Praying for empathy

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Wednesday, Week-I, Year-I in Ordinary Time, 13 January 2021
Hebrews 2:14-18     <*(((><<   + + +   >><)))*>     Mark 1:29-39
Photo by author, December 2020.

Today O Lord I pray for the grace of empathy, for the gift of being one with others in pain and suffering, of being one with those who are lost and confused, of sharing in the plight and burdens of others.

Thank you, dear Jesus, in teaching us something very valuable that we often overlook about empathy which is more that just a feeling, of writing or sharing a post on social media about the miseries of some people.

Remind us that empathy is first of all being one with You, dear Jesus, who first empathized with us when You chose to suffer and die on the Cross, overcoming so many temptations of turning away from the Father, looking more into Your own good and benefit, forgetting the suffering humanity.

Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, that he might be merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Hebrews 2:17-18

Far from being a contradiction as we have used to believe, Your suffering and dying as the Messiah revealed to us has the Father’s immense love for us, proving that You, dear Jesus is truly the Son of God who went through His pasch to become our perfect intercessor.

May we imitate the brothers Simon and Andrew, James and John who “immediately told” You of Peter’s sick mother-in-law, a perfect example of empathizing in and through You, Lord.

Most of all, may we always follow you, seek you, and be one with you so we may truly empathize with the poor and suffering by remaining united and one in You to the Father.

He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him. Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.

Mark 1:35

That is the essence of empathy: being one with the Father in Jesus to be one with everyone. Empathy is not doing everything by ourselves but doing only as much as we can in You. May we keep that in our minds for failure to be one with You will never be an empathy but simply be playing hero and “wannabe”. Amen.

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, 2016.

Mary in the hiddenness of God

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 10 September 2020
Chapel of the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem where the Holy Family hid before fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s murder of innocent babies. According to tradition, a drop of milk from the Virgin Mary fell on the floor of the cave that turned color of the stones to white.

We have just celebrated the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most perfect example of one who had experienced God’s hiddenness in her life, teaching us with some important lessons in rediscovering and keeping God’s hiddenness specially in this age of social media when everything is shown and has to be seen.

We have mentioned in our previous blog that hiddenness is different from being invisible that simply means “not visible”; hiddenness is more than not being seen per se but that feeling with certainty that God is present though hiding because he wants to surprise us. If God were not hidden, we would have not found him at all. And the more God is hidden, the more we are able to see him and experience him too as seen in the life of Mary (https://lordmychef.com/2020/09/04/the-hiddenness-of-god/).

The hiddenness of Mary.

Simplicity and humility of Mary as venue for the perfect setting of God’s coming in Jesus Christ. Consider her origins: her town of Nazareth in the province of Galilee was definitely outside the more popular city of Jerusalem that was the place to be at that time. Most of all, it is the only town in the New Testament never mentioned in the Old Testament nor by the prophets for lack of any significance in the coming of the Messiah.

Nazareth was largely unknown with some hint of notoriety as expressed by Nathanael (aka, Apostle Bartholomew) when he expressed disbelief to Philip who told him they have found the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, by saying “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

Photo by author of chapel at the grotto believed where Mary received the good news of bearing Jesus Christ in her womb underneath the Basilica of the Annunciation at Nazareth, Israel (2019).

But that is how God works in his hiddenness, coming to us in the most ordinary places and circumstances, even least expected like Mary who was definitely not “in” if we go by today’s popular standard of “who’s in and who’s out?”

In fact, she was so “outside” the circle of influence of their time with her being promdi as we say these days, without any illustrious lineage to be proud of like her spouse Joseph who was from the royal Davidic line or her cousin Elizabeth from the priestly branch of Aaron, the brother of Moses whose husband, Zechariah belonged to another priestly clan in Israel.

Yet, God chose Mary to be the Mother of Jesus Christ because of her hiddenness expressed in her simplicity and humility. It is a far cry from our extreme “Marianism” when we almost worship Mary forgetting Jesus Christ her Son and our Savior! Worst still is the growing trend of “triumphalism” in many parishes racing for the so-called “episcopal” and “canonical” coronation of their various images of the Virgin Mary that come in all kinds of names and titles that has come to look more of a fad than authentic Marian devotion.

Without any intentions of denigrating the role and stature of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our faith as well as her proper place in the life of the Church defined by Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, I dare ask the following questions:

Photo by author, a replica of Our Lady of the Poor of Banneux, Belgium at Girlstown, Cavite (2009).

Is her coronation in heaven as Queen of heaven and earth not enough?

Why the need for these lavish spectacles for the coronation of the most simplest and humblest woman to have lived on earth?

It is a clear case of triumphalism – that exaggeration or overdoing our worship and rituals – especially if the Marian image is less than 200 years old without widespread devotions like the ones at Sto. Domingo (Quezon City) and Manaoag (Pangasinan).

