Good Fridays on Sundays

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 11 October 2020
Photo by Ms. Anne Ramos, Good Friday “motororized procession” of Santo
Entierro in our Parish during COVID-19, 10 April 2020.
Lately I have noticed
since month of August
when we have a spike of the virus
I have felt heavy and serious
as Sundays have become 
more like a Good Friday
with the streets and church seats
both empty;  nobody seems to be happy
or Sundays have become more lazy?
How I miss the people I always see
wondering if they are safe and healthy
or maybe so wary just like me.
Sometimes I still feel
how everything is surreal
will I make it to next year
enjoying life without fear?
I have been wondering
if the Lord is still hanging
or have they crucified him again?
Life in the midst of COVID-19
has become more challenging
listening to silence so deafening
when God does not seem to be caring;
but, deep within
there is that calming
during Good Friday
that Easter Sunday
 is surely coming:
keep on believing, keep on praying
if Sundays look like a Good Friday
this may only mean one thing, that
Jesus is with us suffering COVID-19!

The hiddenness of God

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 04 September 2020
Photo by author, sunset at the Lake of Galilee (Tiberias) in Israel, May 2017.

August has always been a “ghost month” for me since elementary school. Long before I have heard these stories and words of caution against many things in the month of August, I have always dreaded this month when days are grindingly slow.

Specially this year 2020 when the whole month of August felt like the season of Lent when everything was dry and empty, even literally speaking in our churches when the five Sundays of August were like five Good Fridays.

But, for the first time in many years during this pandemic, amid the dryness and emptiness of August 2020, I felt and “found” God anew in his most unique and wonderful characteristic — his hiddenness.

Hiddenness is different from being invisible that simply means “not visible”.

Hiddenness is something both simple and complicated but beautiful and wonderful when we find God in his hiddenness.

Hiddenness of God means more than not being seen per se; it is that feeling with certainty that he is present but, just hiding somewhere. In fact, if God were not hidden, we would have not found him at all!

And the more God is hidden, the more we are able to see him and experience him!

Photo by author, April 2020.

Remember when we were kids and could not find the things that our mother had asked us to get from somewhere in the sala or kitchen or her tocador? She would threaten us with the classic line my generation have all heard and memorized, “Pag hindi mo nakita yan, makikita mo sa akin!”

It is one of our funniest memories of childhood! I am sorry for my English-speaking readers but there is no appropriate translation for this because it is very cultural and even spiritual in nature. Literally translated, it says that if you do not find what you are looking for, you would find it with me. Crazy and insane, is it not?!

I told you, hiddenness of God is both simple and complex but whenever we remember those “sweet, maternal threats”, we laugh and shrug off the experience as we were dead serious then searching for whatever thing mom had asked us because deep in us we knew too well, it must be somewhere there. Sabi kasi ni Inay! (Mom said so!)

That is how it is with God too! We know for sure he is around, he is present. But in hiding because that is how loving God is, like moms and some lovers with surprises for us his beloved.

The Prophet Jeremiah experienced it so well when he wrote:

You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter, everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding itin, I cannot endure it.

Jeremiah 20:7-9

No one can understand this without having experienced such intense kind of love of God or of another person that even if we are pained, we just cannot walk away or leave. More so with God, the most intense lover of all!

At the very center of Jeremiah’s torment is the invincible power of attraction of God. This is also the reason human love – whether for another a friend or a spouse, for the Church or any institution – must always be based on the love of Christ who told us to “love one another as I have loved you.” If our love remains in the human level, it can never go deeper or higher making it so sublime, so true, so pure.

That is how God is in his hiddenness who is like a lover who never stops looking for us, calling us, luring us, even seducing us to come to him, search him and once found, we may dwell in his great love; hence, even if we do not “see” him, we keep on following him as we also find him in his hiddenness!

Hiddenness of God, mystery and gift of Easter

This hiddenness of God is both the gift and mystery of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection. It is a gift because in his hiddenness, God has become closest to us more than ever while at the same time, a mystery because it is in his very hiddenness that we truly find and discover God.

Remember the two disciples going home to Emmaus on Easter afternoon who was accompanied by Jesus while traveling? They did not recognize him but as they talked, their “hearts were burning” as he explained the Scriptures. Then joining them at their meal at sundown upon reaching Emmaus, Jesus took the bread, blessed it and broke it — and the disciples’ eyes were opened, recognizing him as the Lord who immediately disappeared! The two then rushed back to Jerusalem to announce to the other disciples that Jesus had indeed risen.

