The joy of meeting God

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fifth Sunday in Lent-C, 03 April 2022
Isaiah 43:16-21 ><}}}*> Philippians 3:8-14 ><}}}*> John 8:1-11
Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, Atok, Benguet, 20 February 2022.

From the joy of coming home to the Father last Sunday in the parable of the merciful father, we now celebrate the joy of meeting God in Jesus Christ in the story of the woman caught in adultery.

We are now into the final week of Lent, getting closer to the innermost room of the Father’s house but this time with John as our guide as we skip Luke’s gospel. The shift is hardly noticeable as the story of the woman caught in adultery seamlessly jibe with Luke’s parable last Sunday. The Pharisees and scribes are again present but this time more bold in their opposition to Jesus.

From pinterest.com.

Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.

John 8:3-6

Only John records this story of the woman caught in adultery but one can clearly recognize its similar tone and perspective with the parable last Sunday that only Luke had, the parable of the merciful father, more known as parable of the prodigal son. Both stories tell us the gospel of God’s mercy proclaimed in words and in deeds by our Lord Jesus Christ.

But what makes this story of the woman caught in adultery a stand out is its simplicity amidst the profound texts by John often identified as the beloved disciple. He was able to compact in few words and simple gestures the many realities in life we forget and take for granted.

As I prayed over this scene, one word persisted in my reflections: kindness.

Photo by author, 2018, Davao City.
The kindness of God.

The word “kind” is from kin or kindred as in family or tribe. When we say a person is kind, we mean that person treats us as one of his family, of his same kind, that he deals with us like we are not “others” or iba as we say in Filipino (hindi ka naman iba).

How sad that at the start of this pandemic in 2020, that was when all news and stories spread of how we have become so unkind with each other especially the poor, the sick and the old, children and women treated unkindly like Mang Dodong of Caloocan.

How sad that in our country, it has become a sin, an error or a failure to be poor and disadvantaged that even the poor and disadvantaged look down at each other, too! There is always that feeling among us that we are different, that we are not of the same kind that it has become so difficult to find kindness among everybody. We have forgotten we are all human, imperfect and sinful but also beloved children of God.

This is what the Sunday gospel is telling us: the woman caught in adultery is not the only sinner in this scene. John described her as “caught in adultery”, not merely an “adulteress” to show that she was in fact caught into adultery. It is a serious sin but there’s more to be caught in that act than meets the eyes. Here, there is no mention about the woman’s “lover”.

Like in our gospel last Sunday, we have the Pharisees and scribes present again, forgetting their very roles in the story itself. Recall that Jesus told the parable of the merciful father for them last Sunday to remind them that they were both the prodigal son and elder son. And that included us today, of course. Today, they are back and we wonder what were the evidence they have against that woman. Where were they while the woman was committing the sin of adultery? Were they peeping toms? Or worst, have they had some trysts with her too in the past?

Both the woman caught in adultery and her accusers, the Pharisees and the scribes stand for us all – we are sinners. We have all sinned and how dare are we to act like the Pharisees and scribes pretending to be different from others, to be so clean and pure when deep inside us are also rotten with sins that could even be worst than the people we accuse.

This is the reason why Jesus bent twice to show everyone how God had chosen to go down to us, to be like us in everything except sin so we can see again everyone as our kin, our same kind as children of the Father.

But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him.

John 8:7-9
Photo by news.ag.org, Jesus writing on the sand in the story of the woman caught in adultery.
Bending to washing of feet to dying on Cross.

In bending down twice, Jesus showed everyone – the accused and the accusers – the kindness of God, his being our kin, his being one of us even if he is Divine. To bend down is to go down, like Jesus coming down from heaven, being born as a child to show us that the path back to God is in being human which is underscored by Matthew in his genealogy of Jesus Christ at the start of his Gospel which is proclaimed every December 17 and December 24 Christmas Eve.

Here in this scene we are reminded by his bending as an imagery of the mystery of Incarnation just like his coming down to Jordan River at his baptism by John.

This bending of Jesus will happen again on Holy Thursday when he washed the feet of his apostles where he gave his commandment to love (hence, it is called as Maundy Thursday, from Latin mandatum for commandment). It will reach its highest point when he bent lowest on Good Friday by offering himself on the Cross for us all out of his immense love and mercy. And kindness.