I do not think the Blessed Mother would favor this considering her simplicity and solidarity with the poor and marginalized peoples seen in her many apparitions.

See the quaint and charming simplicity of Mary at Fatima in Portugal (1917) and lately at Banneux in Liege, Belgium (1933) where she identified herself as “Lady of the Poor”.

Note how the Virgin Mary reads “the signs of the times” in her apparitions and appearances when during the 1500’s at the height of European royalties and expeditions, she was always portrayed as victorious in regal clothes; but since Fatima in the 20th century as the world sank into the excesses of Industrial Revolution and affluence, Mary appeared simple, always in solidarity with the poor and suffering.

It is a cue we are sorely missing and sad to say, instead of renewing the world as St. Paul had asked us, we have allowed ourselves with the Mother of God to be transformed into the ways of the world by immersing in its showbiz frenzies, focusing on the material aspects like expensive clothes and jewelries.

Second example of Mary’s hiddenness is her oneness with Jesus Christ. She was never on her own, always seen in Jesus, with Jesus her Son and Lord. She believed in him so much, making him the focus at the wedding feast at Cana as well as at the foot of the Cross where she expressed in the most strongest terms her solidarity with the Savior of the world.

This has always been insisted by the Church since Vatican II regarding our devotions to Mary that must always be in relation with Jesus and his mission — never on her own.

Photo by author, 2019.

In all her apparitions, the Blessed Mother has always been consistent with her messages of conversion and return to God through her Son Jesus Christ, the frequent reception of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession or Reconciliation.

Mary’s Christocentricity is best seen in her oneness with him in pains and sufferings like in the Pieta and the Mater Dolorosa where Jesus is the one standing out, not her. Nor anybody else.

When Mary, or anybody else for that matter goes on one’s own, Jesus is no longer hidden but removed from the scene. Then his Cross disappears and all that is seen is Mary in all her “beauty and glory” that are empty, very secular because these attributes come precisely from her communion in Jesus!

Perhaps, this pandemic is teaching us today to review our Marian devotions and processions that have become more of a show and a spectacle for Instagram than for deepening of our faith.

I pray that the Cofradia that holds the annual December 8 processions at Intramuros would take a rest this year until 2022 to discern their noble efforts before that have degenerated to pomp and pageantry among “devotees” specially camareros and camareras trying to outshine and outclass each other with some participation at the sidelights of their pastors and sacristans.

Keeping the hiddenness of God while we remain hidden in contemplation.

Of all the qualities of Mary we all must imitate to help people rediscover God’s hiddenness is her being hidden in prayer and contemplation.

St. John Paul II noted in Rosarium Virginis Mariae when he launched the Luminous Mysteries in 2002 that although the scriptures are silent about where was Mary during the other significant moments of the life of Jesus, especially at the institution of the Holy Eucharist, it was most likely that Mary was also present deep in prayer.

This we find clearly at the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary while they were praying at the Upper Room in Jerusalem (Acts 1:13-14).

Modern rendition of the Pentecost with Mary among the other disciples of Jesus. From Google.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI shares with us his profound insight in his second Jesus of Nazareth book series (Birth of Jesus) how after the annunciation of the the birth of Christ to Mary, the angel left her totally without ever coming back to warn or instruct her unlike with Joseph. After saying “Yes” to the plan of God to be the Mother of Jesus, Mary immersed herself deep in prayers and contemplation, becoming hidden herself in God.

Since then, she never doubted Jesus her Son as the Christ, nurturing her faith with prayers beautifully expressed by St. Luke in saying how “Mary treasured things in her heart” when facing difficult situations like during his birth and his finding at the temple. It is not surprising that in the contemplation by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Risen Lord must have first appeared to his Mother upon rising from the dead because she was the first to believe totally in him (which became the basis of our tradition of the Salubong).

Mary has always been present in the hiddenness of Christ from his coming in the darkness of the night on a manger in Bethlehem, to his hidden years in Nazareth, to his ministry when he would always retreat to a deserted place to pray, to his Crucifixion and death and burial on Good Friday and finally, in the darkness of Easter.

In this age of social media where everyone and everything has to be seen and shown with nothing hidden anymore even without qualms and shame at all, part of our mission and ministry as priests and religious is to lead people back to God’s hiddenness like the Virgin Mary so they may realize anew that the best things in this life are not always seen.

To fulfill this is for us first of all to imitate God like Mary — be hidden!

How unfortunate that instead of leading the people back to God’s hiddenness, we priests and religious have in fact joined the secular world, imitating the “influencers” like bloggers and vloggers that instead of focusing on God who is hidden, we are concerned with our selves and all the “porma” for the sake of number of “likes” and “followers” we have in our posts.

