God wants us all to win in life; do not be the biggest loser

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Thirty-Third Week of Ordinary Time, Year II, 16 November 2022
Revelation 4:1-11   ><))))*> + ><))))*> + ><))))*>   Luke 19:11-28
Photo by author in Dau, Mabalacat, Pampanga, 24 October 2022.
Your words today, Lord Jesus Christ,  
are difficult to comprehend and imagine 
but John's descriptions of his vision of heaven
make us appreciate and realize
God's great love for us
and his desire for us to be
with him in eternity
enjoying this great mystery of his divinity.

After this I had a vision of an open door to heaven, and I heard the trumpetlike voice that had spoken to me before, saying, “Come up here and I will show you what must happen afterwards.” At once I was caught up in spirit. A throne was there in heaven…

Revelation 4:1-2
St. Paul had told us too 
"that the suffering of this present time are
as nothing compared with the glory to be
revealed for us" (Rom.8:18) as you have
shown John in this vision;
teach us to be more firm in our
faith in you, 
fervent in our hope in you,
and unceasing in our love for you
through others so that when the time comes,
we may also see and experience
what you have shown John.
Open our eyes and our minds,
especially our hearts and souls
to your reality, 
to your presence, dear Jesus,
that we believe in you
and hold on your promises of
returning unlike those people who 
refused to recognize their king
and became the biggest losers
of all in your parable.
To lose you, O Lord Jesus,
is life's most biggest lost.
Amen.

The real big deal & call to be real

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 06 November 2022
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14 ><]]]]'> 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5 ><]]]]'> Luke 20:27-38

We are now in the penultimate month of the year and the last two Sundays before the Solemnity of Christ the King when we close our current liturgical calendar to usher in Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas.

That is why every year on these two consecutive Sundays before Christ the King, the Church rightly orients us through the readings into our ultimate end in heaven – the real big deal in life calling us all to get real because it is the eternity.

But, do we really care at all? Or, are we just like the Sadducees in the time of Jesus Christ who are so concerned with the realities of this passing world than with that of eternal life?

We may not be exactly like the Sadducees who totally rejected the resurrection as well as the existence of angels and spirits but like them, we also fall into the trap of believing that the concerns of this world are ends in themselves that we spend so much time and energies pursuing wealth and fame that in the process we destroy our selves, our loved ones and relationships.

Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward. Jesus said to them, “The children of this stage marry and remarry, but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise. The dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob’; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

Luke 20:27, 34-38

Jesus had entered Jerusalem and it is very interesting that this conversation about the resurrection of the dead and heaven happened there where he himself would suffer and die and rise again on the third day. Both Matthew and Mark recorded this conversation of Jesus with the Sadducees but for Luke, this is the only time Jesus met them face-to-face before his arrest.

According to Luke, the Sadducees were the most responsible for the death of Jesus because from their ranks came the high priests like Caiaphas. The Sadducees were the ones who also persecuted the Apostles after the Ascension of Jesus, ordering the arrests of Peter and John. Most of all, the Sadducees were also enemies with Pharisees whom they also opposed and persecuted. They were the fundamentalists of Judaism who only accepted the first five books or Pentateuch collectively known as the Torah (the Laws) as the only inspired books by God. For them, all revelations from God stopped with Moses; hence, their rejection of resurrection and of anything of spirits.

In this scene, we find Jesus just chillin’ with the Sadducees; he was not even debating with them because he was not bothered at all with their analogy about marriage and afterlife. See how Jesus was not even trying to prove anything but simply asking, inviting them including us today to focus on him as the one revealed by the Scriptures and the Laws whom Moses called as “the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob” because “Amen, Amen I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM” (Jn.8:58).

Right there in the heart of Jerusalem at the temple area, Jesus was already revealing to everyone his being the Christ, that if all were not “alive for him, with him, through him and in him” – that is, if he were not resurrected – then he would not only be a God of the dead but a dead God! Then everything would be a mockery, a fake as St. Paul would always say in his letters. And if that were the case, then, we forget all about morality and virtues and we just keep on pursuing money and wealth, fame and glory, food and pleasures for nothing will come after this life.

But, deep inside us we know that is not true at all.

Deep inside us springs an eternal hope of something and someone more lasting than this life, God. It is what we experience so often in life especially when we are going through severe tests and trials like getting sick or losing a loved one. Many times, we feel this too when we are going through emptiness, when we feel after having everything, there is that great “something” that we are missing like Bono and U2 singing “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.

And that is God. Jesus Christ. Eternal life.

The only real deal in this world, in this life. It is a grace embedded in each of us by God that enables us to face and choose death eventually like the seven brothers in the first reading: When he was near death, he said, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him” (2 Mc.9:14).

This is what we confess and proclaim every Sunday and in every Mass we celebrate, the mystery of our faith. It is something so difficult to explain or express because it is too deep for words.

Last September my youngest sister Bing was diagnosed with cancer. It was only then when I realized the gravity and seriousness of the big “C”. It was like hearing the cocking of a gun which I have experienced covering the December coup of 1989: everything stops in eery silence, awaiting sure death.

When she told me about it one night while studying, I just felt nothing, could not even think well, doubting if I really knew how to pray. I just imagined myself like a “worm” curling before God in prayers, not saying much, just making him know what was deeply in my heart.

