Grateful for the gift of Church

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

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

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

“Maintain safe braking distance”

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 03 July 2022
Isaiah 66:10-14 ><}}}*> Galatians 6:14-18 ><}}}*> Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
Photo by d0n mil0 on Pexels.com

One of the most repeated messages you see upon entering North Luzon Expressway in its electronic billboards is the call to “maintain safe braking distance” that, unfortunately, many do not observe, causing accidents daily that result into monstrous jams at the super highway.

That warning to “maintain safe braking distance” is what Jesus Christ is also telling us today in the gospel after the 72 disciples he had sent returned to him, rejoicing at their successes that even demons were subject to them because of the Lord’s name.

Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon the full force of the nemey and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

Luke 10:18-20
From Facebook, April 2021: “There is an urgency to announce the Joy, the joy of the Risen Lord!”

Resolutely determined in the name of Jesus

We have seen last Sunday how Jesus was “resolutely determined” to go to Jerusalem, asking us with the same resolve in following him, imitating him, and doing his work for the people; but, being resolutely determined like him is not about powers but union with the Father.

The “harvest is always abundant” – there are so many things to be done but the most important thing of all is our oneness with God in Jesus Christ. What matters most in discipleship is not the accomplishments we have but relationships we keep with God and one another. St. Mother Teresa said it so well, “We are called to be faithful, not successful.”

That is why Jesus asked us to pray for more laborers, not budget nor gadgets nor things but persons to work in the abundant harvest that refers to the kingdom of God; hence, the Lord’s reminder to “do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” To have our names written in heaven is to be one with God because heaven is about relationship with God, an intimacy with God. Hell is separation from God.

Hence, a disciple can only share and give peace to others when the disciple himself/herself is in good relationships with one’s self, with others and with God.


Photo by Fr. Pop dela Cruz in San Miguel, Bulacan, 15 June 2022.

Peace happens when there is the gift of presence with self, others, and God, implying a loving relationship. This is the very essence of the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians wherein the apostle explained the meaning of being justified in Christ through his Cross: we are saved, our names are written in heaven not by our own doing but by the Lord’s self-giving. Our task is to nurture and deepen these relationships effected by Jesus in his coming to us, in making us one again in the Father. It is very interesting how Paul ended his letter to the Galatians by using his standard greeting in letters:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your sprit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Galatians 6:18

Experts say that Paul could have employed a secretary in writing this letter who altered his style by placing his usual salutations to the ending. On the other hand, other experts believe there is a hidden meaning in the construction of the conclusion, that if we let the grace of Jesus in our relationships, the more we regard each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

When Jesus decided to resolutely determined to go to Jerusalem, his focus was not the place but the people, always stopping to interact with everyone by teaching them, healing the sick and blessing the children.

Photo by author, 19 April 2022, Pangasinan.

As we mature in life, we realize and imitate Jesus in this journey by seeing it more as a direction than a destination. We have experienced how our journey and trips have become more fulfilling and enriching from the more fun and adventure we discover in our many stops and detours than going straight to our destinations. Life is more of seeking directions than fixation on a destination to be reached that becomes very rigid and bereft of meaning and sense that can be found only among fellow human beings, not things.

In the first reading, we find a hint of this direction than destination with the prophecy by Isaiah of the coming home of the exiles to Jerusalem. There is always the joy of coming home but, we cannot all go at the same time, the tension of already here but not yet of heaven. There is always the need of keeping and nurturing our relationships and presence, peace and oneness with one another in Jesus Christ amid the abundant harvest of heaven for us all.


Going back to our analogy of the NLEX reminder of maintaining a safe braking distance, entering the super highway assures us of many directions to take in our journey to Jesus, journey with Jesus. But we have to be alert and careful in our driving, be mindful of others using the roads. We need to be alert and careful in driving to avoid causing accidents and mishaps that could misdirect us to the hospital or, worst, six feet below ground!

