To rest – magpahinga -is to be filled with God

The Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 19 January 2022
Photo by author, 31 December 2021 Ubihan Island, Meycauayan, Bulacan.

It is my fifth day in home quarantine after contracting COVID-19 with mild symptoms of colds and coughs last Saturday. From the bottom of my heart, thank you everyone for your love and concern, prayers and gifts like food and fruits you have been sending.

But, no thanks at all to those who told me that God simply wanted me to have much needed rest that is why I got sick.

Whoa!!!

And to those planning to tell me or anyone else afflicted with Omicron, please STOP!

With another week to spend in home quarantine, I feel compelled asking everyone to PLEASE DO NOT EVER SAY GOD WANTS US SICK SO THAT WE CAN HAVE OUR MUCH-NEEDED REST.

It is not true.

It is not uplifting because it is simply stupid and insane. Nothing bad can ever come from God, like sickness or accidents or disasters. Or pandemic. Always remember 1 John 4:16, “God is love”.

However, God continues to work in silence even in the midst of our troubles, doing his very best that even the worst scenarios in our lives would still turn out well and good in the end to proclaim his love and mercy for us.

Photo by author, 31 December 2021 Ubihan Island, Meycauayan, Bulacan.

A few years ago I concelebrated in the funeral Mass for the two brothers of a priest shot multiple times by a neighbor with an Armalite right at the gate of their home. How I wanted to walk out from the Mass to tore my garments when the homilist said with his matching “drama” of tears and breaking voice that it was the will of God: “Ipagpasa-Diyos natin ang lahat… kalooban niya ang pangyayaring ito ngunit siya ang nakaaalam ng higit na mabuti”!

OMG!

So kawawa our God…. and most kawawa are we!

How can a priest claim God willed the brutal slaying of those two brothers?

When Ondoy flooded vast areas of Metro Manila and nearby provinces in 2009, “acts of God” became the most notorious phrase to simply describe a disaster never imagined.

It is neither spirituality nor even Christianity when God is always made the reason and – scapegoat – for anything that happens to our lives. May the Good Lord have mercy on us!

Photo by author, Singapore, 2018.

Now with another surge in COVID due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the “spiritualists” and “pseudo-theologians” among us are busy spinning those blasphemous threads of God simply wanting the sick to have much needed rest and “me-time” too.

Totally untrue.

God could have just sent us with tickets to Boracay or El Nido or anywhere to go on vacation to rest, instead of sending us the COVID pandemic!

When we are sick, that is when we have a dis-ease. We are not at ease, there is dis-order in our body functions. And we remedy that with medications and a lot of rest which is part of recovery and healing.

But we do not need to be sick in order to rest.

In fact, we need to always rest so that we do not get sick.

That is the lesson of this pandemic. What we can do is to continue praying and help those who are sick instead of “theologizing” or “spiritualizing” them with such insane ideas.


In the Old Testament, God gave the third commandment to “Keep holy the sabbath day” (Ex.20:8 and Dt. 5:12), instructing us for all time to always rest – in God.

Here we find the beauty of our Filipino language: to rest is “magpahinga” from the root “hinga/hininga” or breathe/breath. Literally speaking, to rest in Filipino which is “magpa-hinga” is to be “breathed on by God”.

Photo by author, November 2021.

In the story of creation, we find how the “Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being” (Ge. 2:7).

In our Filipino Bible, it is translated as “hiningahan”. This beautiful scene was repeated by Jesus on the evening of Easter when he came to visit his disciples at the Upper Room in Jerusalem, “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (Jn.20:22).

In its simplest sense, to rest essentially means to reconnect with God, to be breathed on by God to be one with him again who is our source and final end.

To rest – magpahinga – is to be filled with God anew. A rested person is always a renewed creation!

This is one of the many important lessons this pandemic has taught us, of the need for us to go back to God and be one with him again in Jesus Christ through one another along with Mother Nature. This we do by taking a rest, a pause and conscious stop from the daily grinds of life so we can see clearly again ourselves and one another in God and in his creation.


This COVID came because we have not only abused Earth but also our very selves. This pandemic is definitely not from God but he is using it to remind us of his loving presence. And most especially of his healing that can truly last and end this pandemic if go back to him.

Experts say the Omicron variant is the beginning of the end of COVID.

But, just before it finally ends, may this also be the start of our renewed relationships with God and with our very selves as we rediscover the essence and meaning of rest.

So, take a rest and stop saying God makes us fall sick in order to rest; God created rest so we do not get sick.

Have a restful moment with the Lord and your loved ones to be well and healthy!

Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA7-News, 18 January 2022.

Mary, advocate of grace and model of holiness

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 08 December 2021
Genesis 3:9-15, 20 ><}}}*> Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12 ><}}}*> Luke 1:26-38
Photo by Rev. Fr. Gerry Pascual at Palazzo Borromeo, Isola Bella, Stresa, Italia, 2019.

Recently I saw on a Facebook post the photo of American model Kendall Jenner in a swimsuit showing what for many is the “perfect body” in a woman. The photo had reportedly gone viral last year.

What caught my attention was the other photo posted opposite Jenner: that of 19-year-old Alyssa Carson who became the youngest female in history to pass all NASA aerospace tests to train as astronaut for future travel to Mars! The caption said it so well, lamenting the fact how the world gives so much attention to “fashion models” with many going insane imitating their bodies forgetting the more essential like inner beauty and intelligence.

More sad is how we have fixed our human understanding and analogies of a “model” as someone who poses and remains still to be painted or photographed for glossy magazines and giant billboards that people are willing to buy or pay for just to view and let their senses feast on.

It may sound funny but those two photos accompanied me while praying and preparing for our celebration today of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Sorry, I am not going to show you the link to those photos but wha I want to share with you are the two beautiful expressions depicting Mary as “advocate of grace” and “model of holiness” found in the Preface of today’s Mass (that is the prayer before the Holy, Holy leading to the consecration): “She, the most pure Virgin, was to bring forth a Son, the innocent lamb who would wipe away our offenses; you placed her above all others to be for your people an advocate of grace and a model of holiness.”

Photo by Fr. Gerry Pascual at Einsiedeln Abbey, Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 2019.