Bing underwent surgery last month to remove her cancer and three weeks ago came the results of her lab tests: it is cancer stage 2 that did not require chemotherapy nor radiation except close monitoring. Of course, we all rejoiced for the good news which we also knew could be temporary as we are still awaiting the results of another test to gauge her cancer’s severity.

Maybe because I was also scared that I did not talk to her much as I also wanted her to have more time and space for herself. And God. It was only two days after she had texted me her diagnosis of stage 2 cancer when I asked her how was she, really? That’s when I felt God so close to me when she replied, “Kuya, I am thankful to God; I did not ask him for anything except the grace to accept my sickness. So glad it was detected very early.” Hallelujah!

Faith in the resurrection is not just belief in the afterlife like reincarnation of which many Christians follow as real and true. Ancient peoples believed in the afterlife but not necessarily with resurrection that is why they always have to contend with the issues of the relationships among the living and those who have died. From there came their ideas of karma as well as those offerings being made to the dead to beg their favors or appease them to ward off their destructive powers.

Faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ, faith in his Resurrection is a revelation we experience deep inside us in the most personal manner that does not require us with so much thinking and reflections just to convince unbelievers. It comes from an encounter with the living God our Father in Jesus Christ “who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace” (2Thess.2:16). Like my sister Bing simply telling me her prayers, of how thankful she is for the results of her surgery.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI beautifully wrote in 2007 in Spe Salvi #27 that “anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life (cf. Eph. 2;12). Man’s great, true hope which holds him firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God – God who has loved us and who continues to love us ‘to the end,’ until all ‘is accomplished’ (cf. Jn.13:1 and 19:30).”

People who truly believe in the resurrection in Christ are men and women who live for God here and now, people who witness Christ on the Cross in daily living of loving service and kindness to everyone, living in the presence of God striving to do his Holy Will even if it may be difficult and painful sometimes because our true home is in heaven with him. That is the grace of this Sunday assuring us of our own resurrection in the end, of our union with God in eternity that begins NOW, right HERE in this life. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Photo credits:
Topmost photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, in Portugal, October 2022;
Second (Ascension Chapel of Jesus) and third (wall of Jerusalem) by the author, May 2019;
Fourth by Ms. Meg Lalog-Bringas, 03 November 2022.

Heaven our Promised Land

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Solemnity of All Saints, 01 November 2022
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14 ><}}}}*> 1 John 3:1-3 ><}}}}*> Matthew 5:1-12
Glory and praise to you,
O God our loving Father 
in fulfilling your Promised Land
to us all in Jesus Christ
in heaven!

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.

Matthew 5:5
Thank you for the gift
of All Saints Day as we remember
and emulate those who have gone
ahead us into heaven,
the real Promised Land you
had promised since the beginning;
more than a piece of land nor a country
nor a continent nor a place in this planet,
your Promised Land dear God is heaven -
a sacred space within us where YOU and I,
Father, commune, live together as one in
Jesus Christ.
Heaven is the paradise Jesus
promised the thief on the Cross;
Heaven is when we live in communion
in Jesus Christ not only after we have died
but while we are still here on earth,
when we are meek and humble 
bearing in you and with you
the pains and sufferings
of lovingly serving others,
of working for peace, 
of hoping in eternity.
Inheriting the land, dear Jesus,
means orienting our goals into
striving to let your reign of peace
be a reality despite all the troubles
we have here on earth; after all,
history has shown us how the violent 
and powerful conquerors have come
and go when it is always the humble
and lowly who remain and last longer
just like the Saints now in heaven.
Enable us dear Jesus 
to alway listen and pray,
most of all abide in your words
like the Saints who have truly
lived out the Scriptures that they
have inherited heaven; like all the
Saints now in heaven, may we put
into practice the words of the Sacred
Scriptures no matter how we may 
sound and look foolish like with the experiences
of St. Paul, St. Francis, and St. John Paul II;
the Saints are the best examples 
of being meek to inherit the land
because in living out the Sacred Scriptures,
they have opened so many possibilities 
of good things in life in the future,
not only in heaven but here on earth
as testified by their many works
and teachings still continuing to this day.
As we slowly return
to normal these days, Jesus,
may we humbly return to you
in our Sunday Masses when
you as Prince of Peace reigns
supreme in your words proclaimed, 
in your offering of your Body and Blood,
when we also create a sacred space 
for you in our hearts so that every Eucharistic
celebration becomes a dress
rehearsal of our entry into heaven.
Amen.

*Photo credits: from en.wikipedia.org painting by Fra Angelico called “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs”.

When you say nothing at all

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 25 September 2022
Amos 6:1, 4-7 ><000'> 1 Timothy 6:11-16 ><000'> Luke 16:19-31
Photo by author, Pangasinan, 19 April 2022.
It's amazing how you can speak right to my heart
Without saying a word you can light up the dark
Try as I may I could never explain what I hear when you don't say a thing

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me
There's a truth in your eyes saying you'll never leave me
The touch of your hand says you'll catch me if ever I fall
You say it best when you say nothing at all

Yes, my dear friends, I am so in love these days; the Lord is doing a lot of things in my heart and soul in my ministry that songs automatically play within me like a jukebox every time I pray and meditate. The other day was Five for Fighting’s 100 Years; this Sunday it is When You Say Nothing At All by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz first recorded by Keith Whitley in 1988 but became popular with Alison Krauss in 1995 that finally became a worldwide hit with Roan Keating’s version used as soundtrack of the 1999 Julia Robert-starrer Notting Hill.

