“Cut to the heart”

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday within the Octave the Easter, 19 April 2022
Acts 2:36-41   ><}}}}*> + <*{{{{><   John 20:11-18
This photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son Caden praying in my former parish shortly before the pandemic in March 2020 always “cuts me to the heart”, an image of child-like faith in God.
Praise and glory to you,
Lord Jesus Christ for you are
truly alive that whenever your
Resurrection is proclaimed in
words and in deeds, we are still
"cut to the heart", so moved to
act on on your good news!

On the day of the Pentecost, Peter said to the Jewish people, “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other Apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?”

Acts 2:36-37
What a beautiful expression,
"cut to the heart":
You know what cuts me 
to the heart, Lord?
It is when I am so aware of my
sinfulness, of having betrayed
you or denied you, Jesus, I
feel so anxious and worried
you might leave me; like Mary
Magdalene in the gospel today,
I feel so cut to the heart, almost
weeping when I could not find you,
when I feel I have lost you because 
in this new life in you, the most
painful cut to the heart is to lose you.

And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus.

John 20:13-14
So many times, dear Lord
and Teacher, I fear of losing you,
of not finding you especially
when life has become dark due
to my sins and failures, trials
and sufferings, sickness and 
confusions; but, you are always there,
Jesus, always calling me by name,
still loving me, still forgiving, still
present.  Teach me to be more 
persevering, to be more open in
recognizing you especially when 
life is dark and gloomy.  Amen.

What preoccupies you?

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Second Week of Lent, 16 March 2022
Jeremiah 18:18-20   <'[[[[>< + ><]]]]'>   Matthew 20:17-28
Photo by author, Pater Noster Church outside Jerusalem, 2019.
Praise and glory to you,
O Lord our God, our loving
Father!  Thank you very much
for every blessing you send me
even in the midst of sickness,
trials and blessings.  Indeed,
everything is pure grace from you.
Cleanse my mind and my heart
of my sins and negative thoughts;
may you be alone the first and
the last in my mind and in my heart.
Like Jeremiah:

Heed me, O Lord, and listen to what my adversaries say. Must good be repaid with evil that they should dig a pit to take my life? Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them.

Jeremiah 18:19-20
How inspiring is your prophet Jeremiah,
Lord!  Amid grave dangers as he heard
the words of his enemies whom he had
pleaded before you, the only thing he had
in his mind and his heart was you - just
to remember him. 
In the same manner, 
give me such courage and 
lucidity to remain faithful to
you even in grave dangers!
Please, purify me in the same 
manner you cleansed the brothers
James and John along with their
mother who pleaded to your Son
for power and position when he
was nearing his passion, death
and resurrection.  Turn away our 
minds and hearts from things of
the world, of selfish interests
most especially in moments of 
trials and difficulties.  Amen.

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.

Anniversaries are for the hearts

QuietStorm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Homily for the 55th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima University and
Fatima University Medical Center, 14 February 2022
From Facebook, 14 February 2022.

Every anniversary is a celebration for the heart, of the heart.

Every anniversary is an occasion to look and examine our hearts, to fill our hearts with gratitude and joy for the gift of life and existence, of mission that continues despite and in spite of so many things; a time to cleanse our hearts of pains from the hurts of the past; and, most of all, to open our hearts anew to more challenges and opportunities for deepening and fulfillment.

In keeping with our tradition, we gather on this Valentine’s Day to praise and thank God for his outpouring of blessings in the past 55 years to Our Lady of Fatima University and the Fatima University Medical Center.

Despite the disruptions and problems COVID-19 had caused us that continues to this day, our hearts are overflowing with thanksgiving and great hopes for better tomorrow for our beloved OLFU and FUMC.

Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-3
Photo from Facebook/OLFU.

St. James reminds us today of yesterday’s sermon on the plains by Jesus Christ that truly blessed are those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and maligned and persecuted for standing for what is true (Lk.6:20-26).

Inasmuch as we greatly dislike inconvenience and sufferings, failures and powerlessness, poverty and sickness, we have experienced that true growth and maturity can only happen by going through difficulties that bring out the best in us through time than the instant gratifications and feel-good sensations offered by the world.