So often with Marian feasts, many people complain and find it hard to relate with the Blessed Virgin because they find them as celebrations of the privileges of Mary who was so blessed and unique, thinking she’s almost a god, not human anymore whom we cannot imitate and emulate.

That is totally untrue and baseless!

Of course, only she has the distinction of being immaculately conceived, one never stained by sin but, aside from that, Mary is like all of us, so human; and we too can be like her, full of grace and holy!

Brothers and sisters: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will.

Ephesians 1:3-5

Very clear in this reflection by St. Paul in our second reading that our truest destiny is to be holy and without blemish – that is, immaculate. It is the plan of God since the beginning that we all become his people until sin came and destroyed momentarily that divine plan as we have heard in the first reading.

With the coming of Jesus through his sacrifice on the Cross, we were redeemed from sin to become God’s holy people which the same Preface mentions Mary as the “beginning of the Church”. The same prayer reiterates to us our universal calling from God which is to be holy and blameless before God through Jesus Christ. It is very doable and attainable “for nothing is impossible for God” as the Archangel Gabriel told Mary during the Annunciation (Lk.1:37). And Mary is our proof to that!

Photo by Rev. Fr. Gerry Pascual at Santuario di Greccio, Rieti, Italy in 2019.

While it is very true that nothing is impossible for God, today’s celebration of the Immaculate Conception reminds of how God “needs” us to cooperate and participate in his beautiful plans for us like Mary to be his instrument or seedbed for his Divine Word to receive and grow and bloom.

That is the meaning of Mary as “advocate of grace” who became the vessel in the coming of Jesus Christ. See how St. Luke was very clear in narrating Mary’s “supporting” role and place in the plan of God: she remains a human being – not God – like us except she was full of grace, that is, immaculately conceived.

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end… The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Luke 1:31-33, 35

The Church Fathers used to call Mary as the “aquaeductus ecclesiae” or neck of the Church connecting Jesus the caput or head and us the corpus or body. Mary as an advocate of grace is that vessel of all blessings we now have in Jesus Christ because of her obedience and participation in that plan of God of sending Jesus.

Keep in mind that as advocate of grace, Mary brings us all to Jesus as the one Mediator, not away from him. True devotees of Mary bring others to Jesus not away from him for he alone is the Mediator. A true and authentic devotion to Mary always result in deeper knowledge and intimacy with Jesus and his gospel. Notice this in her apparitions especially at Fatima in 1911 where her messages call us to get closer to Jesus, not her.

Mary continues as our advocate of grace telling us the very same words she had told the servers at Cana to “do whatever he tells you” (Jn.2:5).

Do we do the same? Or, mislead others into putting Mary at par or even above Jesus her Son and Lord? In this time of pandemic, are we like Mary as an advocate of grace, a vessel and instrument of blessings to others or do we grab every credit of “charity” and “kindness”, grandstanding for more media mileage of “likes” and “followers” to be viral and trending?

Photo by Fr. Gerry Pascual at the Cathedral of Barcelona, Spain in 2019.

From her being an “advocate of grace”, Mary thus becomes our “model of holiness” too as she reminds us of God’s original plan for us, created in his image and likeness destroyed by sin with the fall of Adam and Eve. See how God immediately promised salvation through the woman fulfilled in Mary as he reprimanded the serpent in tempting Eve:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike you at your head, while you strike at his heel.”

Genesis 3:15

Because of her being the advocate of grace of God by giving birth to Jesus, Mary stands before us as the perfect reminder of Christ’s work of purification and recovery of the image of God in us. Described as the “perfect disciple” and “doer of the Word”, Mary had shown us in her very life which continues to this day in her intercessions and apparitions how discipleship is a life-long process and commitment of holiness. From giving birth to Jesus to his dying on the Cross until his burial, Mary had always been with Jesus that on Easter, it was to her that the Risen Lord first appeared because she was the first to believe totally in him.

At the Pentecost, Mary was with the Apostles awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit that became the coming out party of the Church. In her life, Mary is the model of holiness because she keeps on working with us and in us, guiding us in following Jesus our Lord and Master so that we might be “conformed to his image” (Rom. 8:29).

Photo by author, Christmas 2020.

Holiness is not being sinless but being filled with God who is all-holy, being like Jesus Christ. Mary showed us the way to holiness is being humble before God, seeing herself as the “handmaid” or servant of the Lord.

If there is one thing the world needs now so badly in this time of the pandemic, it is holiness. Before the pandemic came, mankind was so filled with self, so arrogant and proud acting like god, manipulating everything.

How ironic that a microscopic virus with the simplest signs similar to the common colds made the world stood still for some time, reminding us that there is a God all-powerful who is in control of everything.

Through Mary, may this Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception lead us back to God to recover in us his image and likeness, cleansed and purified of our blemishes and wrinkles of sin by having an enlightened devotion to her, the servant of the Lord par excellence. Amen.

A blessed day to everyone!

Life is “face-to-face” – on earth and in eternity!

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, 02 November 2021
Wisdom 3:1-9 ><}}}*> Romans 8:31-35, 37-39 ><}}}*> John 14:1-6
Photo by author, November 2020.
God our loving and merciful
Father in heaven, as we commemorate
today all the faithful departed on
this All Souls' Day, my thoughts are
still with this ongoing COVID-19 
pandemic:
Of how I lament the way authorities
continue to insist religious gatherings
as non-essential that despite the many
deaths since last year due to this pandemic,
our people are still denied of the chance to
pay respects to their departed loved ones
in the cemeteries when malls, restaurants,
and public places like tourist destinations
are opened and allowed to operate 
to revive the economy.
How sad, dear God, it is still the money
and the economy that matter for them
than the soul and spiritual needs of people.
But I am also thankful, Father
for the valuable lessons this pandemic
has taught us most especially the value
of every person seen in the beauty
 of "face-to-face" or F2F encounters
we all so desire these days;
due to the pandemic, we have realized
nothing beats face-to-face meetings,
personal and actual relationships
despite the conveniences of online classes
and work from home set ups or any
of those internet transactions. 
How funny, dear God,
now we realize "life is F2F",
face-to-face both here on earth
and in heaven, your best gift to us
to be present and actual with you
and with one another!
And so, through the assuring words
 of your Son Jesus Christ to "Do not let
your hearts be troubled.
  You have faith in God;
 have faith also in me.
In my Father's house
there are many dwelling places"
 (Jn.14:1), we pray for the souls
 of our departed loved ones
 to finally have that grace of seeing you,
merciful God and Father, face-to-face
in your eternal glory in heaven,
and not that soon, we too may join them
in that ultimate F2F, praising you,
thanking you for making us worthy
in Jesus Christ.
And while still here on earth
as we approach the end of 2021,
we pray most earnestly to you, O God,
that slowly we may have the grace
and joy of experiencing anew one another
face-to-face, celebrating life
more meaningfully as we continue
 to learn the harsh lessons of COVID-19.
Amen.
Photo by author, November 2020.