The lyrics are so lovely, so true while the melody is so cool that is so uplifting and even spiritual as the song tells us a lot of the love of God for us expressed in his Son Jesus Christ who does everything, saying nothing at all, just loving us, understanding us, forgiving us. Most of the time, with us saying nothing at all too because he knows everything.

The more I listen to this song, the more I feel it speaking also of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, of how we truly regard each other as a person, as a brother and sister, as disciples of Jesus when we say nothing at all, when our actions speak loudly or, silently of our love for each other.

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.”

Luke 16:19-21
Photo from bloomberg.com of a homeless man in New York City during a fashion week in summer 2019.

Rich Man, Poor Man

Today’s parable is uniquely found only in Luke’s gospel like last Sunday that stresses Christ’s lesson on the wise use of money in the service of God through one another; but, the parable adds an important dimension in how this wise use of money will have a bearing in our judgment before God upon death. Hence, the gravity of the message expressed in great simplicity with beautiful layers of meaning.

First of all, the rich man has no name while the beggar was named Lazarus that means “God has rescued” or El ‘azar in Hebrew. The scene is still from the previous Sundays when the Pharisees and scribes complained why Jesus welcomed tax collectors and sinners. Jesus took it as an occasion to teach through parables the value of everyone before God, including the lost, the sick, the poor, and the sinful. They are the Lazarus who are given with a name because they are special in the eyes of God who rescues them all.


Then follows the juxtaposition of Lazarus
 lying at the door of the rich man's home
 - a very powerful image that punches us hard
 right in our face, of how numb we have become
 with each other!  

On the other hand, the rich man had no name not because he was less important but because he stands for each one of us blessed and loved by God. Notice that Jesus did not say whether the rich man and Lazarus were good or bad because their character would be revealed later as the parable unfolds.

See how Jesus presented the outer appearances of the two: the rich man was dressed in colorful and fine clothes, eating sumptuous food while Lazarus was somewhat naked, covered with sores in his whole body that dogs would lick as he filled himself with scraps falling from the rich man’s table.

Then follows the juxtaposition of Lazarus lying at the door of the rich man’s home – a very powerful image that punches us hard right in our face, of how numb we have become with each other!

Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News, stranded local residents at the airport, June 2020.

Here we find a valuable lesson from this pandemic courtesy of the face mask that finally opened our eyes, including our minds and hearts to look again onto each one’s face, to recognize each person. Before the virus came, we just did not care with everyone we met as we were so cold that we would not even look at each others face, snubbing even those close to us.

There are still other Lazarus around us, living among us, not begging at all from us like this one in the parable who would not say anything at all but silently suffer in pain, hungry and thirsty for recognition and love like parents forgotten and neglected by their grownup children, wives cheated by their spouse, children left alone and misunderstood by their parents, our classmates and colleagues so maligned in the nasty talks going around us and in the social media, the poor and lowly workers exploited by their employers, or just anyone often criticized and judged but never appreciated.

Try thinking of the other Lazarus around us we never bothered to talk to nor even smiled at because we have been preoccupied with our many other worldly pursuits in life. Let us examine ourselves while amid the comforts and luxuries of life may have rightly earned with decent hard work that but may have caused us to have forgotten the “feel” of being human, of being sick and weak that we have forgotten or been totally unaware of those around us.

Death and the urgent call to conversion

See how the parable gets interesting when both characters died and a reversal of situation in the afterlife occurred. The rich man was buried, immediately going down to hell to suffer while Lazarus was carried – not buried – by angels to Abraham in heaven to be comforted. In the two conversations that followed between the rich man and Abraham, we find at the core the primary importance of daily conversion of everyone.

When Abraham told the rich man of the great chasm dividing them that Lazarus could do nothing to alleviate his torment, Jesus is warning us of the exact situation when we die which is eternity, without end. Therefore, while we are still alive, let us be aware and conscious of others too, not just of ourselves. That is essentially conversion, defocusing from our selves to see those around us more.

Remember how the dishonest steward in the parable last week who made friends with the debtors of his master to ensure his good fate after being fired? That finds its application in this Sunday’s parable wherein the rich man should have been like that dishonest steward in befriending Lazarus so he could have made it too in heaven! That is why I love so much that part of the parable of the juxtaposition of Lazarus at the gate of the rich man.

How did the rich man miss and did not see Lazarus right there at his face, hungry and with sores?

From Facebook, 2020.

Let us not be “complacent” as the Prophet Amos warned in the first reading of not being aware of the excesses and sacrilege going on during that time (Am.6:1). It could be happening right now with us when we choose to be silent and uninvolved, even blind and deaf to the suffering people around us because we are like the fool rich man who grew rich for himself instead of “growing rich in what matters to God” (Lk.12:13-21, August 1, 18th Sunday)!