That is the greatest expression of God’s love and mercy, in his kindness, in his becoming one of us in Jesus Christ who took upon himself our sins so we may be clean again and be able to rise and stand with dignity and honor as beloved children of the Father.

This is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words in the first reading that God is doing something new for us.

Jesus is not telling us to stop fighting sin and evil, to cease from pursuing criminals and people who have committed crimes and grave sins against us and others. The fight goes on but should always be tempered with being humane.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The beautiful story of how Jesus resolved the case against the woman caught committing adultery assures us of the endless mercies of God to us sinners, not a passport to sin. See how Jesus recognized the sinfulness of the woman when he told her, go and sin no more – the most humane reprimand perhaps in history.

It is only in our being kind like Jesus that we become truly human and humane.

According to John, the first to leave the site after Jesus challenged them to cast the first stone were the elders that may stand for having wisdom, not necessarily being aged. The first to leave the site were the wise, those who must have realized their own sinfulness and saw how gravely wrong they were in being so harsh with the woman.

Many times in life, it is difficult to be kind in this unkind world because we have stopped seeing our commonality, our shared humanity, our links with one another, our relationships. We have become so competitive that we always want to be distinct from everyone to the point that we have ceased becoming humans, playing gods most of the time.

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte in Atok, Benguet, 2019.

The grace of this final week of Lent is the kindness of God that remains with everyone, even with the most harsh among us, the most sinful. Jesus is inviting us to bend down with him, see him even down below when we are in sins. He is not condemning us nor hurting us with words nor actions. Ever the most humble and gentle of all, our most kind Lord Jesus is telling us today to take up his yoke and learn from him, always kind with everyone.

And that begins with our very selves. Many times, we cannot be kind with others because in the first place we are so unkind with our very selves. We cannot see our true selves that we compete within ourselves, that we should be somebody else.

What a wonderful gift to be our true selves again and still loved by God.

Let us heed Paul’s call in the second reading: “forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead. I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).

Have a blessed week ahead, be kind to yourself first of all. Amen.

Lent is restoring our relationships

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday in the Third Week of Lent, 22 March 2022
Daniel 3:25, 34-43   <*[[[[>< + ><]]]]*>   Matthew 18:21-35
Image from wallpaperuse.com.
Like your servant Azariah,
I praise and thank you today,
dear God our loving Father,
for delivering us always from many
dangers and trials, enabling us 
to make it through many fires -
still whole, still sane, still blessed.
Yes, like Azariah and his fellow Jews
exiled in Babylon at that time, we have
turned away from you with our many
sins and transgressions:

But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received; as though it were burnt offerings of rams and bullocks, or thousands of fat lambs, so let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame. And now we follow you with our whole heart, we fear you you and we pray to you. Do not let us be put to shame, but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy.

Daniel 3:39-42
It is not enough, O God, 
that we be sorry for our sins;
like in the parable and the very
example of your Son Jesus Christ
our Lord, penance and contrition are 
meant to fix and restore our many
broken relationships with you and with
one another, especially those dearest
to us, those closest to us we have hurt or
have hurt us with words and/or deeds.
Like you dear Father,
may we realize that forgiveness is
more than deletion of sins but
most of all, about reconciliation, 
of being one again as brothers and
sisters in Christ.  Amen.

The ghosts within us

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Week IV, Year II in Ordinary Time, 04 February 2022
Sirach 47:2-11   ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*>   Mark 6:14-29
Photo by author, January 2021.
Thank you so much,
dearest God our Father
for being so kind and merciful
to us, so loving and forgiving
which so often we cannot accept
nor believe; like Herod, we keep on
creating ghosts and monsters
within us as we believe more in
our selves, refusing to listen to your
voice in our conscience that bothers
us whenever we sin and do evil.

King Herod heard about Jesus, for his fame had become widespread, and people were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.” Others were saying, “He is Elijah;” sill others, “He is a prophet like any of the prophets.” But when Herod learned of it, he said, “It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.”

Mark 6:14-16
Dearest God,
make me realize 
you are not looking for 
an angel or a saint in me;
that all you are asking me 
is to be like David, a repentant
sinner; how beautiful it is to
recall the many sins of David -
some so serious and grave but
despite his weaknesses, he never 
turned away from you completely;
despite his evil deeds, until now
he is considered Israel's greatest king
for he accomplished much not because 
of his brilliance and courage but largely
because of his love and faith in you.

