We are God’s servant first

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Memorial of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More, Martyrs, 22 June 2022
2 Kings 22:8-13, 23:1-3   ><}}}*> + ><}}}*> + ><}}}*>   Matthew 7:15-20 
Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, 22 March 2020.
God our loving Father,
we thank you again for the
gift of two great martyrs today,
Saints John Fisher and
Thomas More who stood firm on
your side, offering their very
selves to die than conspire with
their king in allowing his divorce
and break from the Church.
Both Saints John Fisher and
Thomas More proved that we are
first of all your servants, and then
of the king or civil authorities.
They are both so relevant in these days
when people insist on separating 
politics and daily life from faith
and religion, in constricting the 
spiritual life as purely private and personal,
and worst, only on Sundays.
Like in the first reading today,
may we always pray and listen 
to your words O God found in the
sacred scriptures so that we may
never steer away from your path of
truth and righteousness.

The scribe Shaphan also informed the king that the priest Hilkiah had given him a book, and then read it aloud to the king. When the king had heard the contents of the book of the law, he tore his garments and issued this command to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, son of Shaphan, Achbor, son of Micaiah, the scribe of Shaphan, and the king’s servant Asaiah: “Go, consult the Lord for me, for the people, for all Judah, about the stipulations of this book that has been found, for the anger of the Lord has been set furiously ablaze against us, because our fathers did not obey the stipulations of this book, nor fulfill our written obligations.”

2 Kings 22:10-13
Help us find our way back
to you, Lord; do not let our
knowledge and technologies
blind our hearts and ideals,
most especially our relationship
with you which is the basis of
our relationships with one 
another. Amen.
St. John Fisher and
St. Thomas More,
Pray for us!

Grace and blessedness of leaving

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday after the Ascension of the Lord, 01 June 2022
Acts 20:28-38     ><}}}}*> + <*{{{{><     John 17:11-19
Photo by author, Ubihan Island, Obando, Bulacan, 31 December 2021.
As we begin the first day of
the end of first half of the year,
your words today, O God, are full 
of wisdom worthy for us to keep 
about the blessedness and grace
of every leaving, of every departure;
how ironic when every leaving is
characterized with sadness because
of separation, your words today, O
Lord speak of lavish joy, of your desire
that our joy may be complete in you.
In the first reading, St. Paul is bidding
goodbye to the Ephesians on his way
to Rome for imprisonment and sure death;
there was so much grief among the 
people and yet, there is the pervading 
atmosphere of blessedness and grace.
First is the grace of the gift of person,
of St. Paul and ultimately, of Jesus Christ.

Dear God, may we be like St. Paul truly a
grace to everyone with his sincerity of
love and service, dedication to your
Son Jesus Christ and his gospel of salvation;
teach us to imitate St. Paul of being a
blessing ourselves to others as we make
people experience and feel your love 
and care, your concern and goodwill;
evidently, his concern up to the end is you,
O God and your people whom he warned
on guard against those who would come
after his departure in "perverting the truth", 
reminding them how he loved and 
"admonished them with tears" 
(Acts 20:30-31).
And of course, the greatest blessing
and grace of all who have "left" us
physically is your Son Jesus Christ.
How wonderful that at the Last Supper
before his arrest, he prayed for us
all his disciples he would leave behind.

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one… Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.

John 17:11, 17-19
Thank you, dear Jesus, for the
gifts of being one like you and the
Father and being consecrated to
the truth - to you yourself!
To be consecrated is to be separated
from the rest in order to be holy for you,
O Lord for the sake of the people;
you alone, Lord Jesus, are the holy one
and thank you in immersing us into you,
making us like you, apart from others in
holiness but united with everyone in
loving service.
Let us not forget this tremendous
blessing and grace you have given
us before returning to the Father,
Lord Jesus.  Keep us one in you with
the Father in loving service of others.
Let us not forget this tremendous
challenge too as part of our mission
that we always leave your marks of 
holiness and truth with everyone 
we serve and meet.  Amen.