In the second conversation with Abraham by the rich man, we find the pressing need for conversion more urgent, of heeding the calls of the scriptures, of the prophets and of Jesus Christ himself we hear in the gospel proclaimed daily. See also how the rich man had not really changed amid his torments, requesting that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers living the same way he had lived in order to avoid hell. Imagine while in the afterlife, the rich man was still thinking of those he had left behind on earth!

So ridiculous was his request and yet, we too must be careful because so often, we have such illusion that a clear and irrefutable sign from heaven like what the Pharisees and scribes insisted from Jesus could lead everyone to conversion. It is an illusion because as Jesus had been telling since then, we need to have faith first to see and acknowledge him for us to be converted. It is the same faith that we need to heed St. Paul’s call in the second reading to “Lay hold of eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:12). It is faith that is vibrant and so alive that enables us to recognize our true wealth is God found among one another with us.

When we have faith, whether we are rich or poor, we always see everyone as a brother and sister in Christ. When we have faith, whether we are rich or poor, we are able to love truly because we also believe. And that is when we do not say anything at all because we just keep on doing what is good to everyone, especially the Lazarus among us.

This Sunday, Jesus reminds us of God’s immense love for each one of us, a love we have to share with everyone especially if we have so much unlike others.

Let us reflect our lives these past days and weeks when we felt like Lazarus unrecognized at all, even forgotten amid our being right in the middle of life and everyone. It must be painful and sad. Jesus knows it so well; hold on to him our Savior who is always doing something for us always, especially when he says nothing at all. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead! God bless you more!

Photo from inquirer.net, Ms. Patricia Non of the Maginhawa Community Pantry, 2021.

Finding our proper place

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 28 August 2022
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29 ><}}}*> Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24 ><}}}*> Luke 14:1, 7-14
Photo by author, Ubihan Island, Meycauayan City, 31 December 2021.

Sometimes I feel life in the Philippines is a daily game of musical chair with each of us trying to secure our favorite seats in the bus or jeepney or train, in the classroom, in the church, in the restaurant. Everywhere.

And the favorite seats are always the ones at the back of the room most especially in churches and those nearest the door like in buses and jeepneys.

Most funny of all is when you find our kababayan in airports here and abroad rushing to board the plane as if they would not find a seat already paid for!

All because we put too much premium on our seats that mean power and control, even prestige although no one among us would admit it. In fact, our usual excuse of being seated at the back is due to shyness which is not true at all! More truthful is the fact that too often, we choose our seats for personal convenience that seats are everything for us.

But, unknown to many of us, what truly matters most in life, in being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not where we sit but where we stand which is the gist of our gospel this Sunday.

On a Sabbath, Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.

Luke 14:1,7
Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images, Baclaran Church, 09 February 2020.

See how Luke had briefly compressed in his opening lines for this Sunday’s gospel the gravity of Christ’s teachings today about discipleship. Setting was the most important day of the week for the Jews, the Sabbath, celebrated right in the house of a leading Pharisee.

Wow! It must had been a big party with all the “who’s who” that everybody was trying to get a piece of the action with all eyes on Jesus being observed carefully.

But, why?

To impress him? To be closer to him? To test him as most often would happen with him when in a gathering of people?

I find the scene overloaded with meanings that concern us when unconsciously we also “closely observe Jesus” whenever we would pray and celebrate the Sunday Mass in our parishes. There are times we forget God in our prayers as we are so preoccupied with our very selves, so focused and even insistent on what we believe and hold on to whatever we are asking from him. The “me, me, me” and “I, I, I” attitudes of being right, of being good, of being deserving and of course, entitled. Hence, the confiteor and kyrie are merely recited just for the sake of saying we are sorry for our sins even if we do not really mean them because so often, many are either late or do not examine their consciences.

Photo by author, Parish of San Pedro Calungsod, Sumulong Highway, Antipolo City, 12 August 2022.

Luke seems to be having some shades of humor when he noted how the “people carefully observed Jesus” at the dinner without them realizing the Lord himself had already and easily unmasked their pretensions and true characters of choosing the places of honor at the dinner that he had to tell them a parable about choosing the lowest seat!

When we come to the Lord most especially at prayer and the Mass, or even to a party and dinner for that matter, our main attitude must be of humility; to be invited to any party is an indication of our special relationship with the host. Multiply this to the highest degree in coming to the Holy Mass and simple prayer because it is God who gives us the grace to come to him, who values so much our relationship as Father and beloved children.

That is the point of Ben Sirach in the first reading, tenderly addressing the reader “My child, conduct your affairs with humility” (Sir.3:17), indicative of a relationship.

Every Sunday Mass is a banquet of the Lord like that Sabbath dinner Jesus attended in the gospel. No need to choose our places of honor because we are already honored by Jesus to celebrate “in him, with him and through him”. It is the very reason why we must celebrate Mass every Sunday as good, practicing Catholics.

Photo by author, Parish of San Pedro Calungsod, Sumulong Highway, Antipolo City, 12 August 2022.

Prayer and Mass are moments we strip ourselves naked before God who welcomes us to come near him even before we say sorry for our sins, even if we are not worthy of being in his presence at all. Recall the story of the calling of Nathanael or St. Bartholomew the Apostle last Wednesday; like him, Jesus had already seen and known us with joy long before we have approached him!

