Knowing is belonging

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourth Sunday in Easter-C, 08 May 2022
Acts 13:14, 43-52 ><}}}}*> Revelation 7:9, 14-17 ><}}}}*> John 10:27-30
Photo from https://aleteia.org/2019/05/12/three-of-the-oldest-images-of-jesus-portrays-him-as-the-good-shepherd/.

The Good Shepherd is the earliest portrayal of our Lord Jesus Christ in art. Mostly done in paintings in the catacombs of Rome, Jesus the Good Shepherd is shown as a young, muscular man to signify his eternity carrying on his shoulders a lost sheep.

But that imagery of a shepherd taking care of the lost sheep and flock was an original thought among peoples in the ancient Near East that included Israel. Kings in Babylonia and Assyria regarded themselves as shepherds tasked by their gods to care especially for the weak. This concept we also find in the Old Testament like in the Books of Psalms and of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel where God promised to send true “shepherds after his own heart” (Jer. 3:15) who shall lead his flock Israel with justice back to him.

That prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who is not just a shepherd but “the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn.10:11) because he is one with his flock.

Oneness is an inner sense of belongingness in personhood and experiences, a common union or communion of selves and experiences like in Jesus becoming human like us to be one in our pains and sufferings and death so that we may be like him in his glorious resurrection and eternal life.

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. The Father and I are one.”

John 10:27-28, 30
Photo from Pinterest.com.

Jesus knows us, gives us eternal life; we hear and follow him.

To know in Jewish thought is not merely an intellectual activity of having information and details especially when used in relation with persons. To know somebody means to have a relationship. Knowing is belonging.

Jesus as the Good Shepherd knows us his sheep because we belong to him, and whether we like it or not, we know him precisely because we are his! Recall that during his trial before Pilate, Jesus declared “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (Jn.18:37).

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 2020.

From the very start, we have always belonged to God so that out of his great love for us he sent us his Son Jesus Christ so we can find our way back home to him. We are all God’s children created in his “image and likeness” who have become in many instances prodigal sons and daughters living like lost and injured sheep who need all the care and redemption to gain our status again as the Father’s beloved.

Our “belonging” to God is different from “possessing” in the same manner we belong to our parents or spouses to their partner. Human belongingness is way different from things as belongings, although so many times, it happens that people treat persons as things and objects to be possessed than subjects to be loved and cherished.

What do we mean? Children belong to parents and spouses belong to their partner but they can never be considered as possessions or property to be used and manipulated. People belong to one another like children to parents, husband to wife, and wife to husband as most cherished possessions in the sense that they are gifts from God, so unique in one’s self, free to grow and mature as a person. We belong to one another in mutual responsibility not as property; hence, the need for us to accept and support each other in love which leads to deeper communion and oneness through intimacy that extends to eternity!

Now we see why Jesus said he knows his sheep and gives them eternal life. Here we find the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd is in fact the image of Christ the King of the universe which sheds light on his very kingship as seen by John in his vision in our second reading today “of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9) which is reminiscent of his triumphal entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

In the first reading we have also heard how from the very beginning, it has been God’s plan to lead all men to salvation in Jesus Christ. Despite the setbacks encountered by Paul and Barnabas in Antioch when they were rejected by their fellow Jews, their decision to turn to the gentiles to proclaim the Gospel was in fulfillment of of the Lord’s will that “have made them a light to the Gentiles to be instruments of salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47).

The mark of a true shepherd is like a light who leads us to Jesus Christ and his values of prayer, life, persons, family, and justice among others. Here is the distinction between the true shepherd and a thief – a robber does not pass through Jesus, the gate of the sheep (Jn.10:1ff). A thief like many politicians and dictators including their handlers see the flock as things and properties they own and possess who can be bought and be forgotten, even disregarded, until the next elections. (So, vote wisely by listening more to Jesus than to anyone like the candidates’ endorsers.)

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, QC, 2018.

Belonging and mutuality

Human belongingness calls for mutuality for it to truly lead to oneness and communion. Jesus said he knows us and gives us eternal life because according to him, we his sheep hear his voice and follow him (v.27).

Do we listen to him and follow him?

Today we are also celebrating Mother’s Day. What a wonderful tribute to mothers who are indeed one of the truest good shepherdess in the world – the one to whom we all belong to, having cared for us from the very beginning in their womb.

Mothers are the most loving, most merciful, and most forgiving of all persons in the world, just like Jesus our Good Shepherd but sad to say, the one we most hurt when we disrespect her, from answering her back to swearing and sadly, when we disobey her. Ironically, when things go wrong with us and our lives, the first person we go to and accepts us is our mother too!

So many times, mothers bear all pains and hardships in life just to see their children fulfilled in life, choosing to suffer and cry in silence to hide the great difficulties they face daily, both physically and emotionally. That is how loving mothers are that in the Old Testament, God introduced himself as a mother, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Is.49:15).

It is so easy to say “we love our mom” like claiming “Jesus is our Good Shepherd” but it is entirely another thing to live as a mother’s child or Christ’s sheep.

