Christmas is saying “NO”

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday in the Fourth Week of Advent, Eighth Day of Christmas Novena, 23 December 2022
Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24     ><000'> + ><000'> + ><000'>     Luke 1:57-66

We are now in the penultimate day to Christmas and Luke is getting more dramatic in his narration of the events leading to the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. The scene is still in Judea, the house of Zechariah when Elizabeth finally gave birth to John the Baptist, the Lord’s precursor.

Everyone rejoiced and something so wonderful happened during the child’s circumcision when he was named.

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.”

Luke 1:57-60

I love that part when Elizabeth suddenly spoke to her relatives and neighbors on the name to be given to her son, but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.”

Beautiful! Another example of Luke’s artistry.

Recall that when Elizabeth was put into the scene by Luke last Monday after the annunciation of John’s birth to his father Zechariah, she was portrayed as soft and somewhat passive. In fact, after conceiving John, Luke tells us Elizabeth went into seclusion for five months to reflect on God’s wondrous deed to her, not to mention the “embarrassment” of an 80-year old woman getting pregnant. That was when Mary visited her.

Elizabeth was all praises to her younger cousin Mary and of course, to God. At the Visitation, we got a picture of Elizabeth as a kind and genteel woman until today when she suddenly roared like a lioness, standing her ground to protect her child! From being passive, Elizabeth is now portrayed as a very active person, a woman in the fullest sense, standing her ground on what she firmly believes and thinks best for her and her child when she adamantly declared to everyone “No. He will be called John.”

One of the things my mother had told me is learning to say NO especially if it has something do with sin and evil, something very bad, including expensive things. Later in life I realized the great value she had instilled in me of knowing to say NO, even of standing by it.

Many times in our modern time, we just go on with the flow, approving without even thinking whatever the world tells us as seen in many commercials and logo like “Just do it!” and “Obey your thirst”. It is what Pope emeritus Benedict XVI called as “dictatorship of relativism” – no more absolutes like God, almost everything is allowed from morals to fashion that many have lost any sense of truth and good, of beauty and decency and propriety.

Elizabeth showed us in the naming of her son something very vital in Christ’s coming: she herself was the finest example and model for John the Baptist in his mission of preparing the way of the Lord, of cleansing the world of its sins and excesses that nobody seemed to fight anymore. In the first reading, Malachi prophesied how the precursor would be like a “refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye” (Mal.3:2) cleansing the people, preparing their hearts to receive Jesus Christ.

Any cleansing or conversion or repentance begins first with a decisive NO to sin and evil, to useless traditions and beliefs that forget God and his people.

See how Luke brought out this strong character of Elizabeth perfectly in the timing of the circumcision and naming of her child – right at the moment of the “cutting” of the foreskin, Elizabeth intervened and insisted on God’s plan that was contrary to everyone’s thought and belief. It was Elizabeth who “cut off” or broke off John and her self from the traditions and old rituals of the people at that time. She was a trailblazer in fact, a trait John must have acquired from her from the very start of his life.

Most beautiful scene here is when Elizabeth stood her ground to the point that her relatives and neighbors protested to her naming her child John. She really meant her NO despite their protests that they asked Zechariah to write on a tablet the child’s name.

And everyone was amazed, even shocked, when Zechariah who was deaf-mute at that time, affirmed that “John is his name” (Lk.1:63), affirming Elizabeth’s choice of name.

Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to their heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

Luke 1:64-66

Imagine how those things happened simply because Elizabeth said “NO”.

John eventually would offer his life for saying NO to Herod’s taking of his brother’s wife, Herodias.

Lastly, our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died on the Cross for saying NO too to the ways of the world, to sin and to evil. In a sense, he came to teach us to say NO to the world so that we may experience his love and mercy, freedom and peace and prosperity. Let us pray:

Lord Jesus Christ,
as your birthday fast approaches,
give me the courage to say NO like
Elizabeth, the mother of your precursor,
John the Baptist;
teach me to say NO to traditions and rituals
without meaning, full of pomp and pageantry,
most especially of our very selves and ego,
empty of meaning, and worst, disregard you 
who are among the poor and suffering;
let us say NO to death and injustice;
NO to reducing life into mere lifestyle,
NO to divorce,
NO to abortion,
NO to same sex union,
NO to deviation from you,
our Lord and God.
Amen.

Christmas is being grateful

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday in the Fourth Week of Advent, Seventh Day of Christmas Novena, 22 December 2022
1 Samuel 1:24-28     ><000'> + ><000'> + ><000'>     Luke 1:46-56

Christmas is a call for us to be grateful. Only a grateful heart can truly be emptied and be filled with Jesus Christ. A heart that truly praises God is first of all a grateful heart. Mary’s song, the Magnificat is a both a song of thanksgiving and gratitude to God for all his wondrous blessings to her and to mankind in general.