The more we try so hard to make God visible in our ministry by imitating the styles and gimicks of some media personalities that make our liturgy look like a variety show complete with song and dance numbers with our altars heavily decorated like a studio set with giant tarpaulins like in EDSA, that is when we remove God totally – not only his hiddenness – from the scene and inverse proportionately, the more we priests and pastors become more popular than the Lord himself.

“The Assumption of the Virgin” by Italian Renaissance painter Titian completed in 1518 for the main altar of Frari church in Venice. Photo from wikidata.org.

And that is how cults begin, with or without Jesus. It is very sad, even tragic and ironic because we have removed God himself – even Mary! – by unconsciously making ourselves the center of attention like pop icons and idols.

Mary had shown us the most perfect example of discipleship which is more of Jesus, less of self.

Can we not post without using our own pictures – no matter how profound our thoughts are – so the people may see the hiddenness of God in a photo of a lovely flower or a magnificent sunset? Unless you are a bishop or the Pope himself, having your photo published specially in the news is part of the information process about the person in focus. It is totally different in Church communications which is all about God and his message of love, not us.

The quarantine period invites us in the Church to appreciate and share this wonderful hiddenness of God by first becoming incognito, unknown and hidden from others, preferring to be at the background or “behind the camera” as we follow God in his hiddenness until we go to that great beyond of totally hidden from everybody except God.

Do not worry. We have Mary in every step along the way. Amen.

Maturity in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Week XXII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 02 September 2020
1 Corinthians 3:1-9 <*(((><< || + || >><)))*> Luke 4:38-44
Van Gogh’s “The Sower” from wikimediacommons.org.

Thank you very much, Lord Jesus Christ for the words by St. Paul today that remind us of something hidden among us, something we take for granted that prevents us from maturing fully in you as disciples which is our tendency towards factionalism.

While there is jealousy and rivalry among you, are you not of the flesh, and walking according to the manner of man? Whenever someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely men? What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3:3-6, 9

So many times, we remain “infants” in our spirituality as we continue to see more of ourselves and of other persons than YOU, O Lord, in our mission and ministry. Instead of being united as one, we move towards being on our own, towards factions so we can choose whom to follow among us.

There are times we forget we are your stewards, that we are all co-workers in your field that we try to “own” everything, specially people and God himself. We idolize people, setting you aside from the whole picture.

We cannot let go of our labels and tags for each other, forgetting the more essential name of being Christians, of just belonging to YOU alone.

Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us also when we try so hard to always “keep you” or “box” you like the people of Capernaum who tried to prevent you from leaving their town for selfish interests like healing of the sick.

Let us grow deeper in your mind, Lord Jesus Christ by reaching out to more people to proclaim your good news of salvation meant for everyone. Amen.

We are disciples of a meek and humble Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
XIVth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 05 July 2020
Zechariah 9:9-10 >><)))*> Romans 8:9, 11-13 >><)))*> Matthew 11:25-30
From Google.

We now come to the conclusion of our series of teachings of Jesus about discipleship that began two Sundays ago when he asked us not to be afraid and to be “possessed” or overtaken by him to fulfill our mission of proclaiming his good news of salvation.

And so, we now ask, “Why should we follow Jesus and be his disciples, forgetting our very selves and still carry our cross? Have we not suffered enough especially in this pandemic?”

His answer: because unlike other lord and master, Jesus is the only one who is meek and humble of heart, full of compassion to everyone!

He is the only one truly with us in our pains and cries because before all these trials have come to us, Jesus was there first to suffer and die for us on the Cross so we can share in the grace and peace of his Resurrection, calling us with these comforting words….

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Our desire for everything “lite” and easy

If there is anything that we all want at this time is a rest, a break from the heavy burdens 2020 has brought upon us all as individuals and as a nation, not only in the country but the whole world.

We all want things to be “light” and easy like before COVID-19.

The world has long been offering us everything that is “light” (also spelled as “lite”), claiming it to be the key to a healthy and fulfilling life that many products are labelled as lite — from cooking oil to mayonnaise, cheese and ice cream, soda and even brandy, beer, and cigarettes!

But they are all lies!

We still get fat and even sickly with those lite products because being light does not necessarily mean removing or taking away things that are heavy and “toxic” or difficult. Being light does not mean free from responsibilities and duties, or not having a cross and sufferings in life.

Life is difficult as M. Scott Peck insists in The Road Less Travelled, telling us that the sooner we accept this reality, the better we are in life.

It is the truth Jesus Christ has long been telling us, so timely to be reminded again this first Sunday of the second half of 2020 as we continue to hurdle more difficulties ahead in fighting COVID-19 as well as in dealing with a hosts of other problems it had created in the many aspects of our lives.

Today, the Lord is telling us that to be light in life, we have to come to him, be his disciple by taking his yoke and learning from him.

We all know from experience that anything becomes light, especially a burden and a problem, when shared with someone who loves us, someone who cares for us, someone who believes in us. Many times, our problems and burdens need not be solved at all; they simply have to be shared with any one willing to accompany us.