With his every deed he offered thanks to God Most High, in words of praise. With his whole being he loved his Maker and daily had his praises sung. He set singers before the altar and their voices he made sweet melody. He added beauty to the feasts and solemnized the seasons of each year. So that when the Holy Name was praised, before daybreak the sanctuary would resound. The Lord forgave him his sins and exalted his strength forever; he conferred on him the rights of royalty and established his throne in Israel.

Sirach 47:8-11
Wake us up, Lord,
from our nightmares,
to arise today in your warmth
and light, convinced of your
love and promise of new chances
and opportunities to be better
than yesterday.  Amen.

God’s grace is always more than enough

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of St. Cornelius, Pope, and St. Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs, 16 September 2021
1 Timothy 4:12-16   ><]]]]'> + <'[[[[>< ><]]]]'> + <'[[[[><   Luke 7:36-50
Photo by author, the Pater Noster Church, Jerusalem, May 2019.
Praise and glory to you,
God our loving Father
for the abundant grace you
bless us daily but many times
we take for granted or 
fail to see and realize;
may we heed the words
of St. Paul to the young Timothy:

Beloved: Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate.

1 Timothy 4:12, 14
Most of all,
may we nurture
every opportunity you 
give us to be holy and 
better persons
like that sinful woman 
who went into Simon
the Pharisee's home 
to wash and anoint the
feet of your Son
Jesus Christ. 
At the same time, 
make us stop having that 
sense of special entitlement
to your grace and salvation 
for you have sent Jesus for everyone
for all time to forgive our sins, 
and therefore, there is no reason 
too for any of us to have contempt 
on the young nor sinners.

Jesus said to Simon: “So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

Luke 7:47
May we be like St. Cornelius
 when he was the Pope
supported by St. Cyprian
who was the bishop of Carthage
in welcoming back to the Church
 those who have lapsed
 in their faith during the persecution;
like them, may we recognize
that your grace works best
among the weakest and lowly;
may we stop being rigorists,
of being so stiff and harsh
with sinners and others who are weak
 like the Pharisees
 who see more of themselves
 than you in Jesus Christ
who had come
to make us whole again in you
and with one another.
We pray, dear God,
through these two great saints
during the harsh persecution
periods of the second century
that we learn some leniency
towards others,
to be more kind and understanding
in this time of the pandemic
with those who have less in life
because your grace is always
more than enough for each one of us.
Amen.

The color of Lent is also green

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Third Week in Lent, 12 March 2021
Hosea 14:2-10   ><}}}*> + <*{{{><   Matthew 12:28-34
Photo by author, December 2020.

When we were growing up, you know it so well, God our Father, how we fondly recited a rhyme from “Mother Goose” that says: “Roses are red, violets are blue; Sugar is sweet, so are you. And I love you!”

How lovely is this elementary rhyme for the great truth it imparts even in this season of Lent when our motif is violet for repentance which is also the shade representing fidelity, modesty, humility, and simplicity that to give a violet means “I love you too in response to what a red rose says, “I love you”!

To be sorry for sins is a great expression of love; but, to forgive like you dear God is the greatest expression of love!

And that is why, while violet expresses our love for you by being sorry for our sins this season of Lent, then, it can be rightly said that the color of Lent is also green for wherever there is love flowing from contrition for sins and its forgiveness, then there is found life in you!

When there is love, there is always life — like the verdant shades of green you told Hosea in the first reading today:

I will be like the dew for Israel: he shall blossom like the lily; He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar, and put forth his shoots. His splendor shall be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar. Again they shall dwell in his shade and raise grain; they shall blossom like the vine, his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

Hosea 14:6-8

Remind us always, Lord, that Lent need not be dry and drab; it is characterized by joy and life because of the love and mercy you have poured upon us through Jesus Christ. What a lovely scene that finally today in the gospel, a scribe came to Jesus not to debate him but be clarified of which is the first of all of the commandments.

May we imitate that scribe to come to you to sincerely seek wisdom and truth with a humble heart so we may realize that to love God above all means loving one’s self and loving others too at the same time. That love of God is always expressed in the face of every person we must see as a brother and a sister in Christ.

