Advent is tenderness of God

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul-9
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Advent Week IV, 24 December 2020
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16     >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<     Luke 1:67-79
Photo by author, altar at our sacristy, 19 December 2020.

One thing that have really made this pandemic so bad and so sad is the lack of tenderness of our many officials to the people they are supposed to serve. Consider all these pains and inconveniences they have caused us the public from the fatal shooting of that Marawi veteran in Quezon City to the detention of Mang Dodong at the height of the lockdown to the closure of the largest network in the country mid-year then on to stupidities of first the motorcycle barrier, then the closure of U-turn slots at EDSA capped by the insane RFID at NLEX and now the inhuman shooting of mother and son by an off-duty policeman.

As one of my friends wrote on his FB page last April, “bakit kung kailan panahon ng pandemya na dapat magtulungan at magmahalan saka puro karahasan?” (why all the the violence happening during pandemic when we are supposed to be helping and more loving to one another?).

What a year indeed of natural calamities worsened by some public officials so detached from the sufferings of the people.

And that, my friends, is why we have to celebrate all the more – meaningfully – Christmas.

God is perfect and cannot suffer; hence, He sent us His only Son Jesus Christ to be one with us in our sufferings and miseries, to suffer with us – cum passio – express His compassion.

On this last day of our novena to Christmas, we see how Zechariah comes into full circle singing praises to God (called Benedictus in Latin) after being forced by the angel into full silence becoming speechless when he doubted God’s gift of a child to him and his wife Elizabeth.

Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.”

Luke 1:67-69
Photo by author, Advent Week IV, 20 December 2020.

Jesus already present among us in the coming of John

During the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Luke never mentioned Zechariah around the house so that Elizabeth and her baby in her womb were the only ones were filled with the Holy Spirit upon hearing Mary’s greeting.

Now, after naming his son “John”, Luke tells us how Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit too that he prophesied the meaning of the coming of his son as “prophet of the Most High” in 1:76.

See the three verbs he used after blessing God in his canticle called Benedictus: “Blessed be the Lord… he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.” The verbs are all in the past tense when in fact, what he was saying was supposed to be of what would happen after the birth of John, the coming of Jesus Christ.

Here we find the complete faith and trust of Zechariah to the plan of God like Mary in her Magnificat. Zechariah had seen something so big, something momentous taking place while still in the midst of darkness of his time and world just like us in this pandemic and calamities, callous officials in government and police.

Dear friends: Jesus has come, had set us free (saved us), and had risen to work all His wonders! Let us keep our faith and hope like Zechariah that God has already started working in our favor to turn the tide and soon, things will surely get better if we remain consistent to our response to His calls, standing for life and dignity of every person through whom Jesus comes, for what is true and just.

Photo by author, Church of St. John the Baptist at Ein-Karen, Israel (2019).

From the hand of God into the heart of God

Yesterday we reflected on how we have to allow ourselves to be “the hand of God”, to let Him do His work among us through our hands. Today in Zechariah’s Benedictus we find a movement from the hand of God to His very heart in Jesus Christ our Savior.

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Luke 1:78-79

After seeing the coming of the Christ in the birth of his son John, Zechariah now summarizes to us the very essence of Jesus our Savior, of God Himself: tender compassion or in the original Greek, splaghna or “tender mercy” of God.

It is not just compassion which is to suffer with us but at the same time be filled with tenderness that one is so moved to reach out, to do something by going down with the one suffering.

Like courage, mercy is a movement in the heart called misericordia in Spanish from the Latin mittere, meaning to be moved, to be stirred. It is something dynamic, not static. It is a deep feeling that moves toward someone in pain and suffering. An identification of Jesus with every person going through so much hardships and sufferings in life.

Zechariah’s heart is no longer hardened with negativity and cynicism – it was so stirred by God that he mentioned His tender mercy or compassion because he had personally felt it as he recovered his voice and speech. With the birth of John, he now believes that God’s love for his suffering people is deep and personal. As we say in Filipino, “tagos o sagad sa buto” which may be translated as “through and through”.

And that is perhaps one of the things we sorely miss so much these days from everyone, tenderness. The tender compassion, tender mercy of Jesus. Recall how during His ministry all four evangelists would narrate how Jesus was moved with pity and compassion to the people who were lost, tired and sick “like sheep without a shepherd” that no matter how tired He may be, He would always find time to teach them, heal their sick, and even feed them.

That is the mercy of God that Jesus had brought forth to us in His coming, experienced by Zechariah himself that he could foresee its coming at the birth of John.

Photo by author, Advent Week IV, 20 December 2020.