Easter is making our lives whole again in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday in the Second Week of Easter, 28 April 2022
Acts 5:27-33   ><))))*> + <*((((><   John 3:31-36
Photo by author, 20 April 2022.
Lord Jesus Christ,
in this season of Easter,
help me make my fragmented
life whole again in you.
So many times, I feel like 
the many members of the
Sanhedrin in the first reading
today demanding so many things
from myself that I fail to obey God;
grant me the courage like of Peter
and the Apostles who boldly declared,
"We must obey God rather than men"
(Acts 5:29). 
Like Nicodemus in the gospel,
I am still afraid to come to you
in broad daylight, still hiding in the
night because I am afraid of what
people would say and tell about me
in being faithful to you, in being one
with you.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.

John 3:36
To believe in you, dear Jesus,
is to enter into a relationship with
you at the center; to believe in you
is to live and abide in you, Lord.
And that is why our lives are fragmented:
we are so divided and broken because
we follow the world, not you; we are
easily tempted and enticed to the 
many lures of pleasures the world
offers that only leave us more empty,
and more lost.
This season of Easter,
help me go back to you, Lord,
in prayers and silence;
let me focus on you again.
Amen.

Holiness is in silence

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Saturday, 16 April 2022
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, at Nazare, Portugal March 2022.

A blessed Holy Saturday to you.  One of the most unforgettable scenes of COVID-19 pandemic when it started in the summer of 2020 was like what we have every Holy Saturday or, as we aptly call, Black Saturday: empty spaces, empty buildings, with everything and everyone so silent. 

Holiness is being at home with silence, the very language of God.  In the bible, we find that in every revelation and appearance of God to man, it is always preceded by silence.  Before everything was created, according to the Book of Genesis, there was great silence.  In his prologue to the fourth gospel, John said “In the beginning was the word” – clearly, there was only silence – “and the word became flesh” (Jn.1:1, 14)

And when Jesus, the Word who became flesh, came, he was totally silent during his growing up years in Nazareth and when he stared his ministry, he would always go into prayers and silence.

On this Holy Saturday, the whole creation comes to full circle. In the beginning, after completing God’s work of creation, God rested on the seventh day and made it holy (Gen.2:3). On the seventh day after completing his mission here on earth, Jesus Christ was laid to rest.

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, at Lourdes, France, March 2022.

Silence and rest always go together. To be silent is not merely being quiet but listening more to your voice coming from the depths of our being; hence, it is not emptiness but fullness with God, in God. It is in silence where we truly hear ourselves and others better.

On the other hand, to rest is not merely to stop work nor stop from being busy. We rest to reconnect with God to be filled with the Holy Spirit. In Filipino, to rest is magpahinga which means “to be breathed on”.  To rest is therefore to be silent and be breathed on with the breath of God. Like in the creation of the first man who was breathed on by God to be alive; on the evening of Easter, Jesus came to visit his disciples locked in the upper room and after greeting them with peace twice, he breathed on them the Holy Spirit.

Holiness is therefore found in silence and in rest, when we listen more God and allow him to breathe on us that we are filled with him. And that is holiness as we have stated at the start of this series, which is not being sinless but being filled with God.

When we rest, we return to Eden, like the garden where Jesus was buried. 

Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by.

John 19:41-42
Photo by author, garden beside Church of St. Agnes in Jerusalem, May 2017.

How beautiful is that image, of God’s rest and silence in Eden and of Jesus laid to rest at a tomb in a garden: to rest in silence is therefore to stop playing God as we return to him as his image and likeness again!

Maybe that is why many of us these days are afraid of silence because it is the realm of trust and of truth. We have always been afraid to trust and be truthful so that we crucify Jesus Christ over and over again.

Let us be like those women who rested on the sabbath when Jesus was laid to rest. That like them, we may trust God more by being true to ourselves even in the midst of this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils. Then they rested on the sabbath according to the commandment.

Luke 23:55-56

Silence is the domain of trust; people afraid of silence are afraid to trust.

It is said that the Sony Walkman is the most revolutionary invention in the last 40 years that had changed our way of life.  It is not the computer.  It is the Walkman, the ancestor of that ubiquitous ear pods, earphones and bluetooth everybody is wearing these days, having each one’s own world, unmindful of others. 

Today let us cultivate anew the practice of silence, of listening to the various sounds around us and within us and most of all, trying to listen to the most faint, the softest sound that is often the voice of God, the sound of silence who reassures us always that in the midst of his silence, he never leaves us, that with him we are rising again to new life. 


