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 true

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Wednesday, a.k.a. "Spy Wedneday", 31 March 2021
Isaiah 50:4-9   ><}}}*>   Matthew 26:14-25
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.
The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, 
that I might know how to speak to the weary 
a word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear;
and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.
(Isaiah 50:4-5)

God our loving Father in heaven, it is now the eve of the Sacred Paschal Triduum called “Spy Wednesday” or “night of traitors” when Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and offered to “hand Jesus over” to them for thirty pieces of silver.

Bless us, dear Father, to be holy like you by being true to you in Jesus Christ.

Give us the grace to be like your “Suffering Servant” in the first reading to remain true to you by not turning our backs from you.

Let us not rebel against you especially when we insist on our own agenda and plans in life.

So many times in life we are like Judas, and even Peter, when we betray Jesus especially after breaking bread with him in the Holy Mass, when we malign people around us, spread lies about them so we may look good; when we deny knowing you or standing for family and friends because we are afraid for our safety; and, so many times we have been remiss in our responsibilities and obligations at home, in the office, in the school and in the community like the church.

Teach us to be true and holy not only to you but most especially to one another.

May we be like the tall tree that is an image of being true: firm and reliable, dependable, trustworthy, and most of all, deeply rooted in you through people we love and care and serve. Amen.

Holiness is faithfulness

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Tuesday, 30 March 2021 
Isaiah 49:1-6   ><}}}*>   John 13:21-33, 36-38
Photo by author, December 2020
Though I thought 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)

So many times, dear Father in heaven, I feel like your “Suffering Servant” feeling that nothing is happening with all my efforts, with things I persevere, as if they are all useless until I realize what matters most is my being faithful to you.

Thank you for the sign of the Cross of Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord and Master: when things become so difficult and frustrating for me, I just look at him there on the cross, “dead” like me who had failed in your mission.

But as I contemplate his Cross, I remember how before all my sadness and sufferings, Jesus was there first for me to be good with others, to be kind, to be understanding, to be merciful and forgiving, to be patient, and most of all, first to be holy in being faithful to you and your call, Father.

Remind me the words of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta that we are called to be faithful, not successful.

Let me focus more on you, Lord, instead of wondering how I have been doing, how good I have been.

Let me stop competing with others, asking who is not faithful to you, who is going to betray you like Peter during the last supper when he told the beloved disciple to clarify it with Jesus:

He leaned back against Jesus' chest
and said to him, 
"Master, who is it?"
(John 13:25)

How lovely is the context of that question when what we must contemplate with is whether we have been faithful to Jesus in his Holy Eucharist.

How sad, O dear Father, that we are most unfaithful to you when we betray you right in the Eucharist – when do not listen to your words and message to us, when we do not live and practice the essence of thanksgiving to you by being faithful in witnessing Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross in our daily lives. Amen.

Holiness in gentleness

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Monday, 29 March 2021
Isaiah 42:1-7   ><}}}*>   John 12:1-11
Photo by author, December 2020.
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am well pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he 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.
(Isaiah 42:1-3)

On this Holy Monday of our holiest week, we pray to you, O God, for gentleness for us to be holy like your “Suffering Servant” according to Prophet Isaiah and fulfilled in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

In this world saturated in a cacophony of many voices and noises competing to be heard in the various social media platforms, teach us to be gentle, to never view ourselves better than someone else when we would rather be silent to listen more, “not crying out, not shouting, not making our voices heard in the street.”

In this world where “size always matters” while power is always expressed in force and violence, teach us to be gentle with them who are actually weak and soft inside, even broken like the reed or a smoldering wick.

Teach us holiness in gentleness through Jesus Christ who showed us the path to real power is in weakness, that instead of asserting superiority, we would rather help others to assert their innate goodness especially when the weak come forward to express their gentleness too like Mary who poured oil and perfume on his feet.

Give us the grace to dwell today on his words, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (Jn.12:7-8).

O how foolish we can be, dear Father, to miss this essential truth that we can only love the poor in you and through Jesus your Son. Take away that attitude of Judas Iscariot among us of “thinking the poor” yet always feeling superior to them, even to Jesus our Lord!

