We are “earthen vessels” handled with care by Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Feast of St. James the Greater, Apostle, 25 July 2022
2 Corinthians 4:7-15   ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*>   Matthew 20:20-28
Photo by author, 2018.
Praise and glory to you,
Lord Jesus Christ for your
saint and apostle, James the
Greater!
His martyrdom and holiness
are testaments to your
gentleness, Lord, 
for we are all earthen vessels
keeping you, proclaiming you
to all nations.

Brothers and sisters: We hold this treasure in earthen vessels that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.

2 Corinthians 4:7-10
Despite his weaknesses
in having a big ego as seen
in many instances like when he 
his brother John told you to send 
fire to a Samaritan village that have
refused you to pass through and
making a request through their mother
to be seated at your right later when
you have established your kingdom,
you never dismissed James as a 
hopeless case; instead, full of love and
mercy, kindness and patience, you
"handled him with so much care" by 
bringing him along during your transfiguration
and agony in the garden; you let him
experienced your gentleness and humility
that after you have gone back in heaven,
he became the first bishop of Jerusalem
and because of that, the first among 
your Apostles to die like you, 
for you and your flock.
Dearest Jesus,
please be patient with me,
with my pride and arrogance;
let me realize that I am nothing
but like an earthen vessel, a claypot
so privileged not because of my own
merit but due to your own choosing
to be a vessel of your love and mercy.
Thank you, Jesus,
for taking care of me, 
for handling me with care
the way you did with James
the Greater and all the others saints
who were all like us - sinful and weak
but so loved and blessed by the Father
in you.  Amen.

Shrewd as serpents, simple as doves

Homily by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Baccalaureate Mass of Senior High School,
Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City, 08 July 2022
Photo by author at Mt. Nebo, Jordan overlooking the Holy Land, May 2019. Modern sculpture of the bronze serpent God told Moses to erect in the desert so that those bitten by snakes would be healed when they looked up to it, a prefiguration of Christ himself.

Congratulations, our dear graduates of Senior High School. You are so blessed today because our gospel is like a valedictory address given to you by no less than our Lord Jesus Christ whose message is so simple, yet so rich and so timely during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Jesus said to his Apostles: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.”

Matthew 10:16

You are the modern apostles of Jesus Christ.

You are so special, Senior High Batch 2022. The past two years are the most difficult in modern history, and probably doubly difficult for young people like you who were supposed to be outside learning and discovering more about life beyond the classrooms but COVID-19 kept you grounded.

But, here you are! Nakatapos din! – despite the poor internet services, the boring online classes, and limited personal interaction with others, you are graduating, soon fulfilling your dreams to become doctors, engineers, nurses, teachers.

Truly as Jesus Christ had said in the gospel today, you are being sent like sheep among wolves, a very wild world indeed where evil and darkness seem to prevail especially when you listen to all the news of missing ladies or even adults.

Photo by author, view of the desert to the Holy Land as seen from Jordan, May 2019.

I refuse to use that expression when somebody graduates, “welcome to the real world”. Was there any moment in your lives that was not real like, kunwa-kunwarian lang? What you went through in senior high was real, what you have experienced were all true. Lahat ay totohanang buhay especially those two years of isolation and lockdowns which may continue for the next three or five years according to experts.

Life will be more difficult in college but most challenging for growth and maturity.

Yes, there are so many dangers from within and from the outside but trust in God for in him alone can we find life and fulfillment as the prophet Hosea reminds us in the first reading today.

Thus says the Lord: “Let him who is wise understand these things, let him who is prudent know them. Straight are the paths of the Lord, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble.”

Hosea 14:10

What Hosea is telling us is to be wise, to be filled with wisdom which begins in having that holy fear of the Lord. Handle life with prayer. As I would always tell you, “study hard, work harder, pray hardest”. In God alone can we find meaning and fulfillment in life.

Photo by author, St. Catherine’s Monastery near Mt. Sinai, Egypt, May 2019.

Maybe you are wondering why Jesus is asking us to be shrewd like the serpents. As you must have learned in world literature and world history, the ancient peoples like the Egyptians have always considered snakes as symbols of wisdom. But what I wish to focus more is the revision of the older translation of this passage from “be wise as the serpents” to “be shrewd as the serpents”.

Being shrewd is often mistaken into a negative trait because it suggests a practical wisdom that does not necessarily look deeply into things at all but wily and conscious of its personal interests.