Let us return to you, O God in Jesus through others so that life may bloom again in us and around us. Give us the grace of contrition, to be sorry of our sins so our hearts may be cleansed to finally see how roses are red, violets are blue turning to shades and hue of green when life blooms in YOU. Amen.

Photo by author, December 2020.

Prayer for patience

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Third Week in Lent, 09 March 2021
Daniel 3:25, 34-43   ><}}}*> + <*{{{><   Matthew 18:21-35
Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, UST High School, 2019.

Thank you, God our Father in heaven, for the gift of Lent. Now we are into its third week, I could strongly feel its character, its impact, making me realize of the need to pray for more patience. From you. And for me.

Patience from You.

Like Azariah in the first reading, we pray for your patience to bear with us for our many sins that have brought us to our lowest point in life. Teach us to pray for mercy and forgiveness like Azariah, to plea for your patience to our hardness of hearts.

For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation, brought low everywhere in the world this day because of our sins. We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you. But with a contrite heart and a humble spirit let us be received; as though it were burnt offerings of rams and bullocks, or thousands of fat lambs, so let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame.

Daniel 3:37-40

How wonderful it is, O Lord our God, of your patience — that virtue of enduring suffering and pain — when we are the ones who have turned away from you, we were the ones who have hurt you with our sins and here you are, bearing all the pains for us?

Thank you for bearing with us always.

And forgive us when we lack patience.

Please, grant us patience…now!

But kidding aside, how ironic that we keep on asking for patience from you and from others too when we cannot be patient at all in dealing with our fellow debtors and sinners like that unforgiving servant in the parable today. You have been so patient in forgiving all our debts yet we cannot forgive those who owe us with less.

Methinks maybe we have not suffered that much, we have never been patient at all that we have not truly felt and realized your patience for us.

Like Peter, we would rather be thinking of quantity, of how many times must we forgive those who wrong us that eventually we run out of patience because of the great number of sins against us.

We have never been patient at all if what we do is keep tabs of the wrongs and sins against us. We do not bear any suffering at all but merely count them like Peter.

Teach us to stop counting the sins of others and be like you in being patient with us sinners: you forgive because we are your children, because you love us.

That is perhaps the key to being patient: instead of counting how many times should we forgive, let us see more why we must forgive because we are all forgiven sinners in your Son Jesus Christ. Perhaps if we can keep that in mind, then we can always patient with our fellow sinners. Amen.

Give, forgive, and forgive.

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, First Week of Lent, 23 February 2021
Isaiah 55:10-11     ><)))*>   +   <*(((><     Matthew 6:7-15
Photo by author, the “Our Father” Church at the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem where Jesus taught his disciples to pray (2017).

Of the many things you have taught us, Lord Jesus, the “Our Father” remains one of the most enigmatic: on the surface it appears so simple but as we dwell and reflect on it, the more it becomes mysterious and fascinating as well that it is rightly called “the Lord’s Prayer”.

Today, I feel so touched, dear Jesus at how you have arranged the order of the prayer in the part of give and forgive:

Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;

Matthew 6:11-12

Give – forgive – forgive.

How amazing at how you have taught us to ask the Father to “give” us only once but asked to “forgive” twice! First to ask the Father to forgive us for our sins and second, that we may be like him to forgive those who sin against us.

There is also something very interesting with giving and forgiving, something deep in meaning and feeling: to give is so simple, as in to grant or bestow or simply, give. But, to forgive in itself is thought provoking, inviting everyone to an inner journey of meanings. Phonetically, it sounds like “four gives” as against just one “give”.

And this is where it gets so beautiful, Jesus: the word forgive is formed from the prefix fore that means first in order or rank or place or time like foreword, forewarn and forward.

We ask Father once only that he may give us our needs for he knows what is best for us.

But, we have to ask him twice to forgive — first that he forgive us for our sins so that we may also forgive others who sin against us.

Teaching them young how to pray (photo by Mr. Red Santiago, 2019).

There is something so deep in forgiving that inspired Shakespeare to write, “to err is human, to forgive is divine.” From the prefix fore, to forgive means to give something first even before you get anything in exchange for whatever you give. And that is what you have done for us, dear Jesus: giving yourself on the cross for us long before we asked forgiveness, long before we give our selves to you in repentance and conversion!

