Advent is being at home with God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Advent Week I, 02 December 2020
Isaiah 25:6-10     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Matthew 15:29-37
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, Katmon Harbor Nature Sanctuary, Quezon, March 2020.

O God our loving Father, as we eagerly await the coming Christmas break to finally come home and be with our loved ones, may we also pray and reflect the greatest homecoming of all when your Son Jesus Christ returns to bring us back to you in heaven, our truest home.

How interesting that Jesus must come again to finally bring us home to you; yes, he had already come and always comes to us but unfortunately, we rarely come home to you. We insist on going somewhere or to someone else who just leave us empty and disappointed.

Home is where the heart is and that is you, Father, in heaven. May we constantly search you and dwell in you while still in this world; destroy the “veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations” (Is.25:7) that mislead and imprison us with false hopes in superficial relationships and materialistic briberies of the world.

Sometimes we have to go hungry and thirsty to realize the more essential things in life like you, dear God and the people who truly care for us and love us like our immediate family and friends.

Like the crowd who have followed Jesus in the wilderness for three days with nothing to eat: they experienced advent, the coming of God when Jesus fed them after they were first disposed to desire the longings of their soul than of their bodies. It was only then when Jesus fed them through the miraculous multiplication of the loaves of bread for the second time.

May the darkness and gloom that envelop us this season of Advent like the pandemic and other personal crises dispose us to desiring you alone, God our Father, so we may finally enter your heavenly banquet with “rich food and choice wines” (Is.25:6). Amen.

We are blessed, meant to be saints

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Solemnity of All Saints, 01 November 2020
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14   |+|   1 John 3:1-3   |+|   Matthew 5:1-12
“Mary and the Saints” painting by Duccio di Buonoinsegna (1308-1311) from en.wikipedia.org.

Let me begin our reflection on this All Saints’ Day with a joke from the “Language Nerds” on how the past, the present and the future came and appeared in a bar. Everybody was tense.


Our celebrations today and tomorrow deal with “verb tenses” – the past, the present, and the future that somehow converge in the here and now of Jesus Christ our Lord. We call it the tension of the already here but not yet, like God and heaven – both already here but not yet.

All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are two Catholic celebrations so unique and distinctive of our faith that bring to the fore the beautiful tensions of the “here and not yet”, of that convergence of the temporal and eternal in our present lives.

It is something like our Filipino delicacies of tuyo (dried fish) and balut (fermented duck egg): when you smell the aroma of the frying tuyo by your neighbor, you could taste it but if you want to really experience its delight, you have to go to your neighbor and join their meal. Or the balut: is it an egg or a duckling?

In a similar manner, we find in our Gospel today that proverbial question of which came first, the egg or the chicken? Are we blessed because we followed the Beatitudes first or, are we blessed first that we can practice the Beatitudes of Christ?

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be sown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are….

Matthew 5:1-8
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We are all blessed

When Jesus preached his sermon on the mount to launch his ministry, he first presented himself — that he is the Christ, the Anointed or Blessed One because he is in fact the Beatitudes: he is the poor in spirit, the merciful and meek, the one with a clean heart.

Inasmuch as the Beatitudes tell us who is Jesus Christ, the Beatitudes also challenge us followers of Jesus to imitate and follow him in being poor in spirit, merciful, and clean of heart.

At first glance, we notice that blessedness seems like a reward given by Jesus after we have imitated him like being blessed after being insulted and persecuted in his name, working for peace and hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

However, the very fact we are able to bear all these sufferings to live the Beatitudes means that we are already blessed.

And that is the truth: in Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection, we have all been blessed by God that we are able to live as his beloved children, now living in his “kingdom of heaven” right here on earth.

Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are… we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure.

1 John 3:1, 2-3

Blessedness is who we are as children of God unless we choose to live otherwise.

Blessedness is God’s gift to us that enables us to live according to his will and plans, projecting us further into the future to finally be with him in all eternity in heaven. When we try to live the Beatitudes of Jesus, of going against the tide and flow of the world where power and wealth, popularity and fame are the means life is measured, then that becomes our gift to God.

And that is when we enter into heaven and become saints like what we celebrate today.

According to St. John Paul II, the good news of life is that we all share in the life of God — and that is why we are all blessed.

Our sharing in the life of God makes us blessed.

The difference that we have with the saints is just the tenses: they are now celebrating at present the fullness of their blessedness, of being present before God in all eternity in heaven because they have so well accomplished while living here on earth the works of the Beatitudes of Christ in the past. They have overcome all tests and trials in the past and now having the rewards of full blessedness.

