A Lenten Prayer in COVID-19

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Ash Wednesday, 17 February 2021
It is Lent again, Lord;
forty days of prayer
forty days of sacrifices
forty days of good works
forty days of silence and self-control
forty days of preparations for Easter.
Forgive us that we always forget our daily life
is essentially a daily Lent:
a daily exodus of going to the wilderness
filled with temptations 
and calls for fidelity 
to your love and person.
In this time of COVID-19
when so many of us are suffering,
help me, O Lord
not to be carried by feelings
and emotions of the Lenten Season;
give me the courage to see
beyond ordinary things,
to care more and share
even with the least that I have,
to find more reasons
to forgive and understand
most of all, to be fair and just with everyone.
Let me find my way back to you, Lord
in this time when everything and everyone I have
is quickly disappearing or have been gone or lost;
despite the face masks we wear,
let me look more into the eyes
of others to see your image and likeness;
let me wash my hands clean of evil and deceit
as I keep distance from occasions of sins
and most of all, let me empty myself of pride
to realize and experience again
my one and only, first true love is you,
alone, O dearest God.  Amen.
Photo by author, Pulilan bypass road in Bulacan, February 2020.

Love, love, love….

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday after the Epiphany of the Lord, 05 January 2021
1 John 4:7-10     >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<     Mark 6:34-44
Photo by author, 12 December 2020.

Dearest God our Father:

Today my heart has only two things to say:

First is, “Thank you for being love, for loving me!”

Beloved, let us love one another; because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.

1 John 4:7-8

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his first encyclical Deus caritas est which was taken from this letter of the beloved disciple, that, what makes Christianity so unique of all other faith is the statement, God is love.

Indeed, in all the stories told about you in the Bible, in all our experiences in life, there is only one thing you have shown and given us from the very beginning that shall continue in eternity — LOVE.

The very coming of your Son Jesus Christ is all because of LOVE. Christmas is a story of love. Epiphany is also love.

It is all love, love, love… dear God! Please open our hearts, our senses to experience this love of yours you continue to pour upon us. Touch our hearts, open our minds, let us stop denying this truth that we are loved by You.

And so, my second prayer to you today is this: as a sign of thanksgiving, let me to share your love. Let me love like Jesus your Son, thinking more of others than myself – so unlike his apostles who wanted to send home the crowd hungry, worried at where to find food for them:

By now it was already late and his disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already very late. Dismiss them so that they can go to the surrounding farms and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

Mark 6:35-36

Just for me to start thinking and feeling and acting like you when you saw the crowd like sheep without a shepherd (Mk.6:34, 37), worried for their spiritual and material hunger that you taught them so many things and then fed them with food is a good lesson to start loving like you.

O dear Jesus, fill me with your warmth and enthusiasm whenever I would look at you on the Cross so I may pass on the love you have given me to others. Amen.

Photo by author, 12 December 2020.

The company Jesus kept

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, 21 September 2020
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13   >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<   Matthew 9:9-13
Photo by author, Lake of Galilee at the side of Capernaum where Jesus called Matthew the tax collector, May 2019.

Glory and praise to you, O God our loving Father! Your Son Jesus Christ never fails to surprise us with your wondrous plans for us, with your ways of calling us, and of coming to us!

As we celebrate today on this first working day of the week the feast of St. Matthew, you fill us with hope and inspiration to work harder and pray hardest in life to find fulfillment in you our God.

Thank you for being so kind to come and call us like St. Matthew, Lord Jesus. It was a very extraordinary call not because we are so special but actually unimportant with Matthew also known as Levi belonged to the most despised group of people at that time in Israel, the tax collectors who were always mentioned along with sinners and prostitutes. And so were Matthews’s contemporaries at Capernaum, the brothers Simon and Andrew, James and John who were all fishermen, the most ordinary folks doing the most ordinary jobs of that time.

We were all just like them – nothing special and unimportant! If not for your call, we would be nobody at all even in our family circles.

What a joy that even if some people reject us for various reasons, you O Lord never exclude anyone of us from your friendship. Most of all, you even defend us.

While he was at table in his (Matthew’s) house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Matthew 9:10-13

Give us the readiness and firmness of St. Matthew in leaving everything behind to follow you, Lord.

Like St. Matthew who “got up (rose in some translations) and followed you” (Mt.9:9) right after you have called him, help us realize that following you requires our detachment from our sinful situations, from things and people who prevent us from totally loving you and serving you.

Help us Lord to arise from our dark, sinful past so we can radiate your light in our version of your gospel like St. Matthew. Amen.

“The Calling of St. Matthew”, painting by Caravaggio (1599-1600) said to be one of the favorite pieces of art Pope Francis used to frequent while still a student in Rome. Photo from Wikipedia.org.

