Holiest week in most unholy time

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, 28 March 2021
Isaiah 50:4-7  +  Philippians 2:6-11  +  Mark 14:1-15:47
Photo by Mr. John Karol Limjuco, Parish of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 26 March 2021.

For the second straight year, we are again celebrating our holiest week in the most unholy time of our lives in this COVID-19 pandemic. The timing could not escape everybody’s suspicion of something so sinister, if not diabolic, that religious gatherings are again limited.

But on a closer look and deeper reflection, we find what is happening right now is something similar with what Jesus went through that made these days so holy.

Notice that the official designation of our celebration today is “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion” when Vatican II fused the two earliest preparations by the Church for Easter: the palm procession by Christians at Jerusalem in the fourth century and the proclamation of the long gospel of the Passion of the Lord in Rome by the Pope in the fifth century.

Both ancient celebrations set our sights to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus beginning this Sunday stretching it through this whole week to remind us of the triumph and tragedy, of darkness and light, of death and life. These contrasts shall be most pronounced when we enter the Triduum of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection on Holy Thursday evening, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil.

Then everything becomes light and pure joy in Easter!

And the key to understanding, appreciating, and deeply imbibing the meaning of all these confluences of mixed emotions and feelings, colors and hues like our situation while under this time of the corona is to have the same attitude of Jesus Christ expressed so beautifully by St. Paul in our second reading:

Have among yourselves the same attitude (mind) that is also yours in Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The mind and heart of Jesus Christ

Having the mind and heart of Jesus Christ is opening ourselves to the Father by trying to see everything in his light as we go through life especially during this pandemic. It is what Jesus has always reminded us of “reading the signs of the times”.

God is telling us something in this pandemic but we are not listening to him as we continue to see it as a medical and social issue, refusing to recognize its spiritual and moral implications. In a lot of senses, this pandemic and quarantine we are undergoing is similar with situation when Jesus entered Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago when Israel under Roman rule and life was so difficult but nobody recognized him as the Christ and Savior!

In his entire life here on earth, Jesus always saw everything in the light of his Father in heaven. He never got involved into politics and other temporal concerns or subject but throughout the course of history since then until now, his teachings remain relevant in addressing our social issues and problems.

Seeing things and events in our lives and history in the light of God demands that we have the same attitude of Jesus of opening ourselves to be empty of our pride, of our plans and agenda, of our self-interests as well as of our illusions and insecurities in life.

We will never see God nor find him when we are filled with our selves, especially with our bloated egos when we think we know everything, when we presume we are always right, when we play gods.

Like the people who welcomed Jesus entered Jerusalem holding palms, singing “Hosanna in the highest!”, soon we would also be shouting “Crucify him!” unless we get emptied of ourselves and be filled with God.

St. Paul could eloquently present the mind and heart of Jesus in this beautiful hymn because he himself went through a process of kenosis, of self emptying. He had experienced in himself how when Jesus emptied himself and went down to his lowest point obediently accepting death on the cross, that is also when he was at his closest union with the Father who raised him to his highest glory at Easter.

That is why St. Paul called it the “scandal of the cross” for when we empty ourselves and offered everything to God out of love for him and for others that we are willing to go down to our lowest point in life, that is when God raises us up to “meet” him, to be one in him that miracles begin to happen, when things change for the best not only for us but also for others and those around us.

Hence, while we are in the most unholy period of our history, the Lord is giving us every chance to have the holiest Holy Week of our lives by examining our very selves in this time of quarantine to cleanse and empty ourselves of sins and evil to be filled with God of his holiness and grace through Christ’s cross.

Photo by author, St. Joseph Parish, Baras, Rizal, 15 January 2021.

The logic of the Cross

As we go to another Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) or lockdown like last year, I am convinced that while we are sad at how things are going on, it is actually God who is most “sad” of all as we go through all these pains and difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

God cannot suffer because he is perfect; but, he can suffer with us that is why he sent his Son Jesus to become human like us to join us in all our sufferings including death and thus, “console” us in Christ.

“To console” is from the Latin terms “con” (with) + “solatio” (solace/comfort) that means not only to comfort or delight those in suffering but to also “strengthen” or make strong those weakened by trials and difficulties which is the literal meaning of cum fortis, with strength.

And here lies the “logic” of Christ’s Cross: Jesus died by the hatred of others so that we may live again by his love. Only God can give us the evidences of his love to render us capable through Jesus Christ to forge on amid our pains and sufferings, hoping against all hope that love is always stronger than suffering, death, and sin.

When we persevere in our sufferings, especially in silence for the sake of others out of love, imitating the self-emptying of Jesus, that is when God showers us with more of his love and mercy, strength and vigor to overcome everything in Christ.