The grace of this Good Shepherd Sunday is Christ’s coming to us not only to lead us to greener pastures but to renew our relationships, our belonging to him and the Father to experience fulfillment in life. Whether at home or in our nation, may we listen more to Jesus by being mutual in our respect and love for one another and to our Motherland too!

May we have a peaceful and matured elections this Monday! Amen.

“Sanaol”

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in Third Week of Easter, 04 May 2022
Acts 8:1-8   ><]]]]'> + <'[[[[><   John 6:35-40
Photo by author, ICSB in Malolos City, Summer 2021.
"Sanaol" - a wish and a prayer
that all may be blessed, 
that like the flowers of summer,
everyone may bloom in the Lord.
"Sanaol" was the good news
after that Pentecost when
Jesus Christ's good news of
salvation was proclaimed to all;
despite the persecutions that
began in Jerusalem and "all were
scattered throughout Judea and
Samaria, except the Apostles, 
there were great joy in that
city" (Acts 8:1, 8) because 
everyone was blessed, 
everyone was welcomed,
everyone was accepted.
"Sanaol", Lord Jesus,
would accept you in the 
Eucharist and eventually in
the person of everyone we meet;
it is you, dear Jesus, who brings
joy and fulfillment in everyone
of us whenever we receive and
welcome you in the Eucharist
and in every person we meet.

Jesus said to the crowds, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. But I told you that although you have seen me, you do not believe.

John 6:35-36
What has happened to us,
Lord Jesus?
We have turned away from you 
and from each other, choosing to
believe in thoughts and ideas,
in personalities, and all the 
fancies around them from colors
to cults that have brought us 
divisions and even persecutions.

Let us seek you again, dear Jesus,
and listen more to your voice
than to all the noises barraging us
especially at this crucial time
of the elections.
"Sanaol" will listen to you again,
and find you anew in everyone. 
Amen.

“Alfie” by Cilla Black (1966)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music, 27 March 2022
Alfie, poster, Michael Caine, 1966. (Photo by LMPC via Getty Images)

Sorry for being out for a long time with our Sunday music collection we try to relate with the Sunday gospel. But on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, we can’t let it past without coming up with our choice that perfectly matches the parable of the prodigal son – “Alfie” from the 1966 classic film of the same title.

Written by the formidable tandem of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, “Alfie” is the main character played by Michael Caine in the film about a young man who played on so many women and almost everyone without any regard for persons and relationships. Alfie is practically like the prodigal son in today’s gospel who also in the end realized the mess and waste of life he had done to himself and others (https://lordmychef.com/2022/03/26/the-joy-of-coming-home-in-the-father/).

I never had the chance to watch the classic film except the 2004 version that starred Jude Law but the song remains so touching and meaningful then and now in our generation. It is also said to be the favorite of Bacharach among his many great songs composed with David.

Learned about the song through the music of Dionne Warwick who had interpreted most of the works of Bacharach and David; but, it was only now that I have learned the original version by Ms. Cilla Black that was released in 1966. Funny that when the movie was released in the US, the producers had the young Cher recorded it too which became the version heard in the film.

The song had been covered by so many other artists with the latest by a Japanese named Fuji Kaze but, regardless of the artist singing Alfie, it is one song everyone of us can claim as ours with its sincerity and truth that come from the heart of someone truly on a Lenten journey of coming home to self, others, and God.

What's it all about, Alfie?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?
Are we meant to take more than we give?
Or are we meant to be kind?

And if only fools are kind, Alfie
Then I guess it is wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
What will you lend on an old golden rule?

As sure as I believe there's a heaven above, Alfie
I know there's something much more
Something even non-believers can believe in

I believe in love, Alfie
Without true love we just exist, Alfie
Until you find the love you've missed, you're nothing, Alfie

When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you'll find love any day, Alfie
Alfie

*We have no intentions of infringing into the copyrights of this music and its uploader except to share its beauty and listening pleasure.

From YouTube.

Taking Jesus to the heart

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday Week VIII-C in Ordinary Time, 27 February 2022
Sirach 27:4-7 ><}}}}*> 1 Corinthians 15:54-58 ><}}}}*> Luke 6:39-45
Photo by author, 2016.

We enter the Season of Lent this week with Ash Wednesday as the Ordinary Time takes on a long break until June; hence, our gospel this Sunday is a fitting cap to the teachings of Jesus these past three weeks about discipleship.

After expounding on the need to love like God full of mercy even to enemies, Jesus now speaks in parables citing ordinary experiences in life to underscore “wholeness” in one’s self that is rooted in one’s heart where speech and being go together.

True discipleship in Christ is taking into heart his words by putting them into practice – of walking the talk – to bear fruits in our lives of holiness.

Jesus told his disciples a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Luke 6:39, 45
Photo from news.abs-cbn.com, 2020.

Our heart, our center of being

People often make various gestures of the heart to convey the message of love especially when posing for pictures. But of all these gestures, nothing beats those two hands shaped like ears and put together to look like a heart.

It is the best sign of the heart, of two ear lobes joined together because a loving heart is one that listens, never judges just like what Jesus taught us last Sunday.

Most of all, one’s heart is always known by its words and actions wherein the actions speak louder than words! In this symbolism, we find the inner dynamics of speech and being perfectly together.

