable lesson in resolving conflicts and confusions in daily life in the light of Jesus Christ, of salvation, of the Church. For St. Paul, we always have to ask the Holy Spirit in guiding us in everything, no matter how secular and mundane it may be to find the theological and spiritual implications of our experiences.

What he told the Galatians remains true to our days, that freedom is not the ability to do whatever we want but to choose and do what is good. Every person has that tendency to sin, an imperfection in the “flesh” that is always in contradiction with the “spirit”.

As we have mentioned earlier, our greatness lies in our ability to share and give ourselves to others by dying to our sins and selfish motives, precisely what St. Paul is telling us:

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like.

Galatians 5:19-21

These are the things that the Holy Spirit “part” in us when it comes to us daily especially in our prayers and in the celebrations of the sacraments like the Holy Eucharist. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are unified as a person, we become whole and integrated that we see the value and importance of being one with God and with others. It is not longer the rituals that become the law guiding us but the interior law of love of Jesus Christ that enables us to get out of our selfishness to give ourselves in loving service to others.

When we live in the power of the Holy Spirit guided by this interior law of love, that is when we become truly free and experience the gifts and fruits mentioned by St. Paul like peace and joy.

In our world today marred by sin and so many divisions happening in our society and even in the Church, in our communities and right even in our families and personal relationships, let us pray today to the Holy Spirit to come to us, break down within us the many walls we have and lead us to surrender ourselves to God to be led by his hand in continuing the mission of love and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

A blessed week ahead of everyone!

Photo of the stained glass with the Holy Spirit bringing light into the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Photo from wikipediacommons.org.

Praying for our continuous conversion

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday in the Fourth Week of Easter, 26 April 2021
Acts 11:1-18   ><)))'> ><)))'> ><)))'>   John 10:1-10
Parish of St. Joseph in Baras, Rizal, January 2021.

Thank you very much, dearest God our Almighty Father in answering our prayer last Friday for more conversions among us, especially those in power in the government and the military who kept on maligning the movement on community pantry. Some of them have finally accepted the beauty and the truth about community pantries.

Today we pray, O God, for the continuous conversion of those among us in the Church, especially our shepherds of soul, bishops and priests, religious and sisters, and most specially the lay people who comprise the majority of Christian faithful.

Vatican II had clearly called for “Ecclesia semper reformanda” or “The Church must be constantly renewed”, that we must read the signs of the times, and always be open to the leading and promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Your first reading today shows us this important turning point in our Church history when mission to the gentiles began with Peter sharing meals and then baptized the whole household of the Roman centurion named Cornelius. The “circumcised believers” or Jewish converts to Christianity criticized Peter for entering the homes and sharing meal with uncircumcised pagans who were later baptized to be added to the growing number of followers of Jesus Christ.

Peter began and explained it to them step by step, 
saying, "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them 
as it had upon us at the beginning... 
If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us 
when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, 
who was I to be able to hinder God?"
When they heard this, 
they stopped objecting and glorified God,
saying, "God has then granted life-giving
repentance to the Gentiles too."
(Acts 11:4, 15, 17-18)

Open our ears and our hearts, Lord, so we may hear you speaking to us.

Most of all, grant us the courage to make known to others your voice, your will even if it may be disturbing and uncomfortable to others, especially our fellow leaders and shepherds of the flock.

Forgive us, dear Jesus, when there are times when “we do not realize what you are trying to tell us” (Jn.10:6) because we are so preoccupied with our very own ideas and traditions being challenged by changing times and shifting views.

Forgive us, most of all, Lord Jesus, when we your shepherds hold on to positions and power, thinking more of prestige and wealth that we have become the biggest obstacle to new developments and growth in the Church and among Christians. Amen.

A Lenten prayer for priests

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Feast of Chair of St. Peter, 22 February 2021
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

*This is a prayer I have written in 22 February 2018, Year of Clergy and Consecrated Persons in our preparations for the 500th year of our Christianization in the Philippines happening next month. I find the prayer still relevant specially in the light of our recent reshuffle of assignments in the diocese.