Those who have been with us for over 30 years have witnessed how our University and Medical Center have grown from initially two buildings – the old hospital and nursing school – here at the Valenzuela campus along McArthur Highway now composed with 16 buildings with five other campuses in Quezon City, Antipolo (with another medical center), San Fernando, Cabanatuan, and Sta. Rosa in Laguna.

There were so many difficulties and even mistakes during those years but everybody persevered, hurdling all the trials to establish Our Lady of Fatima University and the Fatima University Medical Center as one of the leading centers of learning and medical sciences in the country with its innovative courses and programs available to more people.

We strived. And we never stopped.

Photo from Facebook/OLFU.

When the COVID-19 pandemic came in 2020, many of our plans were deferred but we continued to persevere in this modern crisis. It is still the most difficult trial we have ever faced in our lives, changing so much the way we live these days.

Despite the uncertainties and yes, fears, we sought ways and new methods in dealing with the crisis, becoming the first school of medicine to offer limited face-to-face classes. Eventually, we opened many of our courses to limited face-to-face classes last year still ahead of other schools and universities.

It was during these difficult years of the pandemic when our vision and mission have become most clear than ever to be a fount of “truth and mercy” during this great period of crisis by “rising to the top” through innovative new methods and approaches in the fields of education, medical sciences and management.

Truly, trials perfect and make us complete as men and women ready to serve and lead others to achieving their dreams and caring for the sick.

St. John of the Cross said “The soul that walks in love is never tired and never tires others.”

On this day of the hearts as we celebrate our 55th anniversary, let us borrow from this great mystic of the Church his words with a slight twist, “The heart that walks in love is never tired and never tires others”.

Our Lady of Fatima University and Fatima University Medical Center in Antipolo, photo from OLFU/FB.

In the gospel we have heard the story of the Mary’s visitation of her cousin Elizabeth then six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Mary had just conceived through the Holy Spirit our Lord Jesus Christ and she hurriedly went to visit Elizabeth.

A beautiful scene of two great women together, conversing and rejoicing in God. Very rare in the bible do we find two women together in one scene and Luke presents this to us to remind us of the wrong perception at that time – that sadly persists to this day – of women taken for granted and looked down upon. Most especially the Virgin Mary who came from the obscure town of Nazareth and compared with her cousin Elizabeth who came from a family of priests, the Blessed Mother was a “nobody”, a simple, country maiden.

But in Mary’s simplicity, we find an important aspect of the heart – of being open to God, of always welcoming Jesus into our hearts to allow ourselves to be his instruments of change. What a beautiful coincidence or divine will that largely behind the success of Our Lady of Fatima University and Fatima University Medical Center are three great women too! – our late co-founder Mrs. Juliet Santos, our President, Dr. Caroline Santos-Enriquez and Chairperson of the Board of Trustees, Dr. Yvonne Santos-Guevarra.

Filled with love for God and for her cousin Elizabeth, the Blessed Virgin Mary went in haste to visit her to show support and recognition to the plan of God to the baby in her womb; filled with love in her heart, Mary visited Elizabeth to share in God’s divine plan of saving mankind.

Aside from facing trials with perseverance, Elizabeth tells us today another thing about true blessedness through Mary: believing that the words of God will be fulfilled!

Photo from OLFU/FB.

My dear friends, the Administrators and Board Directors of Our Lady of Fatima University and Fatima University Medical Center, our dear students and faculty members, fellow employees, and alumni: on this Valentine’s day we not only look into our hearts but also give our hearts to Jesus as the Blessed Virgin Mary had told us at Fatima, Portugal over a hundred years ago.

Like our Lady of Fatima, let our love for God flow to our love for one another.

Like Mary at Fatima, let our love for others be more intense and encompassing in leading men and women into knowledge and wisdom, well-being and health.

Like Mary at Fatima and through her prayers, let our hearts be cleansed and purified to make our faith more firm and our hope more vibrant in Christ who calls us to follow his truth and imitate his mercy. Amen.

A blessed happy 55th anniversary to you!

