Love and be free

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday After the Epiphany of the Lord, 06 January 2022
1 John 4:19-5:4   ><}}}*> + ><}}}*> + ><}}}*>   Luke 4:14-22
Photo by Ms. Nikki A. Vergara at Victoria, Laguna, 2020.
Dearest God our Father, 
let us love, love, and love
so that we may be free;
the deeper we love, 
more we become free for 
you and others too!

For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

1 John 5:3-4
How funny it is, Father,
when we keep on turning 
away from you, rejecting your
commandments Jesus had 
summarized to loving you and
loving others, thinking we could
be free if we separate from you
and your precepts; but, the opposite
happens every time we turn away
from you and your laws!
The more we become empty
and lost; most of all, burdened
with sin and guilt.
Deepen our love for you
and in you, loving Father
through Jesus Christ; let us
immerse ourselves into your words,
let us masticate your words
to extract its power that liberates
us in every here and now 
to experience true freedom
to love you, O God, and love
others as brothers and sisters
in Christ.  Amen.

Advent is when God comes to free and raise us up to him

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Simbang Gabi 9, 24 December 2021
1 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16   ><]]]*> + <*[[[><   Luke 1:67-79 
Photo by author, sunrise at the Lake of Galilee, the Holy Land, 2017.

As we complete today our nine-day novena to Christmas, Zechariah comes to full circle in the gospel when he sings the Benedictus (Latin for “Blessed”) to praise and thank God not only for restoring his speech but for the gift of a son John the Baptist and of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Last Wednesday we have mentioned to you how we priests, monks and the religious along with other dedicated lay people would sing or recite Mary’s Magnificat at the end of our Evening Prayer called Vespers, Zechariah’s Benedictus is what we pray at the end of our Morning Prayer called Lauds (Latin for praises).

It is a wonderful prayer welcoming the new day filled with God’s blessings of life and fulfillment, joy and peace, love and mercy. What a way to start each day already assured of being a blessed one for everyone.

As we prepare for Christmas tonight and tomorrow, it is worth praying the Benedictus today to pause at three important verbs we find at its beginning:

Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.

Luke 1:67-69

For Zechariah, God is blessed because “he has come (or visited) to his people, set them free (or worked redemption), and has raised up for us a mighty Savior from the house of David”. Like Mary’s Magnificat, we notice in Zechariah’s Benedictus the verbs are in the past tense when everything seems to be just starting with John’s birth who would herald the coming of Jesus still be born six months later.

But, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit when he sang this that he must have perceived that early – like Mary – the many great things God had done to him personally and to them as a nation. Most of all, he had sensed- finally, after months of forced silence – the most unique wonderful things God is doing for him and everyone including us today.

This is the reason why we pray the Benedictus every morning for it affirms and not just awaits the tremendous blessings God has for us each new day.

Photo by author, altar of the Church of St. John the Baptist, the Holy Land, 2019.

Everyday, God comes to us, visiting us with his gift of life. A few months ago, former US Secretary of State and decorated soldier Colin Powell died of complications from COVID-19. An accomplished military officer and manager, one of his leadership lessons is that “It ain’t as bad as you think.”

Powell explains that after every disaster, there is always a solution and a way out of every mess in life. There is no need for us to worsen the situation with overthinking because in the coming of each new day, things get better.

So true! Zechariah had the worst days of his life of not having a child for the longest time then made mute by an angel for challenging the wisdom of God. After being forced into silence for nine months, he realized how each day is filled with blessings with God himself coming to us.

Rejoice every morning you wake up by first praying and connecting to God who comes to us daily before checking on your gadgets for messages and news that often dampen your mood. Like Zechariah, the first thing to come from his mouth and lips when his tongue was loosened was praise and thanksgiving to God.

When God comes, his first blessing is always our liberation from sins and baggages that have overburdened us, enslaving us for so long that we have practically stopped living. To experience God in Jesus Christ is always to experience freedom to do what is true and good. To be free in Jesus means to be free from sins and anxieties and fears brought about by our bondage to evil and darkness.