In the same manner, we are already in the harvest time, in this time of Christ’s presence and oneness with the Father and with everyone of us. This Sunday, Jesus reminds us to maintain safe braking distance in our many pursuits and attention in our abundant harvests that in the process we have forgotten those dearest to us, those we love and who love us truly. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, Atok, Benguet, September 2019.

My sweet Lord!

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday after the Ascension of the Lord, 02 June 2022
Acts 22:30; 23:6-11     ><]]]]'> + <'[[[[><     John 17:20-26
Photo by author, Chapel of the Most Holy Rosary, SM Grand Central, Caloocan City, 26 May 2022.
Forgive me, Jesus
but my initial reaction upon 
reading today's gospel was to
sing George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord"
because your words are so sweet indeed,
so comforting!

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: “I pray notn only for these, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

John 17:20, 24
Who are we,
who am I to be considered
as a gift to you, my Lord and my God?
Are we not the ones supposed to say 
and claim that you are, dear Jesus, 
the Father's gift to us and not the other
way around?
But, great thanks, sweet Lord Jesus
in taking us as the Father's gifts to you;
deepen in us your gift of faith in you
so we may work hard for the unity you
prayed for us, that we may truly enter 
into a communion with the Father
and one another in you and 
through you.
Do not allow us, dear Jesus
to be divided like the Pharisees and
Sadducees who both claimed to be
the followers of God but could not 
agree on anything about him except 
in being your enemies.
Let us be the visible signs
of your loving service and presence
in this world plagued with so much divisions
and violence as many among us continue
to refuse in seeing each one's giftedness  
in God our Father through you, dear Jesus.
Amen.
Photo by author, Chapel of the Most Holy Rosary, SM Grand Central, Caloocan City, 26 May 2022.

Diversity without the divisions

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Fifth Week of Easter, 18 May 2022
Acts 15:1-6   ><}}}}*> + <*{{{{><   John 15:1-8
Photo by author, February 2022.
Lord Jesus Christ,
you are the "true vine,
we are the branches...
Let us remain in you, 
just as you remain in us"
(John 15:4).
Today I pray for diversity
without the divisions that come
along this beautiful development
among us when we learn to accept
one another amid our many
differences in color and cultures,
traditions and roots.
May we focus more on what is
common among us than on 
what differentiates us from each other.
While it is true that we have to
keep some of our traditions from
the past, make us realize the need
to always assess its centrality to
our faith in you as well as its 
meaningfulness in our practices.
Keep us open and sincere in
keeping up with the signs of the
times without losing sight of
you, dear Jesus as the very
core of our being together
as one Body, one Church.
May we emulate the Apostles
and the presbyters to enter
into a dialogue in resolving
issues of differences among us
(cf. Acts 15:6), a very fine example
of your kind of peace being given 
to us that calls for sacrifices and
dying into one's self, exactly the
meaning of being pruned like
the vine in order to bear much
fruit in you (Jn.15:2-3).
May we always focus on you,
Lord Jesus, so that we may keep
our communion intact amid our 
diversities.  Amen.

Lent – when “staying” and “going” merge in Christ

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Second Sunday in Lent-C, 13 March 2022
Genesisn15:5-2, 17-18 ><}}}*> Philippinas 3:17-4:1 ><}}}*> Luke 9:28-36
Spring blooming of poppies in Galilee near the Nazareth, against the background biblical Mount Tabor, Israel, from iStockphoto.com.

From the desert where Jesus was tempted by the devil last Sunday, Luke now takes us on top of Mount Tabor for the Lord’s Transfiguration.

In the Bible, the mountain is like the desert that signifies a deeper reality and meaning. It is more than a place that shows communion and oneness with God, indicating an inner ascent within us to unite with God especially in this season of Lent.

And like in the temptation of Jesus in the desert last Sunday, it is very interesting how Luke tells us again two important details not mentioned by Mark and Matthew in their versions of the Lord’s Transfiguration:

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.