We, on the other hand, though already sharing in the blessed life of God here on earth in the present, still have to face and endure many other trials in the future to perfect ourselves in Christ until we get a final glimpse of him in the afterlife.

Photo by Dr. Mai B. Dela Peña, MD, at Spain, 2018.

Blessedness is a relationship with God.

It is now clear with us that saints are like us who are blessed because we share in the life of God. However, saints enjoy the fullness of this blessedness of being in the very presence of God as a “reward” or a result of their striving with God’s grace to live out the Beatitudes.

Saints now enjoy the eternal presence of God, the fullness of blessedness and fullness of their relationship in God and with God, from earth into heaven.

This is the reason we have a feast for all the saints or those who have gone ahead of us and tried to lead holy lives, living out their blessedness that they now enjoy the eternal presence of God in heaven. They need not be declared by the Church as saints whoever gets into heaven in the presence of God is a saint.

We who are still living here on earth, though blessed as we share in the life of God, cannot be considered as saints yet because we still have to go through a lot of purifications, of tasks in loving.

Again, we see that tension of the here and not yet in this aspect of being saints, of blessedness: heaven is eternal union with God (hell is eternal separation from God); blessedness and heaven are both our relationships with God.

Therefore, the challenge of our blessedness here on earth as seen in the Beatitudes of Jesus is how we maintain and keep that intimate relationship with God that every choice we make is always a choice for life, of choosing to love than hate, to forgive than revenge, to understand and let go.

In the first reading, John tells us of his vision of heaven with great multitude of “saints” or holy men and women “wearing white robes holding palm branches in their hands”. The Lord told him,

“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

Revelation 7:14

Although we are extolling in this solemnity all the unnamed saints now in heaven, this is still a feast celebrating the goodness of God, of his immense love for us in blessing us in Jesus Christ who enables us to do good in the power of the Holy Spirit.

As we remember all the Saints, we celebrate also this sharing of God’s life in us for us to be blessed, assuring us of being saints someday!

We are challenged today to live out this blessedness freely given to us by God by being more loving with others specially in this time of COVID-19 as well as when two super typhoons are threatening to slam into some parts of our country this week.


A short note about cemeteries

Sometimes, non-Catholics laugh at us every November first when we troop to the cemeteries to be with our departed loved ones instead of November 2. Despite the closure of cemeteries this week due to COVID-19, many have earlier visited their loved ones in cemeteries while the rest among us would surely do the same once the ban is lifted.

Is there something wrong? NONE. Except for those who just go to cemeteries to drink and have fun without praying and celebrating Mass in their parishes. But there is nothing wrong with our tradition of visiting cemeteries on November first.

In fact, it is a vibrant display of our faith in God because every time we visit the dead on All Saints’ Day, we also presume they are already saints, already in heaven.

Most of all, our coming to the cemeteries on All Saints’ Day is an expression of our hope in heaven while still here on earth.

The cemetery reminds us of hope in the future. In the past when we buried our dead, the cemetery has become the place of our mourning; but, every November first, the cemetery reminds us it is the place of hope where sadness is not really removed but where we find strength and faith that like our departed loved ones, we shall overcome all trials and sufferings here on earth to be one with them in the presence of God in heaven.

That is the good news of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day: we are so blessed by God in Jesus Christ who had opened our access into heaven not only in the future when we die but even now as we mourn – and celebrate the memory of our dead, we already have a taste of eternal life.

May we live out this blessedness God has given us. Amen.

Sealed with the Holy Spirit

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Week XXVIII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 16 October 2020
Ephesians 1:11-14     >><)))*> + >><)))*> + >><)))*>     Luke 12:1-7
Photo by the author, September 2020.

What a great apostle you have, O Lord God, in St. Paul indeed! Today he tells us something so unique, so understandable and relatable with us regarding our being blessed in Jesus Christ: being sealed in the Holy Spirit.

In him (Christ) you also, who have heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:13-14

I love those two catchphrases by St. Paul: “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” and “first installment of your inheritance”. It is both a stroke of his genius and mastery of language while at the same time, his openness to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

In him we find that blessedness in Christ through the Holy Spirit like having peace, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, understanding and things that bind us together in working together for the Lord’s mission.

But at the same time in speaking of the Holy Spirit as the first installment of our redemption, St. Paul had a foretaste of what we shall all experience in its fullness in eternity, an assurance of the fulfillment of Christ’s promise of salvation.

Like St. Teresa of Avila whose memorial we celebrated yesterday, St. Paul restored all things in you, Jesus Christ. And so, we pray for the grace of enthusiasm and perseverance of working for the coming of God’s Kingdom like him.