Zechariah felt so free that he was able to praise and thank God for his gifts of life and a child. And Savior, Jesus Christ who had come to his home when Mary visited Elizabeth earlier.

Everyday is blessed primarily because God raised up for us a mighty Savior in Jesus Christ. This is the most wonderful part of Zechariah’s Benedictus, “God has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David”. It was very clear with him the role of his son John, a herald of the coming of the Savior who is the fulfillment of God’s promise of old.

Photo by author, 2019.

Each day in Jesus promises us to make it better than yesterday. If we were sick yesterday, today we can recover our health. If yesterday we have failed, today we shall triumph. If yesterday we have lost, today we shall gain for Jesus has conquered everything even death for his love for us.

Likewise, we are invited to become a John the Baptist everyday not only to prepare the way of the Lord but most of all be the sign of the Lord’s presence.

As John the Baptist, we are challenged first to examine our very lives, our inner selves. So many times we get carried away with the many parties and activities of Christmas like gifts to give or receive as we focus on the wrong aspects of this most joyous feast of the year.

Like his father Zechariah, let us rejoice in the presence of God who became human like us so we may also rejoice in the presence of every person especially our loved ones who make Jesus present among us. Let us make this Christmas a true celebration of the presence of Jesus in us not only today but throughout the coming 2022 as God continues to bless us with lower COVID infections. Amen. May God bless you always, heal you of your sickness, and fulfill your prayers this Simbang Gabi!

Advent is rejoicing in God within us

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Third Sunday of Advent-C, 12 December 2021
Zephaniah 3:14-18 ><}}}*> Philippians 4:4-7 ><}}}*> Luke 3:10-18
Photo by author, Gaudete Sunday 2019.

Our liturgy bursts in colorful hues of pink this Third Sunday of Advent known as “Gaudete Sunday” or “Rejoice Sunday” following the calls of our readings to rejoice in God’s coming and nearness among us.

Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again – rejoice!

Philippians 4:4

We rejoice because of a person. Always. Gadgets and material things can never bring joy to us; joy is something deeper, touching one’s heart and soul.

Joy brings assurance of presence and of love; hence, joy comes only from another person for what he or she brings or for what happens to him or to her. And too often, it can happen that we share in another’s joy.

Now, imagine if the joy is coming from the Second Person, Jesus Christ the Son of God – it is “joy to the max!” as young people would say these days. Jesus, the Emmanuel or God-with-us who had come more than 2000 years ago, who always comes to us, and who will come again in the end of time.

To rejoice in the Lord as St. Paul puts it in our second reading today means to be one with Christ who is the source of “every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Eph.1:3) in whom “nothing can ever separate us from the love of God, not even death nor any creature” (Rom. 8:38-39).

And that is the essence of joy: the firm assurance that when worst comes to worst in life, there is always Jesus Christ remaining faithful to us when our chips are down, when we are alone and abandoned by family and friends, even in death.

Joy is a result of salvation, of being free in Jesus

Joy is when the heart and soul smile even when we are in the midst of suffering. It is unlike happiness expressed by laughter or smiles that depend on external factors that trigger happiness. Joy bursts from within us, something automatic because of a deeper feeling of right there in our heart, deep in our soul dwells Jesus Christ, assuring us we shall never be alone. That is why we can rejoice while in the midst of pains and sufferings, unlike happiness.

In the first reading we heard four imperative verbs that call us to rejoice, each evoking God’s coming to save his people which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ:

Photo by author, San Fernando, Pampanga, 18 November 2021.

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.

Zephaniah 3:14-15

Here we find joy synonymous with salvation, with freedom.

The people of God at that time were in exile, feeling so low and so sad as they saw their plight as punishment for their sins.

Recall how when the angel announced to Mary the coming birth of Jesus, he told her to “Do not fear” (Lk.1:30) while Jesus himself told the same words – “Do not fear” – to the women at the tomb on Easter morning and later to his disciples (Mt. 28:10). Every time the disciples and the people were in danger and overcome with fear, Jesus always comes saying to everyone the same thing, “Do not be afraid…it is I”.