Luke 9:28-31

First, only Luke tells us the reason why Jesus went up the mountain which is to pray. Here we find that the transfiguration of Jesus is a prayer event. That is why we need to pray always because prayer transfigures us like Jesus Christ.

Second, as Jesus transfigured while praying, only Luke informs us the topic Moses and Elijah discussed with the Lord which is his coming “exodus” or passion, death, and resurrection on Good Friday. When we pray, the more we accept and embrace the Cross that truly transfigures us into becoming like Jesus Christ.

But the problem is, we always refuse and avoid prayer because it is always difficult to pray. Prayer is a discipline. Despite its being a grace from God to be able to pray which he freely gives to each one of us, it is gift that also requires from us total surrender and consistency.

Prayer does not necessarily change things like stop calamities or sickness; prayer primarily changes the person, enabling us to respond properly to problems, trials and sufferings that come to us; hence, prayer in itself is an exodus, a pasch that leads us to transfiguration.

Usually, when we pray we feel nothing is happening, that it is a “waste” of time, of being “idle” in one place that could have been used to other productive activities like fixing one’s problems. But it is in prayer when we first experience how “staying” and “going” merge to become one in Jesus Christ.

This we find in the only detail that Luke shared with Matthew and Mark when Peter woke up and saw Jesus transfigured, conversing with Moses and Elijah.

As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying.

Luke 9:33
Photo from commons.wikimedia.org, mosaic inside the Basilica of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, Israel.

The Transfiguration, a preview of Christ’s glory via his pasch

Very often in life, we want every beautiful and good experience we have to be preserved, wishing they would never end, like Peter asking Jesus if they could just stay on top of the mountain to keep their “cloud nine” experience.

On the other hand, we are quick to beg Jesus to end soonest every pain and suffering, trials and difficulties we are going through in life that if possible, have them erased or deleted from our memories too!

For us, “staying” and “going” are opposites but Jesus is telling us in his transfiguration that these two come together.

In his transfiguration, Jesus is telling us that discipleship is both “staying” and “going” in him. It is only in Christ that we can “keep” the good time of being one with him while we “passover” from life’s many darkness, trials and sufferings by remaining one with him.

After assuring us last Sunday that we can overcome life’s many temptations through him, Jesus tells us today that our transfiguration and glory can only come through the Cross like him. Before Easter comes, there is Good Friday first.

At his transfiguration, Jesus showed us that his divinity belongs with the Cross and cannot be separated because that is his identity as the Suffering Messiah whose glory and pasch are always together. Hence, his transfiguration was the “preview” to his coming glory whereby he remained one in the Father in prayer expressed perfectly in his exodus on Good Friday which Moses and Elijah discussed with him on Mount Tabor.

Recall that his transfiguration occurred after he was recognized by Peter as the Christ while they were at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus also bared for the first time to the Twelve his coming passion, death and resurrection. It was also at that time when Jesus laid to the Twelve the very foundations of discipleship in him which is to forget one’s self, take up one’s cross daily, and follow him.

From Caesarea in Philippi, Jesus and the Twelve made a U-turn to go back to Jerusalem with a stop-over at Mount Tabor for his transfiguration where he reiterated his teachings about himself and his mission. See that during the transfiguration as Peter, James, and John watched in awe, they were frightened when a voice was heard from the cloud that declared “this is my chosen one; listen to him” (v.35).

And what do we hear from Jesus after his transfiguration? His two other predictions of his coming passion, death and resurrection plus his repeated calls to everyone to deny one’s self, to take up one’s cross daily and to come follow him!

It is interesting to note that while the fourth gospel does not have this story of the transfiguration, John rightly refers to the Crucifixion as the “exaltation” of Jesus Christ – his going down, his suffering and dying on the Cross is actually his rising to glory!

The same thing is true to us disciples of Jesus.

Photo from custodia.org, Basilica of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, Israel.

Staying and going in Christ, with Christ

The grace of this second Sunday in Lent when we hear every year the story of Christ’s transfiguration is his assurance of his love for us by going through his exodus which is his self-offering on the Cross.