We priests and religious pray the Benedictus in our morning prayer called lauds (Latin for praises). It is so fitting because at the start of each day, that must be the one thing clear with us always – that the Lord is come to save us, to forgive us, to love us.

One saying I have always loved mentioning in my talks to people came from an anonymous writer I found on the table of a good friend long before I became a priest. It says: “If you have love in your heart, you have been blessed by god; if you have been loved, you have been touched by God.”

That is the Benedictus, the song of every faithful disciple of Jesus introducing His coming, His birth. So many people have forgotten God, do not know God, refused to believe in God because many among us He had lavishly loved have refused to share His love with others.

Have a blessed and meaningful Christmas! Thank you for following our reflections. Share it if you have been blessed.

Photo by author, Christmas 2019.

Human situation, Divine response: multiplying our blessings

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XVIII, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 02 August 2020
Isaiah 55:1-3 >><}}}*> Romans 8:35, 37-39 >><}}}*> Matthew 14:13-21

Remember our reflection last Sunday? Of how parables teach us that “less is always more” because to have the kingdom of God – Jesus Christ himself – we have to learn to appreciate the little things in life?

Beginning this Sunday until August 16, our gospels will start telling us who is Jesus Christ by showing us his powers and abilities that are exactly opposite the way we see and understand them. This new series of stories are so relevant to us in this time of pandemic, giving us wonderful insights into God’s ways of responding to our human situations.

St. Matthew now leads us with Jesus to the wilderness after teaching us in parables to experience his power in transforming us like the five loaves and two fish to feed more than five thousand people.

Multi-layered story of the multiplication of bread

All four evangelists have recorded this story of Jesus Christ’s multiplication of the loaves of bread with their particular focus and stress, showing us that it truly happened and was a major event in the Lord’s ministry.

Very unique with St. Matthew’s version of this miracle story – which has not one but two! – is his economy of words in narrating it like a straight news as if it were a developing story or a “breaking news” unfolding before us, calling us to follow its updates and details due to its multi-layered meanings.

When Jesus heard of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Then he said, “Bring them here to me,” and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over — twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21
Photo from iStock/Studio-Annika.

The consolation of Jesus.

Our situation in this time of the corona pandemic is so similar with that of Jesus. With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, it has finally hit us hard, so close to home with news of those we know getting infected and worst, dying from this disease.

Like Jesus upon hearing the death of John the Baptist, we are all saddened that we wish to withdraw away from everyone.

We want to mourn but there are more people in need of our presence and help in this time of pandemic like the countless medical frontliners and health workers who must be so tired – even sick, physically and emotionally – by now with the growing number of COVID-19 patients and yet have chosen to remain in their posts.

And there are still the other casualties of this pandemic like those who have lost their jobs, those evicted from their rented apartments, those stranded and separated from their loved ones, those begging for food, and those afflicted with other sickness going through dialysis and physical therapy.

Jesus knows so well the “wilderness” we are all going through and he is right here with us, one with us in our sufferings, in our fears and anxieties, and in our exhaustion.

To be one with us is consolation, from the Latin “con” or with + “solare” or alone, to be one with somebody feeling alone.

Jesus did not remove our pains and sufferings, even our death; he joined us to be one with us in these that he can call us to “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give your rest. Take my yoke upon you… For my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt.11:28-30, 14th Sunday, 05 Jul 2020).

Compassion of Jesus.

Still with Christ’s reaction of being “moved with pity” at the sight of the crowds who have followed him to the wilderness, we find something more deeper with his being one with us, in consoling us that he had forgotten all about himself, his tired body that he went on to heal the sick among them.

To be moved with pity is more than a feeling of the senses but a response of his total person.

You respond for help, you reply to a call.

Ever wondered why we have the “responsorial psalm” after the first reading in the Mass? Because those words from the Psalms express our total assent and commitment to God, involving our total self like body, mind, heart and soul.

Photo by Dra. Mai B. Dela Peña, Carmel Monastery, Israel, 2016.

God cannot suffer because he is perfect.

That is why he became human like us in Jesus Christ to be one with our suffering and death so that we would one with him in his glorious Resurrection.

In the wilderness, Jesus stayed with the people, not allowing them to leave as suggested by the Twelve because he was moved with pity with the crowd because he wanted to suffer with them.

That is compassion, literally means to “suffer with” from cum + patior. Here in the wilderness, Jesus showed his compassion for the people which will reach its highest point in giving himself on the Cross on Good Friday.

Have we “responded” to God’s call to serve, to a call of duty, and to a plea for help from the poor? Have we truly given ourselves to somebody without ever thinking our own comfort or rewards? Or, are we running away from his Cross?