Touching Jesus among us

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday XXXI-B in Ordinary Time, 31 October 2021
Deuteronomy 6:2-6 ><]]]]*> Hebrews 7:23-28 ><]]]]*> Mark12:28-34
Photo by Jenna Hamra on Pexels.com

Since the start of this pandemic last year, I have always have that strange feeling of COVID-19 chasing me like a mad dog that would not stop until I am dead. Even after I have had the jabs, practicing all health protocols and best efforts of being “positive” to be negative of the virus, that morbid feeling keeps on creeping.

It is depressing but, it is not that bad as the pandemic has slowly become a grace-filled moment for me like to many of you (I hope so) to discover anew and realize that GOD is absolutely the one thing most important in this life, that GOD is not just the first among all things in life but essentially the very reason of everything in life!

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

Mark 12:28-30

Maturing and growing from fear to love.

From Jericho last Sunday, Jesus had finally reached Jerusalem, teaching in the temple area of the many valuable lessons on growing and maturing in our faith, in nurturing a personal relationship with God through him by moving from fear to love, from knowing to experiencing persons.

Like us in this time of the pandemic thrown into confusion, the scribe approached Jesus to be clarified with the many laws and precepts they were tasked to follow to lead a holy life and enter eternity. Like Bartimaeus last week, the scribe sincerely asked Jesus for enlightenment from the many darkness and blindness afflicting him.

And he was not disappointed when Jesus answered his question so differently by quoting verbatim from the most ancient prayer known by every devout Jew called the Shema Israel which we heard proclaimed at the first reading. By directly quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Jesus showed that more than the question of being the “first commandment” in the list of things to follow that is always binding on all, loving God with one’s total person is actually the source of all other commandments – even of those not listed!

In his answer to the scribe’s question, Jesus perfectly showed what holiness is all about – an integration (wholeness) of one’s faith and prayer and life from which flows the very essential fact of our lives that there is no other God than our God who alone is the One.

And the good news is that this great and powerful God had chosen to be one with us in the most personal manner by residing in our hearts!

We have a beautiful expression in Tagalog, “nakialam ang Diyos” – God “intervened” in our very lives by sending us his own Son Jesus Christ, unmindful of our nothingness, because he chose to love us, to be with us, to redeem us. What an amazing and loving God is he indeed who is perfect and most holy seeking an intimate and personal relationship with the broken and imperfect, sinful humans through our Lord Jesus Christ who embraced everything in us except sin.

Photo by Ms. Mira Mandal Sibal.

In this scene, Jesus is inviting us to move away from our usual “impersonal” relationship with God that is based on laws to follow, resulting in fears to the punishments due when failed to obey them. It is not even a relationship to speak of but more like a deal or transaction wherein we look at him as God our Lord and Master who takes care of our needs as his subjects and servants. Very feudal, so far from God’s will.

Making matters worst is our Filipino psyche of “sapagkat ako ay tao lamang” where we capitalize on our being weak as humans, therefore lowly but not necessarily humble using it as an excuse for failing to “love” him accordingly, and thus, an expression of our pride and insubordination to God.

Like Bartimaeus before his healing, we prefer to stay at the roadside than join Jesus on the way, avoiding relationships that call for a commitment to love.

Jesus wants us to be involved with God through him personally for it is only through him and in him can we experience God’s immense love and mercy by letting go our selfish selves. And the more we let go our selves in love, experiencing pains and sufferings like Jesus, the more we mature and grow better as persons, realizing the need to nurture this wonderful relationship with God who is love, who is the very core of our being.

That is when we move closer to the kingdom of God which is the very person of Jesus Christ found in everyone!

“The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all the burn offerings and sacrifices.”

Mark 12:31-33

Maturing and growing, loving personally

Jesus continued his answer to the scribe by explaining the evolution of commandments from God as its very source, telling us that as we appreciate his majesty and grandeur, we naturally and progressively flow to our discovery and loving too of the other persons around us.

Christ reminds us that whenever we find there is no other God than our God, we likewise discover that everyone is our neighbor, not just those like us in belief and color. The more God reveals himself to us in his grandeur and majesty, the more he also reveals himself to us in every person. Thus, it was in this moment in that encounter with the scribe that Jesus reintroduced his teaching on the universality of salvation, not just for Jews but for everyone!

In a similar manner when Bartimaeus was healed of his blindness last Sunday, today’s gospel is a wonderful story of enlightenment of the scribe who also regained his sight and vision in realizing that the love of God is also the love of one another! That is why he too cannot deny in himself the very truth that the highest form of worship, of “burnt offering and sacrifices” at the temple is personally loving God through everyone around us.

This is one of the important lessons this COVID-19 pandemic has taught us: it is always easy to say or even assume most of the time that we love, that we are loved, taking for granted the expression of our love and concern for others. We now feel so sorry how we have let days and weeks, months and years to have passed without seeing or calling family and friends or at least saying “hi” in whatever platform of social media until COVID-19 came.

Photo from inquirer.net.

While this pandemic has taught us the value of many ordinary things we have taken for granted like simple washing of hands and basic practices of cleanliness that matter so much to remain virus free and healthy, it has painfully taught us too the value of every person dear to us when one by one they were getting infected with COVID-19, some never recovered from the dreaded disease and now gone forever.