Keep my heart in you, Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of St. Scholastica, Virgin, 10 February 2022
1 Kings 11:4-13   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   Mark 7:24-30
Photo from ABS-CBN News, medical frontliners making the heart sign, 2020.
Your words today, O Lord,
invite me to examine closely
where is my heart especially after all
the triumphs and gains I have had
lately, after being showered with
your many blessings.

When Solomon was old, his wives had turned his heart to strange gods, and his heart was not entirely with the Lord, his God, as the heart of his father David had been.

1 Kings 11:14
Keep my heart entirely yours, Lord;
I am afraid that like Solomon,
I may have also been like him
with my heart being stolen from you
by the very blessings you have
showered me with like health
and some degrees of comforts,
triumphs and successes.
I do not ask for more pains and
sufferings, dear Jesus; just keep 
my heart closest to you always
like that Syrophoenician woman in
the gospel who begged you to heal
her daughter possessed by the devil;
she was witty and wise in her answer
to you:  "Lord, even the dogs under
the table eat the children's scraps"
(Mark 7:28) that you have her child
healed. 
So many times, Lord, in our wisdom
and intelligence, we rationalise 
everything to justify what we want
and what we do like Solomon;
so many times, Lord, our wisdom
could not prevent our being ruled
by our hearts and selfish interests that
we keep on doing what we know is not
right and sinful; so many times, Lord, 
we try other paths forgetting 
that you are the only WAY, 
the TRUTH and the LIFE.
Help me imitate St. Scholastica, 
the twin sister of St. Benedict,
whose minds and hearts have 
always remained united in you,
dear Jesus that even in the end
of their lives, not even death could
separate their bodies as they shared 
just one grave.  Amen.

Love and you shall see

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday after the Epiphany of the Lord, 05 January 2022
1 John 4:11-18   ><]]]]'> + <'[[[[>< + ><]]]]'> + <'[[[[><   Mark 6:45-52
Photo by author, Ubihan Island, Meycauayan, Bulacan, 31 December 2021.
Dearest God our Father,
let us love, love, and love
one another so that we may
see you more in each other;
the more we love, the more we
see everyone and everything in
life.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.

1 John 4:11-12
Take away our stony hearts
and give us natural hearts
that beat firm faith, vibrant
hope and unceasing charity
and love; perfect our love
to drive away our many fears
especially the fear of getting
hurt because of love.
Soften our hearts, Jesus,
to find you in every good thing
happening in us and around us; 
let our love be genuine and pure 
to find you coming to us amid 
every storm in life; send us your 
Holy Spirit to perfect our love
so we may have the confidence 
and vision of you on judgment day.
Amen.

On shedding tears and crying

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 23 November 2021
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I recently attended the 30th anniversary to the priesthood of my classmate from high school seminary who’s dying of a rare kind of cancer. Due to my being “mababa ang luha”, tears easily rolled from my eyes before the Mass started when I saw his mother sobbing as we brought him to his designated “lazy boy” at the altar.

This may sound weird but I must insist, I was not crying during that Mass for Fr. Sammy; just teary-eyed because everything was so touching.

In attendance were five of us classmates from the minor seminary, four priests and one lay, Fr. Sammy’s twin brother, Sannie. Main celebrant was our former prefect of discipline, Msgr. Albert while the homilist was the youngest in our class (1982) now our Vicar-General, Msgr. Pablo who recalled our high school seminary days when we were so young at 13-16 years old, and so thin, except me!

That was when more tears rolled from the corner of my eyes, making me wonder if there was any difference between shedding of tears and crying: my sight was never blurred without any need for me to wipe away my tears so often, and unlike in sobbing or crying, there was no gasping for air nor runny nose. I just felt there was a magical stream at the corner of my eyes overflowing with crystal-clear waters that felt so good as I reminisced our high school days.

But, I knew it was a lull in the storm… and soon, our dams of tears would surely break loose when the inevitable happens. For now, let’s not talk about it and just go back to my real topic, the shedding tears and crying.


Across the city of Jerusalem and way up from the Garden of Gethsemane is the Church of Dominus Flevit (the Lord Wept) whose roof is shaped like tears. It is the site believed to be where Jesus wept over Jerusalem for its coming destruction that eventually happened on the year 70 AD.