What a shame in this time of pandemic there are some among us who rejoice at the losses of others like the Twelve who wanted the crowd to be sent home because they were afraid of responsibilities, of taking care of the suffering people.

Consolation and compassion are the two most needed from each of us in this time of crisis.

Our scarcity mentality, the God of plenty.

We now come to the miracle of the feeding of five thousand. According to the late Fr. Henri Nouwen, this story is an example of our “scarcity mentality” when we think of not having enough, of finding what we have as too little, always looking for more; hence, our tendency to hoard everything.

The Twelve were thinking more of themselves, afraid they could go hungry with the five loaves of bread and two fish they have. They were so afraid of difficulties ahead of them in their situation where to find and how to feed those great number of people.

They were focused on what was lacking than on what they have, and who was with them, Jesus Christ! They were hungry for food in the stomach than for food to the soul unlike the crowds who have followed Jesus.

Worst of all, the Twelve got “mad” upon seeing the crowds who have followed them to the wilderness when in fact, it was Jesus who needed most to rest to mourn John’s death!

But through all these, Jesus patiently bore the people’s woes and the Twelve’s selfishness to teach them all in a very nice way something so essential in our response to every human suffering and extreme situation: opening and entrusting our selves totally to God.

And that was actually the greatest miracle that happened that day.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In doing it, Jesus simply asked the Twelve what they have, never asking how much they have or its condition. Just whatever they have to give everything to Jesus like those five loaves and two fish that he took, and while looking up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the Twelve to distribute to the crowd.

And everyone was satisfied with a lot of left overs too!

Matthew nor any of the other Evangelists ever explained how it happened because it does not really matter at all. What is most important is what are we willing to give up to Jesus so he can transform us into better persons.

That is what we continue to do this day in every celebration of the Holy Eucharist- whatever we have, even not the best or the worst and littlest we have, when given to Jesus becomes holy and multiplied!

The power of God is immense, without doubt. But, in this miracle of the feeding of five thousand, Jesus is showing us that his power is not meant to satisfy our material or bodily needs but our deepest desires that lead to our fulfillment in him as prophesied by Isaiah in the first reading.

Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.

Isaiah 55:2-3

Amid the pandemic worsened by our government officials’ inanities, irresponsibilities, and sheer lack of compassion with us in this wilderness, the Lord assures us today that he is with us for “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ” (Second Reading) if we are willing to give him all that we have.

It is our spiritual transformation first that leads us to our material blessings. We can all have it if we are willing to give everything to Jesus and believe in him always. What do you have for miracles to happen?

A blessed August ahead for you! Amen.

Photo by Dra. Mai B. Dela Peña, Carmel, Israel, 2016.

Violence in time of corona

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Tuesday, Easter Week-VI, 19 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 16:22-34 <*(((>< +++ 0 +++ ><)))*> John 16:5-11

Photo by author, Chapel of Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center in Novaliches, QC, 2016.

Dearest Jesus Christ:

Today I pray to you for a stop of the many forms of violence going on in this time of the corona pandemic.

How sad that in midst of all the sufferings we are going through, we still cannot have prolonged moments of peace with one another.

Can we not just skip some rigidity and selective justice that make the marginalized people suffer more?

My heart is so moved with the news I saw about Mang Dodong, a fish vendor from Caloocan who was detained in Navotas May 07 due to lack of a quarantine pass. It was only tis Monday, after ten days since his detention, that his wife learned of his arrest. His wife is said to be illiterate and knows nothing about procedures for his release.

How can some people let an old man trying to make ends meet be subjected to these kinds of hardships?

It pains our hearts, Lord, to hear this kind of news vis-a-vis of a police official said to be so good that he cannot be sacked and replaced, much less suffer for violating COVID-19 rules of which he is said to be an expert?

Lord, can you not make an instant, sweeping miracle, like Moses with his powerful staff that will suddenly make us all compassionate and sympathetic with those truly deserving of understanding and mercy or clemency?

Why do we have to be so harsh, even violent, in these days of pandemic, something so similar with the experiences of Paul and Silas in the first reading today.

The crowd in Philippi joined in the attack on Paul and Silas, and the magistrates had them stripped and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After inflicting many blows on them, they threw them into prison and instructed the jailer to guard them securely.

Acts of the Apostles 16:22-23

What is most ironic is when after a powerful earthquake that flung open the doors of the jail in Philippi, the guard thought the prisoners including Paul and Silas have all escaped that he tried to kill himself when…

Paul shouted out in a loud voice, “Do no harm to yourself; we are all here.”