So many deaths have occurred in our circles of family and friends since last year in this pandemic; and, the saddest part is how swiftly they have left without any warning at all, denying us the chance of even a few seconds to see them and tell them how much we loved and cared for them.

It is always easy to know and say there is only One God, that he loves us so much, and that we also love him in turn. But, to move from fear to real loving, from formal knowledge to personal relationship, it is different. How true is that saying of us seeing the forest but missing the trees!

This Sunday, Jesus tells us to grow and mature in our relationships with him in prayer that must flow progressively and naturally to the people around us. It is only in finding this close link of loving God and loving neighbors that we get nearer to Jesus, who is the kingdom of God.

Tomorrow we celebrate All Saints Day in honor of all the departed already in heaven and on November 2, the All Souls Day for those awaiting in purgatory. Two great feasts that coincide with our Sunday gospel preparing us for the final destination, of being in the kingdom of God fully which is heaven.

While still here on earth not from the kingdom of God, Jesus is giving us the grace to experience heaven in our personal love in him to the Father through each other. Amen.

Have a blessed November!

Knowing Jesus with conviction

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday XXIV-B in Ordinary Time, 12 September 2021
Isaiah 50:5-9 ><]]]]'> James 2:14-18 ><]]]]'> Mark 8:27-35
Photo by author, Parish of St. Joseph, Baras, Rizal (January 2021).

Last Wednesday as we celebrated the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a friend told me how on the eve of that feast her eldest son Andrei expressed to her his wish to gift Mama Mary with a cake but did not know how to get to heaven. “Bibili ko sana siya ng cake, mommy, pero paano ako mapupunta sa langit?”

My friend simply told her son how difficult it is to get into heaven because he has to get so many ladders to get there and see Mama Mary and Jesus.

What a beautiful question from a child filled with innocence, “how do we get into heaven?”

Ironically, it is a question we all know the answer but do not care nor take seriously for many reasons, primarily because of fear until this pandemic hit us, forcing us into facing again this reality of death – of going into heaven.

In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches us how we can get into heaven by knowing him truly with conviction, not just according to our own or somebody else’s thinking and ideas of him as the Christ.

Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Christ.” Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him. He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.

Mark 8:27-31

Other’s opinion vs. my conviction

When we look at the gospel of Mark as a whole, we find it is a step-by-step revelation of who is Jesus Christ, following certain stages in his stories. Notice since the beginning Mark has been telling us how the people including the Twelve were asking among themselves who was Jesus for he spoke with authority that even the sea and the wind obeyed him while demons cried when exorcised by him. People were so amazed at his great powers, both in words and in deeds that everybody was getting near him to know him.

Photo by author, St. Catherine Monastery at Sinai, Egypt (May 2019)

It is at Caesarea Philippi where Mark’s gospel reaches the middle section, a turning point when Jesus reveals himself in stages.

From here on, Mark will take a faster pace in his narration and revelation of who is Jesus now making a U-turn from Caesarea Philippi to head towards Jerusalem to face his death. We too are expected to make a U-turn in our knowledge of Jesus, from mere opinions of others to a personal conviction of who Jesus is.

Observe the step-by-step manner by Jesus in revealing himself to his disciples at Caesarea Philippi.

First, Jesus surveyed the Twelve, asking them “Who do people say that I am?”.

Feel the uncertainty among them while telling Jesus what they have heard the people saying: John the Baptist? Elijah? One of the prophets?

We find a tinge of being unsure even in themselves in what to tell the Lord because they have also heard the questions and accusations by the scribes and Pharisees against their young teacher. “Kabado sila” as we say in Filipino.

But to their surprise, Jesus came up with a second question directly to each one of them at point blank, requiring a deep, personal conviction and commitment: “But who do you say that I am?”.

Like at Capernaum after the bread of life discourse when everybody left Jesus led by his disciples, here he is asking the Twelve -including us – again for a faith decision, to say what we really feel and think about him, without repeating what we have heard from others or read from any book.

Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Christ.” See in this statement by Peter the clear difference from the people’s opinions of Jesus. Feel the conviction of Peter in declaring “you are the Christ.” There must have been something he had experienced deep within that he felt Jesus so real, so new, so alive – not just any prophet from old who had come back but in fact the very one referred to by the prophets before!

Jesus is clearly distinct and different from what we have heard and read, so personal and so true. As we would usually tell others of how convinced we are of someone or something, “ah, basta!” which is akin to Archimedes’ “eureka” experience.

Like at Caesarea Philippi, our lives get on a turning point significantly once we have had that kind of experience of who Jesus Christ is. We can never grow deep in our faith in him and experience him personally without that Caesarea Philippi experience.

However, it is not everything. Even Peter would falter immediately after this turning point.

He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Mark 8:32-33
Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, Quiapo, January 2020.

Christ’s pedagogy of the Cross

It is not enough that we set aside sometimes what others say or write about Jesus; we also have to discard and forget whatever we have entertained in our minds and hearts on who Jesus could be. In telling Peter to “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do”, Jesus is telling us too that it is still a long way to go for us to truly know him.

Remember that in Jewish thought, to know someone is to have a relationship, an intimacy with the other person. Although the disciples have already taken a great step in knowing Jesus as the Christ following Peter’s confession that is so distinct from what others say, such knowledge leads us to the hardest and most difficult stage of knowing Jesus through his Cross.

It is can also be the most painful stage in truly knowing Jesus that is why he warned them not to tell anyone about him like what Peter realized that he reacted that way. Of course, we also know how Peter got to know Jesus more in the most painful way when he denied knowing the Lord thrice on the night he was arrested leading to Good Friday.

Remember, the more we get to know Jesus, the more we experience him so real in our lives, the more we follow him, the more the devil confuses us, the more the devil feeds us with so many thoughts or sends us with people like those in this Administration and politicians now campaigning with grand designs, with great intentions for Jesus and for the poor when in fact detract us from the path of the Cross.

Notice how Jesus insisted in his first prediction of his Passion, Death and Resurrection at Caesarea Philippi that “the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.” There is always that qualifier “must” in suffering and pain with Jesus for there is no shortcut nor easy way to get to heaven, to be holy, to be fulfilled in this life which is so unlike the promises of the devil acting in our selfish thoughts or among our politicians and government officials.