Being light in life is having a companion to share with our burdens and woes because having these all by ourselves is indeed so difficult and impossible. That is the literal meaning of the Latin origin of the word companion – cum panis – someone you break bread with in a journey.

Jesus Christ is that only companion par excellence we can have for he is meek and humble of heart

Photo by Ezra Acayan of Getty Images, Baclaran Church, February 2020.

The gentle mastery of Jesus Christ

In the past two Sundays, Jesus spoke about ourselves and our dispositions to become his disciples. This Sunday, he speaks about himself as our Lord and Master, describing himself as “meek and humble of heart”.

Earlier at the start of his preaching in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of true blessedness in the Beatitudes that actually gave us an image of himself as the Blessed One. Each beatitude speaks of Jesus Christ being poor in spirit, being meek, being merciful, being clean of heart, being a peacemaker, and being persecuted.

See that the third beatitude is how he also described himself today in the gospel, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the land” (Mt. 5:5).

Very interesting is the fact that in his Sermon on the Mount when he preached the Beatitudes, Jesus was presenting himself to the people as the “new Moses” who gave them the Ten Commandments of God at Mount Sinai. As the most towering figure among the Jews, Moses is also described as “very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3)!

Meekness of Jesus: focusing more on persons than letters of the law

In calling us to come to him to take his yoke and learn from him for he is meek and humble of heart, Jesus is telling us that indeed, he is the new Moses in whom pure goodness is found. And even more surpassing than Moses because Jesus himself is the Law and its fulfillment. Unlike in Moses wherein the people focused more on the letters of the laws, Jesus our Lord insists more on the person, always reminding us that “Sabbath was created for man, not man for sabbath.”

But the most beautiful key in understanding the meekness of Jesus is found in our first reading which we also hear proclaimed on Palm Sunday:

Thus says the Lord: Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem.

Zechariah 9:9-10a
Photo from Google of an ass considered as the dumbest creature on earth.

Unlike the proud masters and rulers of the world, Jesus our Lord and King entered Jerusalem riding on an ass in fulfillment of this part of the Old Testament.

Here we find Jesus as the exact opposite of the kings and rulers of the world whose kingship does not depend on political and military might, no exercise of brute force and power characterized by the chariots and horses of his time.

Meekness of Jesus: oneness with us his people

In this beautiful imagery of Jesus riding an ass considered as the dumbest creature on earth we find Christ’s inmost being of humility and meekness before God and men. No display of arrogance and shameless feelings of entitlements like our officials in the government and military. Most of all, Jesus riding on an ass illustrates his oneness with us all because the ass is the means of transportation of the poor, of the common tao.

Here is the meekness and humility of Jesus Christ — his being one with us in our brokenness and poverty, pains and hurts. You can really experience him especially in this time of the corona when everything seems to be getting worst than better, when everybody is trying to make ends meet amid the economic crisis with Jesus never abandoning us in our darkest moments of uncertainties, fears, hunger, and sadness.

At the rate things are going, we have nobody else to turn to at this time but Jesus our Lord. We have to muster all our faith in him, deepen ourselves in prayer because we cannot rely on our officials who cannot even get a clear data on COVID-19 infections nor even a sound plan in addressing this pandemic despite the longest days of lockdown in the world and loans from abroad.

And we all feel so hopeless, disgruntled and so disgusted especially with the public officials and those from congress and the police who are oblivious to our sufferings and hardships in this time of the corona as they shamelessly flaunt their privileges and exception to the rules.

How can we heal as one when in the first place they are not one with us?

Discipleship in Christ is life in the Holy Spirit

Despite all the irresponsibilities and inanities of the government, we choose to be like our Lord and Master Jesus Christ in bearing all pains and hardships in his holy name, always hoping that this experience can lead us to more meaningful lives as citizens of the republic.

We choose the path of non-violence despite the government’s militaristic response to the crisis aggravated by the legislative’s dangerous foray into more draconian measures to silence critics of the administration.

It is so tempting to fight back and forget all about meekness and humility but that is not the way of Jesus Christ.

In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us of the fundamental choice that lies before every disciple of the Lord: to live in solidarity with Christ empowered by his Spirit, or to live in solidarity with the old humanity enslaved to sin.

May we choose Jesus because he alone is meek and humble of heart, in him alone can we find rest because his yoke is easy and his burden light. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Angelo Nicolas Carpio, 2020.

St. Paul in time of COVID-19: need for pastoral communication

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 11 June 2020
Painting by Raphael (1515) of St. Paul preaching at Areopagus in Athens, Greece. From wikipedia.

With houses of worship still closed despite the opening of most business establishments, here is the final installment of reflection in our series on how the life and teachings of St. Paul may help us in our ministry during this time of COVID-19 amid a perceived government “persecution” of the Catholic Church.