That is the most wondrous thing about joy – one experiences not only assurance of love and support, presence and security but one also becomes free specially from all sins and fears!

Such was the mood of the people when John the Baptist preached repentance and baptized people at Jordan. Even the most hopeless among them like sinners and marginalized people at that time felt joy within with John’s proclamation of the good news, of Jesus himself.

Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.

Luke 3:15-18

Luke beautifully summarized the mission of John the Baptist by saying “he preached good news to the people” (Lk.3:18). This is the grace of the third Sunday of Advent: that the Lord is with us, that he had set us free from our sins and from all our fears. Let us go out of our toxic relationships and toxic mindset to claim this salvation in Christ!

Like John, let us experience Jesus in our selves, in our lives in order to bring hope and joy to others by proclaiming not only the coming but the very presence of Jesus Christ among us.

See how John told the crowds to live simply so that others may simply leave while at the same time, he never asked the tax collectors and soldiers to leave their jobs by them to be fair and just with everyone.

Photo by author, San Fernando, Pampanga, 18 November 2021.

So many times in life, we desire so many material things in life because of our wrong belief we can only be joyful in life with whatever money can buy that in the process, we miserably forget to love and care for the other persons, especially those nearest to us.

We sadly realize later in life that what truly prevent us from experiencing joy are these things like wealth and fame we have tried accumulating in our entire lives!

As we have said earlier, joy can only come from persons, not things. Those people in the gospel felt joy upon listening to John’s preaching and experiencing his baptism of water.

In our time, we are called to be another John the Baptist but this time to baptize people “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” as commanded by Jesus on his Ascension. Moreover, this third Sunday of Advent calls us to emulate John in telling people to be vigilant for the final judgment when Jesus comes again at the end of time which is NOW for “His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” These we do with our lives of witnessing to the gospel values of Christ seen in the joy we have in our lives.

How sad that even Pope Francis had noticed early in his pontificate how many of us Christians lack joy in our lives, in our attitudes and in our faces specially when celebrating the Holy Eucharist.

Joy is the mark of every true Christian who rejoices always in the salvation and freedom Jesus had brought us. Let us share the joy of life in Christ not only today but everyday for Jesus comes to us in every person filled with joy, free from sin and worries! Amen.

Have a joyful week ahead!

Photo by author, San Fernando, Pampanga, 18 November 2021.

When good is not good enough

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Memorial of St. Rock (San Roque), 16 August 2021
Judges 2:11-19   ><]]]]'> ><]]]]'> ><]]]]'>   Matthew 19:16-22
Photo by author, October 2020.
Your words today, O God
our Father are just what we 
needed most in this time when
we feel we are good, when we
are so complacent that all is fine.
Thank you for reminding us today
that we are not that "good" at all!
And worst, so many times our 
being good are not even good enough! 

A young man approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Matthew 19:16-17, 20-22
So many times, dear Father,
 good is not good where better
is expected, when being good
is not enough because in life,
what matters is not only what
we do but also what we have;
like that young man, there is 
something or someone standing 
between us and you, or anything
we cannot let go to be totally yours!
Forgive us, merciful God,
when we think more of ourselves
and forget you and others.
Forgive us when our possessions
posses us; give us the strength
to give up and surrender to you
our many attachments and false
securities that prevent us from becoming
truly free and truly your followers
like St. Rock, the patron of pandemics.
Amen.

True freedom

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Memorial of St. Justin, Martyr, 01 June 2021
Tobit 2:9-14     <*(((>< + ><)))*>     Mark 12:13-17
Photo by author, inside the ruins of the Temple of Jerusalem, 2019.

Glory and praise to you, O God, our loving and merciful Father for this month of June as we go through the last 30 days of this year’s first half. How fast time flies! It is so relieving how we have gone through almost half of this extended year of pandemic.

As we celebrate today the Memorial of your great apologist and martyr, St. Justin, we pray for more enlightenment to always seek and follow and most of all, stand by the truth of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is not enough that we merely seek the truth because it can easily be faked like the Pharisees and the Herodians in our gospel today.