Photo by author, 2017, Church of Dominus Flevit, the Holy Land.

Notice that Jesus did not simply cry; he wept!

The Bible tells us that Jesus also wept was at the gravesite of his friend Lazarus whom he later raised to life (Jn.11).

How touching it must have been to see our Lord Jesus weeping, so human and most of all, so loving to his friends and for us all.

And that is what tears express, the deep love within us for one another, an outpouring of our love that look like beads of prayer.

While tears do come from ducts near our eyes that are automatically secreted when something foreign gets into our eyes to cleanse them, tears ultimately come from the soul that are deposited into the heart to cleanse and heal its wounds and scars left when we gave a part of ourselves in love. In the same manner, tears express our inner desires for love and acceptance, understanding and kindness, mercy and forgiveness, and most especially, for God and a loved one.

According to scientists, the chemical composition of tears vary depending on the emotion expressed why we cry; but, whether they are tears of joy or tears of sadness, tears are always a grace from God as they cleanse our eyes, our hearts and souls so we may see clearly everything in life, specially the face of the persons next to us or even far from us, whom to love, whom to trust, whom to believe again.


To be able to cry or to simply shed tears 
means we are still alive, 
that our heart is still beating, 
still aching because we love.  

Is there really a distinction between shedding tears and crying? I really do not know but what I am certain of is that tears are the most unique expressions of our human emotions that come from the deepest core of our being that when they flow in our crying and weeping, our whole body and very selves are fully involved. No wonder, crying can also be the most beautiful and eloquent prayer to God when our heart is overwhelmed with pain and sadness, even grief, or joy and happiness which our mouths cannot say but only our hearts can see.

That must be what Eric Clapton have felt when he wrote Tears in Heaven in 1992 following the tragic death of his four year old son Conor who accidentally fell from the 54th floor of their apartment in New York City.

To be able to cry – or to simply shed tears – means we are still alive, that our heart is still beating, still aching because we love and longing for love.

May our tears pave the way for beautiful smiles and joys in the heart in the days to come! Amen.

Photo by author, 24 October 2021.

Opening our ears and heart

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday XXIII-B in Ordinary Time, 05 September 2021
Isaiah 35:4-7 ><}}}'> James 2:1-5 ><}}}'> Mark 7:31-37
Photo by Ms. Mira Mandal Sibal, 08 August 2021.

Since the start of our Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) last month, I have always admired the faithful people who continue to celebrate Mass with us outside our church as well as those in other places like Quiapo.

I have nothing against ECQ but I have always questioned the government decision in prioritizing churches in every lockdown when we have always been very strict in our protocols unlike malls and groceries. Most of all, it is during this time of crisis when we must give people the chance to express their faith in going to houses of worship to pray in silence and celebrate with the community while observing protocols.

It is very touching and inspiring to see people – young and old alike, healthy and sickly going to churches every Sunday, catching up with our Lord Jesus Christ even outside, rain or shine.

And that is why our gospel this Sunday is again very timely at this time we have reached the two-million mark in less than a year in the number of those infected with COVID-19 while those in government corruption are also breaking the billion peso mark in anomalous transactions! That is how evil those people are that while many are suffering in the pandemic, there those in government with gall to steal big time.

Has God forsaken us his people, especially at this time we are celebrating our 500th year of Christianization? Of course not!

Jesus Christ continues to come to us everyday not only to cleanse by washing our hearts of evil and sin as we have seen last Sunday in the gospel; today, Mark tells us how Jesus comes also to open our ears in order to hear and listen to his words that eventually open our hearts to freedom and salvation.

Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears, and spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!”

Mark 7:31-34

“Jesus went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into Decapolis

Of the four evangelists, Mark is the only one who portrays Jesus as always on the go without even telling us details of his itinerary nor of the places he visited and people he had met. As the first gospel account written, Mark wrote in straight news style as he felt the urgency of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus.

However, when Mark gives even the slightest details of the places and people in the journeys of the Lord, it always means something else. Like in our gospel today.

Photo by author, Sea (Lake) of Galilee, 2017.

Again Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis.