When we ask your forgiveness, what we actually do is claim that forgiveness you have given us without us asking for it!

Here lies the difficult part of the Our Father that makes us divine like you, Jesus: how do we imitate the Father of giving first forgiveness to those who have wronged us even if they have not come to us asking for forgiveness? It is indeed very difficult to follow for how can we give something first even if we have not received anything like a simple sorry in return?

How easy it is to ask you, Jesus, to give us grace to forgive but I think, what we must ask is for you to forgive us so we can forgive. How wonderful to realize that every time you forgive us, you actually give us something fourfold as in “four gives”.

Open our eyes, open our hearts to see this wonder and beauty of forgiving, of giving first even without receiving anything in exchange like the Father. Amen.

To be loved is to be touched by God

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Sixth Week in Ordinary Time, Year B, 14 February 2021
Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46  >><)))*>  1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1  >><)))*>  Mark 1:40-45

The word “touch” is a very touchy one…

It can either be literal or figurative but can mean both at the same time like when we experience that proverbial “pat on the shoulder” – we feel it literally speaking but deeply within we feel so touched that we feel so good, we feel affirmed.

We say “we are touched” by words, by gestures and sights, by acts of kindness and love, by persons, by music, by poems, by so many things that touch both our senses and innermost being.

Touch can be fleeting, sometimes so brief but its impact can last a lifetime. Experts say that 30 seconds of touch is equivalent to more than 300 words of encouragement. That is why in our liturgy and sacraments, we employ the sense of touch extensively in imitation of Jesus in his many healings and interactions with everyone during his time.

And even up to our time, Jesus continues to touch us with his words, with his Body and Blood in the Holy Mass and through our family and friends, even strangers he sends us so we may experience his love through his healing touch, his merciful touch, his tender, loving touch.

Today we hear a very touching story on this Valentine’s day of how Jesus touched a leper and touched his life forever!

A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.

Mark 1:40-42
Photo by author, Lake of Galilee, May 2019.

Leprosy: a terrible disease, an image of sin

After healing Simon’s mother-in-law and those who were sick last Sunday, Mark told us how before dawn the following day Jesus went to a deserted place to pray then left Capernaum with his four disciples to preach and heal throughout the whole of Galilee.

As they were walking, a leper came to meet Jesus and begged him to be healed. This scene is very unusual for lepers were not supposed to get near anybody during that time. They have to warn people of their presence so they can be avoided lest others get infected.

But more than the fear of contagion, the first reading tells us why people were not supposed to interact with lepers because leprosy was seen so terrible as an image of sin that anyone afflicted must see the priest first, short of saying a leper was also a sinner. See how Moses described the wounds that evoked memories of those festering boils and lesions that afflicted the Egyptians and their cattle before the Exodus. Such was the gravity and seriousness of this sickness that those afflicted were totally separated from the rest of the populace, literally and figuratively speaking.

In this scene, we find not only a glimpse of another typical day in the life of Jesus but most of all, we see his very person filled with love and compassion for the least in the society like the leper. Here again is the Lord going to unknown territories to find and heal – to touch – the poorest of the poor.

And that is precisely the good news Mark is telling us this Sunday: Jesus wills our well-being, wants to touch us to be cleansed and healed from all our infirmities whether physical or spiritual or emotional.

Like the crowds following Jesus at that time, we also have to follow the Lord in his preaching to be healed from our sickness and be cleansed from sins. Anyone who believes in his power to heal like that leper must rely in his kindness and mercy because Jesus had removed all barriers that prevent us from meeting him, touching him.

See how Mark described Jesus being “moved with pity” which is more than an emotion or feeling but a stirring within called “miserecordia” in Latin and Spanish that means to move (miseor) the heart (cor) or do something with what he had seen and felt.

Do not be afraid or shy to come to Jesus; he is very approachable, no need for appointments like us humans as he welcomes us all, very open to us all, so willing to meet and be with us in our joys and sorrows, victories and defeats, triumphs and miseries.

Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. He said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.”

Mark 1:43-44
Photo by Jenna Hamra on Pexels.com

Jesus is our Savior.