Every prayer moment, every Eucharistic celebration like a banquet on a Sabbath Jesus attended in the gospel today is an occasion for us to be truthful and sincere, to be our true selves, to be humble. St. Teresa of Avila said that “humility is walking in truth.” Just be yourself before God.

That is why Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk.14:11). In the end, when we die, we shall all be placed in our proper places before God; hence, the need for us to be humble and sincere with who we really are. Do not try to be somebody else not you because God knows everything, even the hair on our heads.

Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends, or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Luke 14:12-14
Photo by author, Parish of San Pedro Calungsod, Sumulong Highway, Antipolo City, 12 August 2022.

The first parable was addressed by Jesus to the guests while this second parable was meant for the host; however, both parables are meant for us all who are all guests of God in this big banquet called life that leads to eternity.

First of all, just be our true and best selves in prayers and in life for we are all honored in Jesus Christ as God’s beloved children.

And if we live and act like Jesus our Host making him the most important guest in our hearts, then our hearts become big enough to welcome everyone, especially “the crippled, the lame, the blind”, making us inclusive like Jesus himself and not exclusive as our seating arrangements would often reveal.

The right attitude in being a guest and a host in this life is to imitate God in the responsorial psalm “who made a home for the poor”, of being like Jesus welcoming everyone with love and kindness, mercy and forgiveness, care and understanding.

Again, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews beautifully reminds us today in the second reading that the ultimate goal of our Christian life is communion with God that starts here in this life on earth. Every Mass is a “dress rehearsal” of our entrance into heaven because

Brothers and sisters: You have not approached that which cold be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy and darkness… No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem… and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven… and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.

Hebrews 12:18, 22, 23, 24
Photo by author, Makati skyline from Antipolo City, 13 August 2022.

My dear fellow journeyers in Christ, the blessedness of this Sunday shows us how fast time flies, that in a few days, it would be September, the beginning of the -ber months, the approaching Christ the King celebration to close our liturgical calendar.

Before thinking of Advent and Christmas, we are reminded today of “Jesus resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk.9:51, 13th Sunday, June 26, 2022) to face his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Along the way are invitations to join him too in banquets; let us not seek the seats of honor but instead be firm in making our stand for Jesus on the Cross by being loving and merciful like him. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead!

The Cross, our door to heaven

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, 10 April 2022
Isaiah 50:4-7  +++  Philippians 2:6-11  +++  Luke 23:1-49
Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, ICS Chapel, 2016; sculpture by National Artist Ed Castrillo.

Officially we begin today the Holy Week leading to the Triduum of the Lord with Easter, the Mother of all feasts in the Church. Today we enter the “innermost room” of the house of God our Father after our 40 day journey in Lent.

We are actually celebrating today two distinct rites merged into one, the procession and blessing of palms to commemorate Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem that led to his arrest and crucifixion on Good Friday which we heard in the gospel proclaimed earlier. As early in the fourth century, Christians in Jerusalem have been commemorating the Lord’s entry to Jerusalem from the city gate while a hundred years later, the Pope ushered in the Holy Week in Rome by proclaiming the long gospel we have heard of the Lord’s crucifixion and death. With the reforms of the liturgy in 1963 at Vatican II, these two celebrations were merged as one with the designation as “Palm Sunday in the Passion of the Lord”.

More than a going back to the past, our celebration today reminds us of the ever-newness of Christ’s saving work and love for us while at the same time assuring us of the future that would bring us into the fullness of life in him with the Father in heaven. This we find in the last three words recorded to us by Luke while Jesus was on the Cross.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

The mercy and forgiveness of God

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:34

Very consistent with his theme of the mercy and forgiveness of God to us as shown the other Sunday in the parable of the merciful father, a.k.a. the parable of the prodigal son, Luke presents to us again this most wondrous and touching trait of God in Christ even while crucified.

Again, only Luke has this detail of Jesus praying forgiveness for his enemies while being reviled and mocked by them on the cross.

It is another example of Luke’s artistry in presenting to us God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ in a sort of play of words, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” as we confront our selves with the question, “what do we really know?”

What do we really know at all that we continue to crucify Jesus today, nailing him on the cross with our many sins as we pretend and assume to know so many things in life?

Until now, we still have wars raging in various parts of the world, and more than half of these conflicts according to studies are ironically due to our different religious beliefs! Until now debates continue as everyone would want to have the power to decide for themselves who shall live and who shall die, from abortions to artificial contraceptives to capital punishment. Until now we pretend to know the truth and yet the more we have shown our ignorance as our problems become more complex than ever leading to more deaths, more disillusions, more anxieties and more emptiness in life.

And right there on the cross, Jesus continues to pray to the Father to forgive us for we do not know what we are doing to pave the way for the conversion of more others like Paul who realized he “acted out of ignorance in my unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13). In his other book the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us how Peter said in a speech to the people how they “acted out of ignorance in putting Jesus to death” (3:17). Here we find Luke driving at the basic truth how so often it is in our sinfulness and “ignorance” that eventually we come to “know” and realize God who is always ready with his unfailing mercy and forgiveness. The key is to emulate Dimas, the good thief crucified at the other side of Jesus on that Good Friday.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

The promise of Paradise

He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:43

Imagine the evil that men do portrayed by Luke in Christ’s crucifixion, of the relentless insults and mockery by the people on the ground and even up there on the cross when one of those hanging reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us”(Lk.23:39).