That is the beauty of hiddenness, its giftedness and mystery that we find God even our beloved who had died or not physically present with us but deep within, we are certain of their presence as being so true and so real.

Hiddenness is a deeper level of relationship coming from one’s heart and soul not dependent on physical presence. This is the reason why upon appearing to Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, Jesus asked her not to touch him because from then on, knowing and relating with the Lord need not be physical and corporeal as he used to relate with them before his Death and Resurrection.

All these we must have experienced like when after a friend or a relative had died, that is when we felt growing closer with the person than when he/she was still alive and physically present with us. Or, when we were feeling low and down, we experienced sometimes so amazed at how we have felt the presence even the scent of our deceased loved ones comforting us, assuring us that all would be better.

This quarantine period invites us to experience and discover God anew in his hiddenness through prayers and silence so we can reflect on the many lessons this pandemic is teaching us today. In the darkness and emptiness of this pandemic are grace-filled moments with God hidden in our poverty and sadness, sickness and even deaths around us.

Photo by author, Christmas 2018.

Some people have already asked me about what or how would our Simbang Gabi and Christmas celebrations be. They are sad and worried that it must be a very bleak Christmas for everyone with so many out of work.

But, despite this gloom, I tell them that Christmas 2020 would be one – if not the most meaningful Christmas we shall ever have despite forecasts that there would be less of everything, materially speaking.

So often in life, when we have so much material things, that is when we fail to find and experience God.

Recall that in Bethlehem more that 2000 years ago when Jesus Christ was born, God came to us hidden in a stable, on a manger in the darkness of the night.

And do not forget, too, that Christmas is not a date but an event, the very person of Jesus Christ, the all-powerful God who came to us hidden in a child, who upon becoming an adult, was crucified and died. These are sad and down moments for us but for God, it is his hiddenness, his presence. Let us go and find him again for he continues to come to us in hiddenness. Amen.

To be known and still be loved

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, 22 July 2020
2 Corinthians 5:14-17 >><}}}*> >><}}}*> >><}}}*> John 20:1-2, 11-18
Painting by Giotto of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ appearing to St. Mary Magdalene from commons.wikimedia.org.

Dearest Lord Jesus Christ:

Today as I prayed on the feast of your beloved Saint Mary Magdalene, my sights were focused on your beautiful exchange of names on that Easter morning at your tomb.

It is so lovely and so deep, and very personal for all of us whom you love so much despite our many sins like St. Mary Magdalene.

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 20:14-16

You called her by her name, “Mary” and she called you by your title “Rabbouni” – what a beautiful scene of two people loving each other so deeply, so truly! You – humbly and lovingly accepting the sinner, and she – submitting herself to you as disciple.

You have expelled seven demons from her, you have known her so well even her darkest secrets and sins, and despite all these knowledge, Lord Jesus, the more you have loved her that you called her by the sweetest word she could ever hear in her life, “Mary”.

The same with us, sweet Jesus: every day you call us by our names, each one of us as a person, an individual, a somebody not just a someone. You love us so much in spite and despite of everything. We are not just a number or a statistic to you but a person with whom you relate personally.

From Google.

Help us to realize this specially when darkness surrounds us, when self-doubts and mistrust abound in us without realizing your deep trust in us, in our ability to rise again in you and follow you.

Teach me to trust you more and love you more like St. Mary Magdalene, to give and offer my self to you totally as yours, calling you “Rabbouni” or Teacher and Master.

Let me give up whatever I still keep to myself, whatever I refuse to surrender so that I may enjoy the intimacy you offer me as a friend, a beloved, and a family in the Father.

What a joy indeed to be like St. Mary Magdalene, fully known and fully loved by you, dear Jesus.

May I learn to know and love others too like you so I may proclaim you to them. Amen.

Mission of healing

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Solemnity of the Pentecost-A, 31 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11 <*(((>< 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13 ><)))*> John 20:19-23

Pope Francis praying at an empty St. Peter’s Square 27 March 2020. Photo from cruxnow.com.

As I prayed over the readings this coming Pentecost Sunday, my thoughts kept going back to those powerful images when Pope Francis prayed at an empty St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican last March 27 when COVID-19 was ravaging the whole Italy with so many deaths.