Make us gentle in our thoughts and in our words, most especially in our actions so that everyone may feel your gentle mercy and compassion in Christ. Amen.

Life will never be the same after Easter 2020

The Lord is My Chef Easter Vigil Recipe, 11 April 2020

Our simple yet meaningful Easter celebration amid Covid-19, 11 April 2020.

A blessed happy Easter to you my dear reader!

What have you been praying for since the start of this Holy Week amid the threat of COVID-19? Aside from being spared by this dreaded corona virus, what have you been praying for?

For almost a month, I have always been praying to God for one special thing: that we may all go back to our “normal lives” soon.

Since the first Sunday of our lockdown last March 22 that happened to be my 55th birthday, until after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, I have been going around our parish with the Blessed Sacrament and Santo Entierro on Good Friday mounted on a truck to bless the people.

And every time I would go around – with strict orders on the people to observe social distancing – I have strongly felt how they were so hungry and thirsty for Jesus, kneeling along the highway, some with lighted candles while others have their little altar in front of their homes.

Photo by Mr. Randy Cajanding, 09 April 2020.

Except for some few people, almost everyone would make the sign of the Cross, take a bow or raise their hands, asking for blessings, praying silently in their hearts.

I really wonder what they were praying for.

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, 22 March 2020.
Photo by Ms. Anne Ramos, 10 April 2020.

Me?

Next to the request that we may all be spared of the corona virus in our parish, I always prayed silently to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and in his Santo Entierro, to please, “bring us back to our previous normal lives Lord… I am will to sacrifice everything, to bear all these pains and hardships… just bring us back to our previous normal lives… magbalik lang kami sa dating normal naming buhay, Lord, lahat titiisin ko po.”

Photo by Ms. Anne Ramos, 10 April 2020.

Easter is moving forward to new life, never a going back

But early this Holy Saturday morning as I prayed, I realized God is not going to answer that special prayer of mine.

God will never bring back our previous normal lives before this time of the corona virus when we take control of everything because Easter is leaving the past behind, the old misconceptions, the old sins, the old ways of life far from God.

Easter is moving forward to Jesus, with Jesus, in Jesus.

Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.”

Matthew 28:5-7

After this time of the corona virus in the year 2020, we shall never go back to our previous normal lives because Easter is a call to renewal, to going back to God, to going back to love and kindness.

Easter is going back to God, centering our lives anew in him because he is our life!

Entrance to our church during our Easter Vigil, 11 April 2020. Photo by Ms. Ria de Vera.

Jesus is inviting us on this Easter 2020 in the time of COVID-19 to come to him in his new life, to leave the previous normal lives when we spend Sundays on our own, when we just pray and celebrate Mass on special occasions or when we have problems or when going through calamities and disasters.

Jesus is inviting us on this Easter 2020 in the time of corona virus to come to him in his new life to renew our ties with our family and friends, to forgive and bridge gaps among us because life is too short, so fragile.

Jesus is inviting us on this Easter 2020 in the time of COVI9D-19 to come to him in his mercy and justice, to leave our previous lives when we take people for granted, especially those in the health sector like nurses or ordinary folks we call like janitors and garbage collectors.

Easter is rediscovering anew the more essential in lives like the value of each person, the value of health and education, the value of wisdom and sound judgement and decisions.

Jesus is demanding us on this Easter 2020 in the time of the corona virus to never go back to our “normal lives” of before when it was normal to be corrupt, to use foul language, to lie and malign others, to kill and disregard human life, to use violence and force.

Never again must we be silent when people and nature are taken for granted.

Jesus is inviting us on this Easter 2020 in the midst of COVID-19 to never go back to our old politics of trapos and vote buying, to rediscover how blessed is our country with great, talented people equally blessed with a country rich in natural resources ravaged by greedy politicians.

Jesus is inviting us on this Easter 2020 in the time of the corona virus to come to him in his new life by working for justice and truth, speaking against violence and disregard for lives, fighting corruption, rejecting the normal things of life of deception and lies in government, in the church, in school, and in our own families.

Photo by author, 02 April 2020.