Jesus himself had shown us in his Passion, Death, and Resurrection the key to truly knowing him is to have a complete trust in the Father like him as the Servant referred to in the first reading from Isaiah who bore all insults and beatings but never felt disgraced because “the Lord God is my help.”

For so long in our country, many have been duped by politicians who have promised the people of a wonderful life minus sufferings by just electing them into office. All these miseries and misfortunes we are into show us clearly that hardly do we really know who is Jesus Christ as we keep on putting into office people we hardly know as demons in many disguises.

During this pandemic when we have so much time to reflect and pray, let us empty our hearts and minds, exorcise them of many evil thoughts to be penetrated by the divine thoughts found in the scriptures so we may know Jesus clearly, love him dearly, and follow him closely with our lives of faith expressed in works of charity as James exhorts us in the second reading.

It is the clearest sign that we truly know Jesus when our faith in him bears much fruits in works of charity and mercy. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Photo by author, close-up shot of the Seventh Station of the Cross at St. Ildephonsus Parish, Tanay, Rizal (January 2021). Notice one of the men wearing shades believed to be Caiaphas, the chief priest during the time of Jesus; we have to remove our shades to truly know Jesus especially when there are trials and sufferings in life. See our article, https://lordmychef.com/2021/02/04/road-trip-in-time-of-covid-19-the-company-we-keep-in-lifes-journey/

Schooling in time of COVID-19

Homily by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II 
Mass of the Holy Spirit for the College Department
Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City
06 September 2021
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, April 2021.
"Those who seek truth seek God,
whether they realize it or not."
- St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Last August 9 we celebrated the memorial of a modern saint who died at the gas chambers of Auschwitz during the Second World War. She was a German Jew named Edith Stein who became an atheist but later regained her faith as she pursued higher learning in the field of philosophy that was so rare for women at that time.

As she progressed into her philosophical studies working as an assistant to Prof. Edmund Husserl known as the “father of phenomenology”, she converted into Catholicism, eventually leaving her teaching post at a university to become a Carmelite contemplative nun, adopting the name Teresa Benedicta dela Cruz.


Congratulations, our dear students in college who dare to learn and seek the truth by enrolling in this Academic Year 2021-2022.

Students and teachers are both seekers of truth. As St. Teresa Benedicta had experienced, every search for truth leads us to God, the ultimate Truth.

This is a very difficult and trying year for us all but like St. Teresa Benedicta and all the other saints as well as great men and women of history, they all sought for the truth in the most troubled time in history. Trials and hardships in life make learning more “fun” – and an imperative at the same time. In fact, the more we must study and search the truth during critical moments in history and in our lives in order to learn more lessons that are valuable not only to us in dealing with our problems but also with the succeeding generations.

Two important virtues we need to cultivate in seeking the truth, in learning our lessons in this time of the pandemic that I hope you, teachers and students will rediscover this Academic Year: patience and humility.


This pandemic may be considered as another Pentecost, 
teaching us the value of patience, 
of patient waiting for everything, 
reminding us that the beauty of life is best experienced 
by allowing nature to take its course, 
without shortcuts nor rush, to enjoy its beauty as it unfolds before us.

Photo by author, 2019.

Patience is from the Latin “patior” that means “to suffer, to bear with.”

Learning is a process. We cannot know everything right away. It requires a lot of patience on every student and teacher.

This is the reason why Jesus assured his disciples at the Last Supper that he would send them the Holy Spirit he referred to as the Advocate.

“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning… I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.

John 15:26-27, 16:12

In the last 20 years, so much have changed in our lives brought about by modern means of communication.

Great volumes of information have become so readily accessible at great speed, that many in the younger generation have seemed to have lost the virtue of patience. At the snap of your fingers, you can easily have almost everything you need aside from information and music – including food and groceries, clothes and appliances, plants and pets, even medicines and dates!

But life, most especially learning, takes time, requiring a lot of patience in waiting and searching.

Like the Apostles of Jesus who had to wait for the descent of the Holy Spirit at the Upper Room in Jerusalem.

This pandemic may be considered as another Pentecost, teaching us the value of patience, of patient waiting for everything, reminding us that the beauty of life is best experienced by allowing nature to take its course, without shortcuts, to enjoy its beauty as it unfolds before us.

Let our Lord Jesus Christ be our example in following in the path of patience, of suffering; every trial becomes a blessing, a moment of transformation when seen in the light of Jesus Christ who suffered and died for us on the Cross. His very life tells us that there can be no Easter Sunday without a Good Friday.

This pandemic period is an extended Good Friday but in between those moments of sufferings, we experience little Easter if we try to be patient like what some of you have experienced when you graduated in this time of the pandemic.


Photo by author, January 2020.

The second virtue I wish to invite you to rediscover, teachers and students alike, is humility which is again from the Latin word humus that literally means “soil”.

From humus came the words human and humor.

Man was created from clay, a kind of soil. A person with a sense of humor is one who can laugh at things because he or she is rooted on the ground. We call a person with sense of humor in Filipino as “mababaw” or shallow – not empty but close to the ground or deeply rooted.

It is very difficult to learn anything nor discover the truth unless we first become humble. Pride and ego are the greatest stumbling blocks to any kind of learning. You will find in history, even in our personal lives how many opportunities in the past were lost simply because of our pride or “ego trip”.

Pride was the very sin of Adam and Eve that led to their fall. That is why when Jesus came to save us from effects of that Fall, humility became his central teaching when he demanded us to forget ourselves and, most of all, to become like that of a child so we shall enter the kingdom of heaven.

This humility Jesus himself showed us the path by being born like us – small and helpless.

And that has always been the way of God ever since: the small and little ones, those taken for granted, the unknown and rejected are always the ones used as God’s instruments, the ones always effecting the most far-reaching changes in history and our personal lives.

Even in the story of the Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, we find the centrality of becoming small to become a part of the whole.