Now more than ever, the Church badly needs the Pentecost – a new Pentecost that will heal and rebirth the world so wounded and altered by the corona pandemic this year 2020.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

John 20:19-20
Modern rendition of the Pentecost. From Google.

Holy Spirit, breath of life and cause of unity

The Pentecost is not just an event remembered in the past but a reality that happens daily when the Holy Spirit comes and is received by those attuned with its life and mission which is to bring peace through unity and healing.

Promised by Jesus Christ to his followers as their Advocate and Counsellor, the Holy Spirit descended on them during the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem when Jews from all parts of the world gathered to remember the 50 days after their Passover in Egypt at the time of Moses.

It was the perfect setting for the Christian Pentecost – this time 50 days after Easter – to celebrate the new unity of mankind in Jesus he established on Holy Thursday evening at his Last Supper. Inasmuch as the Jews went home at that time to be one with their fellow believers in Jerusalem, on that day from the holy city comes forth the new solidarity of peoples in Jesus led by his followers gathered that day in the Upper Room.

Hence, the tradition of considering Pentecost Sunday as the birthday of the Church, too.

Though we have heard two different versions of its coming, what matters most is the Person of the Holy Spirit as the breath of life and the cause of unity among the followers of Christ.

In the first reading, Luke gives us an artistic presentation of the coming of the Holy Spirit showing the unity of the peoples: first of the followers of Jesus and later with the Jews gathered in Jerusalem on that day for their feast of Pentecost. Whereas the apostles were at first presented as timid and lacking in understanding, the Holy Spirit emboldened them on that day to go out and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Led by Peter, they were filled with life and wisdom and courage, converting thousands of people on Pentecost day despite their speaking in different languages, exactly the opposite at the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament.

In the gospel, John gives us the theological grounding of Pentecost when we find Jesus appearing to his disciples hiding from the Jews on the evening of Easter at the Upper Room where he breathed on them the Holy Spirit that filled them with joy upon seeing him risen and alive.

The scene was reminiscent of the many stories in the Old Testament of the “breath of God” giving life to the first human beings in the story of creation, the “breathing on” by Elijah on the nostrils of the widow’s dead son back to life (1Kgs.17:21), and the promise of God to Ezekiel to restore to life the many dry bones in their graves in the time to come (Ezek. 37:1-14).

These stories now take on deeper meanings in Jesus Christ its fulfillment. And not only were the disciples breathed on with new life in Christ but also the whole creation was renewed in the coming of the Holy Spirit that we pray, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and you shall renew the face of the earth”.

Perennial Pentecost for peace and healing

Pentecost is an event that continues to happen daily especially when we are gathered as the body of believers of Jesus Christ tasked to realize its fulfillment. This coming of the Holy Spirit is not a one-shot deal that happened only in the past in Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago — it is something we as followers of the Risen Lord must always wait and make happen every day so as to continually bring life and renewal to this world especially at this time of the corona pandemic.

In giving us the Holy Spirit, Jesus not only renewed our lives as his disciples united in him but also conferred his own power without restrictions to accomplish our mission.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

John 20:21-23
The Chair of St. Peter at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome with the stained glass of the Holy Spirit above. Photo from dreamstime.com.

At the Vatican inside the great St. Peter’s Basilica is a beautiful stained glass of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove rising above as background to the Chair of St. Peter ( Feast is February 22) at the sanctuary area.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI described this beautiful work of art:

“It seems to me that a deep analysis of the essence of the Church lies hidden here, is contained here… It unites the Church with creation as a whole. It signifies through the dove of the Holy Spirit that God is the actual source of all light. But it tells us something else: the Church herself is in essence, so to speak, a window, a place of contact between the other-worldly mystery of God and our world, the place where the world is permeable to the radiance of his light… The Church is the place of encounter where God meets us and we find God. It is her task to open up the world closing in on itself, to give it the light without which it would be unlivable.”

Images of Hope, pp.29-31

Here we find part of our mission in collaboration with the Holy Spirit is the the healing of the world that can be achieved only through peace. See how Jesus had to repeat twice his gift of peace to his disciples because it is his greatest gift to us following his Resurrection.

Life thrives and blooms most where there is peace, where there are disciples of the Lord willing to work for it with love and patience.

But the peace from Jesus Christ always has a price that we must be willing to pay to achieve it.

See that after his first greeting of peace, Jesus showed his wounds — he was the first to pay the price for peace with his own life.