That’s according to the late Dr. S. I. Hayakawa of the the veritable Reader’s Digest guide to synonyms, “Use the Right Word”. However, Dr. Hayakawa explained that the word “shrewd” is often used to indicate an unusual mental agility or perceptiveness of taking advantage of hidden opportunities. It speaks of a more penetrating kind of wisdom that is why the new versions of bible of “be shrewd as the serpents” is more precise and exact.

In that sense, too, you are all shrewd as the serpents during your senior high school because you were able to perceive hidden opportunities during the pandemic that you strived in your studies. Believe me, you are well-equipped for life because of the online classes during the pandemic, teaching you, showing you so many opportunities our generation had never seen.

Here is the more interesting part of being shrewd like the serpents….

From reddit.com.

The snake is the only one in the animal kingdom that regularly sheds off its skin, a sign of renewal. In Filipino, we call that “paghuhunos ng balat”. During Lent, we hear the elders telling us “maghunos dili” – literally to shed some of one’s self or pride and ego. In short, be converted.

The snake is shrewd because it sheds its skin so often, renewing itself, adjusting and adapting to new situations.

And that is true wisdom – adjusting and adapting to new situations. Most of all, spiritually speaking, it is a daily conversion in God.

Conversion is not changing our personality, like a very courageous person becoming timid or a talkative person becoming silent. Conversion means having new directions in our selves. Perfect example is St. Paul who used to persecute Christians but upon conversion, became the missionary of the gospel of Christ. He was practically the same person still – zealous and full of enthusiasm but no longer in persecuting Christians but promoting Christ.

Conversion is being like the snake in shedding its skin, letting go of the old ways and self to be renewed – still a snake but a better snake after each shedding of skin. That’s being shrewd like the serpents: of the many lessons taught to us by this COVID-19 pandemic, one of the leading lessons is the need for us to adapt and adjust when things are not going good.

And you are the experts in this because during those two years of online classes – for better and for worst – you must have perfected the art of adjustments, of adaptation. Nobody ever expected or even predicted the things that happened in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic is so unique, even surreal. We were so used to our comfort zones, so used to what has always been long before but COVID forced us to abandon that frame of mind and be like serpents, to adjust to situations by shedding off our skins, our pride to be more attuned with the environment to eventually emerge victorious. And we are all better now, especially you who are graduating soon!

Of course, you do not have to adjust and adapt to everything. You have to weigh things carefully. That is why Jesus balanced his instruction to be shrewd as the serpents with being simple as doves. We do not change and renew ourselves for the sake of adapting to new situations; we renew and adapt to become better persons, to become holier.

Remember, you are like the sheep – symbol of humility and holiness – being sent among wolves.

Be shrewd as the serpents and simple as doves. God bless you more in your college studies, Batch 2022!

Walking our talk

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday in the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time, 08 July 2022
Hosea 14:2-10   ><]]]'> + ><]]]'> + ><]]]'>   Matthew 10:16-23
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD in France, March 2022.
Another week is closing,
another brand new week coming
but here I am, O God, still undecided,
dilly-dallying when to follow you,
when to change my ways,
when will I ever be true
in walking my talk; this time,
may I take with me my words
of contrition, of decision to turn
away from sin and follow your path
in Jesus Christ your Son.

Thus says the Lord: Return, O Israel, to the Lord, your God; you have collapsed through your guilt. Take with you words, and return to the Lord, say to him, “Forgive all iniquity, and receive what is good, that we may render as offerings the bullocks from our stalls.”

Hosea 14:2-3
Grant me, O Lord, 
the courage to be wise as the serpent 
and gentle as the dove in this world 
so filled with wolves and other
predators out for a kill with 
their seductive temptations
to rule and dominate; may I always
have the presence of mind to think
what is fair and just, true and good
that I may not be tempted to take 
shortcuts in life; inspire me to innovate
and be creative in proclaiming 
and living out the gospel of Jesus 
in this highly modern and complex
world; most of all, keep me faithful
to you, to always walk your path
for you are the way, the truth and 
the life.

Let him who is wise understand these things; let him who is prudent know them. Straight are the paths of the Lord, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble in them.

Hosea 14:10
There is no other way
to life, Lord, except you 
and this is the reason why
so many want to remove you,
to delete you from life, from
the world so that they can do
what is most pleasing to themselves
without realizing nor admitting
the collapse and slow death
they are experiencing.
Amen.