If you have listened to our readings, from the story of the creation to the time of Abraham and Moses and then Jesus, people were blessed materially and spiritually because they never went back to old ways of lives but always moved forward in God, in selfless giving of self in service to others.

Without any doubt, Holy Week 2020 is the most unforgettable – even unbelievable we have ever had in our lifetime or even in recent history. And with the extension of the ECQ until the end of April, that makes our Holy Week 2020 as the longest one too!

But, it is not that bad at all.

Holy Week is “Mahal na Araw” in Filipino: mahal means valuable that is why it is the same word we use for expensive. Most of all, mahal is the root of pagmamahal or love because to love is to value another person.

Extended lockdown, extended Holy Week means longer “Mahal na Araw” — that is, more time to love God, others, and self.

So, it is still a blessed Easter to everyone!

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, Easter Vigil in our parish, 11 April 2020.

Are we ready and empty?

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe, Holy Thursday, 09 April 2020

Our altar is ready
the tabernacle is empty
but are we also hungry
or thirsty for Thee?
O Lord have mercy
and please empty 
our hearts of pride, 
fill us with your humility,
justice and love
so we may say to Thee 
on this Holy Thursday
"Lord, I am not worthy 
to receive Thee but only
say the word and I shall 
be healed."

Prayer of the Lord’s servant

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe, Holy Monday, 06 April 2020

Isaiah 42:1-7 ><)))*> +++ 0 +++ <*(((>< John 12:1-11

Photo by author, Tabernacle of Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Bagbaguin, Santa Maria, Bulacan, 05 April 2020.

In the midst of this most trying time in our modern world while we get into the holiest days of the year, grant me, O Lord Jesus Christ, the grace to be like you, a servant of the Father, filled with the Holy Spirit, “not crying out, not shouting, not making my voice heard in the street” (Is.42:1-2).

Teach me the path of non-violence when brute force is preferred by those in authority, to strive for what is just so that there may be peace and joy throughout the land as well as healing and health among the sick.

A bruised reed he shall not break, a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

Isaiah 42:3-4

Help me O Lord, to bridge the gaps among people separated by pains and hurts in their past, differences in beliefs and color and status in life.

Give me the strength to grip and steadily hold those about to give up on life, in God, in their family, and in humanity.

May I open the eyes of those blinded by worldly possessions to see beyond material things, most especially the warmth of your loving face found in every child and persons we meet trying to make ends meet.

In my own struggles may I set free the many prisoners of sins and addiction as I try to bring your light, dear Jesus among those in darkness especially the poor who have always been with us but we have always forgotten. Amen.

Praying And Dying with Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Good Friday Recipe, 19 April 2019
Isaiah 52:13-53:12//Hebrews 4:14-16;5:7-9//John 18:1-19:42
Crucifix at the Fatima Square in Portugal. Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, October 2018.

The Evangelists tell us that Jesus died on the Cross on a Friday at about 3:00 PM. And they tell us too that our Lord died praying, exactly what most of the Seven Last Words have expressed.  But from the gospel we have heard this afternoon written by the beloved disciple John, we discover something very beautiful: Jesus was very calm and peaceful in his prayer unto death.

After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.”  There was a vessel filled with common wine.  So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.  When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.”  And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

John 19:28-30

When we are deep in suffering, in severe pain like Jesus on the cross, what do we usually pray? 

Most often, we pray that the terrible ordeal we are going through would finally end or be finished.  And sometimes, due to desperation, we even pray for death, of how we wish God would finally end our life to be free from all the problems and pains we are going through. And we feel death is the solution.

One of the things I have realized about death came from the 1990’s movie “House of Spirits” when the mother played by Meryl Streep told her daughter played by Winona Ryder that “you do not pray for death because death surely comes.” I always tell that to patients I visit who are in deep pain and suffering. I know it is easier than done. But when we reflect on the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, we discover how he had made death an offering, a gift of self in love. Clearly we find here that his darkest hour is also his finest hour because of love.

Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches. Photo by author, 2016.

In the original Greek text of St. John, the word used to express Jesus Christ’s final prayer “It is finished” is “tetelestai” from the root word “telos” meaning the final end and direction.  It is not just an ending but a direction too. At the start of this year’s Lenten season, we have reflected that life is more about direction than destination. Direction leads to growth and maturity because it is about persons. Destination is just about place and location. 