This is my 22nd Lent as a priest, Lord; but, it is only now have I realized how lovely is this season with You offering us with the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter to deepen our priesthood following our recent new assignments.

Open us to pray and reflect St. Peter’s exhortation in the first reading to “tend the flock of God” by being examples.

Help us to take into our hearts the beautiful words by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that “the primacy of Peter symbolized by his chair atop the magnificent altar at the Vatican is the primacy of faith and the primacy of love” (Images of Hope, Ignatius Press, 2006).

Help us recall, too, the reminder of Pope Francis that “we priests have a mission, not an assignment… that we must smell like the sheep.”

Forgive us, dear Jesus in making priesthood another career as we talk more about programs and offices, positions and shamefully, about perks and money. We have forgotten priesthood is a mission when You called Simon as Peter, the rock on whom You established Your Church.

May we keep in mind without forgetting the value of education that St. Peter started Your Church without any degrees in philosophy and theology, management and psychology except a deep, personal faith in You.

Teach us Your priests to nurture Your gift of faith, reminding us that no organizational or management efficiency could ever keep our unity as a Church if we are separated from You.

That is the meaning of this feast of the Chair of St. Peter: the primacy of Simon’s faith in You Lord Jesus for without You, we cannot do anything. Remind us that whenever You choose us for a mission, it is a call for more faith in You than in us or our skills and talents.

And so, I pray, Lord Jesus, for more love for us priests in You. Faith leads to love that leads us to You in heaven and to others here on earth. Help us bring back love to Your Church so people may experience You again among us and others as the Body of Christ, a community of believers. How often do we forget it is Your Church and not ours for us to lord it over them – even for shameful profit as St. Peter had warned us in the first reading!

Let us stop hurting Your Church, Jesus, in our lack of love and charity so people would see You again in us as servant-leaders. Fill us Your priests with more faith and more love to keep Your Church alive to finally stop all “hearsays” about who You really are like at Caesarea Philippi. Amen.

Photo by author of the detail of the Seventh Station at the Parish of St. Ildephonse in Tanay, Rizal; woodcarving was done in 1785 depicting the Chief Priest Caiaphas according to some accounts as the man in sunglasses during the time of Jesus. May we priests remove also our shades to see Jesus more among the people we serve.

Praying to “smell like sheep”

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, 22 February 2021
1 Peter 5:1-4     + + + + +     Matthew 16:13-19

Dearest Lord Jesus Christ:

On this feast of the Chair of St. Peter when we celebrate the sacred office of the Papacy you have bestowed upon St. Peter as your Vicar here on earth, I pray for us your priests.

Help us your priests to heed the call of Pope Francis to “smell like your sheep” which is so attuned with the call of St. Peter himself in the first reading:

Beloved: Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples of the flock.

1 Peter 5:2-3

Forgive us, dear Jesus, when we your priests demand so much from your flock that we forget to serve them faithfully and lovingly.

Forgive us, dear Jesus, when we your priests are allured by social media and all forms of glitz and glamor that unconsciously we have replaced you, making our selves as the new gods to be worshipped and adored by the people.

Forgive us, dear Jesus, when we your priests abandon your flock and go with the world that we look and smell like the rich and famous.

Chair of St. Peter in Rome. Photo from wikicommons.org.

Give us the courage and determination to first of all be centered in you, to pray daily and most of all, celebrate the Holy Eucharist with love and devotion so people may see you more, experience you more, hear you more and taste you more.

May we spend more time and energy with you, dear Jesus in prayers because it is you whom we must know first on a daily basis. Let us come to you always in Caesarea Philippi, your place of confronting us with that crucial question “But who do you say that I am?” that we never hear nor answer because we have left you. As a result, people are still confused of who you really are when we fail to live and serve in you.

May we keep in mind that the Primacy of St. Peter’s office, of our ministry and of every kind of leadership in our home and schools, offices and government is always the PRIMACY OF LOVE IN YOU. Amen.