Daily conversion in Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday in the Fourth Week of Easter, 09 May 2022
Acts 11:1-18   ><))))*> + <*((((><   John 10:1-10
Photo by author, a house near the home of Cornelius in Jaffa, Israel, 2017.
Today O Lord we go to the polls
to cast our votes for the next group
of national and local leaders of our
nation; we have long been praying
for these elections to be peaceful
and orderly.  
Most of all, a matured and intelligent one.
That we finally learn to vote according
to our informed and guided conscience,
carefully and prayerfully evaluating every
candidate, listening more to the voice 
of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
But for us to be able to listen to Jesus,
let us first pass through him, our 
only door.

Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.” So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.”

John 10:1, 7
To pass through Jesus our gate
requires our own conversion to him;
and not just a conversion like that of
unbelievers and Gentiles in the first
reading but to be converted like Peter
himself and the rest of his fellow 
believers who were of Jewish roots:

Peter began and explained it to them (Apostles and brothers in Jerusalem) step by step, saying, “If then God gave them the same gift he gave us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?” When they heard this, they stopped objecting and glorified God, saying, “God has then granted life-saving repentance to the Gentiles too.”

Acts 11:4,17-18
To pass through you, dear Jesus,
is to be one in you which calls for our
daily conversion to you; so many times
we feel complacent, resting on whatever
we have achieved or reached in our
relating with you; it is in our daily-
conversion in you that truly leads us
to communion in you.  Amen.

Repenting, remaining in God present in us, with us in Christ

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Third Sunday in Lent-C, 20 March 2022
Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15 ><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 10-12 ><}}}*> Luke 13:1-9
Photo by author, July 2020 in Bagbaguin, Santa Maria, Bulacan.

As I have told you at the start of this 40-day journey, Lent is like a coming home to God with Ash Wednesday until Saturday after as the porch and each Sunday a door leading us into the inner rooms closer to God.

At each door these past two Sundays, we were opened to God’s majesty and wonder, love and mercy in Jesus Christ who had come to help us triumph over many temptations in life, to be transformed and transfigured in him.

With Luke as our guide this year, he had opened to us each Sunday a very unique door to experience God’s majesty and mystery, his love and mercy offered in Jesus Christ.

This becomes most pronounced this Third and Fourth Sundays when we find his gospel stories as exclusively his alone: Christ’s call to repentance following the news of Pilate’s massacre of 18 Galileans during a temple worship and the parable of the Merciful Father more known as parable of the Prodigal Son.

Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”

Luke 13:1-5
Photo by author, parish Via Crucis, 11 March 2022.

Our “blaming game”

At first hearing, our gospel today sounds like a news broadcast of brutalities and mishaps, trials and sufferings happening almost daily around the world. So many times, they happen closest to us personally or within our own circles of family and friends.

Only Luke has this account of teaching by Jesus; nowhere would you find in the gospels any account of Pilate ordering this massacre of Galileans but the Jewish historian Josephus had recorded many instances of the Roman governor’s ruthless reign.

And here we find the artistry of Luke in inserting this scene in his gospel the Church has chosen as part of our Lenten itinerary. So often in life, we keep on blaming somebody else except our very selves for every negative things happening to us and around us, even considering it as “divine chastisements” or karma to those people we consider as evil.

It is true that evil begets evil, but the seeming dominion of sin and evil in the world is so wide for us to attribute blame only to certain persons as if others, including ourselves, had no part in it. It always takes two to tango!

Worst case of this “blaming game” of ours is to even link our sufferings and trials with God.

Nothing bad can ever come from God like disasters and catastrophes, sickness and turmoils because God is love. God offers only life, never death nor destruction for he does only what is good. It is very wrong to think at all that God has something to do with any of these problems happening in the world like the pandemic or in our personal lives.

Photo by author, Sinai Mountain Range in Egypt, May 2019.

This is the gist of the Lord’s response to the people bringing him the bad news of the 18 Galileans ordered massacred by Pilate, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means!”. God does not punish at all! Bad things happen because of sins and that is what we always have to look inside us, how have we contributed to the evil happening.

And to make it clearer that God has nothing to do whatsoever with all these bad things happening to us, Jesus added, “Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means!”.

However, Jesus is not telling us to be resigned to the absurdities of the world and of humankind. We can all do something to greatly prevent and reduce all these misfortunes and sufferings around us and that is the way of repentance, of conversion – the very calls of the prophets in the Old Testament and by John the Baptist.