Yesterday we heard how Mary hastily went to visit her cousin Elizabeth in Judea to share with her the Good News she had received, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. After being praised by Elizabeth, Mary responded today not by praising her cousin as we would always do; she instead praised and thanked God.

Again, we hear today wonderful stories of women – not just two like yesterday but three! – who were so blessed by God, thanking and praising God for blessing them with sons: Hannah in the first reading for her son Samuel who became one of Israel’s greatest prophet, Mary pregnant with Jesus Christ while visiting her cousin Elizabeth who was sixth month pregnant with John.

See how Hannah as a sign of her gratitude to God through the priest Eli who promised to pray for her to conceive a son gave Samuel at a very young age to serve in the Lord’s altar. The same is true with Mary in singing the Magnificat when she reaffirmed her fiat to God, of being his ever-faithful handmaid doing his will always.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.”

Luke 1:46-49
Photo by Mr. John Ryan Jacob, 20 December 2022, Paco, Obando, Bulacan.

Gratitude is a virtue that works great wonders for everyone because it makes us live in the present moment. A grateful person is one who lives in the here and now, not in the past nor in the future. Look at the structure of Mary’s Magnificat that is in the present tense.

When our heart is filled with gratitude, we have no time to complain and nurse old wounds and pains in the past but simply learn from them and move on with life. Living in the present moment means making things happen, working hard on our dreams and aspirations to become a reality, exactly what the Magnificat is telling us! How are we going to continue God’s wondrous works like Mary? By remaining faithful to Jesus Christ all the way to his Cross on Good Friday.

People who refuse to be grateful in life are busy wishful thinking of how things should be or would be, always looking at the future as a fantasy that would just pop out of nowhere instead of working for it in the present moment.

Unknown to many, gratitude is the fount of all good vibes in life, enabling us to be more positive than negative. It helps us accept the reality we are into – whether it is good or bad.

And that is when we start growing and maturing as persons when we learn to accept our present realities.

Most of all, gratitude disposes us to more blessings and grace from God because a thankful heart is always the one that seeks relationships, with God and with others. See that Mary did not sing her Magnificat while with the angel Gabriel after announcing the birth of Christ nor after he had left, right in the comforts of her home. Mary went in haste to Judea to celebrate and thank God’s gifts with her cousin Elizabeth.


People who go out of their way to say thank you, 
to express gratitude are person-oriented. 
They see more the persons 
not just the kind deeds done to them 
and beautiful gifts given them. 

Very often, people thank us priests especially for praying for them, enlightening and guiding them. That is why people lavish us with all kinds of gifts. Every time people thank me, I tell them, “kami po ang dapat magpasalamat sa inyo kasi lumalago kami kay Kristo!” In my 24 years as a priest, I have realized that the more faithful we are in serving God through his people, the more we are blessed and hence, the more we must be grateful!

People who go out of their way to say thank you, to express gratitude are person-oriented. They see more the persons not just the kind deeds done to them and beautiful gifts given them. When we say thank you, when we let others know of how grateful we are, we recognize their personhood that is why we reach out to them, trying to connect with them and befriend them. Or, to keep our ties alive and strong. As the old song says, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

Remember the ten lepers healed by Jesus Christ on his way to Jerusalem?

Only one returned – a Samaritan – to thank Jesus. He was the only one who was “saved” when Jesus told him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you” (Lk.17:19).

Photo by Mr. John Ryan Jacob, 20 December 2022 in Paco, Obando, Bulacan.

Gratitude is a very practical virtue, “the parent of all virtues” according to the Roman scholar and statesman Cicero. It is the one virtue we need to recapture and reacquire in this time to make through the many challenges and trials this pandemic has brought us. Instead of complaining and being so sorry with the plight we are into due to COVID-19, let us start counting our many blessings in life to see the vast opportunities and lessons this crisis has given us. In fact, the more this pandemic has persisted, the more blessings we can find that we must be thankful too.

Because of the pandemic, we have learned to cherish more one another as we come to value persons and life again more than things. There are so many things we have to be grateful in life during this time of the pandemic, perhaps even more than the sufferings and trials we have gone through as it opened to us new views and perceptions about life itself.

Most of all, it had brought us back to the grounding of our being, to God who is life himself, the source of all good things we have long forgotten and now remember. And rightly praise and thank. That is why I keep on telling everyone, God willed Christmas 2022 falls on a Sunday so we may personally, face-to-face celebrate together. And thank him through the people he has given us! Let us pray:

My soul also proclaims 
your greatness, O Lord Jesus Christ
like Mary your Mother!
Thank you for the gift of life
with all of its pains and hurts
that have strengthened me,
for all the joys that have enriched me.
Most of all, for the call to serve you.
Who am I, O Lord, to be called
and visited by you?
Many times I have failed you
yet you keep on coming, still calling me,
still believing in me, still trusting me.
What else can I say except 
thank you from the bottom of my heart.
As your birthday approaches,
as my gift to you dearest Jesus,
enable me to remain faithful to you
like Mary your Mother and our Mother too
even up to your Cross.  
Here am I, Lord, send me.
Amen.
Photo by Mr. John Ryan Jacob, 19 December 2022 in Paco, Obando, Bulacan.