Generosity comes from the heart

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXV-A, Ordinary Time, 20 September 2020
Isaiah 55:6-9   >><)))*>   Philippians 1:20-24, 27   >><)))*>   Matthew 20:1-16
Photo by the author on the way to Petra in Jordan, May 2019.

There was something amusing I realized while praying this Sunday’s gospel of how in our time we no longer hear or use the word “generous” anymore — except when the topic is about food like in the expression “generous servings”!

We all love and enjoy “generous servings” of food and drinks whether in restaurants or at home or at parties because it means something more than what we pay for or come for. And that is the essence of generosity: the giving of more than what is required and just. It is love in the real sense like the prayer for generosity by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Dearest Lord:
Teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not heed the wounds,
To toil and not seek for rest,
To labor and ask not for reward, except
To know that I am doing your will.  Amen. 
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

Generosity bonds every community in Christ

Sorry if I have to start our reflection through the stomach because today is our “Pistang Pasasalamat” (Thanksgiving) in the Parish…

Going back to our reflection, my dear reader, recall how in the past two weeks we have heard Jesus teaching us important lessons how our relationships must be based on mutual love through fraternal correction and forgiving of those who have sinned against us.

This Sunday through another parable, Jesus teaches us the importance of generosity as a wonderful expression of love we forget most in our relationships and dealing with others.

Generosity is the glue that keeps our ties stronger and keeps us filled with joy because it is thinking more of the other person than of self. It is love at its finest – charming and elegant as in suave – but so disarming and revealing when overlooked as we shall see in this parable.

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for is vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them… You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them i reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?'”

Matthew 20:1-15

Notice how Jesus again elicited our feelings to drive home his lesson today about love as basis of our relationships. Last week we totally agreed with the king in punishing the merciless servant whose debt he had forgiven but was unmerciful to a fellow servant and debtor.

This Sunday, with whom did we take sides with? Be honest. Did you side with the workers hired in the morning and worked all day only to receive a pay exactly the same with those who worked only for an hour? Did we also feel treated unfairly like them?

But, why are we reacting the same way as those workers who toiled under the sun? What is our complaint? Are we envious because the owner is generous?

Recall our reflections last month about the parable as a simple story conveying deeper truths about life and our selves. From the French parabolein -along the way – Jesus is inviting us to read anew this parable we have heard so many times in the past so we may enter into a dialogue with him to purify and cleanse us to get its whole picture. And hopefully, become generous too.

Nuns bringing goods to the poor during the height of the Luzon-wide lockdown last summer.

Human justice, Divine kindness

The parable is not about social justice and just wages: it is about the immense love of God for us all. Jesus said it at the start, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…” – it is a parable about God and his kingdom.

See the great love of the landowner who went out five times during the day, even at late afternoon so people may have a job to earn some money for the day. We have to keep in mind that the workers were hired because the owner is kind. Period.

The owner is like the good shepherd Jesus described as who would leave the rest of his flock to search for one missing sheep.

How many times have we acted like those early workers, complaining to God when we feel “shortchanged” for our work and efforts, or being better and more good perhaps than others?

It happens so many times when we question him even in the Church and specially in the society and government when we cannot understand how God who is supposed to be just and fair is allowing all injustices and evil to happen like during this time of COVID-19.

The first reading reminds us that to think that way as if we know everything is dangerous because we could be very wrong and mistaken after all. God sees and knows everything that in the end amid all the twists and turns in history and in our personal lives, it is always his will that prevails which proves best for us and mankind. In times like these, we need to have faith in God and trust him more through prayers and reflections.

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near… As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:6, 9
Photo by author, Jaffa in Israel, May 2017.

We keep on saying that one immediate fruit of having a prayer life is the heightening of our sensitivities when we see more of God in others than more of ourselves. The problem with those workers hired earlier in the day that instead of thanking God for his kindness in hiring them, they even wanted more in their pay than what they have agreed upon — so selfish and feeling so entitled like some among us!!!

God as the landowner is teaching us not only to be thankful for the blessings we have received from him but also to rejoice when others aside from us are also blessed. As everyone would say these days, “sana all” are blessed, not only a selected few.

Again we find here a similar situation in the parable of the prodigal son where the father told the elder one that “everything I have is yours” (Lk.15:31) when he refused to come home to celebrate the return of his younger brother, citing how he had obeyed the father all his life without being given a young goat to feast with his friends.

Like that loving father of the prodigal son, God is reminding us this Sunday in this parable to rejoice that others have been blessed, instead of grumbling and complaining, demanding for more than what we have, forgetting everything is out of God’s goodness, never because of our merits.