Now, Jesus our Savior, the Son of God, is voicing out this call of repentance with urgency and new authority not only because it is the only way back to God but precisely due to his very nature of being loving and patient, merciful and forgiving.

The kind of God we have, the only one there is

The grace of this third Sunday of Lent is the revelation of the kind of God we have, the only one there is: a very loving and patient, merciful and forgiving God who is also perfectly present among us in Jesus Christ.

Photo by author, site of the burning bush in Sinai now inside St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt.

In the first reading, we are told of that unforgettable scene of Moses at the burning bush where God revealed himself as “I AM WHO AM” – the One who is always present with us in the past, in the future, and most especially in every here and now, the present moment.

When we think of God, what comes to our mind, what do we say about him?

God told Moses “Thus you say to the Israelites: The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you” (Ex. 3:15) to remind them that this God has always been present with his people.

With Abraham, God first made the promise of being the father of all nations (last Sunday’s first reading), to Isaac he revealed himself in the stairway to heaven, and to Jacob that he would bring them to Egypt and liberate them after. Now in Moses, everything is coming into fulfillment of this great nation to be set free by God, a prefiguration Christ and his saving mission.

Throughout history, God never left his people, working great marvels in the past to deliver them from slavery, a passing over and exodus, assuring us of his presence and salvation in the future by remaining at our side.

History is cyclic, everything seems to be happening again but with an upward trajectory towards God; in every repetition of history, the question is where are we standing with God, are we still the same the first time we encountered him, descending to vice and sins or have we grown in virtues and holiness?

Salvation history and secular history continue to unfold for both are one in God; hence, we must not waste every moment to return to God, to repent and be converted. Beware of Paul’s warning, “Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall” (1 Cor. 10:12)! Remember those Galileans massacred by Pilate or those 18 people at Siloam crushed to death by tower that had fallen – anything can happen with us, so be ready. Never leave God who is always with us, assuring us with salvation in Jesus.

Beginning this Sunday, continuing to next week with the parable of the prodigal son and finally on the fifth Sunday of Lent when we skip Luke’s gospel to borrow from John for the story of the woman caught in adultery, we are being immersed into the deeper mystery of this God we call Father made known to us by Jesus Christ through his own passion, death and resurrection.

The more we enter God’s mystery every Sunday of Lent, the more his “height, breath and depth” (Eph. 3:18) appear to us, making us realize he is real, very true like another person we can feel and hear, always with us, patiently waiting for us to bear fruit like the owner of the fig tree in the parable.

How have you experienced God’s presence this past week?

What else do we need to be convinced of his love and mercy that we still refuse to repent and be converted in Jesus Christ?

The time is now, not yesterday or tomorrow for God is I AM WHO AM, one who is in the present. Amen. Have a blessed week.

Thank you for the prayers; I am home trying to recuperate from my surgery.

Photo by author, inside St. Catherine Monastery with Mt. Sinai at the background in Egypt, May 2019.

Praying for someone with “anything against us”

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday in the First Week of Lent, 11 March 2022
Ezekiel 18:21-28   <'[[[[>< + ><]]]]'>   Matthew 5:20-26
Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Novitiate, 2017.
You, O God,
are indeed so good and loving!  
How true is our Responsorial Psalm 
as we close Lent’s first week, 
“If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, 
who can stand?” because nothing 
can be hidden from you; 
yet, so many times you pretend like 
a dumb - “nagtatanga- tangahan" po kayo - 
as if not knowing our sins and evil 
just because you love us like when 
Jesus said in the gospel, 
“if you bring your gift to the altar, 
and there recall that your brother 
has anything against you, 
leave your gift there at the altar, 
go first and be reconciled with your brother, 
and then come and offer your gift (Mt.5:23-24).”
When does 
a “brother has anything against us?”, Lord?
If you mean, dear Jesus,
that a brother/sister has something 
against us because of his/her wrongdoing, 
then we could never be able 
to offer anything at all to you
because we all have something 
against each other!  
But here, it is very clear, 
“a brother has anything against you” 
because we have done something wrong 
against somebody; the burden is on us 
that is why we are obliged, 
even ought to be 
“reconciled with him first then offer our gift” 
because we’re the guilty one.  
Forgive us, Jesus,
for always pretending to be 
the offended or aggrieved ones
when in fact, we are the offender,
the sinner who had done wrong 
to another that is why he/she
has anything against us".
We pray for those who have something
against us because of our own making,
of our own provocations; let us be real
with you, O God, to change our ways
beginning this Lent as you assure us
through Prophet Ezekiel, 
“When someone virtuous 
turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, 
and dies, it is because of the iniquity 
he committed that he must die.  
But if the wicked, turning from wickedness 
he has committed, does what is right and just, 
he shall preserve his life; 
since he has turned away from all the sins 
that he committed, he shall surely live, 
he shall not die (18:26-28).”
Amen. 