Mark 7:31

You will recall that in July when Jesus sent his disciples to their first missionary journey, they were told to seek the “lost sheep of Israel”, to not go to pagan and Samaritan lands.

Today, it is the Lord himself who left Tyre and Sidon in northern Israel to go into the pagan territories of Decapolis that literally means “ten cities”.

Here we find the universality of Christ’s mission, not just for his fellow Jews. His love is so encompassing covering all the peoples of all time, then and now.

Jesus seeks us out who are in totally alien territory in life like this pandemic because he loves us.

When we look back and reflect in our lives, we find so many instances in the past how it was in the most foreign and lost situations when we have actually found God, is it not?

Reflecting further in this scene in the Decapolis, Mark is reminding us how we could also be those people who have brought the deaf-mute to Jesus, begging him to heal the man.

And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.

Mark 7:32

Those people who have begged Jesus to heal the deaf-mute are the same people who went out of their ways since the start of the pandemic helping others in their many needs and sufferings, those people who sacrificed time, talent and treasures for the less fortunate like the community pantry.

They were also those elder brothers and sisters who have helped their younger siblings to learn and thrive in the new mode of learning online that began last year.

Those people who begged Jesus to heal the deaf-mute were also the same medical health frontliners who have died or still continue to serve us despite our callous government officials led by the health secretary.

Though there were so many abusive people last year -mostly civil servants and police officials who have notoriously made headlines – there were still more generous and kind people who made Jesus present to someone in need during this pandemic.

How wonderful it is to realize – and relish this Sunday as we find ourselves in this unusual and surreal situation of the COVID-19 pandemic that Christ is also with us, staying with us, speaking to us.

But, are we listening to him? Are we not also the same deaf-mute who needs Christ’s healing?

Photo by author, Caeasaria in northern Israel, 2017.

“Ephphata” – Be opened!

Notice another significant detail that Mark has mentioned in this gospel scene. Aside from identifying the Lord’s coming to the pagan territory of Decapolis, Mark surprisingly tells us in details the unique and unusual manner of healing by Jesus there.

There must be something very important in this unique healing by Jesus whereas before, he would just lay his hands on the sick or most usually, he would merely speak. Remember that we could also be this deaf needing Christ’s healing.

He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears, and spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.

Mark 7:33-35

Opening to God involves our whole person, our whole being. Not just our eyes and ears, but most of all our heart. And the first step for us is to take a break from our ordinary life, from our daily routines that have numbed us that we have lost our consciousness of the present moment, even of our very selves.

This is why Jesus “took him off by himself from the crowd.”

Photo by Ms. Mira Mandal Sibal, 08 August 2021.

To a certain sense, this is the grace of the pandemic – an opportunity for us all to spend more time with Jesus in prayers at home or in the church and to bond and fix those broken ties in our family. Before the pandemic, couples and children rarely have the chance to be together even at meals due to each one’s busy schedule; but, with COVID-19’s new mode of work and learning “from home”, many were thrown off balance because some have long lost their sense of being with family members.

Prayer in fact is an awareness of our presence that leads us to God’s presence. Unless we learn to separate from others and the usual ordinariness of our lives characterized by madness and toxicity in everything, we can never experience the presence of God in Jesus Christ in us and among us as well as in the sacraments and prayers.

That putting of Jesus of his finger into the man’s ears and touching his tongue with a spit indicate the personal encounter of the Lord with each of us, of how he would reach out to us daily to feel and experience his presence but we are always “out-of-touch”.

It is said that our heart is the shape of two ears put together.

I believe so. Opening to God is opening our ears to Jesus speaking to us daily. He has been trying so hard to converse with us but we hardly notice him around us because of those ubiquitous ear pods and headphones always stuck into our ears. We shut ourselves from the world to be into our own world, separated from everyone including God. We would rather listen to influencers and personal playlists that confirm things we believe as true, no more room for others especially the poor and marginalized as James noted in his Letter we have heard proclaimed in the second reading.

Beginning this Sunday, let us set ourselves apart from the rest to open ourselves to Jesus to see his light and hear his words so we can walk his path of joy and peace because he is “the Way” (Jn.16:6).