Acts of the Apostles 16:28

What a heartless world we have, Lord! We continue to inflict so much violence on others physically, verbally, and emotionally. And the worst part of this is that we inflict them on the most weakest among us, the least and then powerless like Mand Dodong and Aling Patring!

“Do no harm to yourself; we are all here.”

Is it not Lord when there are people around that we should all feel safe and secured, free from all harm? It is the opposite that is happening exactly today!

How I wish we could boldly say these same words by Paul to others to feel safe in buying much needed medicines, or to safely and freely go to work for much needed money to pay electric bills and buy food.

Save us, Lord Jesus, from so much pains and sufferings, and violence we inflict upon others in words and in deeds.

Send us your Holy Spirit to comfort us from all the violence we experience, we feel, we see and hear. Amen.

The Good Samaritan, the X-Files and Stranger Things

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul, Wk. XV-C, 14 July 2019
Deuteronomy 30:10-14 >< )))*> Colossians 1:15-20 >< )))*> Luke 10:25-37
From America Magazine via Google.

After teaching us about discipleship these past two Sundays, Jesus shifts his lessons to things “we must do” following a series of questions he encountered from people when he “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk.9:51).

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test Jesus and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.”

Luke 10:25-30

And thus Jesus answered the scholar of the law with the beautiful parable of the Good Samaritan that can only be found in St. Luke’s gospel. It has so endeared the world that hospitals and charities including laws and awards everywhere use the “Good Samaritan” title in recognition of the parable’s conviction that we are all neighbors.

Problem is, we have become so familiar with this parable that sometimes we think it teaches us nothing new. Like the Laws or the Ten Commandments, it has degenerated into becoming letters like a code imposed from the outside we simply follow. Moses tells us in the first reading how the Laws are “something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you only have to carry it out” (Dt.30:14). Loving God and loving others is an interior and life principle innate within each of us.

This Sunday, Jesus is inviting us to set aside our thoughts about his parable of the Good Samaritan in order to see it in a deeper and personal perspective.

For most Christians especially Catholics, we always reach that stage in our lives when deep within us there is a longing for something deeper, for something more than what we have been used to. It is a very positive sign of spiritual growth. Like the scholar, we are no longer contented with the usual things we do like praying, Sunday Masses, and keeping the laws. At first we may not be able to verbalize or even identify what are the stirrings within us until we realize it is something more than this life we are having.

Like the scholar, we ask Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk.10:25). But, instead of probing deeper into our hearts, we tend to look outside for answers like the scholar asking, “who is my neighbor?”.

From Google.

Twenty years ago, the sci-fi series “The X-Files” was a hit worldwide with its tagline “the truth is out there” to refer to all kinds of conspiracy theories and paranormal activities by the US government. Of the same genre today is the Netflix series “Stranger Things” that also points us to something “out there” for answers to many mysteries happening to us.

The answer is never out there – it has always been inside us! Always.

From Google.

How strange that we keep on asking “who is my neighbor?”, searching for a theoretical definition of a neighbor we always think as somebody outside us. What we must be asking is, “am I a neighbor to others?”

Observe how Jesus narrated the parable where both the priest and the Levite “saw the victim and passed by the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn, and cared for him” (Lk.10:32-34).

That’s the strangest thing of all! Two Temple officials simply “saw” the victim and passed by while a Samaritan “saw” also but was moved with compassion. To be moved with compassion in Latin is misericordia, a “stirring or disturbing of the heart” which translates into mercy.

Here we find the Samaritan looking deep inside him that he saw in him the plight of the victim that he was moved with mercy to help him. And that is to be a neighbor, to treat somebody with mercy that transcends any color or creed or nationality. See the question of Jesus at the end of his parable, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” The scholar answered, “The one who treated him with mercy” (Lk.10:36-37).

City of Jericho, the setting of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Photo by author, 06 May 2019.

My neighbor is the one with whom I identify with, with whom I am drawn near because of the mercy that moved me within to help in his or her sufferings. A neighbor is one who feels his or her own humanity that he or she is always moved with compassion with those who are in suffering and pain.

And the more we reflect on this parable, the more we see Jesus Christ is in fact the Good Samaritan himself. He is “the image of the invisible God, in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15,17). It was Jesus who went down the road, becoming human like us in everything except sin, picking us up from our sinfulness and miseries, healing us of our wounds, and restoring us to life “through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20).

Let us heed his command this Sunday to “Go and do likewise” (Lk.10:37) as the Good Samaritan. Be a blessed neighbor to everyone! Amen.