Give us the wisdom to proclaim loud and clear not only in words but also in deeds the Gospel so the world may know Jesus is here to restore everything and everyone back to you, God our Father.

We are not going to say anything new, Lord; we merely have to echo in this modern time your Good News of salvation, of love and mercy and forgiveness for everyone specially in this difficult time of the pandemic.

Likewise, give us the courage to witness the power of the Holy Spirit in this world living in front of all kinds of cameras without solid grounding on the realities of life, living in a make-believe world filled with hypocrisy. Seal us with your Holy Spirit, Lord! Amen.

Photo by author, September 2020.

Being clothed with Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXVIII-A in Ordinary Time, 11 October 2020
Isaiah 25:6-10     ><)))*>     Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20     >><)))*>     Matthew 22:1-14
Photo by author, Our Lady of Mount Carmel of the Holy Family, Guiguinto, Bulacan (2018).

As we end the series of teachings in parables by Jesus directed to the chief priests and elders of the people, St. Paul concludes his Letter to the Philippians in our second reading with words so moving for a man awaiting trial and sure death, giving us a glimpse at how this great Apostle of the Lord looked at the most ordinary things in life.

Brothers and sisters: I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live in abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:12-14

Wow! Here we find St. Paul at his best and finest, with his mastery of language at the service of his innermost thoughts and feelings, indicating his transformation from the many hardships and difficulties he had gone through as an Apostle and suffered as a prisoner.

Like St. Paul, there are times we experience that perfect balance in life called equilibrium when we are able to bridge the distance between our mind and our heart with Jesus at the center amid so many trials and difficulties.

Most of all, we see in this short passage how St. Paul accepted both living in need and in abundance with calmness and composure because of Jesus Christ who strengthened him!

What an encouragement for us all in this time of pandemic to remind us of learning to adjust to situations, that true peace within comes not from abundance or scarcity of material goods but of letting go and letting God in our lives. St. Paul witnessed to us the centrality of the Lord’s teaching of denying ourselves, taking our cross and following Jesus.

Most of all, in St. Paul we find what is to be clothed in Christ or “to put on Jesus Christ” (Rom.13:14) by accepting God’s invitation to salvation through his Son as the parable of the wedding feast tells us in our gospel this Sunday.

Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and elders of the people in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants… Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.

Matthew 22:1-4, 5-7

Do not ignore God’s invitation; carpe diem (seize the moment).


Photo by Angelo N. Carpio, January 2020.

Jesus continues to direct his parables to the chief priests and elders of the people not really to shame them and expose their sinister plots against him but more in the hope of converting them, of giving them the chance of getting into God’s kingdom in heaven.

That is how great is his love for everyone, especially the sinful even if they would not admit it — just like us!

Keep in mind that Christ speaks always in the present and this parable is also meant for us who feel “entitled” in may ways like the chief priests and elders at that time. Interestingly, today’s parable to a large extent has to be taken in the context of the Sunday Mass, the prefiguration of the wedding feast in heaven to which we are all invited.

But how can we get to the wedding feast in heaven if we feel so sure like the chief priests and elders that we refuse to accept God’s invitation?

The Eucharist is the summit of our Christian life where we receive Jesus Christ in words proclaimed, in his Body and Blood, and among the people gathered. Every day Jesus is inviting us to partake in his Sacred Meal to be nourished and get our bearings in life through him like St. Paul.

See how before the pandemic, people refused to celebrate Mass and other Sacraments; but, when quarantine measures were implemented with the suspension of public Masses, everybody wanted to go to churches and receive the Sacraments, specially Holy Communion and Baptism, as well as Confession and Anointing of the Sick!

Photo from Shutterstock/Aleteia.

After seven months of pandemic, many of us have learned to adjust to the new situation but sadly, many have gone back to totally ignoring the Sunday Mass. Worst is at how some have considered online Masses as “video-on-demand” making Jesus Christ a “commodity” anyone can have when most convenient. Pope Francis had reminded us last summer that online Masses are not the norm but a response to the pandemic. Nonetheless, we still have to dispose ourselves properly when celebrating with online Masses like in actual live Mass in a Church and strive to be punctual and avoid doing other things during the online celebration.

In giving us these modern means of communications, God continues to invite us to come to him and gather in his name as a family in our homes for the Sunday online Masses and other liturgical activities that nourish our souls so essential in these trying times. Like the king in the parable today who had to invite guests thrice to his son’s wedding feast, God gives us all the opportunities and chances to celebrate in his gift of salvation through Jesus in the Eucharist which is the summit of Christian life.