Help us to be silent today, 
O God our Father 
as we remember your Son Jesus Christ’s 
Great Silence – Magnum Silentium – 
when he was “crucified, died and was buried; 
he descended to the dead and on the third day he rose again.”
Breathe on us your Spirit of life and joy,
O God as we rest in you,
listening to your voice within us
so that we may follow always Jesus Christ's
path to Easter in the Cross.
Amen.

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, Lourdes, France, March 2022.

Holiness is companionship in Christ

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Thursday, 14 April 2022
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14  +  1 Corinthians 11:23-26  +  John13:1-15
Photo from inquirer.net, 20 August 2021.

A blessed Holy Thursday everyone.  Tonight we begin the most holiest days of the year, the Holy Triduum of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection known as the pasch of the Lord. From the Hebrew word pesach, a pasch is a passing over, the journey of the Hebrew people from Egypt into the promised land of God.

A journey does not necessarily involve physical distance as it can be something within one’s self like an inner journey to God dwelling within us. Journey is a process that leads us to growth and maturity from the many difficulties and trials we experience as we travel in life.

And whatever journey we take outside or within ourselves, we always need a companion to travel with. From the Latin words cum panis that literally mean “someone you break bread with”, a companion is someone who helps us in our journey, a friend who shares life with us, guiding us, protecting us. Like the bread we break and share, a companion sustains and nourishes us in our journey.

That is exactly the companionship of Jesus which is holiness. Having Jesus as our companion in life’s journey is to have him as our daily Bread who fills us with God in every celebration of the Holy Eucharist. I used to tell our students in elementary school that every Mass is a journey into heaven, a dress rehearsal of our entrance into heaven when we have a foretaste of eternal life we all hope for until Christ comes again. That is why last Tuesday we said the first test of our fidelity in found in our celebration of the Sunday Eucharist.

We are all travellers and journeyers on earth; our true home is in heaven with God our Father.  We are merely passing over this planet temporarily.  That is why we always say life is a daily lent, a daily passing over.

By celebrating the Lord’s Supper that Thursday evening with his disciples who represented all peoples of all time, Jesus established for us the everlasting memorial of his loving presence as our companion and our very Bread and Wine in the journey back to the Father that is often dark and difficult.

What he did that Thursday evening foreshadowed what he would do on Good Friday when he did his greatest act of love for us by dying on the Cross. What is most beautiful meaning we can find here is the importance of communion, of oneness as a community, as a family that are expressions of our companionship in Jesus. Every journey becomes wonderful when done in the context of a community, with true companions beginning in our very family.

At the very core of every companionship, of every community is LOVE. To become bread for someone in a journey is to become LOVE – like Jesus Christ at the last supper.

Love can never be defined for it has no limits; love can only be described like how Jesus described to us in his actions on that night of his supper, his kind of love we all must emulate:

So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.

John 13:3-5
Photo from GettyImages/iStockPhotos.

During the time of Christ, restaurants were stops not only for meals but for rest that consisted of soaking their feet on a basin of water. It was therapeutic that gave travelers enough strength to travel far again as there were no other modes of transportation at that time and not everybody could afford an animal to ride on. Any hiker and mountaineer can attest that after so much trekking, one thing you would always hope for is a stream or tiny brook with cool, crisp, running water to dip your feet and rest!

This Holy Thursday, let us be a companion in Jesus Christ with others, beginning with our family members. Do not get tired of being broken and shared like bread, of loving and caring when the journey becomes so tiring like in this time of pandemic that seems to be still far from over.

“Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

John 13:12-15

Lord Jesus Christ,
may we never get tired 
walking in love 
as a companion and 
bread to one another like you 
by giving rest to others 
already tired and about to give up. 
Let us all be together in welcoming Easter! 
Amen.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Holiness is being faithful

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Tuesday, 12 April 2022
Isaiah 49:1-6   +   John 13:21-33, 36-38
Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, Christ the King Procession, 2020.

Maybe so many times you have felt nothing seems to be happening with all your efforts in school or office, in your relationships, and even in your prayers and devotions. Everything seems to be going to nothing at all.

Have a heart. Just be faithful in your studies, in your work, with your family and friends, most especially with God.

Though I thoughts I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.