Looking inside our hearts

My dear friends, this time of the pandemic invites us to be generous by looking deep into our hearts, of seeing God more and others than just our self. At this time when life is so difficult and death is so closest to home with everyone, the best thing we can do is to thank God for his gift of life to us each day and to deepen our faith in him.

Lately I have been praying to God to grant me St. Paul’s clarity of mind and purity of heart as we find ourselves in his similar situation of being imprisoned: him for the gospel, us due to COVID-19.

See the faith of St. Paul in God that even in prison with his death approaching each day, he continues to rejoice and experience peace within because he had realized that the success of the gospel is not on human efforts but in Jesus whom we cannot box in our little worlds and beliefs, rites and rituals. In fact, he was so confident that even with his death, the more the gospel would spread.

Photo by Dra. Mylene A. Santos at Katmon Harbor Nature Sanctuary, Infanta, Quezon, March 2020.

Brothers and sisters: Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death… conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Philippians 1:20, 27

Last Sunday, Jesus taught us to forgive from the heart, that is, to see one another as a brother and sister in God our Father who forgives us without limits for our many sins.

Today, Jesus is asking us to give from the heart – to be generous – not for anything else but because we are brothers and sisters in God our Father who blesses us without limits despite our sinfulness.

Generosity comes from the heart when in that heart is Jesus whom we find dwelling, giving us peace and joy no matter how much suffering we go through because him alone suffices that we are willing to let go of everything.

Share a generous serving of God’s blessings today to someone in need. Amen.

A blessed Sunday and week to you!

Forgiving from the heart

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXIV, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 13 September 2020
Sirach 27:30-28:7     >><)))*>   Romans 14:7-9   >><)))*>   Matthew 18:21-35
Photo by author, dusk in our parish, July 2020.

This Sunday we go deeper into the lessons gathered by Matthew from Jesus regarding love as the basis of our relationships. Last week we were told how mutual love is the sole reason why we correct brothers and sisters going stray in life.

But, more sensitive and delicate, not to mention most difficult than fraternal correction is the question of forgiving.

How many times should we forgive?

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a kind who decided to settle accounts wit his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before hm who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all is property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

Matthew 18:21-27

Forgiving is always difficult because it is from God, calling us to be one with him, one in him, and be like him as that saying perfectly summed up, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” It is beyond human abilities, reserved only for God until he became human like us in Jesus Christ who made us share in his greatest expression of love which is forgiveness. Hence, every time we forgive, we also become like God, divine and holy that unfortunately, we refuse and even hate!

Yes, it is very difficult because like love, forgiving is the nature of God. In fact, any kind of love is best expressed when it is forgiving. The good news is that we now share in this great love of God in forgiving others like him as we shall see in today’s parable, keeping in mind also that it was the Risen Lord’s commission to his disciples when he appeared to them on that Easter evening (John 20:22-23).

Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, January 2018.

Forgiving like God our Father

The beauty of forgiving is that it is always a grace from God freely given to us. It is doable in Jesus Christ. The problem is when we refuse to let God work in us, when we refuse to level up our relationships to that of brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

There is always that pride in us exhibited by Peter at the start of the gospel today when he asked Jesus how many times he must forgive his brother. Must it be seven times?

Of course, seven being a “perfect number” does not specify a numerical figure of times to forgive except that it gives enough room to let go of a sinner or an offender. However, it still connotes some form of “counting” or taking tabs at how many times must one forgive, implying a limit.

But Jesus pushed it further when he told Peter to forgive “not seven times but seventy-seven times” — that is, twice the perfect number he had cited!

The Lord is telling Peter, and us today, to forget all about keeping tabs, of counting how many times you must forgive because God forgives us without limits which his parable tells us.

The king or master in the parable is God, so wealthy that he could lend sums exceeding the normal level of what one can borrow. Most surprising is like God, the master lent so much amount beyond the debtor’s ability to pay!

That is how rich our God is — so rich in love and mercy, giving us with so much even beyond our ability to pay him back in return. Exactly what we have in the responsorial psalm: “The Lord is kind and merciful; slow to anger and rich in compassion.”

And when that servant prostrated before his master, then the more we see in that religious gesture the deeper meaning of the parable: the rich mercy of God forgiving us for our debts even after we have lost everything like that debtor with nothing enough to pay his loans, not even his wife and children.

See the contrast of the king moved with compassion echoing the same attitude of Jesus so often like in the wilderness where he fed more than 5000 people and that servant so lost with nothing else left but still forgiven.

The parable could have stopped there but Jesus went on to continue what happened next to teach us the deeper truth of forgiving, which is imitating God our Father because we are brothers and sisters in him.

From Google.

When this servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him… but he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger is master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

Matthew 18:28-35

Forgiving from the heart

After hearing the second part of the parable, we all felt like the master, angry and indignant with that merciless servant whose action was very shameless and scandalous. But, more than being like the king who properly judged the conduct of that merciless servant, Jesus is also inviting us to probe deeper into our hearts the realities why we felt like the king in the parable?