Pagbabalik-loob, pagpapaloob sa kalooban ng Diyos

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Kapistahan ng Pagbabalik-loob ni San Pablo, Ika-25 ng Enero 2022
Gawa ng mga Apostol 22:3-16  ><}}}*> + <*{{{><  Marcos 16:15-18
Larawan mula sa en.holyordersofststephen.org ipinapakita pagkamatay ng unang martir ng Simbahan si San Esteban habang pinapanood ni Saul na noo’y taga-usig ng mga Kristiyano habang napakita naman mula sa langit ang Panginoong Jesu-Kristo.

“Kalooban ng Diyos.”  Ito ang sa tuwina palagi nating inaalam sapagkat batid nating ito ang pinakamabuti para sa atin.  Subalit kadalasan tayo ay nabibigo, naguguluhan kung ano ang kalooban ng Diyos dahil madalas akala natin para itong tanong na isang pindot ay malalaman kaagad ang sagot tulad ng sa Google.

Kauna-unahang hinihingi sa atin upang mabatid ang kalooban ng Diyos ang tayo muna ay “pumaloob sa Diyos” na ibig sabihi’y dapat nasa loob tayo ng Diyos. Kung ikaw ay nasa labas ng Diyos, tiyak ikaw ay lumayo sa Kanya dahil sa kasalanan; kaya, pagbabalik-loob sa Kanya ang kinakailangan.

Ibig kong simulan dito ang pagninilay sa Kapistahan ng Pagbabagong-buhay ni San Pablo Apostol na ating ipinagdiriwang sa araw na ito. Ito ang upisyal na salin mula sa Inggles ng “Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle” na tila may kulang.

Ganito kasi iyon: Tama rin namang sabihing “pagbabagong-buhay” dahil bawat conversion wika nga ay pagbabago tulad ng na-convert sa ibang relihiyon o sa ibang anyo o gamit. Ngunit sa bawat pagbabago, mayroong higit na malalim na nababago na hindi namang ibig sabihin ay nag-iiba o nagiging different.

Kasi iyong sinasabing conversion ni San Pablo o ng sino pa mang tao ay hindi naman pagbabago ng pagkatao kung tutuusin; sa bawat conversion ng isang makasalanan o masamang tao, hindi naman nababago yaong tao talaga kungdi kanyang puso na siyang naroon sa kanyang kalooban.

Ibig bang sabihin ang pagbabagong buhay ay yaong dating masayahin o palatawa magiging malungkutin o iyakin? Yaong dating mapusok at malakas ang loob magiging duwag? O yaong pagbigla-bigla at padaskol-daskol ay magiging makupad at mabagal sa pagdedesisyon?

Sa pagbabagong-buhay ng sino man tulad ni San Pablo, hindi nababago ang pagkatao: mapusok pa rin si San Pablo, palaban at matapang nang tawagin at sumunod kay Kristo. Hindi naman nabago kanyang karakter pero nabago kanyang puso na nahilig sa kalooban ng Diyos pagkaraan. Iyong kanyang dating kapusukan at katapangan sa pag-uusig ng mga Kristiyano ay nalihis naman sa pagpapahayag ng Mabuting Balita ni Hesus sa mga Hentil at kapwa niya Judio.

Kaya naman higit na malalim at makahulugang isalin ang conversion ng sino man sa katagang “pagbabalik-loob”. Bawat nagkakasala ay lumalayo ang loob mula sa Diyos na ibig sabihin ay “ayaw sa Diyos” gaya ng ating pakahulugan tuwing sinasabing “malayo ang loob”.

Kapag nagsisi at tumalikod sa kasalanan ang isang tao, hindi lamang siya nagbabagong-buhay o nag-iiba ng pamumuhay kungdi higit sa lahat, siya ay “nagbabalik-loob” sa Diyos. Tatlong bagay ang itinuturo sa ating ni San Pablo sa kanyang karanasan ng pagbabalik-loob sa Diyos.  