See in the three parables of Jesus in today’s continuation of his sermon on the plains, we find this primacy of listening to his words and putting them into practice: guides cannot guide others unless they have clear eyesight; the hypocrisy of seeing other’s faults unmindful of one’s own faults; and, how every tree is known by its fruit.

Jesus is calling us today to an “education of the heart” so that we may have open ears, open hearts, open minds, and open arms to be truly his disciples!

It is with the heart that one must listen to the Word to produce good and plentiful fruit, it is in the heart where every disciple of the Lord must meditate and treasure his Word like his Blessed Mother Mary “who kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk.2:19).

When the heart is cleansed of its impurities, it opens to God and to others, gets filled with the Holy Spirit to become like the Father who is merciful and loving as revealed by Jesus Christ.

Recall how in Genesis God created everything by simply speaking because his speech and being are one. In the prologue of the fourth gospel, we find how the Logos – the Word who is Jesus Christ became flesh to save us and make us experience God himself which he fully expressed while proclaiming the Book of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth while launching his ministry (Third Sunday, 23 January 2022).

This Sunday we find everything coming to full circle, showing us the whole picture of Jesus and his mission, of his plans for us to be like the Father.

And here lies our problem so often when our words betray our true character, when our speech and being do not match, when what we say is far from what we live.

Image from Google.

Our sharing in the power of God to love

Of all that God has created, only humans were gifted with the ability to communicate intelligibly. Unlike the animals and other creatures, only us humans can speak to express what we feel, what we know, what we want.

Our ability to communicate is in fact a sharing in the power of God, a power to serve in love like Jesus, not power to dominate or lord it over upon others as the world sees and uses it.

This is why Ben Sirach reminds us in the first reading to hold our praises of any person, especially the eloquent speakers because words are empty unless supported by actions. One’s real worth is found in times of trials and tests like “what the potter molds in the furnace” (Sir. 27:5).

It is Jesus Christ himself, his very words who purify us his disciples to be able to preach his good news of salvation to others in words and in deeds without any duplicity and hypocrisy.

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, 21 February 2022.

The Lord is not asking us to stop criticizing nor be silent in the midst of so many injustices and evil around us. That remains an integral part of preaching the good news, of standing for what is true and just; however, Jesus is demanding us his disciples to always examine our very selves to see the kind of deeds that arise from our hearts.

Our actions, our very lives reveal the purity of our hearts, of our intentions and of our sentiments.

This is the reason why we priests and bishops are always doubted and even questioned by so many faithful whenever we denounce the many ills in the society, when we speak against social injustices, against corruption in government because our lives do not match our words. The worst and most painful part of it is when people see our “double-standard” with priests who lead lives so far from the Good Shepherd, that instead of taking care of the flock, there are some of us who take advantage of the poor sheep entrusted to us!

Today’s gospel challenges us, especially us your priests, if we lead a truly Christian life with preferential options for the poor?

Let us not be contented with outside appearances only, especially this coming Lenten Season. Take Jesus and his words into our hearts.

Discipleship is not about frequenting the church, reciting all the prayers, observing all the rites and rituals and devotions nor just denouncing the wrongs in the society nor fund-raising for so many projects for the benefit of the poor.

Discipleship is bringing to fruition all our prayers and faith expressions to loving service for one another. If not, we might just stay home so as to minimize the damages and hurts to the Body of Christ.

Let us continue to strive in purifying our hearts with the Word so that we may bear much fruits of good works in our lives, to “be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, 21 February 2022.

Beatitudes of Jesus, attitudes of his disciples

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday Week VI-C in Ordinary Time, 13 February 2022
Jeremiah 17:5-8 ><}}}}*> 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20 ><}}}}*> Luke 6:17, 20-26
Photo by author, monastery inside the compound of the Church of Beatitudes, the Holy Land, 2019.

From the shores of Lake Gennesaret in Capernaum, Jesus now takes us to the plains for his first series of teachings called “sermon on the plains”. In Matthew’s gospel, it is called “sermon on the mount” due to his different emphasis and audience, his fellow Jews while Luke situated it on the plains based on his own focus directed to gentiles or non-Jews.

But, whether it was on the mount or on the plains, one thing remains clear: Jesus taught important lessons specifically for his disciples called the Beatitudes.

Last Sunday Jesus called his first four disciples to become “fishers of men” and as he travelled preaching along the shores of Galilee, they grew to Twelve in number.

On the night before this scene of sermon on the plains, Jesus went up a hill with the Twelve to pray before appointing them as Apostles. It was the first “face-to-face” class of the Twelve with the Beatitudes labelled as Discipleship 101.

And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: Blessed are you who are poor for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are filled now for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.”

Luke 6:20-26
Photo by author, Church of the Beatitudes, the Holy Land, 2019.

Beatitudes, the meaning of discipleship

The Beatitudes tell us the meaning of discipleship, of not simply following Jesus but making a choice, taking a stand to be like him. Each “blessedness” is actually Christ who is described as the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the hated.