This he had promised and fulfilled in Christ who is the “Suffering Servant” we heard in the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah:

The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Isaiah 50:4-7

See how everything Isaiah had written was fulfilled in Jesus as we heard in the gospel today when at the praetorium “They clothed him in purple and, weaving a crown of thorns, placed it on him. They began to salute him with, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and kept striking his head with a reed and spitting upon him. They knelt before him in homage” (Mk.15:17-19). It went on up to the calvary when “They gave him wine drugged with myrrh, but he did not take it. Then they crucified him…” (Mk.15:23-24).

In my reflections this Lent, I have been dwelling lately on tenderness and compassion as mercy of God in action, as mercy of his hands. To be tender and compassionate is to be one with the suffering even if you are suffering too – just like our medical frontliners who risk not only their very lives but even their families.

Last Friday I was asked to give a talk via webinar about development of compassionate teachers and staff at Our Lady of Fatima University where I serve as chaplain. A doctor asked if there is such a thing as “over compassion” wherein she can already feel chest pains in seeing and hearing all the sufferings of their patients in this time of the pandemic.

I was so touched by her question because I felt it too; I told her she is not alone feeling that way when I also feel overwhelmed with the sufferings of the people but cannot do so much. I told her it is a grace to feel that way, that she had to find ways how her mercy in the heart can flow to mercy of the hands while ensuring safety protocols as a doctor.

But that is where the grace of God works fullest, when we believe and trust more in Jesus Christ when the chips are already down, when we feel defeat is inevitable that we just surrender everything to Divine grace and intervention.

“Ecce Homo” by Murillo from wikipediacommons.org.

That is the meaning of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion when we see life in its total weakness and even wreak, whether in our selves or among others, and yet we continue to persevere, to hope against hope because deep in us we know God is with us, God is working in us, and God will save us.

French poet Charles Péguy wrote in one of his great poems at the turn of the century that hope is God’s favorite virtue because “hope surprises him”.

Péguy described hope like the end of a play or a movie in our time; we know the show had ended but we stay on refusing to leave the theater because we believe that something is still coming up like a preview or a surprise scene!

See how St. Mark tells us at the end of his Passion Story when everything was so dark after Jesus had died when “he breathed his last” that the centurion standing there believed that “Truly this man is the Son of God!” (Mk.15:39)

Sometimes in life, God becomes clearest and most truest when we have lost everything, including what is most precious and dearest to us.

Have a heart with a lot of faith, hope and love that this may be the holiest Holy Week in our lives because it is the most unholy period in our history like when Jesus entered Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago. Amen.

Keep safe, be blessed, and be a blessing to others!

Leave the sidewalk, join Jesus on the street to see more

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Week XXXIII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 16 November 2020
Revelation 1:1-4; 2:1-5     >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<     Luke 18:35-43
From Facebook, nuns bringing relief goods during the COVID lockdown last summer.

God our Father… I cannot find the words to tell you what is in my heart as I saw the images of devastations and sufferings of your people these past days. Part of me feels thankful for my lesser worries like not having running water and other things but my heart goes out to those people still trapped in floods with little or no food and water at all.

Sufferings are all around us, dear Father. Hear our pleas, especially the cries of children, of mothers, and of elderlies.

It is true that we are partly to be blamed for these sufferings as we have refused to alter our lifestyles that destroy the environment. Worst of all, of our refusal to take an active part in choosing and electing credible leaders in government.

Like the people of Ephesus, we are good at speaking out against wickedness but have merely remained at the sides, preferring to stay in our comfort zones.

Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Revelation 2:4-5

Fill us with your Holy Spirit, Father, to courageously follow your Son Jesus Christ on the street as he passes by like that blind man sitting by the roadside begging; but, upon hearing Jesus was passing by, he left the roadside to come to Jesus on the street.

Like him, we pray, “Lord, please let me see” (Lk.18:41). Amen.

Image from pinterest.com.

Holding on to God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 16 July 2020
Isaiah 26:7-9, 11, 16-19 >><)))*> + <*(((><< Matthew 11:28-30
Photo by author, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel of the Holy Family, Guiguinto, Bulacan, 08 December 2019.

Your words today, O God our Father, are very comforting and consoling, so reassuring of your love and mercy for us sinners, giving us new life in you as we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Like the Israelites living in exile because of their own making when they turned away from you in sins worshiping false gods, we also admit our sinfulness and failures in standing up for what is true and just, in being faithful to you.

Help us to rise again, heavenly Father, breathe into us your life-giving Spirit specially at this time we feel so down and crushed not only by COVID-19 pandemic but by public officials concerned only with their well-being and whims forgetting the people they are supposed to serve.

We conceived and writhed in pain, giving birth to wind. Salvation we have not achieved for the earth, the inhabitants of the world cannot bring it forth. But your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise; awake and sing, you who lie in the dust. For your dew is a dew of light, and the land of shades gives birth.