Larawan mula sa en.wikipedia.org ni San Pablo sa harapan ng Basilica ni San Pablo sa Roma, Italya.

Una, bawat pagbabalik-loob ay isang personal na pagtawag at paanyaya mula sa Panginoong Hesus.  Batay sa salaysay ni San Pablo, “Nasubasob ako sa lupa, at narinig ko ang isang tinig sa akin, ‘Saulo, Saulo!’”(Gawa 22:7).  

Araw-araw inaanyayahan tayo ni Hesus na magbalik-loob sa Kanya. 

Iyong mabatid lamang natin sa ating kalooban na mali ang ating ginagawa o kaya tayo ay kabahan at matakot sa isang masamang gawain, iyon na ang tinig ni Hesus na tumatawag sa atin katulad kay San Pablo. 

Huwag na nating hintayin pa ang isang “dramatic” o “bonggang” pagkakataon wika nga upang pakinggan ang tawag ng Panginoon katulad nang mahulog sa kanyang kabayo si San Pablo.  Hindi ibig ng Diyos na sumadsad pa ang ating buhay sa kasamaan at mawala na ang lahat ng pagkakataong makabalik pa sa Kanya.            

Ikalawa, madalas kapag tayo tinawag ng Diyos na magbalik-loob sa Kanya ay hindi kaagad maliwanag ang lahat sa atin kaya kailangan natin ng taga-akay: “Nabulag ako dahil sa kaningningan ng liwanag na iyon, kaya’t ako’y inakay na lamang ng mga kasama ko papasok sa Damaso” (Gawa 22:11). 

Larawan kuha ni G. Jim Marpa, 2019.

At hindi lamang basta taga-akay ang kailangan natin sa bawat pagbabalik-loob kungdi isang mahusay na gabay katulad ni Ananias na “isang taong may takot sa Diyos, tumutupad sa Kautusan, at iginagalang ng mga Judiong naninirahan sa Damasco” (Gawa 22:12). 

Si Ananias ang ginamit ng Diyos upang mapagaling ang pagkabulag ni San Pablo at malahad sa kanya ang kalooban ng Diyos na mapalaganap ang Mabuting Balita.

Ang mahusay na gabay ay yaong pumapawi at nagpapagaling sa ating mga pagkabulag sa katotohanan ng Diyos sa buhay na ito. Wika mismo ni Hesus, maaring bang maging taga-akay ng mga bulag ang isa pang kapwa bulag?

Magkaroon ng isang mabuting taga-akay o spiritual director na hindi namang dapat pari o madre lamang kungdi yaong isang mabuting pastol na kalakbay at kaagapay sa ating spiritual journey.

Ikatlo, bawat tawag sa pagbabalik-loob sa Diyos ay palaging paanyayang pumasok sa isang komunyon o kaisahan kay Hesus at Kanyang pamayanan o komunidad.  Ito ang magandang bahagi ng pagtawag kay San Pablo:  nagpakilala si Jesus bilang kanyang inuusig na Kristiyano, “Saulo, Saulo!  Bakit mo ako pinag-uusig?  Ako’y si Jesus na taga-Nazaret na iyong pinag-uusig” (Gawa 22:7,8)

Ang totoong pagbabalik-loob o pagbabagong-buhay ay yaong hindi lamang makita ang sarili kungdi makita ang kanyang kaisahan kay Hesus at sa kapwa-tao.  Walang kabuluhan ang ano mang pagpapakabuti ng sarili na nakahiwalay sa Diyos at sa kapwa.  Hindi kabutihan kungdi kapalaluan ang walang ibang makita kungdi sarili.  


Madaling sabihin ang mga bagay na ito at sadyang mahirap gawin.  Subalit kung ating susuriin ang naging buhay ni San Pablo, hindi lamang minsanang pangyayari ang magbalik-loob sa Diyos.

Isang mahabang proseso ang kanyang pinagdaanan sa kanyang pagbabalik-loob o pagbabagong-buhay; katulad natin marahil siya ma’y nagkakasala minsan-minsan sa Panginoon. 

Larawan kuha ng may-akda, 2019.

Ang mahalaga ay ang patuloy niyang pagninilay at pananalangin, ang pagsisikap niyang “pumaloob sa Diyos” upang mabatid at maisakatuparan ang Kanyang Banal na Kalooban na “Humayo kayo sa buong sanlibutan at ipangaral ninyo sa lahat ang Mabuting Balita” (Mc.16:15).  