The question is not whether we should stay or go but are we willing to both stay and go in Jesus, with Jesus? Discipleship is remaining in Jesus, going with Jesus up to the Cross!

According to Luke, Peter, James, and John did not tell to anyone what they saw and heard on Mount Tabor. Like Mary, they kept everything in their hearts as they remained with Jesus, going with him in all his journeys especially at the Garden of Gethsemane before he was arrested, listening to his words and teachings, witnessing and experiencing his many healings and exorcisms including his passion and death from afar except for John.

They never fully understood everything they saw and heard from Jesus until the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost day but, their “staying” and “going” with him transfigured them without realizing how the Lord was already transforming them inside.

The same thing happens to us when we “stay” and “remain” in Jesus through prayers and reflections of the Sacred Scriptures, through the Sacraments especially the Holy Eucharist every Sunday, through the guidance of other faithful disciples like our family and friends who witness Christ to us with their living examples. Akala natin wala namang nangyayari pero mayroon palagi dahil kasama natin ang Panginoon!

As we stay in the glorious presence of Jesus in prayers and penance, the more we go forward in our dying to self and rising to life in our loving service to everyone, in our kindness, in our patience and understanding, and in our mercy and forgiveness. When we offer ourselves wholly to Jesus, he does everything like what God did to the animals offered by Abraham in the first reading. Notice how Abraham on that night fell into a trance as if he could not believe what was happening while in the presence of the Lord. Palagi naman ganoon sa harap ng Diyos – nakakapangilabot, nakakatakot kasi totoong-totoo!

Lent is not just a preparation for Easter but also a journey for us all to purify and renew and rekindle our faith in Christ’s resurrection by remaining in him, ascending with him through mountains of sacrifices, and being tested in the desert of temptations.

These 40 days of Lent involve many stopovers where we are invited to examine our hearts, our inner selves to see who is inside us, of who are we dwelling with, of who we are going with. Let us heed Paul’s call in the second reading to “stand firm in the Lord” (Phil. 4:1) because our “citizenship is in heaven and Jesus will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body” (Phil. 3:20, 21).

Let me end this reflection with a quote I got and memorized as a child waiting in our former family dentist, Dr. Eddie Calalec of Meycauayan, Bulacan:

Time is fast for those who rush;
Time is slow for those who waith;
Time is not for those who Love.

Have a blessed week and please say a prayer for me on Wednesday (March 16) when I go through a surgery. Thank you and God bless you!

The need to be one in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday in the Fourth Week of Easter, 30 April 2021 (St. Pius V, memorial)
Acts 13:26-33   ><)))'> + ><)))'> + ><)))'>   John 14:1-6
Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images, Baclaran Church, 09 February 2020.
Jesus said to his disciples:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me."
(John 14:1)

O dearest Lord Jesus Christ, how can we not let our hearts be troubled these days?

How can we not be troubled and worried with this prolonged pandemic and resulting quarantine made worst with our government’s inefficiency and incompetence, thriving in lies and malice against everybody who is not on their side and political color?

How can we not be troubled, Lord, when more and more people are sinking into depression, languishing, losing hope and meaning in this life?

Like your apostles at that time, we are trembling in fear as to what will happen to us, to our jobs, to the schooling of children, to our sick family members, to our very selves as well as to our country and its future.

We know that now is the time to be ever closer to you, Lord Jesus – to be one with you, to be one in you but, like Thomas, we do not know the way.

Help us in our unbelief and increase our faith, Lord!

Most of all, let us imitate Thomas your Apostle who dared ask you the simplest question we are afraid to ask because we also fear your answer might demand courage from us to totally identify ourselves to your values and attitudes being the Way, the Truth and the Life yourself.

Our hearts will always be troubled unless we have that deep relationship in you and with you, Jesus.

Like Paul in the first reading, give us that sense of firmness and certitude in your very person so that we may firmly and joyfully proclaim your Good News of salvation in these most troubling times of pandemic and divisions among us your people. Amen.

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.