Let our hearts be strong, not to fear this crisis because God has fulfilled his promise prophesied by Isaiah in the first reading on Christ’s coming with “vindication and divine recompense to save us” (Is.35:4).

Have a blessed first week of September!

Photo from news.abs-cbn.com, 2020.

Strengthen our hearts, Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XXI, Year I in Ordinary Time, 26 August 2021
1 Thessalonians 3:7-13   ><]]]]'> ><)))*> ><]]]]'>   Matthew 24:42-51
From inquirer.net, 20 August 2021.
Strengthen us, O God
in this trying time of the pandemic;
keep our body healthy and strong
to fight the virus and most especially
to take care of the sick among us.
Strengthen our hearts, loving Father
by cleansing it of our sins, taking away
our pride and filling it with your Son
Jesus Christ's humility, justice and love
that always have a space for those 
with less in life, to those most in need
like the sick, the children and elderly.
Strengthen our hearts, O God,
so that as St. Paul had reminded the
Thessalonians, we may "be blameless 
in holiness before you our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ"
(1Thess.3:13) by being "faithful and prudent"
like the wise servant in the parable today.
Strengthen our hearts in Christ Jesus
so we may consistently seek and serve him
among one another at every moment
of our lives.  Amen.

Jesus in our siblings

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of Sts. Martha, Mary and Lazarus, Siblings and Friends of the Lord, 29 July 2021
Exodus 40:16-21, 34-38   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   John 11:19-27
An icon of Jesus visiting his friends, the siblings Sts. Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Photo from crossroadsinitiative.com.
What a tremendous grace from you,
dearest God our Father through
Pope Francis that we now celebrate
the Memorial not only of St. Martha 
but also of her brother St. Lazarus and 
sister St. Mary who were all dear friends 
of Jesus Christ he frequently visited in 
their home at Bethany.  
Finally, a beautiful imagery not only
of friendship in the Lord but most of all,
the oft-neglected and taken for granted
relationships of brothers and sisters.
In this time of the pandemic
you know how, O dear God,
we have finally come together 
as families free from all excuses 
of work and studies, of being far and away; 
but sadly, many have ignored and missed
the opportunities to bond together
and mend many gaps long festering
among siblings; instead of fighting and 
rivalries, may brothers and sisters
in every family emulate the love and 
respect among Saints Martha, Lazarus and Mary. 

“The Raising of Lazarus”, 1311 painting by Duccio de Buoninsegna. Photo by commons.wikimedia.org
We pray for all siblings to gather anew
as one family in prayers before you, Lord, 
like Saints Martha, Lazarus and Mary;
help them create a space for your Son 
Jesus Christ who is the surest bond among us
despite our many differences; like the children of 
Israel in the wilderness, may all siblings be
animated and moved by your presence, God our Father:
"Whenever the cloud rose from the dwelling,
the children of Israel would set out on their journey.
But if the cloud did not lift, they would not go forward;
only when it lifted did they go forward." (Exodus 40:36-37)
Most of all, give us the grace
to be the presence of Jesus Christ
when our siblings are sick and burdened 
with all kinds of sufferings and miseries 
like Martha and Mary present to each other
awaiting Christ’s coming after Lazarus had died:
Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died."  Jesus told her,
"I am the resurrection and the life; whoever
believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me
will never die.  Do you believe this?" (John 11:21, 25-26)
Photo by author, Mirador Jesuit Hills, Baguio City, 2018.
Yes, dearest Lord Jesus,
I believe you are the resurrection and life;
whoever believes in you not only lives
but most of all becomes your very presence
especially among those going through
various forms of darkness in this life;
give me the grace to bring your light
and your life, your joys and your hopes
to those heavily burdened
 so they may believe like St. Martha
that "if you, Lord, had been here,
my brother would have not died."
Like St. Martha, and most likely
her siblings, too, St. Lazarus
 and St. Mary who may not have
  understood fully your words and teachings,
keep me open to your coming,
to your visits, sweet Jesus;
make my heart like theirs
filled with warmth and hospitality
to let you stay and reign in me;
most of all, like the three holy siblings
let me share with others the gift of kindness,
of being a kin to everyone in you, with you.  Amen.