May we not miss every opportunity!

When I was assigned to our diocesan schools during my first ten years in priesthood, I used to tell my students that God’s mercy and forgiveness are unlimited but there are acts that can have irreversible consequences like getting involved in a murder, getting pregnant outside marriage, or being caught in a video scam. I would tell them that God will surely forgive you and give you many chances in life while people like your family and friends including those you may have hurt may also forgive and accept you; however, you cannot escape the consequences of those acts that will surely limit your freedom and change forever your situations in life. Bottomline is, do not let yourself be missed out in accepting God’s invitation to his feast of life and salvation by following the path of holiness that beings in the Holy Mass.

The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah directs our attention to “that day” when God would save us and welcome us into heaven symbolized by the feast or banquet with great food and drinks. The good news is we are all invited to his feast, assured with a seat and it would only be our fault to not make it there, either by refusing it or not getting dressed properly.


Being properly dressed is always a sign of maturity.


Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images, 09 February 2020, Baclaran Church.

“The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, good and bad alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

As is often the case in his parables, Jesus pulled a surprise when he added another parable to this parable of the wedding feast that could have easily ended in the annihilation of those who rejected the king’s two earlier invitations.

God is the king who was so good that he never tired of inviting guests thrice to the wedding feast of his son, and this time he opened it to everyone! And here lies the clincher: though everyone is invited, guests were expected to come in proper attire.

We have learned at a very young age of getting properly dressed in an occasion. In fact, dressing properly is a sign of maturity. Some people especially in this age always claim what matters is the inside of the person not the outside appearance like clothes; but, they forget that the outside also indicates what is inside of us!

Clothes speak a lot of who we are and what we are that even St. Paul used several times the metaphors of clothes like “putting on the Lord Jesus” or being “clothed in Christ” as we have cited earlier.

See how the king went to meet the guests not just for pleasantries but for inspection that immediately his eyes caught the man not dressed in a wedding garment. The king was even courteous addressing the man as “my friend” when asked why he came not in a wedding garment.

Try to imagine the scene with that man “reduced to silence” meaning, he was guilty of not putting on a wedding garment even if he knew that was the occasion he was going to. He had been remiss of his duties and obligations, just like the wicked tenants last week or the merciless servant last month.


"Many are invited, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14) 

St. Matthew never failed to remind us these past weeks that our faith has no value if not translated into actions, if it does not bear fruits. Today, he reminds us to be properly dressed to become a part of the wedding feast of the Lord, of the need to be clothed in holiness, in charity, and kindness with others.

Moreover, with just barely two months to go before we end the liturgical year to usher in Advent in preparation for Christmas, Jesus tells us today to never feel so sure, even “safely assured” of getting into heaven like the chief priests and elders of his time that even if we celebrate Sunday Masses weekly, online or actual, nothing is final yet in this life until we all get into the hall of the wedding feast in heaven when we are judged for our good deeds.

For the meantime, let us not miss joining the “rehearsals” for that feast – the Sunday Mass we celebrate weekly when he invites everyone to come. Be sure to be properly dressed for the occasion, literally and figuratively speaking. Amen.

A blessed week to everyone!

Photo by author at Silang, Cavite, 22 September 2020.

What’s up on the mountain?

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Week X, Year II of Ordinary Time, 08 June 2020
1 Kings 17:7-16 <*(((>< + ><)))*> Matthew 5:1-12
Mount Sinai range at sunrise, May 2019. Photo by author.

Your words today Lord brought memories of childhood when I would always look up to the mountains, wondering what is up there or how wonderful it must be up there.

As I grew up, that fascination with the mountains remained until I had the chance to climb some of them and learned one very valuable lesson: it is so nice to be up on the mountain but always difficult.

One has to pour in a lot of planning and preparations, most of all, more sacrifices.

There is always that inverse proportionality when it can take so much efforts to ascend, always painstaking while every descent is always less than half the time and energy.

Most of all, every ascent to the mountain calls for trust, a great deal of trust in you, Lord, because anything can happen. In fact, one has to always expect the unexpected when ascending a mountain.

But rewards are so great and the feeling is always liberating and free.

Mt. St. Paul Spirituality Center, La Trinidad, Benguet, 2018 photo by author.

Teach me, Lord, to be like your Prophet Elijah, to always dare to climb mountains, to rely on your providence for water to drink and food to eat because more than these is the nourishment you provide for the soul and being of anyone willing to come near you.