It is the exact opposite of the story at Babel when people in the Old Testament dared to build a tower reaching to the skies; because of their pride, God confused them by making them speak different languages that led to the collapse of their tower and ambitions. During the Pentecost, the people were all united as one despite the different languages they speak because everybody was willing to listen, to become small in themselves to give way to others.

Like during the Pentecost, let us allow the “tongues of fire” and the “strong, driving wind” of the Holy Spirit part us of our fears and indifference, pride and ego during this Academic year 2021-2022 to fully realize and learn the important lessons and truth this pandemic is teaching us.

Photo from vaticannews,va, 13 May 2017.

Whenever, and wherever there is a search for truth that leads to the discovery of God through our patience and humility, there springs simultaneously the growth of a community. It is no wonder that wherever there is prayer and worship, there is always learning leading to bonding, or communing.

The first universities – from the Latin term universitas or “community of teachers and scholars” – where all offshoots of the efforts of the monks in their monastery as they evangelized peoples, teaching them not only prayers but also the basics of learning like reading and writing. Eventually monasteries had annex buildings as schools and universities that led to the establishment of towns and cities in Europe that spawned the growth of commerce and trade following the great many interactions among peoples.

Here we find the beautiful interplay of the search for truth that leads to discovery of God that bears fruit into mercy and love among people.

Another learned Saint who sought the Truth, Thomas Aquinas said that the more we learn the truth, the more we become intelligent, the more we must become holy.

How lovely it is, my dear students and teachers of Our Lady of Fatima University that wherever there is Truth which is Veritas, there is also Misericordia, the two mottos of our beloved University.

Amid the threats of COVID-19, amid the difficulties of online learning, let us continue to seek the truth, be patient and humble with one another as we try to build a community of “achievers” by “improving man as man”, “rising to the top” not to be conceited and proud but to be able to offer ourselves in the service of the country and of the world, for the praise and glory of God.

May our Patroness, the Our Lady of Fatima, lead us closer to Jesus Christ who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Amen.

From Facebook.com/fatima.university.

Opening our ears and heart

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday XXIII-B in Ordinary Time, 05 September 2021
Isaiah 35:4-7 ><}}}'> James 2:1-5 ><}}}'> Mark 7:31-37
Photo by Ms. Mira Mandal Sibal, 08 August 2021.

Since the start of our Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) last month, I have always admired the faithful people who continue to celebrate Mass with us outside our church as well as those in other places like Quiapo.

I have nothing against ECQ but I have always questioned the government decision in prioritizing churches in every lockdown when we have always been very strict in our protocols unlike malls and groceries. Most of all, it is during this time of crisis when we must give people the chance to express their faith in going to houses of worship to pray in silence and celebrate with the community while observing protocols.

It is very touching and inspiring to see people – young and old alike, healthy and sickly going to churches every Sunday, catching up with our Lord Jesus Christ even outside, rain or shine.

And that is why our gospel this Sunday is again very timely at this time we have reached the two-million mark in less than a year in the number of those infected with COVID-19 while those in government corruption are also breaking the billion peso mark in anomalous transactions! That is how evil those people are that while many are suffering in the pandemic, there those in government with gall to steal big time.

Has God forsaken us his people, especially at this time we are celebrating our 500th year of Christianization? Of course not!

Jesus Christ continues to come to us everyday not only to cleanse by washing our hearts of evil and sin as we have seen last Sunday in the gospel; today, Mark tells us how Jesus comes also to open our ears in order to hear and listen to his words that eventually open our hearts to freedom and salvation.

Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears, and spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!”

Mark 7:31-34

“Jesus went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into Decapolis

Of the four evangelists, Mark is the only one who portrays Jesus as always on the go without even telling us details of his itinerary nor of the places he visited and people he had met. As the first gospel account written, Mark wrote in straight news style as he felt the urgency of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus.

However, when Mark gives even the slightest details of the places and people in the journeys of the Lord, it always means something else. Like in our gospel today.

Photo by author, Sea (Lake) of Galilee, 2017.

Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis.

Mark 7:31

You will recall that in July when Jesus sent his disciples to their first missionary journey, they were told to seek the “lost sheep of Israel”, to not go to pagan and Samaritan lands.

Today, it is the Lord himself who left Tyre and Sidon in northern Israel to go into the pagan territories of Decapolis that literally means “ten cities”.

Here we find the universality of Christ’s mission, not just for his fellow Jews. His love is so encompassing covering all the peoples of all time, then and now.

Jesus seeks us out who are in totally alien territory in life like this pandemic because he loves us.

When we look back and reflect in our lives, we find so many instances in the past how it was in the most foreign and lost situations when we have actually found God, is it not?

Reflecting further in this scene in the Decapolis, Mark is reminding us how we could also be those people who have brought the deaf-mute to Jesus, begging him to heal the man.

And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.

Mark 7:32

Those people who have begged Jesus to heal the deaf-mute are the same people who went out of their ways since the start of the pandemic helping others in their many needs and sufferings, those people who sacrificed time, talent and treasures for the less fortunate like the community pantry.

They were also those elder brothers and sisters who have helped their younger siblings to learn and thrive in the new mode of learning online that began last year.

Those people who begged Jesus to heal the deaf-mute were also the same medical health frontliners who have died or still continue to serve us despite our callous government officials led by the health secretary.

Though there were so many abusive people last year -mostly civil servants and police officials who have notoriously made headlines – there were still more generous and kind people who made Jesus present to someone in need during this pandemic.

How wonderful it is to realize – and relish this Sunday as we find ourselves in this unusual and surreal situation of the COVID-19 pandemic that Christ is also with us, staying with us, speaking to us.

But, are we listening to him? Are we not also the same deaf-mute who needs Christ’s healing?

Photo by author, Caeasaria in northern Israel, 2017.

“Ephphata” – Be opened!

Notice another significant detail that Mark has mentioned in this gospel scene. Aside from identifying the Lord’s coming to the pagan territory of Decapolis, Mark surprisingly tells us in details the unique and unusual manner of healing by Jesus there.

There must be something very important in this unique healing by Jesus whereas before, he would just lay his hands on the sick or most usually, he would merely speak. Remember that we could also be this deaf needing Christ’s healing.

He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears, and spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.