Sight and Vision

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
27 December 2020, Feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, Patron of our Parish
1 John 1:1-14 >><)))*> John 20:2-8
Our Parish Patron, the beloved disciple of the Lord, St. John the Apostle and Evangelist (Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, Sept. 2018).

Today we celebrate in our Parish the feast of our Patron Saint, John the Apostle and Evangelist also known as “the beloved disciple of the Lord”. Although it is a Sunday in the Christmas octave when the Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated by the universal Church, parishes and dioceses with the beloved disciple as patron as exempted. Perhaps, it is St. John’s gift to me before I move to my new assignment in February next year that I celebrate his feast for the last time this Sunday.

I tell my parishioners to love St. John; that is their first task as parishioners, to love and support their Patron Saint. Moreover, I have always stressed to them how St. John the Apostle is so special, and not an ordinary saint or Apostle. Next to his being the beloved disciple of Jesus, he is the only Apostle to have not died a martyr but grew old to witness the growth of the Church; he was the one who took care of the Blessed Virgin Mary as per instruction by the Lord Himself before He died on the Cross on Good Friday; and though there are only a few parishes dedicated to him, mostly are Cathedrals like the one at Dagupan-Lingayen in Pangasinan, at Naga City in Camarines Sur, and of course, the Cathedral of Rome, the St. John Lateran, the Mother of all churches in the world.

He is often symbolized by the eagle for his sharp and incisive way of looking at things and events in the life of teachings of Jesus that he is the only one able to tell us about the wedding feast at Cana, the man born blind, the raising of Lazarus as well as the more detailed account of the teachings after the feeding of five thousand people.

The great American writer Helen Keller, a blind woman, said it so well, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

I wish to reflect on that vision of St. John, on what had he seen in our Lord Jesus that hopefully we may always try to look into in our own lives.

Photo by author, Gaudete Sunday 2020.

Seeing Jesus, a real man among us

I used to say in my wedding homilies that women should always look for men who not only has sights but also vision. We all have sights but not everyone has a vision, the ability to see and look beyond what is on the surface, on what can only be seen but also perceived further.

St. John the Evangelist had a great vision of who Jesus Christ is. No wonder towards the end of his life while a prisoner at the island of Patmos off Greece, the Lord offered him a vision of heaven which he had recorded to us in the most difficult book of the Bible, the Revelation; his other four writings, the Gospel and three letters are also difficult to understand due to the different layers of meaning that only the beloved disciple was able to perceive.

Such is the kind of the vision of St. John said to be like the eagle, believed to be the only creature that can stare directly into light without getting blinded — very sharp and keen, as we say in Filipino, “matang-lawin” or eagle sight.

Being the only Apostle of the Lord to have grown old and spared from dying a martyr like the rest, St. John witnessed the first errors or heresies of early Christians concerning the humanity of Jesus Christ. They could not accept the Son of God took on a genuinely human body so that in a mistaken zeal for spirituality, they condemned everything material as evil, claiming the humanity of Jesus was just an appearance. As a result, these heretics like the gnostics taught that to be fully united with God meant to withdraw as much as possible from everything material.

St. John wrote his letters primarily to address this wrongful and erroneous views (which would persist for 400 years, still echoing in our present time), insisting that Jesus Christ is true God, and true man. We have heard him declare that on Christmas day when his prologue was proclaimed when he claimed “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us” – that Jesus Christ fully entered into our humanity and material condition by blessing and making it holy!

Today St. John insists on this contact with the real, bodily Jesus, repeating the words “seen” and “visible” about five times in four verses, emphasizing contact with a real, bodily Christ.

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life — for the life was made visible…

1 John 1:1-2

Here we find what St. John tells us also after the Resurrection in his gospel account how Jesus invited the doubting Thomas to touch and feel him, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your your hand and put it into my side, and do be unbelieving, but believe” (Jn.20:27).