Isaiah 26:18-19

If there is anything we would want to have these days, it is rest, O Lord.

A lightening of our load and burdens.

But why another yoke, Jesus?

Forgive us Jesus when we feel negative with yoke because they always portray to us images of slavery and oppression. Open our eyes, Lord, as we come closer to you to take your yoke because you not only help us carry our burdens but most of all, your yoke gives us direction in our path back to the Father.

May your Blessed Mother of Mount Carmel help us to hold on to God in this hour of darkness in our lives as individuals and as a nation. Amen.

Photo by author, Our Lady of Mount Carmel of the Holy Family, Guiguinto, Bulacan, November 2019.

A prayer for the ordination of the first priest of our Parish

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

Tuesday, Feast of Our Lady of Loreto, 10 December 2019

Isaiah 40:1-11 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> Matthew 18:12-14

Pope Francis prays at the Holy House of Loreto during his pilgrimage on 25 March 2019. Photo from Vatican News.

How comforting are your words, O Lord, and the celebrations we are having today: the Feast of the Our Lady of Loreto and the ordination to the priesthood of our three deacons in the diocese.

It is a very special day for us parishioners of your “beloved disciple”, Lord, because one of the ordinandi is our first priest, Rev. Fr. Roel Aldwin C. Valmadrid.

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.

Isaiah 40:1

To comfort, Lord, is not only to relax and soothe but most of all, to strengthen, cum fortis.

Thank you for comforting us, our loving God with the gift of the first priest of the parish. Despite our many sins and shortcomings as a parish community, you blessed us with a priest, with another coming next year!

Thank you also Lord for comforting our three new priests. Finally, after more than a year of darkness, we see light today with their ordination.

May our new priests give comfort to your people, Lord, for many of them are lost, tired, and confused, “like sheep without a shepherd”.

Most of all, comfort my former seminarian, my parishioner and now a priest, Fr. Roel Aldwin.

You know very well the many trials Fr. Roel Aldwin had faced before this day came: of how his future looked so dark and uncertain with the death of Bishop Jose last year, and after being ordained deacon last June, some wayward souls have tried to destroy his reputation with lies and false accusations.

Comfort, Fr. Roel, Lord, comfort him and teach him to forgive whoever those people have maligned him. Make him realize that trials and tribulations, pains and sufferings are the stuff you allow to come our way as priests in preparing us for bigger and greater mission.

And where else, dearest Jesus, can we truly find more comfort but in the warmth and assuring love of your holy home in Nazareth with St. Joseph and Mother Mary that was miraculously transported to Loreto, Italy in 1260!

It is so difficult to understand, even believe, how your holy house in Nazareth would be carried by angels across the seas into Loreto; yet, it is very comforting and reassuring to hear stories by pilgrims there, including Pope Francis who all claimed to have felt, to have been “comforted” in visiting your holy earthly dwelling place.

Yes, dear Jesus, it is very comforting to realize how you would do everything like a shepherd leaving behind 99 sheep in the hills to look for the lone stray one.

Fill Fr. Roel Aldwin, Fr. Laurence and Fr. Howard with your strength and love so they can comfort many people and lead them back to you, Lord Jesus as your priests. Amen.

Diaconal Ordination of Rev. Howard, Fr. Roel Aldwin, and Rev. Laurence at the Malolos Cathedral, 12 June 2019.

“Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories” are recipes for troubled hearts and lonely souls

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 20 November 2019

A chef is basically a person who loves people. And that is why for any chef, cooking is both a passion and an art. His menu are not only meant to feed the body but most especially enrich the heart and soul of every diner.

Welcome to Netflix original series “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories”!

Each episode is exactly like every recipe the main character called “Master” dishes out to his patrons and customers who come from all walks of life with their unique burdens and story to share and eventually, resolve after tasting his fresh and easy to cook meals.

Midnight Diner is as Japanese as the ramen and sake the Master serves his guests. Everything is in Nihongo with English subtitles that demand one’s total attention to understand the conversations briefly interspersed with first person accounts by the Master.

At the opening, the Master gives us the warm and nice ambience of the series set at midnight until seven in the morning for people who do not wish to go home straight after their office hours.

It turns out that they are not only looking for good food but for warm company as well which the Master ably provides with his total attention and communion.

Very interesting to note that the Master is a celibate, reason why he can devote himself wholly to his diners, listening to their joys and sorrows, victories and defeats. So far, from what I have seen in its two seasons, he has no love interests although it won’t be surprising if in the third season he turns out to be a character from one of Murakami’s novels or short stories.

Though he is a fictional character, he is rightly called “Master” for his commanding presence that is not intimidating but so warm and gentle, so unlike the celebrity chefs we see on TV.

The Master can cook anything, including fancy corndogs and pancakes that are very American. He always has a “menu of the day” as title of each episode.