There is no doubt that like during his time, St. Paul would be using modern means of communication to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ especially in this most trying time of our history, using the internet as the new “Areopagus” with social media in particular.

Then Paul stood up at the Areopagus and said: “You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious. For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To An Unknown God.’ What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all that is in it…”

Acts of the Apostles 17:22-24

Social Communication

Perhaps before we go into our reflection, it is imperative especially for bishops and priests to be reminded anew of some important terms in communications; this is more than about names or nomenclature because for as long these terms of communications are not clear with us, all our evangelization efforts would be askewed as it is now showing with an explosion of online Masses and other religious celebrations.

First priority is to stop using the words “mass media” and even “social media” in our church communications because these are very limited in scope and context.

It is important to note that in the 2000-year history of the Church, it was only in Vatican II that we have issued a conciliar document on communication wherein the Fathers also introduced the term social communication as a new name for communications in the Church.

How sad that there are still bishops and priests using the terms “mass media” or “media” and lately “social media” when more than 50 years ago the Church through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit coined social communication to refer to “the communication of and in human society including all the ways and means used in this process” (Fr. Franz-Josef Eilers, svd, 2009 BISCOM-FABC, Bangkok).

Social communication is a very prophetic term because it is theological and rooted in God who is communication himself, sharing with us his power to communicate so we may also communicate with him and with others. Most of all, God continues to communicate with us and from that lies our task as a Church to communicate him to the world.

This is the reason why we have to keep on using this term “social communication” in our Church communications to keep us Christocentric, meaning, every communication in the Church and by the Church has Jesus as Message.

And that is essentially the kind of communication process followed by St. Paul the Apostle. In fact, reviewing his letters and the various accounts about him would show us that early, this great apostle has been into social communication, specifically “pastoral communication” that is an emerging field in Church communications whose realities have long been espoused by St. Paul himself.

Pastoral Communication

Pastoral communication is anchored on Jesus Christ, the “Good Shepherd” who sets himself as the norm and standard of our Church communications.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.”

John 10:11, 14-15
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

St. Paul has always been very clear with this in all his communications that towards the end of his life, he had beautifully written his disciple this wonderful piece:

Beloved: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; per persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient… For I 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.”

2 Timothy 4:1-2, 6-7

Communicating Jesus Christ is always about self-sacrifice, about giving of one’s self like our Lord and Master. In whatever form of communication we use, it is always a call to “enflesh” the Word. In short, communication is spirituality that indicates the kind of relationship we have with God. How we reflect that relationship with God in words and in deeds, in our clothings and everything is communication.

Like St. Paul, he was able to offer himself wholly to God as reflected in his writings and preaching because he was more concerned with the needs of the flock and not with his own needs.

And this is where I sadly feel our bishops sorely absent and silent except for just two, Lingayen-Dagupan’s Archbishop Soc Villegas and Manila’s Apostolic Administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo.

Where are the other bishops?

Business establishments are almost all opening, even dine-in restaurants and yet, until now for no valid reason, the government continues to ban religious mass gatherings except for maximum of ten persons in areas under GCQ.

When are the bishops and priests going to speak out against this and open the churches so people may be spiritually nourished?

What an auspicious time for the clergy and hierarchy to speak against this continued closure of churches as we are on the eve of our 500th year of Christianization when under serious persecution. Has the Church grown timid in the face of an unfriendly government?

Worst are some priests who seem to follow more the secular world in their digital presence but empty of Jesus Christ, concerned only with popularity measured in number of likes and shares as well as followers.

Many of us have become more of personalities than as priests and ministers, unconsciously trying to be more popular than the Lord himself that we no longer have sacrifice of the Mass but a variety show, complete with sound effects and digital characters, some wit dance numbers and raffles!

When God is displaced, then our love is misplaced, then, we lose all communications too.

Communication is more than the expression of ideas and the indication of emotion. At its most profound level it is the giving of self in love. Christ’s communication was, in fact, spirit and life.  In the institution of the Holy Eucharist, Christ gave us the most perfect and most intimate form of communion between God and man possible in this life, and, out of this, the deepest possible unity between men. Further, Christ communicated to us His life-giving Spirit, who brings all men together in unity. The Church is Christ’s Mystical Body, the hidden completion of Christ Glorified who “fills the whole creation”.  As a result we move, within the Church and with the help of the word and the sacraments, towards the hope of that last unity where “God will be all in all”. 

Communio et Progressio # 11
From Google.

Problem with online Masses and religion

Every communication presupposes presence. That is essentially the meaning of God’s “I AM” in the burning bush to Moses and the “I AM” declarations by Jesus in the New Testament, especially in the fourth gospel where we find him saying “I am the good shepherd”.

Even St. Paul in his letters always began with his standard salutations like “I, Paul…” to indicate his very presence among his “parishioners”.