Again we find in the Beatitudes of Jesus the contrasts and contradictions we have reflected three Sundays ago when he was rejected by his own folks at a synagogue in Nazareth (see https://lordmychef.com/2022/01/29/living-loving-amid-contradictions/).

See the set of “Blessed” followed by a corresponding set of “woes”, giving us a hint that the Beatitudes were patterned by Jesus to Jeremiah’s pronouncements to the people we heard in the first reading,

“Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord. Blessed is the who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: it fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:5, 7-8

Both in Jeremiah and in the Beatitudes by Jesus, there is the promise of blessings in the future; however, it is not something we only hope to achieve in the future but something realized in the present IF we trust in the Lord.

Photo by author, pilgrims entering the Church of the Beatitudes, 2019.

More than a promise of hope in a future glory, the Beatitudes by Jesus are directions every disciple must take as path in life, guides or criteria in discerning the will of God for us in this life. It is said that the word beatitude is from “be attitude” or the attitudes of a disciple.

That gesture of the Lord looking up to his disciples that include us today while teaching the Beatitudes indicates his recognition of our present situation by speaking in the present tense with “Blessed are you who are now poor, hungry, weeping and hated”.

Are we not feeling poor and hungry, actually weeping and hated in this intensely heated politics in the country where everyone seems to be lacking reason and shame, everyone going insane and worst, salaula (filthy) without any sense of shame at all?

At the same time, all those pronouncements of having the Kingdom of God, of being satisfied, of laughing, and of being rewarded greatly in heaven are not things we get in the future if we suffer now; these we can NOW have amid our sufferings when we are one in Jesus Christ.

The saints have shown us in their lives most especially St. Paul how while being poor, hungry, weeping and hated they have experienced fulfillment and joy at the same time. We ourselves have proven them right that with St. Paul we can “boast” like him, “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

The key is union in Jesus Christ because the Beatitudes not only reveal to us his very person but also his Paschal Mystery of Passion, Death and Resurrection. It is therefore an imperative that every disciple must be immersed in Christ because discipleship is the imitation of Christ. Again, we borrow from St. Paul who said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal.2:20).

Photo by author, dome of the Church of Beatitudes, the Holy Land, 2019.

Woes of not following Jesus

Contrary to claims by many philosophers and filosofong tasyo alike who are atheists and anti-Church, God is not a sadomasochist who delights in seeing his people suffer and die. Nothing bad can come from God for God is love (1 Jn. 4:8).

Unbelievers continue to question God, most especially Jesus and his Beatitudes that are clearly about sufferings with its apparent dislike or rejection of wealth and fame like what Jesus spoke of the woes in the second part of his Beatitudes.

There is nothing wrong with being rich, being filled, of laughing and being spoken well by others per se; in fact, these are all good in themselves. However, Jesus spoke of them as woes based on the pattern we have seen from Jeremiah’s pronouncements in the first reading: “Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord.”

See how Jesus was more “soft” and gentle in his woes than God in Jeremiah’s instruction to the people that was so harsh, saying “cursed” is the man who trusts in human beings, whose heart turns away from the Lord.

Photo by author, altar in the Church of Beatitudes, 2019.

But here we find its true context too: it is a warning sign, a reminder of the dangers that can happen to anyone who trusts in himself more and turns away from God.

Here we find something truly happening in the future – not now – unlike in the Beatitudes wherein the future blessings are experienced in the present moment if we suffer in communion with Christ.

Very clear in Jeremiah and in the woes of Jesus, turning away from God surely leads to disaster because it is the opposite path of blessings.

At the same time, since God does not punish, the woes by Jesus are not a condemnation of those who are rich, filled, laughing and well spoken of others. His woes are not expressions of hatred nor hostilities but warning against the dangers of being so proud, of being filled with one’s self, of playing god because it is the path to destruction. Or even perdition as we shall see later this year in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man found only in Luke’s gospel.

The Greeks have a more precise term for that called hubris – an excessive pride and defiance of the gods that leads to one’s nemesis. Clearly, God does not punish nor condemn anyone of us. It is always our choice that we are lost and end in woes, as Shakespeare immortalized in the words of Cassius in Julius Caesar,

"The fault, dear Brutus, 
is not in our stars 
But in ourselves, 
that we are underlings".

Have a blessed week ahead, everyone. God bless you all. Amen.

Stiring into flame God’s gifts to us

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Memorial of Sts. Titus & Timothy, Bishops, 26 January 2022
2 Timothy 1:1-8   ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>   Luke 10:1-9
Photo from Facebook April 2021: “There is an urgency to announce the Joy, the joy of the Risen Lord.”
Praise and glory to you,
God our loving Father,
in sending us the great 
apostle St. Paul whose feast
of conversion we celebrated
yesterday!  His life and teachings
continue to loom above us this
day as we celebrate the memorial
of his two close associates, Saints
Timothy and Titus.