Like your disciples and the crowd who followed you, Jesus, bless me with courage and trust to follow you up every mountain, listening and following your teachings.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:1-4

How blessed indeed, O Lord, to be high up on the mountain with you for heaven is no longer that far, so reachable with you — especially when beside your holy Cross. Amen.

Jesus our Gate

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Easter Week IV-A, 03 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 2:14, 36-41 ><)))*> 1 Peter 2:20-25 ><)))*> John 10:1-10

Entrance to the Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose again. Photo by author, May 2017.

Starting this Sunday, we stop hearing stories of the appearances of the Risen Lord as we go back to the days before his Passion, Death, and Resurrection to reflect further on his words and teachings.

In fact, it is the same path taken by his followers after Easter when they recounted everything Jesus had done and told them as they slowly understood their meanings later in the coming of the Holy Spirt at Pentecost.

Also today is “Good Shepherd Sunday” when every year on this fourth Sunday of Easter the gospel is taken from John 10 which is about Christ’s “Good Shepherd” discourse that actually begins with him declaring he is the gate or the door for the sheep.

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

John 10:7-10
Photo from Google.

Entering Jesus our Gate who truly owns the sheep

Let us start our reflection today by recalling our Sunday gospel on the Fourth Week of Lent last March 22 which is about the healing of the man born blind on a sabbath day.

The healing stirred the people and the temple officials led by the Pharisees whom Jesus had hinted as being the ones truly blind who could not see God’s coming in him. As expected, the Pharisees dismissed Christ’s accusations, claiming themselves to be “clean” unlike the man born blind.

Our gospel today is the scene that immediately follows that where Jesus now speaks of himself as the gate where shepherds enter through to tend their sheep. According to the author of the gospel, Jesus was using a figure of speech in referring to himself as the gate for the sheep.

Unfortunately, the Pharisees did not understand Christ’s figure of speech, refusing to be referred to as “thieves and robbers” that Jesus had to use the emphatic “Amen, amen” to declare he is in fact the gate for the sheep.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

To clearly understand his being the gate for the sheep, let us fast-forward to his last Easter appearance to Simon Peter and companions by the lake after a night of fishing when they caught nothing until Jesus told them to cast the net on the right side found in John chapter 21.

After their breakfast by the lake, Jesus asked Peter thrice, “do you love me?” and each time he would say yes, the Lord would always tell him to feed his sheep.

It was after that third query as Peter assured him of his love that Jesus told him, “Follow me” (Jn. 21:19).

Here we find the essential truth before anyone can follow Jesus, one has to love him first above all like Simon Peter!

It is only in loving Jesus can anyone truly care for his sheep who “belongs” only to Christ and nobody else.

And this is what we should pray for today as World Day of Prayer for Vocations: not only for more men and women to answer the call to priesthood and religious life but most of all, that we in the ministry love Jesus more than our vocation!

When priests and religious love more their vocation, that is when they become thieves, stealing the sheep from Jesus, claiming them to be theirs that lead to so many abuses in the church, in the liturgy, and in the ministry.

Jesus is the gate for the sheep because first of all the flock belongs to him!

And that is only when we can truly realize too why Jesus is the gate for the sheep.

Photo by Lorenzo Atienza, Malolos Cathedral, June 2019.

How to enter Jesus our Gate

Jesus is the gate who leads his sheep to greener pastures because he is “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn.14:6). And his way is no other than the way of the Cross, of being with him in his daily suffering and death so we can be with him in his resurrection!

One of my favorite scenes of the Crucifixion is when Jesus told Dimas – the good thief who stole heaven – “today you shall be with me in Paradise” (Lk.23:43).

From Google.

See my dear reader that Jesus did not tell Dimas that he would be with him in Paradise later when they die or on Easter when he rises from death.

Jesus was very clear in telling him that “today you shall be with me in Paradise”.

The today is the here and now of heaven in Jesus Christ present to us, present with us, present in us.

Jesus never promised Paradise to anyone when he was freely walking around, neither thirsty nor hungry to show us that every time we go through trials and difficulties, sufferings and pains, that is when we enter Paradise in him our Gate.

When a person suffers a long illness, he/she has already started entering Paradise long before his/her death. That is the unique grace of sickness, of suffering with Jesus and suffering in Jesus which St. Peter tells us in the second reading today:

Beloved: If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.

1 Peter 2:20

Yes, we are all into great suffering in this time of the corona virus without any clear sign yet when would this finally end.

This in itself is a clear presence of Jesus among us as our Gate: let us “follow in his footsteps” (1Pt. 2:21) to “save ourselves from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40) where so many shepherds in government even in the church unconsciously claiming theirs are the sheep, leading them to darkness and misery.