However, in the digital media, presence is not so essential and can even be faked both ways, either by being “taped” or “replayed” by viewers.

And there lies the great danger of online Masses and other celebrations: whether we like or not, online religious celebrations give the impressions on people that God is a “consummable”, a product or a show that can be had when most convenient to us like video on demand or the streamed shows of Netflix.

That is why we have to open churches soon to stop these online Masses except for those in the Cathedrals and in existence long before COVID-19 that cater to the needs of the sick and elderly in their homes.

Pope Francis has always been clear with this, stressing that these online Masses and religious celebrations are very temporary due to the extraordinary situation brought about by the pandemic.

From Pinterest/Aleteia.

Imagine the problem at Corinth that reached St. Paul’s attention, prompting him to write them another letter to reprimand them but at the same time to encourage them to mend their ways. It was a problem of abusing the Eucharist when St. Paul was no longer with them.

It is the same thing happening in many of our online Masses that have become variety shows to impress viewers. Long before we got into this lockdown, many priests have crossed the boundaries without knowing they have made fools of themselves as they rely more on “likes”, on being viral or trending, dishing out shallow reflections covered with cute song numbers, litany of greetings on air, and so many other inanities that Jesus is lost in the process.

Unfortunately, many laypeople are now also having their own digital preaching or evangelization with their own “productions” taking their cue from their showbiz pastors.

If St. Paul were with us today, he would surely write again to express his dismay at the people seeking more of entertainment than having Jesus Christ.

“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere and pure commitment to Christ. For I think that I am not in any way inferior to these “superapostles”. Even if I am untrained in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.

2 Corinthians 11:3, 5-6

Church communication is Jesus Christ and his Cross as St. Paul reminds us in his writings (1Cor.15:1-3); it is never about techniques or gadgets.

Though we need to be present online, the cutting edge of real communication remains in pastoral communication that means being present with others who need us most including those without internet access, witnessing to the values of Jesus in relating with people, bringing people together into a communion and helping them find answers in their search for meaning and directions in life, in making the right choices and in living their convictions and faith.

What we are speaking of are real people, persons and lives that matter so much, more precious than goods and commodities.

Let us not fall into the trappings of this “media revolution” that made one futurologist describe our contemporary society as

Technologically Intoxicated Zone defined by the complicated and often paradoxical relationship between technology and our search for meaning.

John Naisbitt

According to Naisbitt and other experts, while people prefer quick fixes online of everything, from religion to nutrition, while at the same time fearing and worshipping technology that had blurred the distinction of what is real and fake, the more they live their lives distanced and distracted — something we are already seeing even before the coming of social distancing!

To communicate in the Church at this time is to imitate St. Paul: be present for and with the people wherein we help them find their way to God by being their companions and “co-journeyers” in life, witnessing to them the Cross of Jesus Christ with our very lives as an offering and sacrifice, not as a commodity or a show to be “liked” on Facebook and Instagram.

And, lest we forget, it is God whom people must follow and worship, not us.

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.

Ephesians 5:1-2
Pope Francis praying before an empty St. Peter’s Square last March 27, 2020 at the height of COVID-19 in Italy.

Our sense of belonging

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Monday, Easter Week-IV, 04 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 11:1-18 ><)))*> ooo+ooo <*(((>< John 10:11-18

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

One good thing about this COVID-19, O Lord, is how it is teaching us today that we all belong to each other, that we all belong to you, our loving and merciful God.

How wonderful that in the midst of quarantine, the many brothers and sisters we have looked down or taken for granted for so long a time are finally telling us, showing us that in this life, we do not need boundaries or walls but bridges to link us all as one.

We belong to just one flock with one Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

In him alone can we rely and trust because he is the only one who is “the way and the truth and the life.”

Even him tells us in today’s gospel that there are still other sheep who do not belong to our fold of whom he must also look after and guide (Jn.10:16) because ultimately, we all go to one destination in life which is eternity in you, O God, our Father Almighty.

Help us realize like Peter in the first reading that the key is to be inclusive than exclusive. May we see that more than the many superficialities of our color, beliefs, and gender is your Son’s Easter gift of divinity you have shared with us.

May we focus more on our similarities than differences so that we may work and live harmoniously as one big community to never allow this calamity to befall us again. Amen.

From Google.

One mind, one heart, one mission in Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe, Tuesday, Easter Week-II, 21 April 2020

Acts of the Apostles 4:32-37 ><)))*> +++ 0 +++ <*(((>< John 3:7-15

Posted by Marivic Tribiana on her Facebook 18 April 2020 when a huge fire hit “Happyland” in Tondo district, Manila, leaving 450 families homeless with one fatality.
Artwork by Fr. Marc Ocariza using Digital Art Timelapse after seeing photo at left, claiming it was like seeing Jesus Christ carrying the old man as he contemplated the Divine Mercy that Saturday.