Bringing around our Parish the Blessed Sacrament during the lockdown, March-May 2020.

This is the meaning of the many sacrifices and sufferings we all have to go through in this quarantine period expected to continue until 2021: if we want to get out of this pandemic, aside from the need for a vaccine and medication, we all need to change our ways to make sure this will not happen again.

It is always easy to join so many advocacies and rallies calling for every kind of change in the society and the world but nothing had ever happened because whenever we come home, we do not change our own ways of living! Sayang (what a waste) were all the inspiration and energies of the Holy Spirit for our many causes that have not taken roots right in our hearts.

All the apostles of the Lord paid the price of peace with their own lives that led to the healing not only of individuals and families but even of nations and the world.

The second time Jesus offered his gift of peace, he breathed the Holy Spirit on his apostles and commissioned them to forgive all sins.

Peace is the fruit of love according to Vatican II.

As such, peace from the Holy Spirit leads to healing when there is dialogue, prayer and repentance, that lead to justice, love, and forgiveness. Peace and healing need hard work that is why they are fruits. They never come on a silver platter.

On Monday, most of the quarantine levels in the country are downgraded because it is hoped we have somehow controlled the spread of COVID-19.

As we eagerly await more freedom and mobility in this time of pandemic, what have we achieved during these three months of quarantine, said to be the longest in the world?

Have we resolved our family differences? Have we rediscovered our family members, getting more close than ever, more kind, more understanding?

How sad that all we can share as our quarantine stories are all about food and other pursuits we have undertaken forgetting the unity and life of our family and community.

How sad when we in the Church have all been preoccupied with the new communication media but failed at all to make any impact or dent in the lives of our faithful because we have not shared Jesus Christ at all, when all our “live streaming” and vlogs are powered by likes and followers, not by the Holy Spirit.

Pope Francis blessing the people last March 27 in an empty St. Peter’s Square during the height of COVID-19 in Italy that became the new epicenter of pandemic next to China. Photo from Vatican Media Office.

Jesus never takes back his gift of peace, his gift of healing, his gift of the Holy Spirit. He promised to never leave us orphans. Let us not leave the Holy Spirit behind and stop believing in our selves.

That’s the way we have been in the world and even in the Church.

That is why – to a large extent – we have this corona pandemic.

A blessed week to everyone.

Praying for courage to follow God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Friday, Easter Week VII, 29 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 25:13-21 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> John 21:15-19

Photo by author, ancient ruins of Caesarea in Israel, May 2019.

Dearest Lord Jesus, give us the courage to truly follow you, the courage to forget our selves, and most of all, the courage to truly desire and seek you.

So often, we always desire you but we are not willing to set aside our own plans and agenda. We are afraid of starting all over again, afraid of what others would say to our great visions and dreams.

We ask for your directions but we are never willing to go with you because we are afraid of going to uncharted and untested situations and places. We are afraid of getting lost, of losing time and money for our endeavors and pursuits in life.

We ask for strength but we refuse to give up our attachments because we are afraid of not having any fall back just in case we fail. We are afraid of losing everything if we entrust everything to the Holy Spirit.

Lord, let us realize like Peter that to desire and follow you requires courage on our part because to have you, to follow you means losing our very selves in you so we can be with you wherever you may be.

Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

John 21:18

Even St. Paul in the first reading courageously followed you, Lord, from Miletus to Jerusalem to Caesarea and finally to Rome to fulfill the mission you have entrusted to him.

May we find courage in you Lord that like St. Peter and St. Paul, we may also answer and fulfill your call. Amen.

Giftedness of a gift

The Lord I My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Thursday, Easter Week VII, 28 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 22:30; 23:6-11 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> John 17:20-26

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: “Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

John 17:24

Wow! What a tremendous blessing you have poured upon us today, Lord Jesus Christ! Yesterday, you proved yourself to be a great friend to us, and today, you give us the great honor of being a gift to you from the Father.

We are nothing before you, O Lord, and yet that is who we are to you – a gift from the Father.

What an honor for us all when in fact, we have nothing except your gift of self, your gift of life.

And that is where the giftedness of any gift lies – not in the gift itself but in the giver and the receiver of the gift. Any gift is worthless unless somebody gives it and somebody receives it too.

Between the giving and receiving, therein happens the giftedness of gift when it is opened and offered. A gift left unopened under a Christmas tree or in a drawer remains nothing unless opened and used and appreciated.

