Everything begins in God

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 07 February 2021
Job 7:1-4, 6-7 >><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23 >><}}}*> Mark 1:29-39
Photo by author, January 2021.

Mark continues to show us a slice in the daily life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We have seen last week how everything began at the synagogue where Jesus preached and healed on a day of sabbath.

The Lord is clearly telling us that everything must begin and end in God. Always.

This Sunday we see a complete 24-hour look not only into the life and ministry of Jesus but most specially to his very person as the Christ, the Son of God as he continued his preaching while proclaiming his good news of salvation to everyone.

And to truly experience him and his gospel, we have to make that effort of meeting him.

On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waiting on them.

Mark 1:29-31

Day time with the Lord…

Photo by author, morning inside our parish church during last summer’s lockdown.

We all know by heart God’s third commandment to keep holy the sabbath day. This commandment was perfected in Jesus Christ when he rose again on Easter, the day after sabbath which is our Sunday celebration.

It is true that sabbath day is Saturday but when Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, the early Christians who were all Jews shifted their day of worship to Sunday. Such shift was very remarkable, proving beyond doubt the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus for the Jewish followers of Christ to abandon their Saturday worship.

In Jesus Christ, we find sabbath not just a stop in work and everything but a return to God who is our life. Such is the centrality of God in our lives that sabbath is the day of the Lord because it is the only day without any other day at par with – walang katapat kasi walang katapat ang Diyos! See there are seven days in a week, an odd number because there is one day without any “partner day” like for example Monday-Tuesday, Wednesday-Thursday, Friday-Saturday.

Photo by author, parish altar one morning in November 2019.

Sabbath which is Sunday for us Christians is solely for the Lord!

The four disciples of Jesus must have known earlier of the fever of Simon’s mother-in-law; they must have been worried but they went along with Jesus to the synagogue to pray and worship God first, casting aside all their worries for they were with the Lord.

It was after coming from the synagogue, when Mark tells us how “they immediately told him about her” that they witnessed and experienced an outpouring of grace in their home and family.

That imagery of Jesus grasping the hand and raising her up is so rich in meaning that tells us how God helps those who help themselves.

Imagine how even if we do not pray daily nor celebrate Mass weekly yet God never fails to bless us every day. How much more if we come and meet him every Sunday!

Here we find how every true worship of God with the community extends to our families when we bring home Jesus if we are with him so we can immediately tell him our concerns in life. Jesus comes daily to us, always wanting to hold our hands and raise us up to be well and better than before like Simon’s mother-in-law but, are we willing to meet him especially in the Holy Eucharist?

In the first reading, we find Job crying to God, lamenting his many sufferings and the sad condition of life in general, something like what Qoheleth had written. It is not a cry of revolt by Job but more of a complaint coming from the heart of a faithful servant caught between despair and hope who finds life’s nothingness without God. Despite his losing all his children and workers in a day along with his properties not to mention his getting sick, Job never turned away from God and kept on calling to him in the silence of his heart from daytime to evening until the Lord heard him and blessed him fourfold.

When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door… Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon those who were with him pursued him… He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

Mark 1:32-33, 35-36, 38-39

Remaining in the Lord even in darkness…

Photo by author of seminarians meditating in silence after their evening prayers, November 2020.

It was still Saturday but sabbath day had already ended at 5PM (having started at 5PM of Friday) that people have started to come to Jesus to seek his healing from their sickness and possessions by evil spirits.

Darkness did not stop Jesus from serving the people despite the difficulties of seeing them, of being so tired and hungry at night, even sleepy. Likewise, darkness did not prevent Jesus communing with the Father by rising before dawn to go to a deserted place to pray alone. What a very beautiful image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd lovingly serving the sick and the poor and as our Eternal Priest making time to pray, ensuring prayer as center not only of his ministry but of his life.

According to recent studies, Filipinos rank as the highest users in the world of social media for the sixth straight year in a row, spending an average of more than four hours and 15 minutes daily (https://www.rappler.com/technology/internet-culture/hootsuite-we-are-social-2021-philippines-top-social-media-internet-usage)

That is 28 hours a week, meaning we lose one whole day or 24 hours weekly just for Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms! Not included are the hours spent watching television. How about time with God and with our loved ones?

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera during our Christ the King procession, November 2020.

Please allow me now to be a little personal as this is also my last full week in this first parish I have served for nine years and seven months.

If there is one thing I have learned so well from here is the value and importance of less.

Since my ordination in 1998 until 2010, I have always been celebrating Masses in major parishes like the Malolos Cathedral, the Santissima Trinidad in Malolos (a pilgrimage parish), and the Parish and National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Valenzuela. Every Mass, every sacrament there was really big time with large congregations coming.

Totally the opposite here in my first parish assignment under the beloved disciple of Jesus, St. John Evangelist. Small church building without a garage nor a patio in one small baranggay with about 12000 souls to care for.

Our Patron Saint, San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista of Bagbaguin, Santa Maria, Bulacan.

My predecessors saw this as too small that they did not have daily Masses. But I felt in my prayers that is the only thing Jesus wanted me to do here: make him present in the daily Masses and other sacraments.

We started with just five people attending our daily Masses while Sundays were half-filled. Before COVID-19, we have increased attendees to our daily Masses to about 20 people and our Sunday celebrations have become almost seating capacity.

At first I felt sad and disappointed but the people here kept on telling me it is a miracle already that “so many people” were coming for the Masses. Slowly, I have come to accept our situation that that’s the way it is. And that is where I felt God blessing us so abundantly with our less!