How many times have we felt so angry and frustrated during this pandemic period at the many occasions when we heard news of injustices and abuse of powers against the little ones like Mang Dodong or the Marawi verteran shot to death in Quezon City? Of those punished in violating the protocols when its chief implementor got away free after attending a mañanita party?

The list goes on specially in our country where laws favor the abusive rich and powerful, those with connections while ordinary citizens with lesser violations, even without any crimes at all suffer the same fate as the servant with lesser debts.

Photo by author, “patak-dugo”, 2019.

We all feel so angry and very sad because more than the injustices and lack of mercies committed by those in powers, they have forgotten we are brothers and sisters in one God our Father. Parang sila lang ang anak ng Diyos…

We feel like the king in the parable because we felt left out, disregarded, and disrespected despite our kindness and mercy with others.

Forgiving from the heart means to forgive others not because we are fellow servants but most of all as brothers and sisters of a loving and merciful Father who forgives us always from our unpayable debts of sin and evil against each other.

This is the very thing St. Paul is telling us in the second reading, that “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself” (Rom.14:7). Sometimes we need to be in control of our lives but the truth is, when we try to live St. Paul’s message that our lives belong to one another in Christ, the more we become truly free and happy.

It is the same reminder from Ben Sirach in the first reading telling us how we must avoid anger and resentment specially revenge because it is contrary to our faith in God. Most of all, we also know so well that we need the mercy of God in forgiving our countless sins.

The example of St. John Paul II about forgiving like God

I know what I am telling you are easier said than done. And I confess that I also find it so hard to forgive people who have wronged me, specially those I have loved and helped. Allow me to end this reflection with this beautiful bit of history that happened in our lifetime.

We were in high school seminary when Mehmet Agca shot and almost killed St. John Paul II at St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981. We were shocked, so sad for him and very angry with Agca. But, two years later after Christmas in 1983, we were more shocked in disbelief while at the same time in tears with joy when news came out that St. John Paul II came to visit Agca in his cell to forgive him!

It was a major news that landed on TIME magazine the following year with the cover story so relevant with our gospel today:

From Pinterest.

Those who do not forgive are those who are least capable of changing the circumstances of their lives…

Not to forgive is to be imprisoned by the past, by old grievances that do not permit life to proceed with new business.

Not to forgive is to yield oneself to another’s control. If one does not forgive, then one is controlled by the other’s initiatives and is locked into a sequence of act and response, of outrage and revenge, tit for tat, escalating always. The present is endlessly overwhelmed and devoured by the past. Forgiveness frees the forgiver. It extracts the forgiver from someone else’s nightmare. “Unless there is a breach with the evil past,” says Donald Shriver, “all we get is this stuttering repetition of evil.”

Lance Morrow, TIME Magazine, 19 January 1984

As I searched for photos of the assassination attempt on him by Agca, I came across this photo below of their meeting with an accompanying report that made me admire and love St. “JP2” more than ever.

It said that while recuperating in the hospital, St. JP2 learned from the news how people hated Agca, prompting him to ask everyone to “pray for my brother (Agca)… whom I have sincerely forgiven.” That is how holy is this great Pope of our time! Long before visiting Agca in 1983, St. JP2 had already forgiven him, calling him a “brother” despite the evil and sin done to him.

What a great Amen!

Have a blessed and wonderful week ahead, brothers and sisters in Christ!

From https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/pope-john-paul-mehmet-agca-1983/.

When good news/bad news do not matter at all

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXII, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 30 August 2020
Jeremiah 20:7-9 >><}}}*>| + | >><}}}*> Romans 12:1-2 >><}}}*>| + | >><}}}*> Matthew 16:21-27
Photo by author, Caesarea Philippi, May 2019

Maybe you have been asked so many times with the question, which do you prefer to hear first, the good news or the bad news? Usually we say it all depends to our mood and temperament or to the gravity of the situation. Sometimes, we ask for the bad news first so we can suffer earlier and enjoy the good news later. Or, we ask for the good news first to soften the impact of the bad news.

Our gospel this Sunday is still set in the pagan city of Caesarea Philippi and we heard Jesus giving his disciples – including us – with a strong dosage of “bad news” after hearing last week the good news that he is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 16:21-25

Our gospel today seems to be a very big, bad news for everyone, with things getting worst before getting any better which the Lord had promised to be only in the end that nobody knows when!

See how Jesus started by saying he would “suffer greatly at the hands of elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised again.” Not only that: he now calls Peter as “Satan” from being the Rock last Sunday after giving the right answer as to who he is.