Photo by author, Subic, Zambales, 2018.

We are a gift given by God to everyone in Christ Jesus. It is only when we are able to open and offer our selves do we become truly a gift.

Give us that grace, Jesus, of offering and sharing our giftedness like St. Paul in the first reading.

The following night the Lord stood by him (St. Paul) and said, “Take courage. For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.”

Acts of the Apostles 23:11

There are many occasions, Lord, when we pray and ask you to spare us of all the sufferings and trials but now we have realized that it is only in being one with you in your passion when we truly become a gift to you from the Father.

It is in our becoming a gift to you that we become a gift to others and eventually realize our many gifts in ourselves too. Amen.

What a friend we have in Jesus!

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Wednesday, Easter Week VII, 27 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 20:28-38 ><)))*> 000 + 000 <*(((>< John 17:11-19

Jesus praying at the garden of Gethsemane. Photo by author, Church of All Nations beside Gethsemane in the Holy Land, May 2019.

What a true and great friend we have in you, O Lord Jesus Christ! You are not only faithful and loving to us but most of all, so true to us that you pray for us that the Father may always keep up.

Every day we pray to you asking for so many things because you are life yourself.

We pray for our family and friends because we love them, and you surely love them too.

And here you are, dearest Jesus, praying for us to the Father!

Thank you so much for thinking of us always.

Forgive us Jesus for the many times we have turned away from you, when we have refused to love you in others.

Enlighten our minds and our hearts, Lord, about your prayer consecrating us in the truth, the word of the Father, when you are in fact, the Word who became flesh.

Baby Jesus in our Parish last Christmas 2019 on a bed of white roses.

Grant us the grace to be like St. Paul in the first reading who can sincerely proclaim to everyone his fidelity to your words and mission that was attested with the deep love of the presbyters of Ephesus who were deeply saddened when he bid them goodbye.

In this time of COVID-19 when life is so uncertain with so many people dying, may we give some precious moments of prayer and reflection with the life you have gifted us, you always prayed for.

Give us the courage to examine the kind of life we are leading, if we can have the sincerity of St. Paul in boldly declaring how we have lived and toiled among others.

Pray harder for us, dear Jesus that we may be always one with you in the Father and the Holy Spirit through others. Amen.

Glorifying God in our love

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Memorial of St. Philip Neri, 26 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 20:17-27 <*(((>< >+< ><)))*> John 17:1-11

Dome of the Malolos Cathedral. Photo by author, December 2019.

The beautiful readings of this week after the Ascension of the Lord complement the crucial week ahead for us all in this time of the corona virus.

Your words, O Lord, continue to amaze us with its many meanings to guide and soothe and assure us of your loving presence.

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him.”

John 17:1-2

After praying for us your disciples, now you tell us of your “hour” when you shall fulfill your mission which is to suffer and die on the Cross for our salvation. It is your hour of glory, Lord Jesus, because it is the outpouring of your and the Father’s immeasurable love for us all.

Yesterday you have taught us that before everything else in our lives, there has always been your love.

Today, you assure us especially in this time of the corona virus that before all these sufferings and pains we endure, you were there first to suffer and die for us still because of your love for us.

Teach us to be like St. Paul to be firm and persevering in our mission to love against all odds, to never “shrink” in our love and patience to our detractors and those who mean to discredit us.

Like St. Paul, may we never “shrink before all those who malign your holy name, those who find material things more essential than you our Lord and our God.

Let us never shrink in our love and understanding, patience and wisdom.

Likewise, fill our hearts with your joy and humor like St. Philip Neri who attracted many followers and believers to you with his infectious cheerfulness.

Despite our many limitations and sinfulness, may your Holy Spirit, dear Lord Jesus Christ help us to continue loving you among one another especially to those with special needs in this time of crisis.

And Lord, despite the continued abuse of those in power and authority in pushing and shoving us, shouting and cursing us for everyone to hear and see on national TV, let us never shrink in choosing to be peaceful and understanding. Amen.

St. Philip Neri, pray for us.

What does it take to believe in God?

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Monday, Easter Week VII, 25 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 19:1-8 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> John 16:29-33

Stained glass in our parish of the appearance of Jesus to Thomas Didymus. Photo by author, April 2020.

If you ask me Lord, or even anyone for that matter, I may never be able to answer completely and satisfactorily that question: what does it take to believe that you are God?