…to Timothy, my dear child: as I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice, and that I am confident lives also in you. For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:1, 5-7
O God, so many times we complain
of the young generation for so many
things like loyalty and dedication, 
commitment and responsibilities
without examining our very selves
as their elders or adults ahead of them:
how I envy St. Paul to be able to say those
words to Timothy while remembering the 
witnessing to faith by his grandmother Lois
and mother Eunice who were all guided
and shepherded by the great Apostle!
Before we expect too much from those
younger to us, teach us to be humble and
sincere:  what have we taught and lived by
example to them?  Have we been like 
St. Paul who was so full of zeal and enthusiasm
in preaching the Good News to everyone, 
in season and out of season?
Dearest Jesus, you are the one
who calls and sends us to announce
"The Kingdom of God is at hand" 
(Lk.10:9), stir into flame in us your gifts
of witnessing to your values of love, 
peace and justice in a world so 
abundantly rich in things but 
miserably poor in meanings;
awaken us, O Lord, young and old
alike, to the urgency of your mission.
Amen.

Life is more than #POV

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday XXXII-B in Ordinary Time, 07 November 2021
1 Kings 17:10-16 ><]]]]'> Hebrews 9:24-28 ><]]]]'> Mark 12:38-44
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Perspectives and points of view play important roles in our lives, affecting our judgements and conduct; however, we also know by experience that perspectives and points of view are not enough, cannot be entirely reliable that lead us into stereotyping of people.

I just learned recently from the teenaged daughters of a friend that the #POV for “point of view” may be used in two ways: first, to express “this is my personal point of view” to which everyone is entitled that should not be contradicted because “it is how I see things”; the second is to present a “first person point of view”, that is, through the eyes of the one who uploads a video to show exactly how things are like the first steps of a baby.

This Sunday, Jesus is challenging our perspectives, our #POV on wealth and poverty, sharing and grandstanding, on our selves before God and other people.

Since last month we have seen how Jesus refused to get into debates with people on persistent issues humans have always been discussing like divorce (Oct.3), power and positions (Oct. 17), and the most important laws to follow (Oct. 31) because Jesus came to reveal to us the will of the Father so we may level up in our perceptions about self, others, and life itself.

Jesus was still in the temple area; he had silenced his enemies from asking him further with other questions to test him. After going on the offensive attacking the scribes’ hypocrisies, Jesus sat to observe the people dropped their donations into the temple treasury.

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

Mark 12:41-44
Photo by author, Jerusalem, 2017.

A Tale of Two Widows

Before going into that story of the widow praised by Jesus, let us consider first the story of another widow mentioned earlier in our first reading, the widow of Zarephath, a region governed by Queen Jezebel’s father. Queen Jezebel was the pagan wife of Israel’s King Ahab who had ordered troops to kill Elijah after putting to shame the priests of her pagan god “baal”.

After 40 days of hiding in the mountain fed by birds with a stream providing him fresh water, God instructed Elijah to proceed to Zarephath to meet the widow who would take care of him during the drought that would come as a punishment to Israel.

More than the miracle of living through the year of drought that hit the region at that time, it is a marvelous story of the faith of both Elijah and the pagan widow. We can understand the deep faith and total obedience of Elijah to God who had told him everything that would happen while hiding in enemy territory.

Things were greatly different with the widow of Zarephath who was first of all a pagan, in fact, a worshipper of the false god baal Elijah had openly bashed in every occasion everywhere. Her faith is so admirable that she risked her own life including her son in welcoming into her home an enemy of their king. Most of all, she put her complete faith in the words of God spoken through Elijah whom she hardly knew.

She left and did as Elijah had said. She was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the Lord had foretold through Elijah.

1 Kings 17:15-16

In a very similar manner, it was the very nature of faith of the simple and poor widow at the temple treasury that earned praises from Jesus. Keep in mind that money was meant for the upkeep of the Temple, not for the poor; therefore, the very act of donating money into the treasury was in fact an act of faith by the poor widow on God. She was convinced that her offering goes directly to God himself!

It is in this aspect that we must see the whole point of the story which is not about big money and small coins but our personal attitude and faith in giving that is ultimately linked with God. Every amount we offer to church and charities indicates the kind of relationship we have with God.

Jesus had nothing against giving “large sums” of money to the temple collection box; it was not the amount of donation he was raising issue with as he contrasted how the rich “have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

It is always easy to honor God – even self – with one’s huge donations while still relying on our false securities of money and wealth unlike the poor widow who offered her very self to God. In a sense, Jesus had seen in the poor widow’s offering his coming total gift of self on the Cross soon to happen at Jerusalem!

The beauty of both women, widow and poor having lived in totally different times – one in Zarephath, a pagan and another in Jerusalem, so pious and religious – is in their total entrusting of themselves to God, forgetting their very selves in the process, unmindful of the dangers and uncertainties ahead in life except that firm faith in a loving and merciful God.

From Facebook, 24 March 2020.

Our many concerns in life

I was recently interviewed for a special program that focuses on our lives as priests. At the end of the interview, I was asked by the hosts: “what legacy do I wish to leave after my term of office in my present assignment”? It was not really a difficult question at all but I was surprised because that such was the frame of mind of my interviewers. Their perspective and POV, so to speak.

After a few seconds, I politely told them that I no longer think such things as legacies to leave behind even in this life, explaining that priesthood is a journey wherein we come and leave to different assignments and tasks with just one purpose which is to make Jesus Christ known and experienced by the people we serve. After every assignment, I tell people to forget me and that is why I never come to visit my previous assignments. For me, it is only Jesus, always Jesus whom people must remember and keep. No one else, nothing else.