See how we are not contented and satisfied in putting others to shame but would even bury them deeply with insults as we say in Filipino, “baon na baon”. But, all is not lost as there is always a glimmer of hope. especially among the sinners and the ignorant who open themselves to god’s grace like Dimas who rebuked his fellow criminal, reminding him how they deserved the punishment but not Jesus “who has done nothing criminal” (Lk.23:41). It was at that instance when he snatched heaven by telling the Lord, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk.23:42).

And we all know the response of Jesus, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

What a great God do we really have in Jesus Christ! Despite the pains and sufferings of being nailed on the cross, he not only begged the Father for our forgiveness because we do not know what we are doing but most of all, readily handed our salvation, promising Paradise to anyone who would humbly surrender one’s self to him like Dimas.

See that Jesus was very precise in assuring Dimas and us with Paradise – right at the very moment we are in him, with him on the Cross of pain and suffering, of truth and righteousness – not later when they die nor on Sunday when he rises from the dead but TODAY, right now!

The very moment we open ourselves to accept Jesus Christ our Savior, that is also precisely the very moment he is very present in us and among us. The other moment Luke used the word TODAY to indicate the very moment of here and now was at the birth of Jesus when the angels told the shepherds “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Lk.2:11).

What a beautiful reminder to us all of God present among us in every here and now, not yesterday nor tomorrow, but today for indeed our God is “I AM WHO AM”!

Anyone who is always one in Jesus, one with Jesus is assured of Paradise, in fact already entering Paradise, our end and ultimate destination in life. This leads us to the third important words of Jesus on the Cross according to Luke…

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

Coming home to the Father

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last.

Luke 23:46

All four evangelists attest in their respective gospel account that Jesus died on the cross at the ninth hour or about 3:00 PM. Most of all, they tell us that Jesus died while praying.

In Luke’s account, Jesus’ final prayer was from Psalm 31:6, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” As we have mentioned in our previous reflections, Luke presents Jesus always at prayer like during the second Sunday of Lent during his transfiguration; only Luke tells us why Jesus went up that high mountain with his three Apostles in order to pray. Inasmuch as the transfiguration was a prayer moment, the crucifixion is the Lord’s prayer moment par excellence. Recall how we truly learn to “pray” when in deep pain and trials like before a surgery, when we no longer know how to pray or even have forgotten what is prayer all about except that we give ourselves entirely to God and to our doctors.

There on the Cross at his final moments, Jesus never ceased from doing good, always praying, always united and one in his Father in heaven. In commending his spirit into the Father’s hands, Jesus shows us exactly what discipleship is all about: everything we have, all we are are God’s. We have nothing to lay claim as ours in this life and that is the challenge to us daily: to live for God in Jesus through our loving service to others.

In this long passion narrative we heard today is the gospel, the very good news of our salvation as proclaimed by Paul in the second reading of how Jesus gave his total self in love to the Father for us all.

May we keep our eyes and our hearts open to Jesus, relying only in him like the Suffering Servant for he shall never put us to shame. We cannot experience the joy of his Resurrection unless we imitate Simon Cyrene, Dimas, John and the Blessed Virgin Mary in welcoming and following him in our daily life whether in the comforts of Jerusalem or the sorrows of Calvary for that is where we truly enter Paradise with Jesus, in Jesus. On the Cross. Amen.

Our secret worries in life

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday XXVIII-B in Ordinary Time, 10 October 2021
Wisdom 7:7-11 ><]]]]*> Hebrews 4:12-13 ><]]]]*> Mark 10:17-30
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 2020.

Recently we have seen Jesus answered very well the questions thrown to him by his enemies with evil intentions of entrapping him. But, in his answers we find Jesus so focused to his mission of revealing the will of God our Father which sin had destroyed.

Last Sunday Jesus showed us that more than the unity of husband and wife, God had always willed our entering into communion in our human relationships after a Pharisee asked him about the issue of divorce. Today, two men with good intentions and disposition came forward to ask Jesus important questions we also ask, something we may consider as “secret worries” that disturb us while following him.

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments…” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Mark 10:17-19, 20-21

Our first secret worry: entering heaven.

How many times have we asked the same question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life”? It is in fact one of the most FAQ’s to us priests, always begging for so many clarifications from every inquirer because it is indeed so important especially during this time of the pandemic.

Photo by author, 2020.

To inquire about eternal life means we are not that far from heaven because to think about it reveals our inner desires to be one with God our Father who is both our origin and destination.

The question in itself is a sign of grace, something we must always ask with the proper disposition coming from deep inside us who know very well that it is not enough to merely follow the commandments, to do what we were taught by our parents and teachers, catechists and religious instructors, and priests.

As we mature in faith or simply go on with life, we realize something is still lacking in all these religious practices we have like prayers and being good with others. There seems to be a “Someone” pulling us closer to do more to gain eternal life.

To be at this stage like that man in the gospel means we are a fertile soil where the word of God has taken root and starting to grow, but surrounded by brambles and other shrubs that need to be cleared with some weeds too that must be removed.