Glory and praise to you, O Lord Jesus Christ for coming to us, and continuing to come to us most especially amid this COVID-19 pandemic.

Increase our faith in you, awaken our being “born from above” in you in the Holy Spirit so that we may continue to find you and follow you in the ordinary things that happen to us.

It is not enough that we as a “community of believers be of one heart and mind, having everything in common” (Acts 4:32).

As a community united in you, Lord Jesus, keep us strong in fulfilling our mission from you.

Remind us always that we merely represent you in this mission.

We are not the ones who will change the world but you, O Lord.

Give us the grace to forget ourselves and carry our cross daily so we can follow you more closely every day.

Most of all, give us the courage to seek your ways and follow wherever your Holy Spirit leads us to so we can best serve you without ever thinking of our very selves or anything in return except that we are doing your most holy will. Amen.

The Facebook post by Marivic Tribiana that inspired Fr. Marc to make a digital representation of the scene amid the huge fire with thick, black smokes billowing above visible kilometers ahead in a city under an extended lockdown due to Covid-19.

He dubbed his artwork “Nag-aalab na Pag-Ibig” (Burning Love), an interplay between the raging fire in the area and the burning love of Jesus to the old man being carried.

That is why we need to be “born from above” to be able to understand teachings of Jesus about heavenly things on earth (Jn.3:12), remaining open to leading of the Holy Spirit to follow the Lord closely, not our selves, nor our plans, nor our personal agenda.

In touch Vs. Out of touch

40 Shades of Lent, Sunday Week II-A, 08 March 2020

Genesis 12:1-4 +++ 2 Timothy 1:8-10 +++ Matthew 17:1-9

“Creation of Adam” by Michaelangelo at Sistine Chapel, the Vatican. From Wikipedia.

Touch is a very powerful word – literally and figuratively speaking. We say “we are touched” when we are deeply moved by words or music, gestures, acts, and scenes that need not be so spectacular because to touch is about making a connection, a communion of persons.

A touch can be so powerful that when filled with love and sincerity, it can transform the person being touched. Experts say that a touch of about five seconds is worth more than 300 words of encouragement and praise!

And that is why our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God is a certified “touch person” who always reached out to people by physically touching them, embracing them to make them feel his loving presence, his mercy, and most of all, his healing.

Almost all his healings were done by touching the sick when he would lay his hands on them like with the blind Bartimaeus on the street of Jericho.

There were times Jesus held up the hand of the sick to raise them up from their bed like Peter’s mother-in-law and the daughter of Jairus. Sometimes in rare occasions, Jesus healed in the most bizarre ways with his sense of touch like with that deaf in Decapolis.

He (Jesus) put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”).

Mark 7:33-34

In Nain, Jesus raised to life the son of a widow by touching the coffin – not the dead – by saying, “Young man, I tell you, arise!” that everyone was amazed, saying “the Lord has visited his people”.

Jesus never missed an occasion without personally touching another person, especially the children like when he caught his disciples driving them away.

“Jesus blessing Little Children”, painting by British North American Benjamin West PRA (1781). Photo from wikipedia.

It is perhaps one of the most touching story of Jesus touching others when he told his disciples to “let the children come to me for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, after which he embraced them, laid his hands on them and blessed them.

How blessed were those children must be to be embraced and laid with hands on by Jesus! According to tradition, one of those kids embraced and blessed by Jesus was St. Ignatius of Antioch who became a bishop and martyr in the early Church.

That is the transforming power of the touch by Jesus that children are blessed, the sick are healed by restoring their sight or cleansing their skin of leprosy, forgiving the sinners, giving hope to the poor. His touch is always a part of his proclamation of the good news to the people.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Jesus continues to touch us today in every Mass we celebrate when he first speaks to us in the scriptures, trying to make us feel our “hearts burn inside” like the disciples going home to Emmaus on Easter Sunday; and secondly, when he gives us his Body and Blood to partake in the Holy Eucharist.

Most of all, Jesus continues to literally touch us today through one another in our loving service to one another as a community of his disciples.

But, in this age of social media when every communication is mediated by gadgets and other instruments, this kind of personal communication is something we have all been missing because we have stopped touching Jesus, touching others too.

And this is what the second Sunday of Lent is trying to remind us today in the Transfiguration of Jesus.

Transfiguration of Jesus, communion of God with us

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them… a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

Matthew 17:1-2, 5-7
“Transfiguration of Jesus” by Raphael from wikipedia.

We hear this story of the Transfiguration of Jesus twice every year: the Second Sunday of Lent and the sixth of August for the Feast of the Transfiguration. At this time of the year, the Transfiguration story is heard in relation with the Lord’s coming Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

At his Transfiguration, Jesus made it very clear that his glory and divinity must always be seen in the light of his Cross for it is only with his Cross that he can be correctly recognized as the Christ. It is on the Cross where Jesus truly touches us too in our personhood, in our humanity.