That I think is discipleship: a shift in our perspectives and points of view into God’s very own perspectives and POV wherein we present ourselves before God and not before humans.

Discipleship in Christ does not mean doing great things nor achieving heroic feats in life; God knows our limits, our weaknesses. We are all small and poor before him like those two widows in Zarephath and Jerusalem; but, if we can be like them completely trusting and faithful to God, giving our very selves to him, then, the little amount we offer can eventually accomplish the love and mercy God expects from us.

See the many concerns we have in life. The more we address them, the less we actually have in life like those abusive scribes Jesus mentioned: they have everything like status and fame, clothes and money but have lost God and the people while the poor may have nothing material but have everything in Jesus Christ.

That is what the author of the Letter to the Hebrews is telling us in the second reading: in the Priesthood of Christ, he had accomplished everything for us by offering himself on the Cross, forgiving us our sins to lead us to eternal life. Like Jesus, are we willing to give our very selves to him through others so we may gain him and everything?

What have you offered lately to God?

A blessed new week ahead! Amen.

Photo by Irina Anastasiu on Pexels.com

Touching Jesus among us

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday XXXI-B in Ordinary Time, 31 October 2021
Deuteronomy 6:2-6 ><]]]]*> Hebrews 7:23-28 ><]]]]*> Mark12:28-34
Photo by Jenna Hamra on Pexels.com

Since the start of this pandemic last year, I have always have that strange feeling of COVID-19 chasing me like a mad dog that would not stop until I am dead. Even after I have had the jabs, practicing all health protocols and best efforts of being “positive” to be negative of the virus, that morbid feeling keeps on creeping.

It is depressing but, it is not that bad as the pandemic has slowly become a grace-filled moment for me like to many of you (I hope so) to discover anew and realize that GOD is absolutely the one thing most important in this life, that GOD is not just the first among all things in life but essentially the very reason of everything in life!

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

Mark 12:28-30

Maturing and growing from fear to love.

From Jericho last Sunday, Jesus had finally reached Jerusalem, teaching in the temple area of the many valuable lessons on growing and maturing in our faith, in nurturing a personal relationship with God through him by moving from fear to love, from knowing to experiencing persons.

Like us in this time of the pandemic thrown into confusion, the scribe approached Jesus to be clarified with the many laws and precepts they were tasked to follow to lead a holy life and enter eternity. Like Bartimaeus last week, the scribe sincerely asked Jesus for enlightenment from the many darkness and blindness afflicting him.

And he was not disappointed when Jesus answered his question so differently by quoting verbatim from the most ancient prayer known by every devout Jew called the Shema Israel which we heard proclaimed at the first reading. By directly quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Jesus showed that more than the question of being the “first commandment” in the list of things to follow that is always binding on all, loving God with one’s total person is actually the source of all other commandments – even of those not listed!

In his answer to the scribe’s question, Jesus perfectly showed what holiness is all about – an integration (wholeness) of one’s faith and prayer and life from which flows the very essential fact of our lives that there is no other God than our God who alone is the One.

And the good news is that this great and powerful God had chosen to be one with us in the most personal manner by residing in our hearts!

We have a beautiful expression in Tagalog, “nakialam ang Diyos” – God “intervened” in our very lives by sending us his own Son Jesus Christ, unmindful of our nothingness, because he chose to love us, to be with us, to redeem us. What an amazing and loving God is he indeed who is perfect and most holy seeking an intimate and personal relationship with the broken and imperfect, sinful humans through our Lord Jesus Christ who embraced everything in us except sin.

Photo by Ms. Mira Mandal Sibal.

In this scene, Jesus is inviting us to move away from our usual “impersonal” relationship with God that is based on laws to follow, resulting in fears to the punishments due when failed to obey them. It is not even a relationship to speak of but more like a deal or transaction wherein we look at him as God our Lord and Master who takes care of our needs as his subjects and servants. Very feudal, so far from God’s will.

Making matters worst is our Filipino psyche of “sapagkat ako ay tao lamang” where we capitalize on our being weak as humans, therefore lowly but not necessarily humble using it as an excuse for failing to “love” him accordingly, and thus, an expression of our pride and insubordination to God.

Like Bartimaeus before his healing, we prefer to stay at the roadside than join Jesus on the way, avoiding relationships that call for a commitment to love.

Jesus wants us to be involved with God through him personally for it is only through him and in him can we experience God’s immense love and mercy by letting go our selfish selves. And the more we let go our selves in love, experiencing pains and sufferings like Jesus, the more we mature and grow better as persons, realizing the need to nurture this wonderful relationship with God who is love, who is the very core of our being.

That is when we move closer to the kingdom of God which is the very person of Jesus Christ found in everyone!

“The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all the burn offerings and sacrifices.”

Mark 12:31-33

Maturing and growing, loving personally

Jesus continued his answer to the scribe by explaining the evolution of commandments from God as its very source, telling us that as we appreciate his majesty and grandeur, we naturally and progressively flow to our discovery and loving too of the other persons around us.