It is this physical, truly human, touchable Jesus that the Church proclaims every Christmas. Yet, how tragic that through the ages, we in the Church had always had that tendency to withdraw from the material that perhaps had led to so many problems with the human body and sexuality so that we have all these sex scams happening even long before.

Part of the mystery of the Incarnation is for us to be at home with our humanity like Jesus our Lord because everything God had made is good. Mention SEX, even in seminaries or Catholic schools, you hear for sure that rising crescendo of whispers and impish laughters.

Everything that God made is good. That is why Jesus became human to show us it is good to be a human being, it is the path back to God, into heaven. If we cannot accept Jesus as truly human, how can we truly love God whom we do not see? Hence, we find this beautiful flow of reason and reflection of St. John in his first letter:

No one has ever seen God. Yet if we love one another, God remains in us and his love is brought o perfection in us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

1 John 4:12, 16, 19-20
Photo by Mr. Marc Angelo Nicolas Carpio, Christmas 2020.

In short, to love God and to love others, we must first love our very selves, accept our “human-ness” like Jesus, a real man in everything except sin. The more we accept each other, the more we “see” God among us as a community, as a Church, the Body of Christ.

The Church, the Body of Christ

This vision of the Church as the body of Christ by St. John came from the empty tomb of Jesus at Easter, when the Lord was paradoxically not in sight!

When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.

John 20:6-8

What did our Patron Saint “see” that he believed, not like Simon Peter who was the leader of the Apostles?

Photo by author, August 2020.

This is the best example of St. John’s vision, of seeing beyond the physical, of seeing the significance of the folded cloth that covered the Lord’s face that has its basis in the story of Moses who had to put on a veil whenever he would converse with God face to face (cf. Exodus 34) due to the immense brightness of God, of His overwhelming presence. This the Israelites have seen every time after Moses had spoken with God, his face shone so brightly.

With the cloth that covered the head of Jesus folded and separated from the burial cloths, it meant that Jesus had met the Father, the veil to cover His face was no longer needed.

At that instance, everything became clearer for St. John – from the cleansing of the temple to His conversations with that Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well – convincing him that Jesus had risen to new life, to new level of existence. Years later, we find Jesus appearing to Saul on his way to Damascus, asking him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?(Acts 9:1-5)” to indicate that whatsoever you do anyone, you do unto Jesus (Matt. 25:40).

In His glorified body, we are now able to look at God also in the new body of Jesus, the Church. It is in this aspect that we have to learn so much from the beloved disciple, St. John. Our lack of any sense of community like the collective effort in stopping the spread of COVID-19 shows of the great need for us to have wider and sharper vision of Jesus among us especially in the Church. May we strive to love more Jesus to find Him in our humanity. Amen.

Photo by author, Malolos Cathedral, September 2020.

Advent is being consistent

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B, 20 December 2020
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16  >><)))*>  Romans 16:25-27  >><)))*>  Luke 1:26-38
Photo by author, Christmas 2019.

We are now on the final week of our four Sundays of preparations for Christmas. We have been saying Christmas 2020 is surely the most different and difficult in our lives due to the pandemic. However, it may also be the most meaningful when we have more of spiritual values, less of material things; more of the other persons, less of ourselves; and, more of Jesus, less of the Christmas trimmings.

Today we heard the beautiful story of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus Christ found only in the gospel of Luke, the source of many inspirations in arts for many centuries even today. The scene reveals to us the artistry and spirituality of Luke believed to be a medical doctor who was a disciple of St. Paul. He is the only evangelist who admitted he had “investigated everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence (the events about Jesus Christ) so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received” (Lk.1:3-4).