May we all first love the Caller, Jesus Christ our Gate and Good Shepherd, than see more our call or vocation in life that deludes us into owning his flock. Amen.

A blessed Sunday to you!

Looking up to heaven, looking down within us for God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Friday, Easter Week-II, 24 April 2020

Acts of the Apostles 5:34-42 ><)))*> + 0 + <*(((>< John 6:1-15

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

Praise and glory to you, O God our loving Father in heaven!

I have been taught since childhood that you dwell up in the sky and that is why like all the others, I always point up to you whenever we refer to your dwelling place, O God.

And I am certain, too, that you are indeed up there that every time we wake up, every time we feel happy or troubled, we always glance upwards like praying to you, calling to you, and looking for you.

Indeed, Gamaliel was absolutely correct when he cautioned his fellow Pharisees in the first reading to remind us too of this certainty:

“Fellow children of Israel, be careful what you are about to do to these men… But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”

Acts 5:35, 39

Give us the gift of discernment of your Holy Will, Father, that we may always know what to do, that we may always decide according to your plan.

As we look up to you in the sky where believe heaven is, the more we also look down inside ourselves and everyone to find you among us in your Son Jesus Christ.

Yes, loving Father, you have sent us Jesus so that as we look up to you in the heavens, the more we shall search and probe our hearts, our lives, our situations, and our brothers and sisters to find you dwelling among us in Christ like there in the wilderness when he fed more than 5000 people.

Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowds was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them?” He said this to test him because he himself knew what he was going to do.

John 6:1-6

What a lovely scene repeated to us daily, especially in this time of the quarantine!

Jesus raising his eyes, seeing a large crowd hungry, sick, afraid… and then talking to us where to find bread in order to test us — because he always knows what he is going to do….

If we could all be like that little boy who looked into himself, into what he had, no matter how little they may be like the five barley loaves of bread and two pieces of fish….

O Lord, keep us looking for you first within us, into whatever we have, and unto others so we may let you do your work in us to feed and heal the people locked in this quarantine.

Give us the grace, Lord, to always search and find you and follow you not only up in the heavens most especially down deep in our hearts, in the face of the people we meet, in our situation in this time of the corona virus.

It is in finding you in our hearts, on the face of one another, and in the situation we are into when we truly dwell in your house, O Lord. Amen.

Sunrise at the Sea of Galilee, Israel. Photo by author, May 2017.

“You’ll Never Get to Heaven” by Dionne Warwick (1964)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music, 25 August 2019
Jungfrau Peak, the Swiss Alps. Photo by Fr. Gerry Pascual (Diocese of Iba, Zambales), August 2019.

Our Sunday music today is still about heaven as Jesus Christ concludes his four-week series of “shock preaching” about being ready for the end or death. From The Smiths’ groundbreaking alternative rock “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, we offer you this Sunday Dionne Warwick’s classic soul and pop “You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart)”.

Composed by Burt Bacharach with lyrics by Hal David, the song was released in 1964 as the second single from Warwick’s third studio album. It was an international hit that has also been covered by many artists since then.

Its melody and beat are very light, even divine that are very uplifting especially on this rainy day. Most of all, its lyrics are simply honest and true: getting into heaven is trying our very best not to break anyone’s heart especially our loved ones’!

Mother told me always to follow the golden rule
And she said it’s really a sin to be mean and cruel
So, remember, if you’re untrue
Angels up in heaven are looking at you
You’ll never get to heaven if you break my heart
So be very careful not to make us part
You won’t get to heaven if you break my heart

“You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart)” is a feel good music by Warwick who has accompanied our generation for over 50 years reminding us about the more essential things in life like friends, love, relationships, and God. Unlike the Lord’s “shock preaching” wrapped in mystery, the song is straightforward that can instantly soothe our souls whenever we feel so down especially when the people we love are the ones who hurt us.

It can be very disappointing but amazingly, it is during those dark moments of our lives when Jesus comes to strengthen us and inspire us to keep on loving despite our imperfections.

I’ve been hearin’ rumors about how you play around.
Though I don’t believe what I hear, still it gets me down.
If you ever should say good-bye
I’d feel so awful, the angels would cry.

A blessed Sunday to everyone!

Disappointments- and Surprises -await us in Heaven

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe Week XXI-C, 25 August 2019

Isaiah 66:18-21 ><)))*> Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13 ><)))*> Luke 13:22-30

The small door leading to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, symbolic of the need to be lowly, to bow to meet our Lord Jesus Christ who became human like us to save us. Photo by author, May 2019.