Isaiah 49:4

When I was still a seminarian, there was a moment after our class when I went straight into our chapel and slouched on a pew, complaining and whining to God for the many problems that never stopped coming my way despite my efforts to be good. With my head bowed down, I had a litany of complaints to God that I felt like packing my things, go home and forget all about the priesthood. But after getting tired with my monologue and as I raised my head, something struck me that I felt so good while looking at our huge image of the Crucifixion at the altar of the chapel. As I looked in silence, I felt myself praying,

"Lord Jesus Christ, 
before all these pains and sufferings came, 
before all these problems happened, 
you were there first on the Cross - 
suffering for me, dying for me first."
Photo by author, ICMAS Chapel (Theology Dept.), 2020.

My dear friends, holiness is being faithful to God in Jesus Christ. St. Mother Teresa perfectly said that, “We are called to be faithful, not successful.” In my 24 years in the priesthood, I have realized that many times, our success are actually failures with God while our failures are what he often considers as success!

Of course, we need to plan and set goals in life and in work but we need to focus more on Jesus Christ as center of our lives, trying to see everything in his light not in our own limited views and perceptions. There so many things in life that cannot be quantified like our spiritual and emotional well-being on which actually depend many of our other aims in our personal and professional life.

Notice how in our gospel today the Apostles were so focused on themselves instead with Jesus that they totally missed what he was telling them about his coming betrayal by “one of them”. Particularly interesting was Simon Peter who asked the beloved disciple, John, to clarify it with Jesus since he was seated closest to him.

He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, “Master, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I had the morsel after I have dipped it.” So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him.

John 13:25-28

Did you see the comedy, the humor?

Everybody was so focused on everyone and with each self except with Jesus! Were they so dumb not to understand the words of Jesus that to whomever he would give the morsel dipped in wine is the one who would betray him? Not really. Most likely, they were not listening, they were not focused on Jesus but with their very selves.

Being faithful is first of all being focused on God, in Jesus.

How can God fill us with his holiness when our thoughts and our being are always somewhere else or with somebody else? How can God fill us with his holiness when we cannot spend time with him every day in prayer?

Photo by author, Mass by the shore of Galilee, the Holy Land, 2017.

How lovely is the context of Simon Peter’s question that it happened during their Last Supper because that is where our fidelity to God is first nurtured to grow and deepened – at the Holy Eucharist of the Mass.

Remember, the minimum requirement for anyone to be called a good, practicing Catholic is to go Mass every Sunday. That is the most minimum but, have we kept it? It has been more than two months since we returned to alert level 1 in this time of the pandemic with almost everybody going to the malls and many vacation spots but what a shame when many still refuse to go to churches for the Sunday Mass!

Being faithful to Jesus to become holy begins with the Sunday Eucharist where we are nourished by the words of God and by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ himself who enables us to overcome the many trials and difficulties of this life and make it into the Father’s house in eternity.

Have you gone back to your parish church for the Sunday Masses?

Forgive us, Lord Jesus Christ,
for being unfaithful to you, 
for betraying you like Judas Iscariot
right in the context of the Holy Eucharist
when we skip Sunday Masses;
when we come to Mass not for you 
but for our friends to whom we listen more; 
and most especially when we refuse or fail 
to practice the essence of the Eucharist
of sharing the love of Christ to everyone.
Amen.
Photo by author, Parish of St. John the Baptist in Calumpit, Bulacan, 31 March 2022.

Holiness is being gentle

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Monday, 11 April 2022
Isaiah 42:1-7   +   John 12:1-11
Photo from Pinterest.

A blessed Holy Monday to you and your loved ones!

Every year beginning with the Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord until the morning of Holy Thursday, the Church has regarded since the fourth century these days as holy and sacred in commemoration of the Lord’s Passion in Jerusalem.

These days, people frown and withdraw from any discussions about holiness, believing it is just for a selected few like saints and angels, and religious men and women like priests and nuns. For many, holiness is being sinless like God.

Not really.

The word holy came from the Greek holos meaning whole or perfect; holiness is being filled with God who fills in the gaps and broken corners in us, making us whole, a person of integrity and character. Holiness is an ongoing process, never a one-shot deal. That is why Jesus said “be perfect (or holy) as your heavenly Father is perfect (or holy).”

Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images.

One beautiful aspect of holiness is being gentle, something that has become so rare in our highly competitive world today. Jesus described himself as being “humble and gentle of heart” in whom we can find rest for his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (cf. Mt. 11:29).

Being gentle means being open to everyone, especially those burdened in life like the poor and the sick, the elderly, the orphans, the widowed, the marginalized.

