Eat, pray, live, and love

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Memorial of St. Clare, Virgin, 11 August 2020
Ezekiel 2:8-3:4 >><)))*> ||| >><)))*> ||| >><)))*> Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

O God our Father, we praise and thank you in sending us your Son Jesus Christ to show us how in the most ordinary and essential aspect of our lives – eating – we can either be far away from you or very near you.

Yes, O Lord! Just like in the movies, eat, pray, live, and love.

How wonderful it is to think that it was in eating the forbidden fruit at Eden that we have fallen from your grace while it is in partaking in the Supper of the Lord in the Eucharist that we have become blessed to be one in you, sharing in your holiness.

Help us to sink deeper into the inner reality of “eating” that leads us to praying, living and loving.

Like your prophet, may we realize that the key in understanding fully your words is in immersing ourselves into them like eating when we savor the aroma of food, biting and chewing in pieces to let its taste cover our palate, digesting it into our whole body system to nourish our lives.

Son of man, he then said to me, feed your belly and fill your stomach with this scroll I am giving you. I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. He said: Son of man, go now to the house of Israel, and speak my words to them.

Ezekiel 3:3-4

So many times in life, O Lord, we complain at how difficult are your laws and teachings, your words without ever trying them.

Open our selves like Ezekiel and your saints, specially St. Clare who left everything behind after being inspired by your words through St. Francis of Assisi to be poor and spend life praying to you.

Leaving the world in exchange of a life in poverty and simplicity, of prayer and witnessing, her life was sustained by your words that eventually nourished countless souls in search of you and meaning in life.

If we can just plunge ourselves into your words and eat them like real food, digest their meaning to savor its sweetness and wonderful taste like St. Clare and other saints, then we would no longer be so concerned with things of this world like in knowing who is the greatest among us.

Give us the simplicity of children who delight in the most ordinary food offered them, enjoying life with the sense of awe and surprise of your presence. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

Human situation, Divine response: multiplying our blessings

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

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

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

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

Multi-layered story of the multiplication of bread

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

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

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

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

The consolation of Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compassion of Jesus.

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

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

You respond for help, you reply to a call.

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

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

God cannot suffer because he is perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our scarcity mentality, the God of plenty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 55:2-3

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

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

A blessed August ahead for you! Amen.

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

“Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories” are recipes for troubled hearts and lonely souls

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 20 November 2019

A chef is basically a person who loves people. And that is why for any chef, cooking is both a passion and an art. His menu are not only meant to feed the body but most especially enrich the heart and soul of every diner.

Welcome to Netflix original series “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories”!

Each episode is exactly like every recipe the main character called “Master” dishes out to his patrons and customers who come from all walks of life with their unique burdens and story to share and eventually, resolve after tasting his fresh and easy to cook meals.

Midnight Diner is as Japanese as the ramen and sake the Master serves his guests. Everything is in Nihongo with English subtitles that demand one’s total attention to understand the conversations briefly interspersed with first person accounts by the Master.

At the opening, the Master gives us the warm and nice ambience of the series set at midnight until seven in the morning for people who do not wish to go home straight after their office hours.

It turns out that they are not only looking for good food but for warm company as well which the Master ably provides with his total attention and communion.

Very interesting to note that the Master is a celibate, reason why he can devote himself wholly to his diners, listening to their joys and sorrows, victories and defeats. So far, from what I have seen in its two seasons, he has no love interests although it won’t be surprising if in the third season he turns out to be a character from one of Murakami’s novels or short stories.

Though he is a fictional character, he is rightly called “Master” for his commanding presence that is not intimidating but so warm and gentle, so unlike the celebrity chefs we see on TV.

The Master can cook anything, including fancy corndogs and pancakes that are very American. He always has a “menu of the day” as title of each episode.

Should anyone ask for any kind of dish, he willingly prepares it subject to availability of ingredients that turns out he always has or sometimes, like a true chef, finds other alternatives just to fulfill a customer’s cravings. In one episode, a patron comes nightly with his own three pieces of bread so the Master can make him “yakisoba sandwiches” — exactly how we Filipinos eat pancit with another carbohydrate!

What makes the series so good is that the Master is more than a chef — he is the Tokyo counterpart of Paris’ Cafe Anglais famed lady chef “Babette” of the 1987 Danish film “Babette’s Feast” and James Taylor’s 1977 hit single “Handy Man” rolled into one.

More than the food he passionately serves, the Master delights and comforts every troubled heart and lonely soul longing for love and relationships, forgiveness and kindness they finally find in his Midnight Diner.

Most of all, neither the Master nor his food is the main focus of each episode but the story of every customer who comes to his diner at the most unholiest hours – between 12 midnight and seven in the morning – searching for food for their souls!

Mainstays of the Midnight Diner.

Helping the Master in processing every customer are his interesting mix of characters of regular patrons: LGBTQ members, career ladies mostly single, retirees, professional gamblers and of course, Yakuza gang members.

They are the Master’s “secret spices” who bring out all the flavors and aroma of every customer’s life story like a widowed lawyer searching for his lost step brother to a nightclub stripper sought and saved from miserable life by her high school teacher suffering the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes they act like the Master’s garnishings, adding taste and beauty with some sprinklings of life lessons to lost customers.

Though most stories are understandably peculiar to Japanese culture, they all touch a common chord within us for our basic need of acceptance which the Master warmly provides like his steaming hot dishes.

Unlike most TV series, Midnight Diner’s pacing is so fast and without any pretensions that prevent it from becoming dragging and boring. In less than 30 minutes, each episode is deftly resolved just as magically how the Master came out with a superb meal from his limited resources and tiny kitchen.

But the best attraction of the show is how the viewer eventually finds one’s self warmly welcomed into the diner, laughing or crying, sympathizing or objecting to whatever situation is presented by every guest.

It is a very lovely series that transcends language barriers and cultures because it nourishes and warms our soul that never rest nowadays due to the demands of modern living. Somehow, inside the little Midnight Diner, there is always a space welcoming everyone including us viewers to unwind and be fulfilled with good food, nice people, and meaningful conversations.

Hoping for the next season soon.

Irasshaimase!

Love is Being a Food for Others

people-at-table-with-food
The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday after Epiphany of the Lord, 08 January 2019
1 John 4:7-10///Mark 6:34-44

            “In this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10).

             Today as we move on to new directions and new beginnings this 2019 on this first full week of work and school – when we claim to be back to “normal” in life – you remind us also Lord Jesus Christ of the nature of love:  that everything is because of you because “God is love.”

            As we return to the usual grind of life, teach us always Lord to feel with the people like you when you were moved with pity upon seeing the vast crowd following you.  Most of all, teach us Lord that love is being a food myself for others to receive, to share with.  Yes, this is precisely what you meant when you told your disciples in the wilderness to “give the crowd some food yourselves” (Mk.6:37).  Whenever we share food and drinks to others, when we offer them to partake of our meals, we actually share ourselves with them.  That is the meaning of your sacred meal, the Eucharist.  And that is why such meal is also called agape, the highest form of love when nothing is expected in return.

             Give us the grace O Lord this New Year to be more loving, more caring with others by giving more of ourselves to others. AMEN. Fr.Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.

*Photos from Google.

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