Kaya, huwag manghinawa sakaling mabagal ang iyong “pagbabagong-buhay”; minsa’y akala mo lamang wala namang nababago at masama ka pa rin.

Hindi totoo iyan dahil batid ni Hesus, nakikita ni Hesus ang pagsisikap natin mula sa kaloob-looban natin hindi pa man tayo pumapaloob sa Kanya.

Ang totoo kasi, palagi namang nasa loob natin si Hesus, kahit anong pilit nating lumayo sa Kanya. Amen.

Christmas is reflecting Jesus, the Light of the world

Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Day 1, 16 December 2021
Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8   ><]]]]*> + <*[[[[><   John 5:33-36
Photo by author at San Fernando, Pampanga, 18 November 2021.

The Parol or lantern is a uniquely Filipino sign and reminder of Christmas. When we were in elementary school, we used to make our own parol with colorful papel de japon as part of our subject “work education”. The most beautiful parol submitted was usually the one hanged above the Belen like that star pointing to the Child Jesus born in Bethlehem at the first Christmas.

And that is the truth about the beautiful and colorful parol – a sign leading to Jesus Christ like John the Baptist.

“He was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light. But I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.”

John 5:35-36

Since the second and third Sundays of Advent, we have been introduced to the person and mission of John the Baptist. As we begin our nine-day novena to Christmas with our Simbang Gabi, we are reminded again of that important role we have in becoming another John who not only prepares the way of the Lord but must also be very sign of Christ’s presence.

All routes lead to churches every December 16, a beautiful sight to behold with so many devotees trying to fulfill their vows of completing the Simbang Gabi for so many reasons, from thanksgiving to favors granted and for more wishes for the coming year!

But, like other novenas, Simbang Gabi in itself will not make one a better or holier person. It takes a lot of prayer and hard work on our part to be like John the Baptist, a parol “burning and shining” pointing to Jesus who had come 2000 years ago, who comes daily in our lives, and will come again at the end of time.

In our gospel we heard Jesus praising John who did a wonderful job preparing the people for his coming because in his very life, they have found hope and inspiration to strive in what is good and just. In fact, the people felt as if John was already the Messiah they were waiting for!

It was very clear to John that he was not the Messiah, that he was merely the Precursor of the Lord, not even worthy to untie his sandals. This is what we must pray for in every Simbang Gabi, specially at this time of the pandemic: that we beam more of the light of Jesus who is like the sun while we are the moon. What we share is the Light itself – Jesus Christ – not our own light that can sometimes be misleading and not really that bright at all.

Photo by author, National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 08 December 2021.

To reflect the light of Jesus Christ is to be like him, good and kind, just and merciful, exactly what we heard from the first reading which is a call to personal conversion; we cannot convert others to Jesus unless they see first we are converted in Christ.

Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just… All who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold on to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer.

Isaiah 56:1, 6

No matter how good or “holy” as we can be, we are not the Light; our mission is to bring people closer to Jesus and be “conformed to his image” (Rom. 8:29).

How sad these days when “credit-grabbing” has become a hobby and a national past-time not only among those in power but even with everybody else specially those in social media trying to draw attention to themselves to earn precious statistics to be known as “influencers”.

This is our second Christmas in the pandemic: last year was more difficult than this year and we have so much to be thankful to God in tremendously blessing us since last year. We are still alive, many still have their jobs with steady income, others have started to pick up the pieces of their lives but moving on personally, spiritually, emotionally and even financially. Kids still go to school no matter how difficult online classes may be.

We have so many things to thank God this Christmas – first among them are the many John the Baptists who were like a “burning and shining lamp” to us, guiding us and inspiring us to move on with life amid the darkness and gloom of this pandemic

Yes, Christmas this year like last year is still difficult, so unlike the other Christmases we have experienced in the past. Perhaps the only other worst Christmas than we ever had in 2020 and 2021 were the Christmasses experienced by our parents and grandparents during the Japanese occupation at World War II. Ours pale in comparison with those wartime years.

During this Simbang Gabi, let us ask ourselves how much have we changed and matured in our experience of Christmas since the start of the pandemic last year? Do we now have Jesus in our hearts or, are we back to our old selves of having that “Christmas rush” for material things, forgetting Jesus Christ is Christmas himself?

Let the light of Christ burn and shine in you! Amen.

Photo by author at San Fernando, Pampanga, 18 November 2021.