Mark 7:33-35

Opening to God involves our whole person, our whole being. Not just our eyes and ears, but most of all our heart. And the first step for us is to take a break from our ordinary life, from our daily routines that have numbed us that we have lost our consciousness of the present moment, even of our very selves.

This is why Jesus “took him off by himself from the crowd.”

Photo by Ms. Mira Mandal Sibal, 08 August 2021.

To a certain sense, this is the grace of the pandemic – an opportunity for us all to spend more time with Jesus in prayers at home or in the church and to bond and fix those broken ties in our family. Before the pandemic, couples and children rarely have the chance to be together even at meals due to each one’s busy schedule; but, with COVID-19’s new mode of work and learning “from home”, many were thrown off balance because some have long lost their sense of being with family members.

Prayer in fact is an awareness of our presence that leads us to God’s presence. Unless we learn to separate from others and the usual ordinariness of our lives characterized by madness and toxicity in everything, we can never experience the presence of God in Jesus Christ in us and among us as well as in the sacraments and prayers.

That putting of Jesus of his finger into the man’s ears and touching his tongue with a spit indicate the personal encounter of the Lord with each of us, of how he would reach out to us daily to feel and experience his presence but we are always “out-of-touch”.

It is said that our heart is the shape of two ears put together.

I believe so. Opening to God is opening our ears to Jesus speaking to us daily. He has been trying so hard to converse with us but we hardly notice him around us because of those ubiquitous ear pods and headphones always stuck into our ears. We shut ourselves from the world to be into our own world, separated from everyone including God. We would rather listen to influencers and personal playlists that confirm things we believe as true, no more room for others especially the poor and marginalized as James noted in his Letter we have heard proclaimed in the second reading.

Beginning this Sunday, let us set ourselves apart from the rest to open ourselves to Jesus to see his light and hear his words so we can walk his path of joy and peace because he is “the Way” (Jn.16:6).

Let our hearts be strong, not to fear this crisis because God has fulfilled his promise prophesied by Isaiah in the first reading on Christ’s coming with “vindication and divine recompense to save us” (Is.35:4).

Have a blessed first week of September!

Photo from news.abs-cbn.com, 2020.

Fulfillment in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XXII, Year I in Ordinary Time, 02 September 2021
Colossians 1:9-14   ><}}}*> ><}}}*> ><}}}*>   Luke 5:1-11
Photo by author of the statues of Simon Peter kneeling before Jesus after the miraculous catch of fish at the lake, 2017.
As the pandemic rages with its
more devastating surge affecting
whole families, we pray dear Father
not only for healing of those afflicted
with COVID-19 but also for the opening
of our minds and hearts to find the
deeper realities of life instead of still
being preoccupied with mundane and 
selfish desires we have taken as our
false securities.  Let us remove all these
blindness in us to see and embrace 
the truth of your Son Jesus Christ, the 
only one who can lead us out of this
darkness that is also of our own making.
Let the prayer of St. Paul for the Colossians
be our prayer today, Father:  "that we may walk
in a manner worthy of the Lord so as to be fully
pleasing in every good work, bearing fruit
and growing in the knowledge of God" so that
"we may be fit to share in the inheritance 
of the holy ones in light" (Colossians 1:10,12).
Dear Father, help us realize the need for us
to seek fulfillment only you in Christ Jesus
"in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness
of sins" (Colossians 1:14).
Open our eyes to see the deeper story behind 
the news happening around us today:  
of what sense is our pursuit for fame,
wealth and power when we can easily die with
COVID-19 or when our country is overrun 
by rebels like Afghanistan?
Fulfillment in life can only be found 
in Jesus Christ your Son who had come 
to enable us "catch abundant fish" when
all our toils and efforts yielded nothing;
teach us to trust in you more, to dare 
cast the net into the deep and most of all,
to leave our "boat" of comfort and ease
to walk with Jesus, following him as
"fishers of men" sharing his loving service
and presence, mercy and kindness with everyone.
Amen. 

True faith and good health build a community

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Week XXII, Year I in Ordinary Time, 01 September 2021
Colossians 1:9-14   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   Luke 4:38-44
Photo by author, November 2018.
Praise and glory to you,
God our loving Father,
for the gift of life that we have
reached the first day of the "ber"
months leading to Christmas.
Since last year we have been
amusing ourselves with the 
awaited playing of Christmas
carols in September to feel good.
But today, we also feel blessed
for being alive, in keeping the faith
in you.

Brothers and sisters: from the day we heard about you, we do not cease praying for you and asking that you may be filled with knowledge of God’s will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding; to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord so as to be fully pleasing in every good work, bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God.

Colossians 1:9-10
While we are all praying
 for more faith and good health
 in this time of another surge,
we continue to pray for the
healing of all those afflicted
with COVID-19, begging you like
Simon Peter for his mother-in-law;
We pray for the healing of the sick
not only in body but also in mind,
heart and soul.
Help us realize that like faith,
good health builds community;
that good health concerns all
because everyone's well-being
depends also with everyone's health.

After Jesus left the synagogue, he entered the house of Simon. Simon’s mother-in-law was afflicted with a severe fever, and they interceded with him about her. He stood over her, rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up immediately and waited on them.

Luke 4:38-39
Teach us, O God,
to be like Simon Peter's mother-in-law 
to realize that most especially 
in our good health we can help build 
our community and family 
by serving in the name of Jesus
for other's good health
and wellness.
Amen.

The Holy month of August

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 30 August 2021
Photo by Fr. John Howard Tarrayo, National Shrine and Parish of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 06 August 2021.

Like the months of November and January, August now suffers the same fate of being more known with pagan rituals and beliefs despite its rich liturgical celebrations and feasts we celebrate – ironically – as the only Christian nation in this part of the world.

Spurred mainly by the social media, more and more Filipinos now believe that August is a “ghost month” with almost everybody even not a Chinoy are posting those “Do’s” and “Don’ts” on Facebook to cast away or avoid the evil spell by ghosts that August is supposed to bring.

What a sad reality in our Catholic Christian country.