And there lies the painful truth: we have to let go of things like possessions and inclinations that give us false securities and thus prevent us from growing deeper in faith, in being more faithful to God and being more like Jesus Christ in forgetting one’s self.

See how Mark described Jesus looking with love on the man in elaborating the path to heaven, contrasting it with how “his face fell” upon hearing the Lord’s statement.

Today, Jesus reminds us that eternal life is a gift from God, freely given to everyone but we have to make a clear stand and decision to have it. We have to do something and cannot be like Juan Tamad by simply waiting for the fruit to fall from the tree.

While it is very clear in the Lord’s explanation that on our own we cannot do anything about it because “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God” (Mk.10:27); however, after Jesus had accomplished our salvation by dying on the cross when he declared “It is finished” (Jn.19:30), he also signaled the start of doing our part in his saving mission.

How?

By going back to his central teaching he had reiterated twice these two Sundays – be like a child to welcome God’s gift and grace of entering into the kingdom of heaven!

We cannot let go of our possessions to join Jesus on his way of the cross to enter heaven unless we become like children welcoming and trusting God. But, this is something we cannot do on our own; we need the grace of wisdom which we have heard at the first reading.

As the author of the Book of Wisdom tells us, nothing is comparable to wisdom which we must all prefer above all in this world, enabling us to discern and judge things wisely. In his reflection, wisdom is beyond human grasp, a grace from God we must pray for like King Solomon who asked a heart that can distinguish what is good and what is bad.

When we have wisdom, that is when we are able to “sell everything” and empty ourselves of our pride and other impurities to welcome the Holy Spirit to guide and enlighten us in our lives. That is when we begin to allow God to work in us to gain our salvation, our eternal life.

Hence, the need for us to pray daily for wisdom, most especially when Jesus tells us of the many persecutions that come in following him!

Photo by author, 2019.

Our second secret worry: what about us following Jesus?

Let’s admit it: of the Twelve Apostles, we can easily identify with Peter the most often because of his big mouth, of his “damned honesty” in blurting out what is inside us especially when these pertain to things about our faith and relationship with Jesus.

Like Peter, there is always that “secret worry” if what we have done is good enough to be rewarded by God like entry into heaven. We do it so often in prayers and in those unguarded moments when we complain to Jesus about difficulties and trials we encounter that we worry about all our efforts going nowhere.

There is that “secret worry” within some of us who strive to become good persons, feeling “entitled” to something better considering we are less sinful and evil than others.

Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in the present age; houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”

Mark 10:28-30

Here we find the goodness of Jesus who looked with love on the disciples and people without putting Peter to shame with his daring question.

What I like most here is the sense of humor of Jesus after he had assured Peter with all the rewards including eternal life for those who have left everything behind to follow him by adding “persecutions” as perks!

So funny but true! Like with the Pharisee last Sunday, Jesus must have read the mind of Peter in asking that question, assuring him it will not be as easy as a walk in the park to heaven.

There will always be persecutions. There will be a lot of difficulties and trials, pains and sufferings. And it begins when we truly give up our possessions, our false securities in life, our very selves.

When we reflect deeply into our lives and examine everything we have done and given for God, we realize that we have not really given up that much or anything at all. Whatever we give up and share with others, both material and spiritual, are all from God. We do not really give up anything at all because there is nothing here in this life that is purely ours! If we give love and mercy, if we share knowledge and wisdom, time or treasure or talent – they are all from God given to us meant to be shared with others!

Photo by author, 2019.

It is difficult to follow Jesus. The only thing very clear and definitive with us at the moment is the word of God that the Letter to the Hebrews described as “living and effective, sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Heb.4:12).

The more we immerse ourselves in the word of God, the more we gain wisdom and learn to discern his Divine Will so that in turn we are able to follow Jesus on the Cross that leads to eternal life.

In these two Sundays while Jesus journeyed with his disciples towards Jerusalem for his pasch, Jesus had tried to reorient ourselves into the true demands of following him that is so radical in bringing us back to God himself.

Yes, it is not easy but we are in good company with Jesus our Brother, our Lord and Savior.

Are we ready to leave everything to follow him?

Have a blessed week ahead!

Paano pumunta sa langit?

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-13 ng Setyembre 2021
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, La Niña Maria sa Pambansang Dambana ng Fatima, Valenzuela, 07 Setyembre 2021.
Bisperas ng kaarawan
ng Mahal na Birheng Maria
matapos manalangin
bumati si Andrei ng
"Happy birthday, Mama Mary!"
sabay sabi sa kanyang mommy:
"Bibili ko sana siya ng cake
pero paano ako mapupunta
sa langit?"
Tunay ang sinabi
ng Panginoon noong dati:
mula sa mga labi ng bata
nahahabi karunungang
walang pagkukunwari;
pawang katotohanan 
kay dali nilang bitiwan
nakakatuwa dahil puno ng karunungan
tila bugtong na palaisipan.
Madali namang malaman
kasagutan sa kanilang mga tanong
ngunit bakit nga ba ganoon
sa pagkakaroon ng gulang ng taon,
kamusmusan nati'y
nawawala, napapalitan
ng pagmamaang-maangan
kunwa'y hindi alam
pangunahing kaalaman sa buhay.
Katulad ng paano nga ba
pumunta sa langit?
Hindi natin masambit
gayong palagi nating
nilulungating masapit
dahil mayroong pagsusulit
at baka tayo sumabit
kaya hangga't maari
sa kasalukuyang buhay kumakapit.
Paano nga ba pumunta
sa langit?
Hindi ka naman mamatay
daglit
Ngunit ang turo ni Hesus
palagi niyang sambit,
limutin ang sarili, pasanin ating krus 
kada araw at sa Kanya'y sumunod -
 papuntang langit!
Larawan mula sa Google.