Like Peter, we would probably say the same thing to Jesus why make suffering and death central to life that is meant to enjoy?

Like Peter, the Lord is inviting us today to focus more on the good news than on the bad news of suffering and death which for him – the Paschal mystery we call – is actually the best of good news!

Photo by author, altar flowers in our parish, January 2020.

Jesus Christ’s pasch is the best of good news!

What we have heard as “bad news” from the Lord is his first prediction of his coming pasch or Passion, Death and Resurrection. He would be announcing this prediction of his pasch two more times as they near Jerusalem.

From the He brew word pesach that means to pass over, it connotes suffering and death into new life. It came from the Exodus experience of the Chosen People from Egypt into the Promised Land during the time of Moses, taking its fullest meaning in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became human like us in everything except sin, “passing over” from eternity to temporal, from Passion and Death to Resurrection.

Authentic discipleship does not require us to seek suffering; no, God is not sadistic as some people with twisted minds would say. However, being faithful to Jesus, witnessing his gospel values bring enough of these sufferings and deaths but on a different level and meaning. We realize that life is a daily exodus, a passing over from darkness into light, from ignorance into wisdom, from sickness into health, from death into new life.

Like the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading, we discover that the more we follow God, the more sufferings we encounter in life but at the same time, we cannot let go of him because his attraction is so powerful! There is something so deep within, so profound and fulfilling in us we realize that living in the ways of God, in the gospel values of Christ can we truly find lasting joy and peace – even if we have to die in our very selves in the process.

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… But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

Jeremiah 20:7, 9
Photo by author, Gaudete Sunday in our parish, December 2019.

Thinking in God’s ways

Today Jesus is assuring us that there is no such thing as “good news, bad news” with him. The good news/bad news question is really a non-question to disciples of Christ because whatever suffering and death we embrace in him is a sharing in his very life.

Hence, Jesus Christ’s good news is in fact the bestest news we can ever have. Always.

The key is to think as God does, not as human beings do as Jesus pointed out to Peter.

Three things I wish to share with you about thinking in God’s ways:

First is to accept and embrace pains and sufferings not for their own sake but as a way to cleanse our selves to greater glory. As we have said, God is not a sadist; we need to be cleansed like every thing in order to bring out the best in us like diamonds or any precious stone or any material.

Polishing and honing always mean “subtractions” with so many shaving and cutting of the rough edges to bring out the beauty and sharpness of a thing.

Man’s ways has always been to avoid every pain and suffering. No wonder, the most prescribed medicine worldwide is said to be the pain killer. But, experience has taught us this is not true and cannot be the norm of life. Like every gym enthusiast would tell you, “no pain, no gain”. Pain and suffering is part of life and the good news is, Christ has made it holy for us.

Second is to be silent in order to be able to listen to every sound and thus, heighten our sensitivities not only with our true selves but also with God and with others. In this age of social media and instant communications, silent has become a rare commodity. It is always easier to speak even without thinking much than be silent. That is the way of the world: speak out loud, make noises, and let everyone hear you — until they get tired of you.

Photo by author, our parish ceiling at sunset, 25 August 2020.

Third is the most precious in God’s ways of thinking — the way of hiddenness. This is God’s most evident way of making himself felt, experienced, and yes, seen by being hidden and invisible.

Last Thursday we celebrated the memorial of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine who narrated the story of how she got sick at Ostia in Italy with his brother hurrying to get back home to Tagaste in Africa so that when she dies, she would be buried there. St. Monica “reproached him with a glance because he had entertained such earthly thoughts”; then, she looked at St. Augustine and told him to bury her anywhere, asking one thing only from him: that he remembers her always in his celebration of the Holy Mass.

So many times, we are so concerned with our popularity that whatever we do has to be made known to everyone to see specially by those so-called “followers” with their “likes” that even up to death, some would spend a fortune for lavish funerals and even mauseleoum.

That’s the way of the world of everybody making a statement, of being known as present, always seen. In the movie “The Devil’s Advocate”, Al Pacino played the role of satan who said it so well at the end after tempting Keanu Reeves, “vanity…vanity is my most favorite sin.”

See the life of Jesus Christ: more than half was spend in hiddenness and silence. He worked only for three years characterized by so many instances of silence and hiddenness too and yet, his impact continues to this day and hereafter.

Beginning with last Sunday after asking us who do we say he is, Jesus is inviting us to follow him in his Passion and Death to be one in his Resurrection. This is also the call by St. Paul in the second reading:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2

Jesus is not asking too much from us, no need for any fanfares on our part; simply come to him with our true self, no matter how sinful and incomplete we are. Remember, all is good news with him and you never lose in him. Amen.

A blessed week to everyone!

Photo by author, parish ceiling at sunset, 25 August 2020.