And what is that certainty Luke looked into? That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises to the patriarchs and prophets, who is the very presence of God among us. That is why Luke wrote a second volume to his gospel, the Acts of the Apostles to show us Jesus still present in the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit. In this beautiful canvass painted to us by Luke on Jesus the Christ in his Gospel and Acts we also find in a supporting role the Blessed Virgin Mary, His own Mother and model disciple.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. then the angel said to her, “do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end”

Luke 1:26-33

The discipleship of Mary

As a former journalist, I have always considered the four evangelists as the premiere reporters of Jesus Christ. Mark is the old school type of straight news reporting, writing the basic who, what, where, when and why, making his gospel the first to be written and shortest as he was in a hurry, a true journalist. Matthew is more of a feature writer or interpretative reporter while John was a news analyst, an op-ed columnist.

Luke is the modern journalist using the “digital platform” who goes on “live as it happens” with all the colors and actions without losing depth and focus like the BBC and Al Jazeera. He brings us where the news is happening as you must have noticed yesterday in the story of the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah which also served as introduction to his lead story of Christmas, the annunciation of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Here we see the unique position of Mary as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke tells us how Mary is the only one to have believed in a “situation of contemporaneity” as Fr. Cantalamessa would love to say, meaning, she believed while the event was taking place and prior to any confirmation by the event or history.

See how Matthew presented some facts already known to him in narrating the annunciation to Joseph where the angel clarified Mary’s pregnancy was due to the Holy Spirit. Luke, on the other hand, is like reporting live in real time, so realistic with Mary and the angel conversing to each other!

Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, mosaic of the Annunciation at the San Padre Pio Church in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, 2016.

Writing in Greek like the rest of the authors in the New Testament, Luke did not use the usual Hebrew greeting of “Shalom” when Gabriel appeared to Mary, addressing her instead with chaire or “Rejoice favored one” that means especially graced from which came our translation from the Latin “Hail, full of grace!” in 1:28.

The favor or grace of Mary has found with God in 1:30 is explained in 1:31 in the future tense, “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son“. What is amazing here is that there is the sense of certitude on the part of the angel that the future will definitely take place because Mary has already been highly favored one by God before this event. How?

Though Mary will finally become a disciple at the end by saying “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” in 1:38, we find in 1:29 how she had always been disposed to the will and grace of God when Luke described how “she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be“.

Mary “pondered – meaning, she prayed, she meditated right away the greetings to her, indicating her openness and disposition to listen and follow the will of God. That shows how even before the annunciation happened, Mary had always been obedient to God that is why she could say yes to Him when asked to be the Mother of the Savior.

Here we find Mary’s consistency as a disciple of the Lord, her Son Jesus still to be born but already existing in eternity!

When we were growing up, our mother would always tell us that once our names are called either by her or by our father, we only say one thing, “Opo… ano po iyon?” (Yes, what is it?). That is old school discipline where we literally obeyed first even without any instruction yet because we have always been assured parents would never tell kids to do something bad or wrong. And we believed that. Unlike today’s generations where the usual reply to parents’ call is “wait” that no wonder, we now ask God wait before he can speak to us. Thank God I did not get married….

Going back to Mary, we now find the contrast with yesterday’s annunciation to Zechariah: Mary pondered and felt everything in her heart and soul while Zechariah reasoned out, used more his head than his heart – something we must ponder this Christmas. Mary right away had her heart, her very self onto the Christmas Nativity while Zechariah was stuck in his negativity.

Mary believed while the event, the annunciation, was taking place, prior to any confir­mation by the event itself or by history. Later we shall see that expression “pondering in her heart” repeated often by Luke and also by John in presenting Mary: after listening to the words of the shepherds who came to see baby Jesus at His birth in Bethlehem, at finding Jesus at the temple aged 12, and during the wedding feast at Cana where He did His first miracle.

Photo by author of the site where the annunciation to Mary took place found below the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth (2019).

The faith of Mary

From the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to His crucifixion, Easter and Pentecost, Mary always believed. During the Visitation, Elizabeth praised her, becoming the first to call Mary as “blessed” because “you believed what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk.1:45).

Eight days after Easter, Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe! ” (Jn 20:29). Early at the annunciation, Mary was the first to have believed without having seen Jesus Christ!