Christ reminds us that whenever we find there is no other God than our God, we likewise discover that everyone is our neighbor, not just those like us in belief and color. The more God reveals himself to us in his grandeur and majesty, the more he also reveals himself to us in every person. Thus, it was in this moment in that encounter with the scribe that Jesus reintroduced his teaching on the universality of salvation, not just for Jews but for everyone!

In a similar manner when Bartimaeus was healed of his blindness last Sunday, today’s gospel is a wonderful story of enlightenment of the scribe who also regained his sight and vision in realizing that the love of God is also the love of one another! That is why he too cannot deny in himself the very truth that the highest form of worship, of “burnt offering and sacrifices” at the temple is personally loving God through everyone around us.

This is one of the important lessons this COVID-19 pandemic has taught us: it is always easy to say or even assume most of the time that we love, that we are loved, taking for granted the expression of our love and concern for others. We now feel so sorry how we have let days and weeks, months and years to have passed without seeing or calling family and friends or at least saying “hi” in whatever platform of social media until COVID-19 came.

Photo from inquirer.net.

While this pandemic has taught us the value of many ordinary things we have taken for granted like simple washing of hands and basic practices of cleanliness that matter so much to remain virus free and healthy, it has painfully taught us too the value of every person dear to us when one by one they were getting infected with COVID-19, some never recovered from the dreaded disease and now gone forever.

So many deaths have occurred in our circles of family and friends since last year in this pandemic; and, the saddest part is how swiftly they have left without any warning at all, denying us the chance of even a few seconds to see them and tell them how much we loved and cared for them.

It is always easy to know and say there is only One God, that he loves us so much, and that we also love him in turn. But, to move from fear to real loving, from formal knowledge to personal relationship, it is different. How true is that saying of us seeing the forest but missing the trees!

This Sunday, Jesus tells us to grow and mature in our relationships with him in prayer that must flow progressively and naturally to the people around us. It is only in finding this close link of loving God and loving neighbors that we get nearer to Jesus, who is the kingdom of God.

Tomorrow we celebrate All Saints Day in honor of all the departed already in heaven and on November 2, the All Souls Day for those awaiting in purgatory. Two great feasts that coincide with our Sunday gospel preparing us for the final destination, of being in the kingdom of God fully which is heaven.

While still here on earth not from the kingdom of God, Jesus is giving us the grace to experience heaven in our personal love in him to the Father through each other. Amen.

Have a blessed November!

Seeing Jesus, walking with Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday Week XXX-B in Ordinary Time, 24 October 2021
Jeremiah 31:7-9 ><]]]]'> Hebrews 5:1-6 ><]]]]'> Mark 10:46-52
Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, Quiapo, January 2020.

We are about to end our liturgical calendar in five Sundays from now and Jesus is fast approaching Jerusalem, his final destination in fulfilling his mission to redeem us from our sins. Along this path, we are reminded of the many blindness within us that prevent us from meeting Jesus who is passing by.

Recall how last week we reflected on the “blindness” of the brothers James and John to their ambitions, wishing to Jesus that once he becomes king, they would be seated at his right and at his left, forgetting the Lord’s teaching that he is a “suffering Messiah”, far from their expectations of a triumphant victor or liberator.

Today, we heard the story of a blind man named Bartimaeus who kept shouting, pleading to Jesus’ attention who was passing by the city of Jericho on his way to Jerusalem.

The story reminds us of the need for us to be aware of our many blindness in life, of things that keep us from seeing Jesus, others and our very selves. Here is a man very realistic, aware of his blindness, focused on his need and goal to be able to see, most specially Jesus.

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”

Mark 10:46-49

So often, we get blinded by even the most obvious things in life like our present condition that needs to be improved or even saved. In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles is a story of that crippled beggar at the Beautiful Gate of the temple whom Peter and John healed one afternoon after the Pentecost. According to Acts 3:1-9, when the beggar who was crippled from birth saw Peter and John approaching him, he thought they would give him alms; but much to his surprise and of everybody, Peter made him walk in the name of “Jesus Christ the Nazorean”!

Imagine how the crippled beggar so used to his condition, so comfortable to some extent that he was preoccupied to just begging for alms, forgetting or abandoning all hopes to be able to walk like most people.

There are times we really do not know what we need and want in life that we are easily distracted and defocused from having the essential things in life like seeing our true selves, those around us and even our need for God who has been loving us, showering us with his many blessings and grace we hardly notice because we are busy complaining for so much wants not important.

Here, Bartimaeus was so sure of what he wanted: to recover his sight.

And the most wonderful thing is how he completely had faith in Jesus as the only one who can restore his sight, calling him “Son of David” which is the title of the coming Messiah or Christ. He must have heard a lot about his healings and preaching, realizing Isaiah’s prophecy of how the Messiah would restore sight to the blind. Jesus himself had confirmed this at the inauguration of his ministry at Nazareth when he proclaimed that part of the Book of Isaiah in the synagogue (Lk.4:18).

That is how realistic and grounded was Bartimaeus to the realities of himself that he shouted to beg Jesus to have pity on him. His faith in Jesus was so firm that when people tried to silence him, the more he persisted and shouted aloud so Jesus would hear him!