It is not “what” we say who Jesus is but “how” we say who he is.

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXI, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 23 August 2020
Isaiah 22:19-23 | >><}}}*> | Romans 11:33-36 | >><}}}*> | Matthew 16:13-20
Photo by author at Caesarea, Israel, May 2019.

After showing us some glimpses of the person of the Lord these past three weeks, St. Matthew now leads us into the middle of his gospel where Jesus takes a U-turn in his ministry by revealing himself to the Twelve as he heads back to Jerusalem to fulfill his mission.

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” Then he strictly ordered the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Matthew 16:13-17, 20

St. Matthew told us last Sunday how Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon where he had healed the daughter of a Canaanite woman tormented by a demon. From there, they headed north to Caesarea Philippi, a pagan major city at that time.

It was a perfect setting for our gospel this Sunday – just like our present milieu that challenges us not only to be identified as a Christian but also to make a stand for Jesus as his true disciple at a time when faith and morals are disregarded, economics takes precedence over spirituality.

Who do people say I am: “what” I know of Jesus

The two questions posed by Jesus to his disciples while at Caesarea Phillip – and to us today – may sound very similar and even simple but are actually distinctly different and even worlds apart from each other.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

His first question “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” is straightforward, seems to demand not much critical thinking and introspection. A plain question with a plain answer like the usual news we hear and read called “straight reporting” in journalism that tells us the essential “who, what, where, and when” of the story.

So many times, we face this question without even being asked at all!

Through our words and actions we reveal “who do you say the Son of Man is?” in how we pray, what we pray for, the things we post on social media, especially those electronic chain letters that if you say “Amen” you will get money. And so many other things when we try to show everyone we know Jesus without really thinking and reflecting well. No wonder, people get so many wrong impressions about who Jesus is: “some say he is John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah” or one of those prophets of wealth and health who make life easier!

Telling who Jesus Christ from “what” we know and believe can always be dangerous and misleading because it is all in our heads that could often be wrong. Telling who Jesus Christ from “what” we know and believe cannot be so reliable because it is always mechanical, by the book, not actual and most of all, not real.

It is always easy to speak highly of Jesus from “what” we know and believe like those many preachers with fire and brimstone or modern apostles, a.k.a. vloggers complete with their “shock” preaching and antics and gimmicks who end up more popular with thousands of followers and likes. And wealthy, too! Jesus Christ? Forgotten and stuck in Facebook, the bible, and tabernacle.

But who do you say I am: “how” I know Jesus

On the other hand, the Lord’s second question is direct and personal, probing our heart and soul, asking not just for answer from our lips but from our total self: “But who do you say that I am?”

See the words of the Lord after Simon had answered he is the Christ, the Son of the living God:

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”

Matthew 16:17

More than a play of words, here we find a deeper dimension of saying who Jesus Christ is: not just telling the what but most of all, the how that reveals more than what we know in our minds but how we have experienced Jesus, of how we have been living in him!

Photo by author, house at Jaffa (Jopa), Israel where Peter met some gentiles according to Book of Acts, May 2017.

For us to say who is Jesus Christ is always a how because it is a story of our relationship with him, it is a how we have grown deeper, how we have journeyed in him and with him.

It is the ability to see beyond structures and persons, excesses and sins, faults and misgivings because despite shortcomings, it is how we see Jesus as the foundation of our lives and of our Church.

See the ways of other religious sects, their pastors and members who spend so much time bashing us Catholics, insisting on the what of Jesus and the bible, never the how they live.

No wonder, they can raise their hands in prayers and still clap their hands while the President in maligning us Catholic priests and bishops in their gatherings.

To speak of who is Jesus is more than to tell what we know about him but how we have known him, how we have been since knowing him!

Anyone who can say who Jesus is from his how is always blessed like Simon because our answer is always the fruit of our life in Christ. We all become like Simon, another Peter or Rock whose very life and existence rests on Jesus our Lord. Despite our weaknesses and sinfulness, we are still blessed and entrusted with the keys of heaven because we have allowed Jesus to be our foundation of life. There is a process, a history always. Hence, it is a telling of the how.

In the first reading, we find God dismissing the master of the palace named Shebna to be replaced by Eliakim due to his infidelity. That is the meaning of the whole prophecy by Isaiah, of how the Lord will someday entrust his people to a trustworthy steward, someone who does not only know what God is but one who has truly known and experienced God.

Saying who God is, always a revelation from him

It is interesting that in the Jewish thought, to know another person is not knowing the what but of having a relationship or some degree of intimacy. Again, it speaks of the how we have been saying.

St. Paul shows us in the most beautiful manner in his many writings this saying of who Jesus is with his how, his very personal experience of the Lord in his life that has continued and deepened until his death. See the beautiful hymn he had composed for our second reading today:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:33, 36

Like St. Peter, we find here St. Paul so blessed despite his sins and sinfulness, of how he had experienced Christ not just a name or a man like any what he had known in his mind.