The disciples said to Jesus, “Now you are talking plainly, and not in any figure of speech. Now we realize that you know everything and that you do not need to have anyone question you. Because of this we believe that you came from God.”

John 16:29-30

As I prayed on your words today, dear Jesus, I wondered on what was it that you must have told the apostles that they realized you knew everything that you do not need anyone to question you that finally convinced them to believe you came from God?

Could it be that as you neared your Passion and Death, the more they felt your love?

As I have told you, if you or anyone asks me how I have come to believe that you come from God, that you are the Son of God, I cannot give any precise answer except that I have felt your love.

Love is your only distinction that enables us to believe in you.

Before we believe, before we know, we first felt loved.

Love is your simplest language, Lord, because you are love.

You are able to love us all because you know everything.

And that is why you love.

So unlike us.

When we have known the other person, usually, we stop loving. But not you: the more you know, the more you love.

Mary Magdalene knows it so well, she from whom you have driven out seven demons!

For that great love, I thank you dearest Jesus, for loving me so immensely through my parents and siblings, my relatives and friends, through all the people you have sent me to experience your love.

Photo by author, 2019.

When you called me to the priesthood, the first I really felt was your love, of how much you love me that I felt so special.

Before priesthood came, there was your love first.

That continues to these days. That feeling of being loved despite my sins and shortcomings make me believe you are from God, dear Jesus.

I am sure when St. Paul laid his hands on some disciples in Ephesus to receive the Holy Spirit, what they must have really felt to be so inspired and energized in doing their mission is your immense love.

Give us the grace to remember, to recall these many moments you felt us your love that we usually take for granted or disregarded.

Once we have retrieved those loving memories in you, give us the courage Jesus to share this love you pour on us daily, especially at this time of the pandemic when all we long for is a little love from one another: a smile, a pat on the shoulder, an encouragement, a kind word, a sweet voice calling our name.

Teach is to be more loving on this last Monday of the Easter Season, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Christ’s ascension, our mission

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, 24 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11 ><)))*> Ephesians 4:1-13 ><)))*> Matthew 28:16-20

Paschal candles at the entrance to the burial site of Jesus inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Photo by author, May 2017.

We are now at the penultimate Sunday of the Easter Season with the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. Next Sunday we close the season with Pentecost and begin the Ordinary Time following Monday.

But, with our situation expected to last until 2021 when we shall have a vaccine against COVID-19, it still feels like Lent for many of us who now feel the economic and psychological impact of this pandemic.

More than ever before, we are challenged today to give testimony to Christ’s Resurrection so we can grasp the meaning and beauty of our celebration today.

The Ascension of Jesus is not about his movement or change of residence from earth into heaven or some remote part of the deep space to start his “working from home”: the Ascension of Jesus is the “leveling up” of the relationship of Christ with his disciples who include us all today.

Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20
Dome of the Chapel of the Ascension beside a mosque outside Jerusalem. Photo by author, May 2019.

Giving testimony to the Risen Christ

Notice how our gospel today does not speak much about Jesus Christ’s ascension or his being taken up to heaven unlike with Luke both in his gospel account and Book of Acts of the Apostles.

With Matthew, it is very clear that with Jesus Christ’s departure comes the mission to give testimony to him who is risen from the dead. Every disciple’s testimony is essentially his/her mission to proclaim to the world that Jesus is alive, that he is Life itself.

Like during his Ascension on a hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus is calling us all today to gather again around him, to seek those who are lost and forgotten in order to bring them all together in Christ especially at this time when people suffer more from the neglect and double-standards of this government than from COVID-19 itself.

Where is God?

We are about to end two great seasons in our liturgical calendar but it seems that we are stuck in the Holy Week. We wonder what have happened to us in this pandemic when every scene we see, every situation we are into are unbelievable, something we see only in movies. And this one’s for real!

For those of us who have not lived through wars like our parents, the atrocities of Martial Law like others, or great catastrophes like the Baguio earthquake of 1990 and the recent “Yolanda” in Samar and Leyte, when the only sufferings we can “brag” are “Ondoy” and EDSA traffic, we now live life in the most uncertain way. In between the temporary escapes and respites offered by Netflix and social media platforms, we go through a lot of self-doubts, sometimes with fits of depression or sadness and loneliness especially when the day ends and darkness begins to envelop us.

For the first time, many of us have truly experienced of not having that much in life, whether they are family and friends, or money and things.