Forty or 30 years ago, all we have was “pangangaluluwa” when some people would sing in front of our homes for some donations like in caroling during Christmas season. With the advent of social media and our penchant for anything American, we now have every November those grossly erroneous and pagan Halloween practices of costume party and “trick or treat”. Not far from that is our January tradition borrowed also from pagans of literally welcoming every New Year with a lot of “bang”, wasting precious money that also cost some lives and injuries to so many due to fireworks and firecrackers.

Here we find the kind of religiosity that binds most of us, more on rites and rituals but lacking in roots and spirituality, centered on ourselves to be assured of every kind of blessings, forgetting all about the very object of faith who is God expressed in our concern for one another.


August is not a ghost month nor any other month of the year.  
Like the days of the week, every month is a blessed one.  
No day nor date nor time is malas because 
when God became human like us in the coming of Jesus Christ, 
life has become holy, filled with God, 
debunking those ancient beliefs of the Divine being seen in various cosmic forces.

August is not a ghost month nor any other month of the year. Like the days of the week, every month is a blessed one. No day nor date nor time is malas because when God became human like us in the coming of Jesus Christ, life has become holy, filled with God, debunking those ancient beliefs of the Divine being seen in various cosmic forces.

In this regard a text by Saint Gregory Nazianzen is enlightening. He says that at the very moment when the Magi, guided by the star, adored Christ the new king, astrology came to an end, because the stars were now moving in the orbit determined by Christ[2]. This scene, in fact, overturns the world-view of that time, which in a different way has become fashionable once again today. It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love—a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free. In ancient times, honest enquiring minds were aware of this. Heaven is not empty. Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love[3].

#5 of Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope) by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, 30 November 2007
From catholicapostolatecenter.org.

Consider the name of this month August which was borrowed from the Roman Caesar Augustus that signifies reverence or to hold someone in high regard. As an adjective, august means “respected and impressive” like when we say “in this august hall of men and women of science”.

Most of all, consider the great feasts that fall on this month of August: the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ on August 6 and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven on August 15. Both feasts remind us of the promise of glory in heaven as we strive and persevere to lead holy lives in this world filled with pain and sufferings.

(See our blogs on these feasts, https://lordmychef.com/2021/08/06/transfiguration-in-time-of-corona/ and https://lordmychef.com/2021/08/14/mary-mirror-of-gods-greatness/.)

There are also so many saints we celebrate on this month of August like our patron saint as priests, St. John Vianney (August 4); St. Dominic who died 800 years ago on August 8 after serving not only the Church but also the whole world in general when he founded the Order of Preachers (O.P.) also known as the “Dominicans”; St. Clare of Assisi (August 11), a contemporary and friend of St. Francis; St. Bernard of Clairvaux (August 20) who wrote so many beautiful homilies, hymns and prayers like the Memorare; St. Rose of Lima (August 23) who was the first saint from the New World; and of course not to forget the greatest mother and son tandem next maybe to Mary and Jesus, St. Monica (August 27) and St. Augustine (August 28).

August is also the month of two great followers of Jesus, St. Bartholomew the Apostle (August 24) and two former Pharisees who buried our Lord, St. Joseph of Arimathea and St. Nicodemus (August 31). Likewise, it is on August 29 when we celebrate the martyrdom of the Lord’s precursor, St. John the Baptist who was beheaded during the birthday party of Herod who was so afraid to take back his oath to give whatever Salome would ask him after delighting his guests with a dance number.

There are two special saints we celebrate this holy month that according to St. John Paul II are both saints of our modern time, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (August 09) and St. Maximilian Kolbe (August 14). Both saints were martyred in the gas chambers of Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

St. Teresa Benedicta is the same German philosopher Edith Stein, a former Jew who had become an atheist in her younger years in the university but upon further studies and prayer, converted into Catholicism, becoming a Carmelite nun where she adopted her new name. She wrote in one of her writings that “Those who seek truth seek God, whether they realize it or not“.

Though she had become Catholic, she did not abandon her Judaic roots, even writing the Pope at that time to ask him to speak strongly against the Nazi Germans’ extermination of Jews. Her death on August 9, 1942 at Auschwitz with her younger sister who had become a Catholic too was a fitting testimony to her faith, honoring her Jewish roots by dying among them as a martyr of Christ and one who had “learned to live in God’s hands” according to Sr. Josephine Koeppel, OCD, a translator of much of her works.

Dying ahead of her in Auschwitz on August 14, 1941 was St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest who was arrested for his writings against the evil Nazis. It was actually his second time to be arrested.

When a prisoner had escaped from the camp, authorities rounded up ten men to die in exchange of the lone escapee. Fr. Kolbe volunteered to take the place of a married man with children. They were all tortured and starved in order to die slowly in pain. A devotee of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Maximilian was injected with carbolic acid on the eve of the Assumption after guards found him along with three other prisoners still alive, without any signs of fear like screaming but silently praying.

Photo of Auschwitz from Google.

We no longer have gas chambers but atrocities against human life continue in our time, hiding in the pretext of science and laws. Until now, men and women, young and old alike including those not yet born in their mother’s womb are hunted and killed to correct what many perceived as excesses and wrongs in the society. Just like what Hitler and his men have thought of the Jews at that time.

The Nazi officers and soldiers of Auschwitz remind us the true “ghosts” or evil spirits of our time sowing hatred and deaths are people who may be well-dressed, even educated in the best schools, and come from devout or “normal” families. They sow evil every day without choosing any particular month, blindly following orders without much thinking and reflections or introspection.

By the lives of the many great saints of August, or of any other month for that matter, we are reminded especially in this time of the pandemic that holiness is not being sinless but simply being filled with God, allowing that holiness to spill over and flow onto others with our lives of authenticity to the truth of God among us in Christ expressed in charity and mercy, kindness and justice, humility and openness with one another.

It is very sad and depressing to watch in the news and social media feeds how some among us continue to display their lack of any concern at all with the suffering people with their lavish lifestyles and display of expensive clothes and food. And worst of all are those men and women, in power or hungry for power, in their excessive display of brute force against the weak and the poor.

Let us make every month holy and blessed with our good deeds to make everyone aware of Christ’s presence among us.

Photo from inquirer.net.