No one can ever write such great poetry with profound thoughts without any deep relationship with God. Whatever we know of God is always a revelation from him, too. When we speak of who God is, it is always borne out of how we have been relating with him our Lord which is called “spirituality”; it is deeper than religiosity or being religious that is always at the level of the head and more of our ego than of the reality of God.

Sometimes, we do not even have to speak and say who Jesus Christ is.

We simply have to live out that relationship we have in him and people would know who Jesus is. No need for elaborate and spectacular showmanships we have in our many rites and rituals, even in our liturgies now so maligned with our triumphalism.

Lest we forget, Jesus saved the world by suffering and dying on the Cross, not with activities and debates which would be his topic next Sunday. God bless everyone!

Photo by Angelo Carpio, January 2020

“What will there be for us?”

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Week XX, Year II in Ordinary Time, 18 August 2020
Ezekiel 28:1-10 <*(((><< || + || >><)))*> Matthew 19:23-30
Photo by author, Petra in Jordan, May 2019.

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me… And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.”

Matthew 19:27-28, 29

“We have given up everything and followed you, Lord. What will there be for us?”

Oh! how often we tell this to you, Lord Jesus, as if we have given so much for the sake of your kingdom.

Sometimes, it is not really a question we ask but a reminder to you of our “goodness” and “benevolence” with others, of how good we have been when in fact whatever we give and share are all from you.

Forgive us, O Lord, when most specially in the midst of pains and sufferings, we ask you “What will there be for us?” in order to remind you of our rewards, or entitlement as if you forget them or that there is such a thing at all with you.

Photo by author, 2019.

We are sorry Lord in counting the costs and most of all, in demanding so many in return.

“What will there be for us?” is often the question we ask when we doubt your generosity and fidelity to your promises to us.

Like Ezekiel in the first reading, remind us O Lord to keep in mind not to be “haughty of heart”, that “we are not god despite our many achievements brought about by our intelligence or beauty” (Ezekiel 28:1-7).

Dearest Jesus, you have given us with so much and we have given so little; teach us to give more of ourselves, more of our time, more of our treasures, and most of all, more of you to others. Amen.

Praying for holiness in the world

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Memorial of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, Priest and Martyr, 14 August 2020
Ezekiel 16:1-15, 60, 63 >><)))*> || + || <*(((><< Matthew 19:3-12
From companionsofstanthony.org

“The most resplendent manifestation of God’s glory is the salvation of souls, whom Christ redeemed by shedding his blood. To work for the salvation and sanctification of as many souls as possible, therefore, is the preeminent purpose of the apostolic life.”

From the Letters of Maximilian Mary Kolbe, Office of Readings

Praise and thanksgiving to you our loving Father for a holy saint in our modern time, St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe whose memorial we celebrate today. His offering of his life in place of another prisoner at Auschwitz in 1941 was a fitting cap for his life of dedication in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in words and in deeds.

Though there are no more gas chambers unlike during the time of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, the killing of so many people in various forms and methods continue to this day — right on our streets, in abortion clinics, in prisons, even in our homes and in social media where we spread toxins of lies that mislead and destroy many lives.

Inspire us like St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe to work for the sanctification of the world by sharing more of your love and kindness, mercy and forgiveness to everyone especially the weak and vulnerable to abuses and worldly influences.

Like this modern saint who lived during the harshest conditions of World War II, may we strive to make you present in the world where despite the ease and comforts of modern life, many of us are still lost and alone, feeling angry, empty, and confused.

Through our lives, may we fill the world with your presence and holiness by reminding people to return to your original plan of harmony and unity in your love as Jesus told the Pharisees in the gospel today:

Jesus said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

Matthew 19:8

Most of all, to make the world holy anew, grant us courage to stand for what is true and good, to remain standing at the side of your Son’s Cross for indeed, as St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe had taught us in one of his writings, “The deadliest poison of our time is indifference.” Amen.

Photo of Auschwitz from Google.

New normal is not normal

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 28 July 2020
Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News, March 2020

Experts have been telling us since the start of this COVID-19 pandemic that our lives would no longer be the same like before 2020. Even if a new vaccine and more effective treatment are discovered to fight this disease, life on this planet is definitely changed.

But, for better or for worse?

That is the most important challenge of this pandemic next to finding a vaccine and cure or treatment against it: that we seize this unique opportunity from COVID-19 to “reset” or “refresh” the world so we can all start anew by correcting the mistakes and excesses of the past to finally kickoff a true and meaningful growth and development among peoples, especially the poor and marginalized.