The Lord concludes his series of “shock preaching” today with a big bang by dousing us with a big disappointment…

Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.'”

Luke 13:23-25

It is very disappointing that after joining Jesus as he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem these past four Sundays in taking into our hearts his many earth-shaking lessons about the “end” only to find out that we could end up being locked out of the door to heaven. More shocking than the lessons last week is the disturbing revelation today that we have to be strong enough to enter through the narrow gate to eternal life.

How strong? We really do not know. But, we have learned from the Old Testament of the need to patiently obey and faithfully keep the commandments of God while the gospels remind us clearly to deny ourselves and carry our crosses even up to the point of dying with Christ.

Very difficult, huh…? And here’s more! Striving hard to enter the “banquet hall of heaven” is keeping in mind the important lessons we have heard these past three Sundays: life does not consist of possessions but of what matters to God (Lk.12:15,21; Aug. 04); that we must always gird our loins to be ready for death that comes like a thief at night (Lk.12:35,39; Aug.11); and, most of all, we have to go through our own passion and death like Jesus to be filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit to bring the peace of Christ into world (Lk.12:49-51; Aug. 18).

It is useless to count how many would be saved for there is enough room for us all in heaven. Through the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading, God wants us all to be with him in heaven despite his knowledge of our sins by sending us his Son Jesus Christ!

Thus says the Lord: I know their works and their thoughts, and I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.

Isaiah 66:18
The small door to the Church of the Nativity from the inside.

See again in our gospel today an apparent contradiction in the teachings of our Lord like last Sunday with his bringing of fire and division among us. When Jesus refused to give that man a definitive answer to his question “if only a few people would be saved”, the Lord in fact revealed something deeper than the initial disappointment we have felt about the gate of heaven being narrow that would be closed when the time comes. Again, he mentions the Eucharist, our Sunday Mass as the wonderful opportunity to be strengthened in order to get inside the heavenly banquet.

“And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Luke 13:29-30

It is during the Sunday Mass when the Lord gathers us all together after a very difficult and disappointing week to refresh us, to strengthen us for another week of hurdling more problems, more trials in life. This is why before receiving him, we say, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” The Father gave us his Son Jesus Christ so we may have that strength needed to enter the narrow gate to heaven by doing more loving service to others, being kind and forgiving, being honest and generous. Yes, these are easier said than done but doable in Christ.

What is so surprising in our many experiences are the many times when in our many disappointments Jesus comes to guide us to new doors, new routes and new openings that mysteriously lead to new life for us!

Grotto of our Lady of Lourdes, Baguio City, January 2019.

Brothers and sisters: You have forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children: “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.” Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?

Hebrews 12:5-7

That is the mystery of God’s universal plan of salvation for us: the path may be filled with so many hardships and obstacles, the gate may be so narrow and difficult to pass through but he has made it possible for us to make it through by sending us Jesus Christ our Lord in leading this way to the heavenly Jerusalem. Authentic faith always involves pains and sufferings. When we embrace death like Jesus Christ, we also ensure life.

In every setback in life, we only have two choices always: either to be better or bitter. Choose to be better and that can only be through the narrow door of Jesus Christ by letting go of our anger and hatred, resentment and bitterness to give way to joy and peace, love and forgiveness. That is when God begins to surprise us!

Tam-Awan, Baguio, January 2019.

The author of Amazing Grace, John Newton was once challenged by a man after he had delivered a homily about heaven. Remember that Newton, as he claimed in Amazing Grace, was a “wretch” being a former slave trader after being a slave himself.

Newton was asked by a man to give something that would surprise him when he gets to heaven.

The former wretch replied that there would be three great wonders in heaven: first, he would see many people he never expected to be there; second, he would not find many church-goers he expected to see there; and third – which is the biggest surprise of all – is to find himself there in heaven when he knows very well his sinfulness.

Yes, my dear brothers and sisters, we are all sinners, now feeling disappointed with so many things in life. Just strive to be good and better persons as we celebrate every Sunday the Lord’s Supper and he will do the rest. And be ready to be surprised even before going to heaven! Amen.

Shock preaching the plain truth

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul, Wk. XVIII-C, 04 August 2019
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23 >< }}}*> Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11 >< }}}*> Luke 12:13-21
Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery

Outside Jerusalem is the Mount of Olives Jewish Cemetery. It is one of the world’s oldest, existing for over 3000 years. It is also one of the most expensive cemetery in the world for having the choicest spot to be buried in the planet as it faces the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem where the bible tells us the Messiah would be coming through. Hence, all tombs at the Mount of Olives Cemetery point to that direction so that all those buried there would be the first to rise again to life and welcome the Messiah when he comes.