More than a healer, an exorcist, and a doer of miracles, Mark presents to us for the third consecutive Sunday the very person of Jesus Christ as our Savior. One thing we shall notice in Mark’s gospel is his extensive use of the so-called “Messianic secret” wherein he reports Jesus warning those he had healed and exorcised not to tell it to anyone, to keep it a secret lest people regard him as a miracle worker or provider of every human needs.

And that is because who Jesus Christ is really is — our Savior who gave himself up for us all to be healed by sin symbolized by leprosy. His touching and healing of that leper vividly shows us that this Jesus is the Christ who came to renew and bring us back to God as his beloved children. It is the most touching image of God becoming human like us, getting so close to us to touch us and be one with us so we can be cleansed from all dirt of sin and evil because that is how much he loves us.

To be touched by Jesus is to be loved by God. And anyone touched and loved by God becomes a brand new person who finds himself whole and one anew with others around him, sharing with them his newfound love and joy and meaning in life. That is the surest sign of being touched and being loved; hence, the command by Jesus to the leper to present himself to the priests to be reintegrated to the community and eventually commune again with others.

But the leper could not contain his joy that according to Mark, “The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter, spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly, remaining outside in deserted places as people kept coming to him from everywhere” (Mk.1:45).

By his very life, the healed leper gave glory to God as admonished by Paul in our second reading today. For Paul, to glorify God in whatever we do is to imitate Jesus Christ (1Cor. 10:31) by dealing with or resolving conflicts and issues among us in the most personal manner instead of theoretical principles.

During that time, the early Christians in Corinth and elsewhere for that matter were confused if the consumption of animals offered by pagans to their idols and later sold in the market constituted their participation to idolatry.

Paul explained that idols are nothing and therefore, the sacrifice of animals in the sanctuaries does not give the meat sold in the markets any particular qualification. Those who can understand this can it eat without scruple but— if it can cause scandal among those weak in faith and understanding, they must renounce this freedom.

For Paul, morality and propriety must have their origin and motivation in God, not just any precepts or standards that sometimes difficult to accept. Again, here we have to consider sensitivity – the touchiness of certain acts and things so that when we give glory to God, even the weakest among us may be encouraged to do the same.

There is no “middle ground” as the wokes are implying these days in the US especially in that recent Super Bowl Jeep commercial with Bruce Springsteen, implying America can only be a ReUnited States through “compromises”.

Love is not like politics or diplomacy that seek detente among different parties of people as Jesus warned us to “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’. Anything apart from this is from the evil one” (Mt.5:37).

To love is to be touched by someone, especially by God. When we love, when we touch, there are no ifs nor buts, no middle grounds nor compromises because it is either you love or do not love. That is what Jesus showed us when he touched and healed the leper who came to him along the road.

That is also what Jesus showed us later by dying on the Cross for us so we may be cleansed from our sins and be new again so we can reach out to touch others with his immense love that is full of joy.

On this most joyous day of hearts we call Valentine’s, get real with our love by touching someone with the love of Jesus in the most concrete way of kindness and care, mercy and forgiveness. Not with flowers and chocolates that are very temporary. A blessed week to you!

Photo by author, 07 February 2021.

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 maƱanita 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/.

Presence and Love of Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXIII, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 06 September 2020
Ezekiel 33:7-9 /// Romans 13:8-10 /// Matthew 18:15-20
Photo by Mr. Gelo N. Carpio, January 2020.

For the next three Sundays beginning today, our liturgy directs our gaze to the nature of the Church as the mystical Body of Jesus Christ. For today we hear from Matthew how we as a church or a community of believers are signs of the presence and love of Jesus Christ.

Recall how two weeks ago at Caesarea Philippi Jesus called Simon as “Peter” (“Rock”) to head his “church”, giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven that whatever he binds on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever he looses on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Mt.16:17-19).

Matthew is the only evangelist so particular in using the term “church” that he devoted chapter 18 of his gospel on its nature, collecting and giving some of the Lord’s teachings about community life to his own group of disciples or early church.

And off he went to start with the most important part of community life:

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you… If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector… Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Matthew 18:15-16, 17, 19-20
Photo by author, dome of the Malolos Cathedral, 2019.

Presence of Jesus in the love and unity of community

In a very short teaching taking a step by step method, Jesus tells us today how our mutual love shall always take precedence above all in our community life as his disciples and sign of presence.