Some Pharisees and Herodians were sent to Jesus to ensnare him in his speech. They came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion. You do not regard a person’s status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not?”

Mark 12:13-14

Truth can only set us free as Jesus had taught us if in our search for the truth we break away and discard our biases and prejudices. To truly seek the truth is to be empty in order to accept it so we can follow the truth and most of all stand by it.

Forgive us for the times and moments we have been like the Pharisees and Herodians who are not genuinely seeking the truth as they were evidently from the start were seeking a confirmation of a lie they insisted to be true. There are times we are like them even in coming to you not to find the truth but be affirmed with our own beliefs when deep inside us we know it is not right and true at all! It seems it is more difficult for us to discard lies and wrongful assumptions and beliefs than simply accept the bare facts of truth.

At the same time, give us the humility to accept truth because there are times, too, in our deep devotion to you like Tobit, we become blinded with our righteousness that we cannot accept the truth presented to us by others.

Help us masticate today’s responsorial psalm: “The heart of the just one is firm, trusting in the Lord.”

Like St. Justin, give us the courage and determination to seek and follow and stand by the truth by understanding it so well, ready to explain it and most of all, defend it even with our lives. Freedom comes from truth when we are not held captive by lies and unfounded beliefs.

Let us trust in you alone and make us not so proud and arrogant nor so righteous that we are enslaved by our ego that blinds us in our search for truth. Amen.

Lent is home in God

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Fifth Week in Lent, 24 March 2021
Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95   +++   John 8:31-42
Parish Church of St. Joseph, Baras, Rizal.

We pray most specially today, O God our Father, for all who are sick especially with COVID-19 along with the doctors and nurses and other medical frontliners who take care of them. We pray also in a special way for doctors and nurses getting sick because of this surge in COVID-19.

At the same time, we pray for our good bishops who gallantly stand to continue with the public Masses because our spiritual nourishment is very essential in times like these. Give them the courage and grace to stand their trials like your three prophets in the first reading today.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, “There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.”

Daniel 3:16-18

Make us at home with you, Father, like those three young men.

Let us remain in the words of your Son Jesus Christ so we may know the truth and be set free from our idols and others gods like persons who make it difficult for us to truly follow you and do your holy will.

Let our lives be centered in you, Father, through Jesus Christ we receive in the Holy Eucharist daily.

In these trying times of the pandemic worsened by leaders chained to their personal interests and foreign powers, make us remain in you in Jesus and set us free, free from fears and biases and free to serve and care for those in need. Amen.

We are the master of the world but God remains our Master

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Wednesday, Memorial of St. Scholastica, Virgin, 10 February 2021
Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17     >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>     Mark 7:14-23
Photo by author, Camp John Hay, August 2019.

Praise and glory to you, God our loving Father and Creator of heaven and earth. Yes, we may be so small in this vast universe but it is in our smallness you have made us so great by creating us at the center of all your creation, the master of our world!

the Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being. Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and he placed there the man whom he had formed. The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. The Lord God gave man this order: “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.”

Genesis 2:7-8, 15-17

Forgive us, dear God when we always forget that our freedom is never absolute; that from the beginning there has always been exception in doing everything.

Yes, we are the master of our world but YOU remain our Master; hence, the primary task of keeping this relationship with you always intact, always maintained, always whole and never separated from you.

From this relationship flows everything that is beautiful in your creation, O God: from each one of us who is a microcosm of the universe, a paradise within with all the gifts and abilities to become according to your plan and, on to the whole world you have given to us as a gift we must take care and nurture by responsibly enjoying it, neither harming nor destroying it.

Photo by author, Petra at Jordan, May 2019.

Alas, like what Jesus reminds us today in the gospel, we have defiled our inner selves with evil and sins so that from our hearts come unclean thoughts and actions.

Though we may no longer have those issues of unclean food like during your time, dear Jesus, we remain focus on so many trivial things that we ignore the real evils right in our hearts.

Through the prayers of St. Scholastica, help us to consecrate ourselves to you, O God, to be pure and simple in our thoughts and ideals, words and actions that reflect your true beauty and majesty in simply being good and holy. Amen.