Transfiguration in time of corona

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, 06 August 2021
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14  ><}}}'>  2 Peter 1:16-19  ><}}}'>  Mark 9:2-10
A 1311 painting of the Transfiguration by Italian artist Duccio di Buoninsegna from commons.wikimedia.org.
God our loving Father,
as we celebrate today the Feast
of your Son Jesus Christ's Transfiguration,
we come to you amid the same darkness
that enveloped them that night atop Mount Tabor
as we enter another series of lockdown
in this COVID-19 pandemic that has shaken
faith in you among many of us.
Like the apostles before his Transfiguration,
we too are wondering the meaning of Christ's  
Passion and Death when he is your Son, the Messiah.
"How could he suffer and die?", they must have wondered.
In the same manner, we too wonder, could not stop
the questions coming from deep within us why are you
allowing these sufferings and trials, Lord?
Have you been angry with us, Lord, that these happen?
Jesus took Peter, James,
and John and led them up a high
mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach
them... Then a cloud came, casting
a shadow over them; then from the
cloud came a voice, "This is my beloved
Son.  Listen to him." (Mark 9:2-3, 7)
Like Peter during the Transfiguration,
we do not know what we are saying to you, Lord;
whether we are filled with joy or burdened
with sorrow, we speak without thinking much
even if you know what is in our hearts.
Open our hearts, dear God, to always
listen to your Son by remaining with him
in his journey on the path to his Cross.
Moreover, we possess
the prophetic message that is
altogether reliable.  You will do well
to be attentive to it, as to a lamp
 shining in a dark place, until day dawns
and the morning star rises
in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19) 
Bring us back to the path of faith in you, Father;
despite our dismal progress or lack of faith this year due to 
the many trials and difficulties by this pandemic, 
open our hearts to let us go back to you in Jesus, 
listening to him intently when all is dark and even dead 
because for as long as we return to you, sin and failures
become means for us to be changed and transformed -
transfigured when we rise in Jesus Christ's Resurrection.
Amen.

Seeking, awaiting the Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, Disciple of Jesus, 22 July 2021
Song of Songs 3:1-4   ><]]]]'> ><]]]]'> ><]]]]'>   John 20:1-2, 11-18
 
Painting by Giotto of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ appearing to St. Mary Magdalene from commons.wikimedia.org.
I wonder, dearest Lord Jesus,
why did you appear to Mary Magdalene
on that Easter morning
but not to Peter and John
who also rushed to the scene?
Mary stayed outside 
the tomb weeping.
And as she wept,
she bent over into the tomb
and saw two angels in white
sitting there, one at the head
and one at the feet where 
the Body of Jesus had been.
(John 20:11-12)
It was the second time 
Mary Magdalene had come 
to your tomb that early morning;
when she found it empty,
she rushed to Peter;
when they found it still empty,
John believed and left with Peter
but Mary remained and stayed,
weeping, hoping to find 
your body, dearest Lord. 
And the angels said to her,
"Woman, why are you weeping?"
She said to them,
"they have taken my Lord,
and I don't know whey they laid him."
When she had said this,
she turned around
and saw Jesus there, 
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, "Woman,
why are you weeping? 
Whom are you looking for?"
She thought it was the gardener
and said to him, "Sir, if you carried him
away, tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him."  Jesus said to her,
"Mary!"  She turned and said to him
in Hebrew, "Rabbouni," which means
Teacher.  (John 20:13-16)
O sweet Jesus,
forgive us 
when we fail to see you,
when we miss you coming
as we never stay long
to await you in the empty tombs
of our sadness and failures,
broken dreams and 
disappointments and sickness;
teach us to stay longer,
to grieve in you, pour out in you
our hurts and aches,
pains and sorrows;
like that Bride in the
Song of Songs
let us be intense in seeking you
by patiently awaiting you,
remaining in you that we may also say,
"I had hardly left them when I found him
whom my heart loves." (Song of Songs 3:4)
When love among friends
and one another is real,
surely our beloved would appear
only on a higher, different level
of recognition unlike before;
this is the lesson we can glean
from St. Mary Magdalene
when Jesus called her by name,
asking her to touch him not
because at Easter
we have been raised higher
in Christ, much beloved than before.
Let us answer your call,
dear Lord, to proclaim your gospel to all
despite the troubles we have had before.
Grant us the courage
to change our ways and follow you
like St. Mary Magdalene
who had remained pristine and clean
assuring every sinner with a saintly future.  Amen.