Though we do not find in our gospel this Sunday the word “love”, it is clearly the Lord’s lesson for today: it is mutual love for one another that must guide everyone specially in the delicate matter of fraternal correction when one is going wayward in his/her path of life.

This explains why Jesus spelled out step by step how we correct others primarily because we love, not because we are better than them or that we have such authority or task and duty. Paul beautifully says it in our second reading:

Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8, 10

But of course, we need to clarify that all these lessons of love from the Lord and Paul are based on the love of Jesus Christ who clearly mandated us during his last supper how we must love:

I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

What makes this loving one another a “new commandment” is loving like Jesus Christ, unlike the pagans in ancient times that are still imitated to this day even by many among us who are also Christians. So often we find specially in media how love is portrayed as mere feelings like physical attraction that always leads up to sex, devoid of any sanctity and inner beauty at all.

St. Augustine called it “disordered love” when we become self-centered and selfish, directing our love solely to attaining what pleases us that we use persons and love things like money.

Love is not just a feeling but a decision, a choice we make and affirm every day specially when times are very rough and tough for us like when we are not loved in return.

Most of all, love is when we find somebody else we can love more than ourselves (Thomas Merton). This is the kind of love that Jesus and Paul as well as all the other saints speak of: the self-sacrificing love Christ showed us when he offered himself on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Monastery of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem where the Holy Family hid before fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s order to massacre the Holy Innocents, May 2019.

Love of Jesus builds, not destroys

Applying the law of love to our community is the most severe test of our being disciples of Jesus when we are challenged to be sincere in our love by hating what is evil and holding on to what is good like blessing those who persecute us, foregoing vengeance against those who have wronged us along with other expressions of mutual love in our community that Paul tells us in Romans 12:9-21.

In teaching us mutual love for one another in a step by step manner, it may seem to be a duty that one must follow in the church. It may even sound as contradictory that Jesus seems to be commanding us to strictly follow his law of command because no law can ever impose love.

However, when we try to reflect the ending of his teachings today – “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” – we find Jesus not ordering us to love but asking us our love because he loves us. He comes to us, grants our prayers because he loves us; therefore, when we love, when we gather as his disciples, we become his presence. And that is when our prayers are most effective because Jesus is in our midst!

Jesus and his love always build people and community; without him and his love, all we have is destruction and divisions. Hence, love is the only debt we owe to anyone. Love as a debt and “duty” is never paid back because the more we love, the more we have love, the more we are indebted to Jesus. It is the only debt that is never burdensome; in fact, the opposite happens when we refuse to love – we are burdened, life becomes heavy and so difficult.

This is what Ezekiel is telling us in the first reading: we are a “watchman”, a brother’s keeper of everyone. St. Pope Gregory the Great wrote a beautiful homily on being a watchman:

Note that a man whom the Lord sends forth as a preacher is called a watchman. A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming. Anyone appointed to be a watchman for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight.

Office of Readings, Memorial of St. Pope Gregory the Great, 03 September
Photo by author, sunset inside our parish, 25 August 2020.

In the Church, those designated as watchman of the flock of Jesus is the Bishop or episkopos in Greek that means watcher or overseer. It is the bishop’s duty to always be above others in the loving service of the Church that sometimes out of love for Christ, he has to discipline those going astray as instructed in our gospel today, “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector”, that is, excommunication or suspensions and other measures not meant to punish but to convert and correct the sinner.

Next Sunday, Matthew deepens our lesson on mutual love when he presents us the teachings of Jesus on how often we must forgive our brother or sister who repeatedly sins against us.

See my dear reader, how after presenting to us who is Jesus Christ last month, in how much he loves us and seeks us, these following Sundays we are challenged by the Lord to be like him – loving and merciful – to truly keep our relationship with him.

It is the first Sunday of September, the -ber months that tell us Christmas is around the corner. But, it seems we are still in a long haul in this pandemic. Having a vaccine will not totally eradicate COVID-19 nor guarantee us this won’t happen again in the future because the disease that is truly plaguing us until now is our refusal to love and live as brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us give it a try. Slowly. Jesus is not rushing us. All he is asking us is be open to his words expressed earlier in our responsorial psalm: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Have a heart and have a blessed, lovely week, everyone!