Photo from TurboSquid.com

This we can start – or restart – by immediately deleting from our vocabulary and consciousness that word we have been erroneously using since summer, “new normal”.

New normal is abnormal because norms or standards like morality always remain.

Washing of hands frequently, covering one’s mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing, not spitting everywhere are not new normal. Cleanliness has always been the norm since the beginning that we have that saying always true, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”.

Praying every day, individually and as a family especially the Holy Rosary is not a new normal. Connecting with the Divine has always been the norm of man since the beginning even before Jesus Christ came to the world.

More than half a century ago, the late Fr. Patrick Peyton has been saying, “The family that prays together, stays together; and the world at prayer is a world at peace.” Praying has always been the norm in our lives.

Normal or norms do not change because they are the standard measure. Even before COVID-19 came, normal temperature has always been 37 degrees Celsius, 12-inches make a foot, and so on and so forth.

So, please forget this abnormality of referring to our new way of living as “new normal” because it is not new at all.

Worst, this usage of the term “new normal” courtesy of the media, politicians, and policy makers is a dangerous indication of unconsciously or subconsciously perpetuating our excesses of the past that the Wuhan virus have rightly exposed: too much greed especially among capitalists, materialism and consumerism, and individualism.

From vaticannews.va

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI had long been speaking against these by describing it as “dictatorship of relativism”.

Acceptance of this term or concept that was actually coined at the aftermath of the 2007 financial crisis indicates that we are miserably not learning the lessons of this global crisis.

Our sights remain myopic, even blinded in looking at this pandemic without realizing at all how this was spawned by our own excesses and sins. Long before we have been told to maintain physical or social distancing to stop spread of the new corona virus, we have long been distant from one another. We have been spending more time with our computers and smartphones, trying to connect with friends and everyone in various social media platforms unmindful of the persons seated near us. “Table for one” in restaurants is fast becoming the order of the day than the exception to the rule.

My point is, accepting everything now as the new normal is also accepting wholesale the new ordering of things going on that continues to neglect the weakest and poorest among us. We are only perpetuating an error and worst an evil among us that we have refused to examine closely in the past.

This “new normal” is a conditioning concept that pushes the marginalized and disadvantaged people deeper into misery as the daily news tells us. Unconsciously to many of us, “new normal” is an excuse even a justification for the continued poverty and slavery of the weak and disadvantaged.

What a shame that while so many countries are suffering from COVID-19 like ours, Beijing is flexing its muscles around the world economically and militarily – right in our seas!- as if they are not bothered at all by this virus that came from their own province of Wuhan.

A very interesting read I have found last month was written by Nigerian Chime Asonye who rightly claims that “the new normal” “should not be the lens through which we examine our changed world”.

The ‘new normal’ discourse sanitizes the idea that our present is okay because normal is regular. Yes, there may be public health challenges, but these are issues that can be managed. We accept life under the omnipresent threat of disease as ordinary. But what exactly is normal about this pandemic? It is not normal for society en masse to be isolated, but if this is normal, then we are supposed to have control of the situation. Even if we feel loss or despair, we are expected to get used to it — accepting that this morbid reality is now standard.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/theres-nothing-new-about-this-new-normal-heres-why/

COVID-19 can serve both as a catharsis to our past excesses and a watershed for a brighter future.

The old system, or what people refer to as “normal” before in the world had erroneously set is not working, plainly wrong and abusive; why continue or import it into this coming new period?

As the pandemic rages on it gives us a chance to reimagine the world by tracing history, not forgetting it.

We should revel in the discomfort of the current moment to generate a ‘new paradigm’, not a ‘new normal’. Feeling unsettled, destabilized and alone can help us empathize with individuals who have faced systematic exclusions long-ignored by society even before the rise of COVID-19 — thus stimulating urgent action to improve their condition. For these communities, things have never been ‘normal’.

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/theres-nothing-new-about-this-new-normal-heres-why/

COVIDS-19 is definitely not a punishment from God but a result of man playing God.

And like in the past, whether in world history or in our own lives when things go wrong even worst, God ensures to make ways that anything bad happening to us would always lead to something good.

Photo by author, Christmas 2019 in our Parish.

See how providential in the sense that microscopic viruses are reminding us that true power is not in being big but in being small, not in being strong but being weak — the very example of God to us when he became human like us more than 2000 years ago.

Unfortunately, his lessons remain unheeded up to our time even among us in the Church.

It is a most welcomed change in the midst of this pandemic that the Vatican last week issued new guidelines through the Congregation for the Clergy (directed to us priests) for the world’s parishes that can help us respond adequately to the challenges of this crisis (http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2020/07/20/200720a.html).

But, that will require another blog.

For the meantime, please stop using that abnormal term “new normal”.

A blessed Tuesday to everyone!