From the very start, Jesus was clear with His mission, of how it would be accomplished.  He has always been sure of himself, of who he is.  Notice how St. John repeated many times in his account of the Last Supper how Jesus was “fully aware” of everything that was going to happen: he was so composed and serene that he even gave bread to his betrayer Judas Iscariot during their supper.  Last night we heard how Jesus knew everything was coming to end that he washed the feet of his disciples.

When his “hour” had come, Jesus was “fully aware of everything” that he was never left to the whims and powers of his enemies when he went through his Passion, calmly and courageously facing his death on the Cross. He always had the upper hand that he was able to pray “It is finished” because he was so sure of his Resurrection on Easter. In praying “It is finished,” Jesus consecrated not only himself but also all humanity to the Father so that we are able to bear and face death squarely like him.   

Mt. St. Paul Retreat House, Baguio. Photo by author, June 2017.

In the Mass after the consecration of the bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood, we proclaim “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.” We call it as “the mystery of our faith” because when we say “Christ has died,” we admit that truly, the Son of God went through all kinds of sufferings in life we all go through like betrayal, rejection, loneliness, sickness, hunger, thirst, and yes, even death.  And His sufferings continue as we suffer more in this world marred by evil and sins, making us cry, asking when would these end and be finished. And there lies the mystery of our faith on the Cross that led to Easter: when we look at Jesus Christ on His Cross, we see our own pains and agony as God’s pains and agony too.  Jesus joined us in our anguish and death so that we could experience all the more his immense love for us.  Without Jesus and his Cross, we would never be able to bear or even face the many deaths we go through daily.  May we recognize God’s immense love for us again this afternoon when we venerate the cross and see it as the merging point of human and Divine suffering.  Keep praying with Jesus who has the final say with death at Easter. Amen.

*This is an updated version of my Good Friday reflection last year.

Who fills you?

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe, Holy Tuesday, 16 April 2019
Isaiah 49:1-6///John 13:21-33, 36-38
At the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, April 2017. Photo by author.

As we come closer to your Paschal Triduum O Lord Jesus Christ, I try to probe deeper into myself to examine where are in you in my life? There were so many times I have not been faithful to you. There were so many times I wavered, almost gave up following you because nothing seemed to happen.

Who really fills me, you O Lord or the enemy?

So many times I have wallowed into so many complaints and excuses, always doubting if you are really with me, if you have truly called me. Like Peter, I just say so many things, asking you many questions without really understanding and knowing anything at all especially your very words. Worst, there are times I feel like Judas sharing in your sacred meal and yet betraying you when I sin because I have allowed evil to take over me.

Give me the grace to be like you as the faithful, suffering Servant of God so certain and so trusting of the Divine call and mission:

The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. He made me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me. Though I thought 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 49:1-2, 4

Lord Jesus Christ, reign in my heart, fill me with your humility, justice, and love. Amen.

Breaking the cycle of evil

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe, Holy Monday, 15 April 2019
Isaiah 42:1-7///John 12:1-11
Dominican Hills, Baguio City, January 2019 by the author.

This Monday is supposed to be different from all the other Mondays of the year for it is supposed to be holy. It is a step to your Paschal Triduum, Lord Jesus Christ, that begins on Holy Thursday evening leading to the glory of your Easter Sunday.

Being holy, O Lord, is being filled with you, being like you, Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant”:

Here is my servant whom I uphold…upon whom I have put my Spirit; he 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 nto quench, until he establishes justice on the earth.

Isaiah 42:1-4

Yesterday I found a beautiful quotation from the Facebook page of the Franciscans that I strongly feel making it my prayer this Holy Monday. It is easier said than done, Lord, but it is doable with your grace.

From Be Like Francis/FB

Give us the courage and grace Lord Jesus this Holy Monday to break the cycle of evil in our midst, to act not like some of those people of your time who tried to plot not only against you but also against your friend Lazarus whom you have raised from the dead.

It is very difficult, and even crazy but it is your way as the Suffering Servant, our Christ who broke our cycle of hate and violence. Amen.