Being gentle is to be welcoming or hospitable and caring of others instead of threatening and indifferent. Hospitality is from the Latin word hospis which means to welcome like hospital while hostility is from the Latin word hostes which means to hostage.

Just like Jesus who was prefigured as the Suffering Servant in today’s first reading described by God as one who “shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench” (Is.42:1-3).

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Center for Spirituality, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

In our world where everyone has all the means to be heard and seen loudly and clearly in high definition, gentleness has become so rare, almost extinct! Lahat na lang “mema” may masabi. What is sad is how we speak and get our messages across in every media platform, from the simple text messages to the giant tarps and screaming stickers on vehicles that are always harsh and laden with insults and sarcasms.

In this world where “size always matters” while power is expressed in force and violence, gentleness is being one with the weak and the suffering, the broken ones like the “bruised reed” that the Suffering Servant “would not break or smoldering wick he shall not quench.”

Wherever there is gentleness, there is always hospitality, there is God; without gentleness, we get hostilities like war and violence.

See the attitude of Jesus in today’s gospel, how he welcomed Mary at a dinner in Bethany who anointed his feet with a liter of costly perfumed oil and later dried them with her hair that the house was filled with fragrance. Notice the hostile attitude of Judas Iscariot pretending to care for the poor when he asked “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” (Jn.12:5).

Jesus simply told Judas to leave Mary alone with what she was doing that was a preparation for his burial soon to happen, adding, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (Jn.12:8).

Very loaded words from the Lord, telling us to be gentle with everyone’s devotion and expression of faith and love in God while reminding us all how the poor must always be welcomed and cared for even after he had gone back to the Father.

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Center for Spirituality, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

Gentleness is more than offering a seat to an elderly or opening the door for a woman; being gentle is having that disposition to care for everyone, consciously guarding against hurting them physically and emotionally.

Gentleness is holiness because it is an act of loving others, of finding Christ in everyone because whatsoever you do to the least of his brethren, that you do unto him.

There is a beautiful saying I have found from an unknown author who said “if you have love in your heart, you have been blessed by God; if you have been loved, you have been touched by God.” So many among us could not know nor experience God because many of us refuse to be gentle with everyone; many could not understand nor imagine a loving and merciful God when everybody is hostile and violent.

This Holy Monday, let us examine ourselves, our attitude with others, if we have been welcoming, hospitable and caring. It costs us nothing to adjust ourselves, to be more gentle in words and in deeds – and looks, too! It could be your step closer to simple holiness as God fills you with himself in Christ who is humble and gentle of heart.

Lord Jesus Christ,
teach us to be gentle like you;
make us feel more our being human
and stop feeling superior with others,
always analyzing, always thinking
that in the process we have forgotten 
to feel the persons around us.
Make us gentle in our thoughts
and in our words.  Amen.
Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, 2018.

Lent is seeing Jesus in everyone

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday in the First Week of Lent, 07 March 2022
Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18  <*(((>< + ><)))*>  Matthew 25:31-46
Photo by author, the Holy Land, 2019.
On this blessed Monday,
I join dear God our Father
the psalmist in proclaiming
“Your words, Lord, are Spirit and Life” 
for it summarizes the two long
readings for today:  your instruction
to Moses telling us to “be holy, for I, 
the Lord your God, am holy (Lev.19:2)” 
and Jesus reminding us that
“whatever you did/did not do 
for one of these least brothers of mine, 
you did/did not do for me (Mt.25:40,45).”  
Beginning this Lent as we slowly
begin to go back to some semblance 
of normalcy in our lives, help us 
recover our lost identity of being
your beloved children, of being 
the dwelling-place of your Holy Spirit
who animates us to do what is good,
avoid what is evil, always seeing Jesus
Christ in everyone, especially those
silently suffering among us like the poor
and the sick.
Help us, Lord Jesus, to learn again 
that it is our nature to share and 
give life in you who is our Life; 
how wonderful it would be that on
judgment day, we shall all be surprised, 
asking “when were you Lord hungry 
we gave you something to eat, 
when were you Lord…?” in doing good
to everyone who turns out to be your
very presence!
The blessed ones, the holy ones 
like the saints are never bothered 
to think of anything else upon seeing 
the poor and suffering except to love 
and practice charity like St. Francis 
of Assisi who taught his disciples 
to preach always Jesus Christ, 
speaking only when necessary.  
Make us holy, like you,
O God, who is our life
present in everyone 
we meet.  Amen.