Window inside the Chapel of Ascension, May 2017.

This is the call of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord: that we gather ourselves anew, our families and friends, our memories, most of all, our faith and hope in God whom we have always taken for granted all these years.

This is the great challenge of our time as Christians: how can we be like the Apostles and other followers of Jesus along with his Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary be filled with joy at his departure, bearing all the pains and sufferings of persecution in this time of the corona virus?

Can we gather ourselves anew – not only our family and friends but our very selves to proclaim in our lives, in our presence, in our social media posts, in everything that Jesus Christ is risen, that he is with us always?

Brothers and sisters: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might….

Ephesians 1:17-19

Opening our hearts

I have always loved that part of St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, imploring God that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened, that we may be opened to the truths and realities of Jesus Christ truly alive in our midst.

Giving testimony that Jesus Christ is risen, that he is alive, that he is Life itself needs an open heart.

Our minds will never be enough to capture, to understand and process everything about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ because it is something beyond history, beyond logic. We are sure it had truly happened, leaving imprints in the hearts and persons of all of Christ’s followers, from his first witnesses like the apostles down to us in our own time. What we need are listening hearts, seeing hearts… hearts that are open to the realities of God dwelling in us.

You must have followed the news last week about Mang Dodong of Caloocan City who was detained for more than ten days in Navotas where he was caught buying fish without a quarantine pass.

We were all saddened and affected by the news because it was at that same time when the President had pardoned and retained in position a police general who had violated quarantine rules he had vowed to implement. In fact, so severely in many instances including with Mang Dodong!

Good news is how so many people helped him pay his bail to be set free. That’s the risen Jesus working in our own time!

Fish vendor Joseph Jimeda, aka, Mang Dodong in his detention cell in Navotas. Photo from GMA News.

The path of love towards Easter and Ascension

What really makes this quarantine period too difficult and painful is not COVID-19 itself but the incompetence and injustice of this government personified by officials who are mostly arrogant, inconsistent, liars, and closed from the realities of life. They are so blinded by material things that they see businesses like malls as more essential than houses of worship that remain closed up to this day (unfortunately, even our bishops are so silent about it except for a few of them).

Sometimes, I feel we are not doing enough as witnesses and disciples of Christ, that we must be bolder and more adamant in insisting what is right, what is just with various social media platforms offering us venues for expressing our views.

But, as I prayed more about the pandemic in the light of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the more I see him present in his seeming absence by being silent amidst all these threats of the pandemic worsened by the government’s irresponsibilities, insensitivities, and injustice.

The very site where Jesus is believed to have stood during his ascension now encased in glass inside the Chapel of the Ascension. Photo by ator, May 2017.

To give testimony to the Risen Lord, to make disciples of all nations, and to teach everyone all he had commanded us to observe need not use force. Like Jesus and the Father, we need to remain gentle and patient despite the violence prevailing around us.

See how God patiently waited for the fullness of time before sending us his Son; and when Jesus was born, notice also the many trials he went through from Bethlehem to Egypt and back to Nazareth, reaching its highest point in his Passion and Death on the Cross on Good Friday.

Then came Easter Sunday and now, his Ascension.

Everything happened in silence, so gently and gradually, mostly with only a few people present.

That has always been the way of God from the Old Testament to the New Testament and right into our own time: no use of external powers and violent forces, only freedom to offer and elicit love that conquers all.

Today we are also celebrating the 54th World Communication Sunday, the only feast mandated by Vatican II for us to realize the importance of modern means of communications in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

For this year, Pope Francis has chosen the topic of the human story, of how our individual story is woven into our collective stories as a family, nation, and church. And the good news is, according to the Pope, all these stories of ours are made part of God’s story of love, the greatest story of all, the story that renews us.

Yes, we all have dark stories in this time of pandemic. Or even in childhood or the past. But, if we look into our hearts in prayer and in faith, we find Jesus there, loving us, keeping us, guiding us. Most of all, authenticating his resurrection in us, in our own life!

There are more beautiful stories we can tell during this pandemic that enable others to see the Risen Lord among us. Let us entrust ourselves to Jesus, to keep our hearts open as he authenticates our many experiences of witnessing to his Resurrection like he did to all others ahead of us.

Be assured we are on the right path in him. Amen.

Pilgrims waiting to enter the Chapel of the Ascension in the Holy Land, May 2019.