Keeping God’s commandments

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Thursday After Epiphany, 07 January 2021
1 John 4:19-5:4     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Luke 4:14-22
Photo by author, 01 November 2020

For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

1 John 5:3-4

Sometimes in life I really do not still get you, dearest God.

Sometimes I just think this is part of life’s mystery as well as your own mystery as God.

Like today’s letter of your Son’s beloved disciple: he said to love you is to keep your commandments.

Just that. On the surface, how can it be love when there is subjection to commandments that often feel like burdensome?

And then, the beloved disciple telling us that your commandments are not burdensome?

It is difficult to be faithful to you, God! So hard to never use your name in vain, even in jokes. And look at how everybody complains not having enough time for self and family that they skip Sunday Masses!

If we try to dissect the seven remaining commandments, surely you know O God how hard we all strive to keep them from honoring our parents to not coveting other’s wives and goods!

Photo by author, December 2020.

But, again, O God, your words are true: your commandments are not burdensome but actually set us free! That must be the victory the beloved disciple is referring to because the more we break your commandments, the more we are bondaged by sin.

Jesus can boldly proclaim your words are fulfilled upon our hearing because he said them totally free of any inhibitions, of any fear, of any doubts. So free to truly love you and everyone of us.

Enlighten us, O Lord, that your commandments are all summed up in love. It is only when we love that we find the beauty of your commandments meant for us to truly love others. It is when we keep your commandments that we become faithful and loving in you through others. Amen.

Faithful and free

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Week XXVII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 10 October 2020
Galatians 3:22-29     ||+||   >><)))*>   ||+||     Luke 11:27-28
Photo by author, 2019.

Glory and praise, O God, our Father for another week that had passed and another new one to start! Thank you so much for everything we have received this week: the beautiful things that have blessed us wondrously and the sad things that have also blessed us with lessons in life.

Thank you for the gifts of faith and conviction, faith and being realistic, faith and consistency.

And so, I pray today for the gifts of faith and freedom for a truly faithful person is always one who is also truly free!

Brothers and sisters: Scripture confined all things under the power of sin, that through faith in Jesus Christ the promise might be given to those who believe. Before faith came, we were held in custody under law, confined for the faith that was to be revealed. Consequently, the law was our disciplinarian for Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a disciplinarian.

Galatians 3:22-25

You know how so many times, Lord, when we feel imprisoned and chained by our broken and toxic relationships, sickness and handicaps, painful memories, failures and other past sins.

Let us realize and be convinced that you have come to set us free from all of these, that we are now free to love, free to be ourselves, free to grow, free and faithful in you.

Show us the path how we can break the many barriers that continue to imprison us and prevent us from maturing in faith and freedom in you like gender, color, language, social status and even religion.

Help us imitate you, Jesus, who boldly claimed before everyone that true blessedness is not found in affinities or blood ties but in freely receiving and observing the word of God. Amen.

Generous and cheerful

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Memorial of St. Lawrence, Martyr and Deacon, 10 August 2020
2 Corinthians 9:6-10 >><}}}*> // + \\ <*{{{><< John 12:24-26
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

Dearest Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous and cheerful too, because sometimes our generosity is filled with sadness or bitterness as it is comes from having excess of anything that we have. Worst, it is only when we are forced to become generous by others or due to circumstances.

True generosity is always borne out of joy when our only reason in giving and sharing is due to our faith in you — that no matter what happens to us, you will never abandon us, Lord, providing whatever we need in this life.

Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:8

Most of all, generosity with cheerfulness is always a choice, a decision freely made in imitation of you, Jesus Christ like St. Lawrence your deacon. Those who give or share anything with a heavy heart, if given the choice, would rather keep whatever they have to remain like a grain of wheat without dying.

Like St. Lawrence, teach us generosity that is naturally human and divine, that like him while being roasted alive, he had the sense of humor to ask his persecutors to turn him so that his grilling may be perfect and even. Amen.

“Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, Deacon” by Hipolito de Rioja (16th c.); from commons.wikimedia.org