Taking Jesus to the heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our heart, our center of being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image from Google.

Our sharing in the power of God to love

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

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

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

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

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, 21 February 2022.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a blessed week ahead!

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, 21 February 2022.

Each of us an “Emmanuel” too!

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Day 3, 18 December 2021
Jeremiah 23:5-8   ><}}}*> + <*{{{><   Matthew 1:18-25
Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, January 2018.

We have just concluded the “Year of St. Joseph” last December 8 but it seems due to the pandemic, we have not celebrated truly enough to realize the virtues and person of the most silent character in the New Testament, St. Joseph.

We find no story in the gospels with St. Joseph either speaking or conversing with anyone at all. At least the Blessed Virgin Mary conversed with the angel during the Annunciation and spoke to Jesus her Son upon finding him at the Temple and at the wedding feast at Cana. St. Joseph was totally silent and most of all, could sleep soundly despite the tremendous stress he must have gone through! Truly a man of great faith and trust in God!

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”

Matthew 1:18-20
Photo from vaticannews.va, December 2020.

Notice how Matthew presented the climax of his genealogy not only with the coming of Jesus Christ at the end but also in his lineage to St. Joseph he described as “a righteous man” and addressed by the angel in a dream as “son of David”.

In him we find that expression “silent water runs deep” so very true. Imagine the maturity and deep spirituality of St. Joseph being called as a righteous man or a holy man which for the Jews is one who obeys the Laws of Israel.

But in this scene of the Annunciation of Christ’s birth to him in a dream, Matthew goes deeper into what is to be holy as more than obeying the the Laws but most of all, abiding by the will of God always as described in many instances in the Old Testament like the Book of Psalms. If holiness were simply an adherence to the Laws, St. Joseph would have not decided to silently leave Mary found pregnant with a child not his; in their laws, she would have been shamed in public which St. Joseph avoided in trying to leave her silently. For him, higher than the letters of the law was the welfare and well-being of Mary and her Child that until then he did not know was the Christ.

At the same time, here we find the deep spirituality of St. Joseph: compared with Mary to whom the angel appeared and spoke in person while with St. Joseph, the angel appeared only in a dream. He had a more difficult situation discerning whether his dream was real or not, which we all experience upon waking up from a dream so real!

Only a man with deep spirituality, so attuned with God like St. Joseph could perceive the divine in fact while at the same time discern it as very true the will of God that “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus” (Mt.1:24-25).

Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, mosaic of the Annunciation to Joseph at the Shrine of St. Padre Pio in San Giovanni di Rotondo, Italy, 2017.

In a very concise manner – like our very silent saint and foster father of Jesus – Matthew presents to us in this short story of the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus to St. Joseph all the critical and essential elements about the mystery of the Incarnation.

As we have reflected yesterday at the genealogy, Matthew now goes deeper into the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of God. This he beautifully presented also through the person of St. Joseph, a reminder of the need for us to be vessels of God’s graces and instruments of God’s works.

St. Joseph showed in this brief scene the true meaning of holiness, of being whole by seeking to find ways to bring into unity their laws and love and persons, something which Jesus Christ would keep on elaborating in his entire ministry, like his favorite expression “Sabbath was created for man, not man for sabbath.”

See how he tried to give more importance to Mary whom he loved so much that he was intent in not putting her to shame and harm. And upon listening and discerning the angel’s message to him in a dream, he obeyed everything, showing us the unity of the laws in love long before Jesus came to show it on the Cross himself. In accepting God and Jesus, St. Joseph had to take Mary; and in taking Mary, Jesus came into the world.

Here we are challenged by the example of St. Joseph that we too become an Emmanuel in the sense that in our lives, we become the sign that God-is-with-us specially in this time of the pandemic and with coming elections next year. We need to pray more deeply and be attuned with God for his divine will that always takes unexpected turns, so different from our own ways and methods.

Photo by author, 15 December 2021.

To be an Emmanuel like Jesus and St. Joseph, one has to be definitely pro-life, one who values life and every person, regardless of his/her status in life.

Like St. Joseph, let us learn to be silent for God and be louder with our actions, always choosing and standing for life and for every person’s dignity.

Like St. Joseph, he chose from the very start the value of Mary as a person which is the hallmark of Jesus as Emmanuel, the God who became human to be with us because it is good to be human. Amen.