Modesty aside, in the past nine years we have sent more children to receiving the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation (without any fees but with free snacks) since 1998 when this started as a quasi parish. We have almost baptized every adult person who have not yet received the sacrament too.

COVID-19 stopped everything, affecting our collections so bad but we just kept on serving and proclaiming Jesus with our daily Masses seen online, motorcade of the Blessed Sacrament every week, distribution of the Holy Communion every Sunday to those who attended our online Mass including through our innovative “drive-thru” Communion.

01 November 2020.

We never beg the people for donations but they all poured in, enabling us to continue helping the poor like helping them bury their dead, even renovate our church with the finest liturgical vessels and things!

One thing has become clear with me: always begin in God, keep him as our center in everything and all else follows.

Remember those days when you were centered in Christ; despite the problems and trials, we were never forsaken by the Lord. Even if we have lost some of our life’s battles, we have still emerged victorious because we have become stronger and fulfilled inside.

We all come and go, especially us priests but, our mission as disciples of Christ remains the same everywhere which is to make Jesus present, make God known to everyone like in the gospel today. This we can only accomplish when we remain one in him, totally free for him and free from other attachments to be free for all.

Like St. Paul, may we all strive especially us your priests to be “all things to all men” -omnia omnibus (1Cor.9:22) by being free to lovingly serve others especially the weak and the poor in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son praying in our parish, November 2019.

When ordinary means “special”

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Monday, Week-I, Year-I in Ordinary Time, 11 January 2021
Hebrews 1:1-6     >><)))*> + >><)))*> + >><)))*>     Mark 1:24-20
Photo by author, Pulilan by-pass road, 25 February 2020.

Please clear our minds, O God our Father, to stop taking for granted anything called or labeled as “ordinary” like our Ordinary Time in the liturgy that begins today. So often, when we hear the word “ordinary”, we dismiss it as something not so important, of lesser value.

May we realize that the word “ordinary” implies orderliness, regularity as its Latin root means “rule”. The ordinary days, the ordinary people, the ordinary fares – whatever ordinary always makes up the bulk of our lives.

And who is the supreme ordinary of our lives but You, O God?!

So let us stop taking granted whatever or whoever we deem as ordinary because they are the rule of the day. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews said it so well for us today:

Photo by author, November 2019.

Brothers and sisters: In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through the Son, whom he made heir to all things and through whom he created the universe.

Hebrews 1:1-2

Today begins the rule of my life, the rule of each day – Jesus Christ who had come to make You known to us, dear God our Father. He is the rule, the order of each day because everything was created in Him and through Him.

Today begins the rule and order of grace and peace, of kindness and charity, of love and mercy because “this is the time of fulfillment, the coming of Your Kingdom” (Mk.1:15).

Teach me, dear Jesus, to have this regularity of life, of having order in my life that begins and ends in You because you have come to make me and everyone truly special by being closer to the Father through one another. Amen.

Our lives in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Week XXIV, Year II in Ordinary Time, 18 September 2020
1 Corinthians 15:12-20   ///   Luke 8:1-3
Photo by author, “private Mass” during lockdown, March 2020.

Another week is about to close, loving Father. Praise and thanksgiving to you for the grace of making it through, of passing over doubts to certainty, darkness to light, sickness to health, and death to new life in Jesus Christ your Son.

What a pity indeed if there is no resurrection of the dead nor resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters: If Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.

1 Corinthians 15:12-14

In this time of so much divisions fueled by dictatorship of relativism without any absolute truth nor good, many among us have stopped believing not only in resurrection of the dead but even in you, O God. Many have created themselves as their own god or have turned to other gods and idols. Sadly, many even have the guts to blaspheme you and dare challenge you and your precepts.

We are sorry, Lord , at how many of us have gone astray from you, relying more on science and technology and modern thoughts, leading lives empty of meaning, without directions. Aimless and worst, homeless.

Show us, Lord, the path we have to take to lead people back to you.

Give us the clarity of mind, purity of heart and intentions of St. Paul in leading our lives in Christ Jesus.

Enable us to embrace the new life in Christ like those women who followed Jesus in his ministry, “providing for them out of their resources” (Lk.8:3).

May our lives glow with your loving presence Jesus to lead others back to you. Amen.

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

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

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

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

Matthew 16:13-17, 20

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

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

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

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

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew 16:17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saying who God is, always a revelation from him

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

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

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

Romans 11:33, 36

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Angelo Carpio, January 2020

God our foundation

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 25 June 2020
2 Kings 24:8-17 <*(((>< ><)))*> <*(((>< ><)))*> Matthew 7:21-29
Photo by author, the Walls of Jerusalem, May 2019.

Your words today, O Lord, are so graphic and chilling about the nature of sin that unfortunately, we continue to take for granted.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Matthew 7:21

Forgive us Jesus when we are so complacent with our prayers and words to you that remain only in our mouths and lips, but never coming from our hearts and most of all far from our actions.

Forgive us Lord for the great divide within us, between our words and our actions, of what we believe and what we live.

Give us the grace to be rooted in you always, to have you as our foundation.

Your words are so true, Lord, that so often our lives collapse like Jerusalem in the Old Testament, like the house built on sand in your parable because we live far from you.

Help us to take these lessons into our hearts, that whatever bad befalls us is never your punishment but the result of our sins, when everything collapses in us and starts to breakdown.

May we hold on fast to your words and examples in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Photo by author, Church of the Holy Family, Taipei, Taiwan, 2019.