More than a visit, Christmas is a visitation!

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Advent, Sixth Day of Christmas Novena, 21 December 2022
Song of Song 2:8-14     ><))))*> + ><))))*> + ><))))*>     Luke 1:39-45
Photo by Mr. John Ryan Jacob, 20 December 2022.

Did you know that there is a funny story behind that lovely entrance hymn in all our Masses we have been singing since the start of the Advent Season rightly called Halina Jesus, Halina?

According to the story, when Jesus turned seven years old – that’s the seventh Christmas of the world! – the Blessed Mother decided to bake him a beautiful birthday cake. The child Jesus was busy playing with his cousins when his Mother asked him to buy some flour, eggs, butter, and sugar. Of course, the young Messiah obeyed her and went to the store to buy the ingredients for his birthday cake. But, as the Catholic Catechism of the Church attests that Jesus is truly human like us, he suddenly forgot the most important ingredient needed in his cake, the flour. He rushed back home and asked Mama Mary again what was he supposed to buy. This happened thrice that for the third time, Mary was exasperated, wrote it on a piece of paper, telling the child Jesus, “Harina, Jesus, harina!”

For our non-Filipino followers, harina is flour, very close to halina which is come as the song tells us.

Christmas is a story of people, real persons like you and me meeting, encountering God. So far since Sunday we have heard stories of encounters by Joseph, Zechariah and Mary with an angel.  Today, we hear the beautiful encounter between two women so blessed by God, two mothers whose sons would usher in a new beginning of life on earth. 

Mary set out in those days and travelled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Luke 1:39-43

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth is in itself a proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ that presents us with the beautiful personages of two women who are “beloved ones of God” as well as “lovers of God.” 

Both of them “believed” in the promised salvation from God through their mysterious maternity, Mary being a virgin while Elizabeth in her being old and barren. 

They both love God so much that they were gifted with exceptional vocations, Elizabeth bore the Precursor of the Lord Himself born by Mary. 

Most of all, both women waited patiently for the coming of the promised salvation in Christ Jesus.

Visit and visitation may seem to be one and the same in the sense that both have a common Latin root word, the verb to see or vidi, videre from which came the word video.  But, a visit is more casual and informal without intimacy because it is just “a passing by” or merely to see.  It is more concerned with the place or the location and site and not the person to be visited.   We say it clearly in Filipino as in “napadaan lang” when it just so happened you were passing by a place and even without any intentions, you tried seeing someone there. 

On the other hand, visitation is more commonly used in church language like when a bishop or priests come to see the parishioners in remote places.  This is the reason a chapel is more known as a visita in our country because that is where priests visit and check on the well-being of people living in areas very far from the parish usually at the town proper.  Aside from being the venue for the celebration of Masses, the visita serves as classroom for catechism classes and other religious even social gatherings in a particular place. 

Thus, visitation connotes a deeper sense in meaning because there is an expression of care and concern among people, a kind of love shared by the visitator/visitor and the one visited like Mary and Elizabeth. 

Visitation is more of entering into someone’s life or personhood as reported by Luke on Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth where Mary “entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Lk.1:40), implying communion or the sharing of a common experience.  In this case, the two women shared the great experience of being blessed with the presence of God in their wombs! 

Visitation, therefore, is a sharing or oneness in the joys and pains of those dear to us.  The word becomes more meaningful when we try to examine its Filipino equivalent which is “pagdalaw” from the root word “dala” that can be something you bring or a verb to bring.  When we come for a visitation, we dala or bring something like food or any gift.  But most of all we bring our very selves like a gift of presence wherein we share our total selves with our time and talents, joys and sadness, and everything to those being visited.  And that is what Mary did exactly in her visitation of Elizabeth where she brought with her the Lord Jesus Christ in her womb, becoming the first monstrance of the Lord as well as His first tabernacle. 

Today we are invited to become like Mary in the visitation of others to bring Christmas and Jesus Himself to others by allowing our very selves, our body, to be the “bringer” or taga-dala of Christ.  The Lord Himself is the highest good we can bring as pasalubong in every visitation we make.  And if we can only be like Mary in our visitations and dealings with one another sharing Jesus Christ, then we also bring with us God’s tenderness and sweetness to others. 