Mary teaches us the importance of subjective faith or the act of simply believing and trusting God, a person-to-person relationship with Him.

But it is not enough because it could lead to isolationism when we become individualistic and begin to have our own concept of God like what is happening these days especially with many Catholics with their own interpretations of God, heaven, evil and sin among other things.

Like Mary, we need to cultivate also objective faith, believe in the content of faith of the community. Mary believed God relating with the ancient prophets and patriarchs of Israel which the angel mentioned to her during the annunciation. See that after the annunciation, Mary hastily went to visit Elizabeth to share her good news and her faith. In her we learn that faith leads to a mission that is seen in the context of a community, the Church where Mary was portrayed to us praying with the disciples of Jesus during the Pentecost at the Upper Room in Jerusalem.

So here we find the consistency of Mary even before the annunciation that continued on in the life of the Church we still experience today in her many apparitions and messages always centered on Jesus not herself.

That is the call of Advent to us all: to be consistently clear with our faith with the one to be born at Christmas, Jesus Christ who is the Son of the Father, our Savior promised in Old Testament, now the very presence of God among us.

People kneeling on the streets during our Christ the King celebrations, 22 November 2020.

It is not enough that we just pray and believe; like Mary, we need to get out of ourselves and give ourselves to God and the Church. This is especially true with us priests who seem to believe more to himself and to media than with God! We must constantly examine ourselves if we truly believe in what we preach, in the kind of lives we lead. Is Jesus still center of our lives or us that we are so concerned always with our “image”, always seeking “likes” and “followers” than anything else?

If there is anyone who should be the first to be consistent in faith in God in any community, that must be the priest or pastor.

A few weeks ago while striving through the many challenges of my personal life and my ministry since this pandemic began, a parishioner told me how they draw strength and inspiration from me. I asked her why and how? What does my personal life has anything to do with them?

She explained that whenever they see me still going through with my ministry, holding on in my prayers and daily Masses, still smiling and can still laugh and crack jokes — they just feel they too can overcome their trials and difficulties.

I have realized in that short conversation more than preaching and explaining faith and its content, people look more at how faithful are we truly are as men of faith. That aside from dispensing the sacraments and doing all the ministries in my parish, there is also the task so unknown to me before of enkindling the faith of my flock, of guiding and leading them to God based on how do I live that faith in God with joy and patience.

People believe in God and the Church when they experience their pastor believing first in God and the Church. Like the COVID-19 virus, faith is contagious that spreads by coming into contact with. We priests must be the first to be “infected” with faith in the parish so that everyone would be “positive” with it, creating a “pandemic” in faith!

That is the consistency of Mary as a disciple — she is a “carrier” of a deep, joyful and active faith in Jesus, “infecting” everyone so positively that despite the difficult and trying situations we are into, we celebrate Christ’s coming amid the pandemic.

A blessed Sunday as we prepare for Christmas!

Righteous acts of God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Red Wednesday, 25 November 2020
Revelation 15:1-4     >><)))*>  +++  <*(((><<     Luke 21:12-19
Photo by author, Red Wednesday 2020.

Once again, dear Jesus, we pray in the most special way this Red Wednesday for your persecuted Church including those severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic like the medical frontliners, the survivors and their families, and the poor who have sank deeper into poverty due to the prolonged lockdowns we have had.

We pray that we may find your good news behind every persecution we suffer and go through as a community of your believers and disciples because where there are sufferings, there are hearts and souls willing to comfort, willing to share, willing to sacrifice.

When there are sufferings, there is the color RED that means LOVE because that is when we have your Cross, Jesus Christ, and therefore share in your own destiny of glory!

It is in every shade of red like the blood poured out by Christ and the martyrs after him that the Father’s “righteous acts have been revealed” (Rev.15:4), that is, when we experience more of God’s protection and salvation in the face of grave dangers and even death.

Grant us the grace, Lord Jesus, to persevere in your words and ways so we may secure our lives in you. Amen.

Photo by author, Red Wednesday 2020.