Should anyone ask for any kind of dish, he willingly prepares it subject to availability of ingredients that turns out he always has or sometimes, like a true chef, finds other alternatives just to fulfill a customer’s cravings. In one episode, a patron comes nightly with his own three pieces of bread so the Master can make him “yakisoba sandwiches” — exactly how we Filipinos eat pancit with another carbohydrate!

What makes the series so good is that the Master is more than a chef — he is the Tokyo counterpart of Paris’ Cafe Anglais famed lady chef “Babette” of the 1987 Danish film “Babette’s Feast” and James Taylor’s 1977 hit single “Handy Man” rolled into one.

More than the food he passionately serves, the Master delights and comforts every troubled heart and lonely soul longing for love and relationships, forgiveness and kindness they finally find in his Midnight Diner.

Most of all, neither the Master nor his food is the main focus of each episode but the story of every customer who comes to his diner at the most unholiest hours – between 12 midnight and seven in the morning – searching for food for their souls!

Mainstays of the Midnight Diner.

Helping the Master in processing every customer are his interesting mix of characters of regular patrons: LGBTQ members, career ladies mostly single, retirees, professional gamblers and of course, Yakuza gang members.

They are the Master’s “secret spices” who bring out all the flavors and aroma of every customer’s life story like a widowed lawyer searching for his lost step brother to a nightclub stripper sought and saved from miserable life by her high school teacher suffering the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes they act like the Master’s garnishings, adding taste and beauty with some sprinklings of life lessons to lost customers.

Though most stories are understandably peculiar to Japanese culture, they all touch a common chord within us for our basic need of acceptance which the Master warmly provides like his steaming hot dishes.

Unlike most TV series, Midnight Diner’s pacing is so fast and without any pretensions that prevent it from becoming dragging and boring. In less than 30 minutes, each episode is deftly resolved just as magically how the Master came out with a superb meal from his limited resources and tiny kitchen.

But the best attraction of the show is how the viewer eventually finds one’s self warmly welcomed into the diner, laughing or crying, sympathizing or objecting to whatever situation is presented by every guest.

It is a very lovely series that transcends language barriers and cultures because it nourishes and warms our soul that never rest nowadays due to the demands of modern living. Somehow, inside the little Midnight Diner, there is always a space welcoming everyone including us viewers to unwind and be fulfilled with good food, nice people, and meaningful conversations.

Hoping for the next season soon.

Irasshaimase!

Our Joy In Mary As Mother

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Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in France.  Photo by my former student at ICSB-Malolos, Architect Philip Santiago during his pilgrimage there last September.  Used with permission.

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Monday, 11 February 2019, Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes
Isaiah 66:10-14///John 2:1-11

            God our loving Father, when your Son Jesus Christ came to save us, He did not only give Himself for us but even gave us His Mother, Mary to be our Mother too.  How wonderful that three years before His “hour” on the Cross, Jesus showed us a glimpse of His immense love for us through His mother at the wedding feast of Cana.

            His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn.2:5).

            Most of all, what is most beautiful on this memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes when she appeared there in 1858 to St. Bernadette Soubirous as the Immaculate Conception, we also celebrate today the World Day of the Sick to remind us “to see in our sick brothers and sisters the face of Christ who, by suffering, dying and rising, achieved the salvation of humankind” as per St. John Paul II in his later on May 13, 1992.

            Help us O Lord to do whatever you tell us especially for the sick, giving them comfort “like a mother to her son so that their bodies shall fluorish like the grass” (Is.66:13-14).  May we be a mother like Mary to everyone, always “concerned” with the good of each one like during that wedding at Cana.

            O what a joy indeed for us to have Mary as our Mother too like a spring leading us to Jesus who refreshes us, heals us, and frees us.  Amen.  Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.

Advent is the Comfort of God

marpakids2.jpg
The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe-Prayer
Tuesday, 11 December 2018, Advent Week 2
Isaiah 40:1-11///Matthew 18:12-14

            I can strongly feel your words today, God our loving Father:  “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.” (Is.40:1-2)

            If there is one thing I long for today, Lord, one thing I strongly desire from you is comfort.  I am so tired and exhausted.  Nobody seem to care at all for your ways or for what is good except for what is self-serving.  Deafening and maddening are the cacophony of so many voices shouting for what should be, insisting on everyone’s own idea of what is good that at the moment it is better to be silent in your presence.

              Strengthen me, Almighty God, for that is what comfort is, “cum fortis” – with strength. Give me comfort to carry on, to strive, to be patient, to bear all pains in silence so that in due time as you shall will, I may rise to strike in your perfect time my enemies who try to divide your flock.

               Like your Son our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, give me determination to seek the lost and the tenderness to carry them back on my shoulders to your fold.  AMEN.Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II,Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria,Bulacan 3022.

*Photo by Jim Marpa, 2018.  Used with permission.

LMC