See how the three disciples were seized with fear upon hearing the voice of the Father while a bright cloud cast a vast shadow over them; but, it was right in that “tremendum fascinans” that we also find the intimacy, the closeness of God to us through Jesus Christ when he touched the three disciples.

Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

Matthew 17:7

And that is the good news for us all!

God had chosen to be so close to us in his Son Jesus Christ who touches us most not only in glory but most especially in moments of trials and tribulations! It is on the Cross where humanity and the divine truly become one in Jesus, when that personal and loving touch of Jesus becomes transformative and even performative.

This is the reason St. Paul exhorted Timothy to “bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God” (2Tim.1:8) because oneness with Jesus always starts at the cross!

This is very true with us too when we only come to realize who are our true friends, our BFF’s when they are personally one with us in our trials and tribulations, not only in times we are well and good.

True transformation in Jesus can only happen when we are willing to be one with him, to be in touch with him in his passion and death for it is the only path to his Easter glory of transfiguration.

Touch communication vs. mediated communication

From Forbes.com

How sad that in this age of modern communications that have shrunk the world into a “global village” with instant communications that instead of growing together we have grown more apart than ever from each other.

We have lost real communications that lead to communion of persons or unity of people because we have become more concerned with the techniques of communication, more of skills and gadgets than of persons.

That is the meaning of media or “mediated communication” where there is always a medium between or among persons like cellphones and gadgets.

No more interpersonal relationships, making us more isolated and alienated, leading to growing problems of loneliness, depression, and suicides.

How frustrating sometimes to attend social functions like dinners and weddings where everyone is more busy and interested with their cellphones than with persons beside them!

Aside from isolation from persons, we have also grown “out of touch” with reality itself when more and more people are retreating into their own small worlds like cocoons with wires attached into their ears while their eyes fixated on screens oblivious to the world around them.

We have become so out of touch with ourselves and with others that more and more we are becoming like porcupines – we have not only stopped getting in touch with others but even hurt others if ever we touch them!

From Google.

Parents, lovers, couples, even people we trust like priests and religious sometimes hurt us with their touch instead of healing us, comforting us. Nobody would want to go through the Passion of the Cross anymore that we would rather stay on top of the mountain, of everything to be delighted with our perceived power and glory.

So unlike in our first reading where we get the feel and touch of real encounter in persons between God and Abraham. Note how in just four verses the word “bless” used five times by God to Abraham, promising to bless him more if he leaves his kin to follow him to the land he would give him.

In their conversation, we find a very personal and engaging communication, as if God and Abraham were literally in touch with each other, where there is personal contact and communication.

We know this for a fact at how effective and more reliable are personal interactions in communication than mediated ones through phones and email – personal communications always have that feel and touch that enable us to negotiate further and be more fruitful.

This Season of Lent, the Father is asking us to be in touch with him again by listening to the words of his Son Jesus who asks us only one thing: deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him. Let us heed him, touch him, and allow him to touch us again to be healed and transformed.

May you be touched as you touch also others in the most loving way this Sunday throughout the whole week! Amen.

“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!

Prayer to encourage

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

Tuesday, Memorial of St. Gregory the Great, 03 September 2019

1 Thessalonians 5:1-6, 9-11 ><)))*> ><)))*> Luke 4:31-37

Photo by Jo Villafuerte, Atok, Benguet, 31 August 2019.

“For God did not destine us for wrath, but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with him. Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do.”

1 Thessalonians 5:9-11

Dearest God our Father: Yesterday your words moved me to pray for consolation, to accompany those “alone”. Today, your words call me to “encourage one another and build up one another.”

How beautiful and wonderful indeed are your words, so powerful and fulfilling, indicating your very presence!

In this highly competitive world, it is not enough that we encourage people but also to build them up. From the Latin words “en” and “cor”, literally meaning to hearten or strengthen the heart, there are times that encouragement without community can be misleading and even destructive too.

Encouragement is going within every person, right into one’s heart like in your Son’s exorcism of a man possessed by “unclean demon” who “left the man without harming him” (Lk.4:35). From the heart, true encouragement moves outward to touch others’ hearts to form a community. Every time you heal the sick, Lord, people are moved to build up their families and community.

Encouragement is not pushing people to do and achieve things. Encouragement is bringing others closer to you through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is actually Jesus Christ who encourages for it is him alone who touches hearts and moves them to build up a person, families, and communities.

Like your servant St. Gregory the Great he encouraged not only Christians but also pagans to work for unity and to pursue so many efforts that built up not only persons and families, nations and tribes, monasteries and churches but most of all, an entire civilization now slowly turning away from you.

Fill us with more courage and wisdom, holiness and patience in encouraging one another to build up communities as we await for your joyful coming again. Amen.