“Ale, Nasa Langit Na Ba Ako?” by Bodjie Dasig (+)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 15 August 2021
Photo by Mr. Vigie Ongleo, 05 August 2021, Singapore.

We continue this Sunday our Original Pilipino Music (OPM) featuring the genius and warmth of the late Bodjie Dasig in his playful yet meaningful early hit from the 1980’s called “Ale, Nasa Langit Na Ba Ako?” (Ma’am, Am I In Heaven?).

We find it perfectly matched with our celebration today of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary that teaches us at the close of her life here on earth, Mary was taken body and soul to the glory of heaven (https://lordmychef.com/2021/08/14/mary-mirror-of-gods-greatness/). The same glory awaits us all in the end of time if we try to imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary in her faith, charity and unity with Christ Jesus her Son.

It is a very timely celebration giving us hope and inspiration in persevering in faith and charity as we enter our second week of lockdown with COVID-19 infections reaching record levels since the start of this pandemic last year.

And that is why we find Ale, Nasa Langit Na Ba Ako? so perfect on this cloudy and gloomy Sunday to uplift our sagging spirits, reminding us how after all the pains and darkness of life, there awaits us the glory of heaven which starts here on earth.

We were in college in the early 80’s when this song was first played on the airwaves in some select radio stations only.

Written by the late Bodjie Dasig (+2018) who also wrote the popular Sana Dalawa ang Puso Ko (I Wish I Have Two Hearts), Ale narrates the experience of a man who saw a pretty woman while driving in Cubao, causing him to get into an accident that he ended in a hospital. Upon waking up, he saw his nurse so lovely that he thought he was already in heaven!

When he was discharged from the hospital, he asked the nurse to marry him but unfortunately, she turned out to be happily married. The man was so dismayed that he did not notice the flight of stairs and fell, banging his head on the floor that he ended up being confined in the hospital again.

When he woke up in his new hospital room, he saw another lovely nurse but this time before asking if he was in heaven, he first asked if the nurse is married.

We do not know whatever happened to the man in the song but Ale tells us the common notion how a beautiful woman can always signify heaven and bliss in life. Of course, such beauty refers to more than the physical features of a woman for true beauty lies deep within the heart, mind and soul of anyone.

In her life of faith, charity, and communion in her Son Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary is undoubtedly a woman of great beauty mirroring the greatness and goodness of God that she became the first to be assumed into heaven body and soul among humankind.

May we continue to persevere in life’s challenges to share God’s loving presence in this world filled with pains and sufferings, trials and difficulties.

We hope this song brings you some smiles and good vibes!

*We have no intentions of infringing on the copyrights of this song except to share its beauty and joy with others.

From YouTube.

“Just Like Heaven” by The Cure (1987)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 16 May 2021
Photo by author at NLEX-Pampanga area, January 2020.

Happy Ascension Sunday!

After so many tries at other songs that speak of “heaven” in relation with our celebration today, I finally settled on The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” as our featured Sunday music because first of all, they are one of my favorite bands.

Secondly, unlike the other songs that speak of heaven, The Cure’s Just Like Heaven is so unique: music is cool and crisp that is soothing and relaxing like most romantic songs. It speaks joyfully of the beautiful love between two people so in love with each other that turned out to be only a dream — because the reality is that they have parted ways!

“Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick
The one that makes me scream” she said
“The one that makes me laugh” she said
And threw her arms around my neck

Show me how you do it
And I promise you I promise that
I’ll run away with you
I’ll run away with you

Spinning on that dizzy edge
I kissed her face and kissed her head
And dreamed of all the different ways I had
To make her glow
Why are you so far away, she said
Why won’t you ever know that I’m in love with you
That I’m in love with you

And so, you ask, where is heaven?

Remember our reflection last week about love that despite the pains and hurts of every break up and “LQ” is always the fact that we still love. The man in the song is still so in love that he keeps on dreaming her.

Here lies the deciding factor in our choosing Just Like Heaven for this Sunday’s music: The Cure’s lead singer and composer Robert Smith claims it is his most favorite song in all their music. He admitted in some interviews that composing Just Like Heaven was so different than the rest that he could not repeat. No wonder, a year after writing and recording this song in 1987, Smith married his girlfriend Mary Poole and since then, have lived together — just like heaven! (Mary is the woman who kissed Smith in this music video before waking up from is dream.)

For me, this song captures the meaning of the Lord’s Ascension: it is entering into a higher level of relationships with God through others in Jesus Christ that we have to work for. Heaven does not come on a silver platter; it is both a grace from God we have to strive for as The Cure imply in “Just Like Heaven” (https://lordmychef.com/2021/05/15/levelling-up-in-jesus/).

Have a blessed week and hope you work to deepen your relationships with more love and kindness, and doubling more of forgiving!