How well do we know the many blindness we have in ourselves that we would exert such effort like Bartimaeus in asking Jesus for light, to restore our sight so we would see and know him clearly, love him dearly and follow him closely?

He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

Mark 10:50-52

Moreover, it is not enough to be healed of our blindness in faith; 
the truest sign of having our sights back, 
of being healed from blindness is to leave 
the roadside to follow Jesus "on the way".

“Jesus healing the Blind Man” painted by Brian Jekel (born 1951) in 2008, oil on canvas. From http://www.Christian.Art.com.

What a wonderful story of healing and faith, of seeing and following Jesus! “Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.” Today the gospel reminds us to take a critical look at ourselves to root out whatever it is that keeps us from seeing who Jesus is like self-centeredness and pride, preoccupation with fame and wealth, or our toxic relationships and painful past we could not let go.

See how Bartimaeus “threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus” upon being called from the roadside. That is the key to any real prayer, of encountering and meeting Jesus when we are willing to let go of whatever we have, of letting ourselves be stripped naked before God without any ifs and buts, offering him our very selves.

Moreover, it is not enough to be healed of our blindness in faith; the truest sign of having our sights back, of being healed from blindness is to leave the roadside to follow Jesus “on the way”.

Again, we hear from St. Mark using that word “way”: last month Jesus asked his disciples what were they arguing along the way and no one could answer him because they were discussing who was the greatest among them. In the healing of Bartimaeus, there is that beautiful imagery of Jesus our way, truth and life; of Jesus passing by, calling everyone to come to him, to leave the roadside and walk with him on the way to Jerusalem like Bartimaeus.

In this critical period of our history when we are celebrating the 500 years of the coming of Christianity while we are in the midst of a crucial election campaign period on the second year of a crippling pandemic, we are all called by Jesus to leave the roadside like Bartimaeus to join him on the main road, to journey with him, and most of all, to carry our cross with him.

Joining Jesus on the main road with his Cross means becoming his very presence among other people too. Discipleship is more than seeing and following Jesus – it means setting aside our false securities and “springing up” from our comfort zones in order to give ourselves to others too.

Discipleship is walking with God, walking with his people, bringing them joy and hope while in the midst of sufferings like the prophecy of Jeremiah in the first reading: “Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng” (Jer.31:8).

Yes, this has been fulfilled by Jesus in his coming but the journey continues to this day with his faithful disciples who guard against all kinds of blindness within, leaving the roadside of comforts to meet and share Jesus on the dusty road of life.

Many times, Jesus is passing by the road invisible to many, unnoticed by many due to various kinds of blindness. Jesus wants us all to be with him, to join in his journey to light, to freedom, to peace and to joy. Everybody is invited to leave the roadside and hit the main road with Jesus.

Let us be open to listen to his coming, to his calls.

Most of all, let us beg him for mercy to open our eyes, to heal us from the many blindness we have so we may see and meet him, love and follow him always. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, Quiapo, January 2020.

Touched by Jesus, touching Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist, 18 October 2021
2 timothy 4:10-17   ><]]]]*> + ><]]]]*> + ><]]]]*>   Luke 10:1-9
Painting of “Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin” by Flemish painter Roger van der Weyden (1400-1464); photo from en.wikipedia.org.  
Of all your Evangelists, Lord Jesus,
Saint Luke is the most artistic of all,
giving us those rare glimpses with 
vivid details of your life and teachings
that began in the annunciation 
of the birth of your predecessor, 
John the Baptist to the birth and 
spread of your Church with unforgettable
characters and stories like the
Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan,
the Good Thief, and conversion of St. Paul.  
He wrote extensively like his teacher 
St. Paul, leaving us with
two volumes of your Gospel.
Though scholars could not ascertain
if St. Luke was indeed one of those 72
disciples you have sent out two-by-two
in today's gospel, his writings teem
with so many instances as if he was
with you in your preaching and 
journeys, Lord Jesus.
In his writings, you seemed to have
touched him as he narrated your
story that in the process, he appeared
like touching you all throughout!
It is not difficult to imagine that
because as St. Paul had told
Timothy today in the first reading,
it was only St. Luke who had remained
present with him in his darkest hours 
of imprisonment and trial in Rome.

Beloved: Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Luke is the only one with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is helpful to me in the ministry.

1 Timothy 4:10-11
Indeed in his writings
and maybe in his paintings too,
St. Luke had shown us that true
"communication is more than the
expression of thoughts and
indication of feelings:
at its most profound level,
it is the giving of self in love"
like what you did on the Cross,
Lord Jesus Christ
(cf. Communio et Progressio, 11).
If we could just have that grace
and discipline to rediscover
the beauty of writing in this age
of electronic media
 when our communications are fleeting
 and superficial, always in a hurry,
mediated with many other things
like images and sounds,
teach us to rediscover writing letters,
journal writing, and even painting
so we may get in touch with our
inner selves to find you there
and eventually touch you too
for you have been touching us
for so long without us realizing it.
But most of all, like St. Luke,
give us the grace and courage
to write your Gospel
with our lives.
Amen.