Of course, we Christians believe Jesus is the Messiah or the Christ who in fact came through that Eastern Gate on Palm Sunday when he entered Jerusalem over 2000 years ago to offer his life for our salvation on Good Friday, resurrecting on Easter Sunday!

And while the Jews await the Messiah and we Christians affirm he has come in Jesus, our Moslem brothers and sisters sealed the Eastern Gate during the Middle Ages that since then, no one could pass through it except literally face a blank wall.

I love telling this amusing story to fellow pilgrims to the Holy Land but find it today as a beautiful springboard for reflection to balance our Sunday gospel that sounds like a “shock preaching” by Jesus Christ.

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” He replied to him, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” Then he told them a parable… “Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

Luke 12:13-16, 21

Beginning this Sunday until the next three weeks, we’ll hear Jesus Christ “shock preaching” us the plain truth we always forget or even disregard: that we all die and what really matters most in life are the good deeds we have done. All our cherished possessions, everything we have labored so hard in this life we shall leave behind when we die because as the Lord had said, “life does not consist of possessions”.

We have known this all along but we rarely realize its full impact until we come face to face with death due to an illness, retirement, or situations when we existentially feel we are mortals after all, contrary to what we have felt and held when we were younger.

So, why wait until it is too late? Start considering now in everything of what will remain after our death.

And if you find this shocking, see also how Jesus coldly refused the man’s plea for his intervention to have his share of inheritance that is rightly his: “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?” What had happened to his teachings last week about prayer, of God giving what is best for us like our sinful parents?

Here we find the value of Christ’s shock preaching: his response was not only directed to the man but to us all who always pray to him, asking him for so many things when we forget the more essential, God. As we have reflected last Sunday, we pray to have God because when we have him, we have everything! Jesus is redirecting our attention and focus on things that last even after our death, on “being rich in what matters to God.”

After my father had retired, he was diagnosed with glaucoma. While driving for him on our way home from the hospital, he told me how he had realized that God is not really so concerned about our temporal affairs like wealth. He claimed that everything he had prayed for was granted by God except only that one thing of being rich.

I totally agree with my Dad and that is why I do not pray for any material thing for myself since 1995 while a seminarian until now that I am a priest for 21 years. I do pray for the material well-being of my family, relatives and friends because when they are financially stable, I know they would take care of me and of my needs just like last week when a relative gave me a brand new laptop (a Mac, in fact). I do not pray for things because I am so convinced that whatever I need, God will give me. The only thing I pray for myself is that when I die, God brings me to heaven.

When we try to pray deeper, we also realize that in whatever problem we find ourselves confronted with especially with those pertaining to material things like money, cars, house, and gadgets, Jesus always responds in the same manner he did with that man who requested him on his way to Jerusalem. That is because Jesus came not to be a judge and arbitrator of our inheritance and assets. Jesus came for the salvation of our souls, for the fulfillment of our lives that can never be achieved with money and wealth or power and fame.

Jesus came for us, for you and me. Personally. He wants us to focus more on “what matters to God” like love and mercy, kindness and generosity with others which he lavishly gives us. When we are rich with these gifts that matter to God, we also find ourselves desiring less material things, being more fair and just in our dealing with others. No stealing, no cheating, no character assassination. When we have more of spiritual goods, we have more joy within, more peace and contentment. But when we have more of material goods, we feel more uneasy and most prone to sin.

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities. All things are vanity! For what profit comes to a man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief is his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest. This is also vanity.

Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:22-23
Women pose for photos near a homeless man during the New York Fashion Week , October 2012. Photo by Reuters via The Economist Magazine.

Qoheleth is no “killjoy” but merely telling us that everything on earth vanishes like thin air. Only God lasts for all eternity. And that is also the whole point of St. Paul in the second reading.

Brothers and sisters: If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:1-3

Sometimes in life, we need to be shocked and shaken of the simple facts we take for granted like our relationships with God and with others. Here we find that fear can sometimes be good. In fact, it was our fear of death that led mankind to many medical and scientific breakthroughs in history that have made life today better and safer, and yes, easier. It was also this fear of death that had enabled man to discover new lands to inhabit and is now pushing us to explore the universe.

But most of all, this fear of death can also be holy and blessed too because when we become conscious of our own end in life, that is when we start living authentically in the hope of eternal life in God. A blessed Sunday to you! Amen.