That is why we have to rush, we have to go in haste like Mary for we have the best good of all – Jesus Christ – to share for everyone!

Come, Lord Jesus Christ!
Come in haste like your Mother Mary
so we may also have a visitation of
persons we have forgotten,
we have taken for granted
all these years!
Come into my heart, Jesus,
and let me see my connections
and links with everyone in you!
We do not need so many presents to give,
just our presence is more than enough
for others to experience your coming
especially on this Christmas.
Amen.

Christmas, a return to Paradise

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday in the Third Week of Advent, Day 1 of Christmas Novena, 16 December 2022
Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8     ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>     John 5:33-36
Photo by author, 08 December 2022.

All roads lead to the church early today for the start of our traditional Christmas novena known as Missa de Aguinaldo or simply, Simbang Gabi. And this year, we are having a truly blessed Christmas because after two years in COVID pandemic, we are celebrating Christ’s birth face-to-face while still keeping basic health protocols like the wearing of face masks inside churches.

Christmas is essentially face-to-face. The Son of God became human like us in everything except sin so we may experience and meet God personally, face-to-face in Jesus Christ.

Everything in Christmas is face-to-face, from the Annunciation to Mary of Christ’s birth to the Visitation, the Nativity itself when shepherds and magi visited Jesus face-to-face until the presentation at the temple of Jesus when Simeon and Anna saw and carried him while a child.

According to Pope emeritus Benedict VI, what Jesus really did in his coming was to bring God closest to us humans. In that sense, Christmas is then a return to Paradise, to Eden — of the Son of God fetching us back to the Father.

That is why on the first week of Advent, we claimed this season is a Sabbath when we go back to God to rest in him, to be breathed on by him and be filled with his life and spirit.

Photo by author, 2021.

Christmas is a return to paradise which we have lost after the Fall when Adam and Eve turned away from God. And that is why we find the word sabbath twice in our first reading on this first day of our Christmas novena.

Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, the son of man who holds to it; who keeps the sabbath free from profanation, and his hand from any evil doing… all who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offering and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Isaiah 56:1-2, 6-7

This Christmas 2022 when God willed that we celebrate his Son’s birth on a Sunday is very special because he wants us to go back to him, to stop playing God. On this Simbang Gabi, we are invited to return to Eden to be the image of God once again – loving and kind, beautiful and free as his children doing what is right.

Christmas as a sabbath is rediscovering the rhythm of time like the time of creation, the time of birth, the time of everything centered on God. On this Simbang Gabi as we go back to God, it is hoped that we discover anew our own rhythm of time too! How sad that the more we get so centered with ourselves, pursuing everything in life with so many excuses and alibis of not being able to celebrate Masses or even pray, the more we get lost. And the more we get sick physically and most of all, emotionally drained and practically empty, no matter how much money and gadgets we may have. There is always that feeling of emptiness within. A kind of discontentment, of someone of something so great missing in our lives.

That is God who comes to us through our family and friends.

God reminds us through Isaiah to go back to him, to be rooted in him again which means simply being good and holy. Being holy is not being sinless – being holy is being filled with God. Being aware we are his children, he is our Father to whom we must always go home to, touch base with. Just like in the family, we are never complete without one another. Though we are separated by great distances, we still try to get connected once in a while not only to express our love for them but because deep inside, we miss them, we long them. We know we are not complete without our mom and dad, brothers and sisters – no matter how much pains they may have done to us. They are a part of our very selves and we can never be complete without them.

No wonder, it is during this time of the year when we have all kinds of get together and reunions as families and friends, classmates and colleagues in work. Let us not forget the lessons of 2020 when COVID first came and forced us to separate from one another physically. Now we have realized that the meaning of life can only be found in another person, not in one’s self. Let us seek and follow Jesus this Christmas in one another, especially our family and church.

From Facebook 2019.
Our dearest Lord Jesus Christ,
as we prepare for your birthday,
let us seek you in our hearts,
in the sacraments especially
the Eucharist and Confession,
let us recognize you on the face
of every person we meet,
on those we miss so much,
and on those we have hurt
or have caused us pains;
help us go back to the Father
and may his face shine on us;
most of all, dear Jesus,
let us not be stuck with all those 
glitters and lights of this season:
let us rest in you,
feel you
and experience you
in those great and little things
you have been doing for us
especially when we are lost
and empty.  Amen.

From “dance” to “guidance”

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, 105th Year of Final Apparition at Fatima, Portugal, 13 October 2022
Ephesians 1:1-10   ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>   Luke 11:27-28
Photos from pinterest.com.

Today we commemorate the 105th year of the final apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal where over 70,000 people witnessed the “Miracle of the Sun”.

It was raining the whole previous night until noon of October 13, 1917 when people made up of believers and unbelievers alike with skeptics and hecklers at the sides came to Cova Da Iria to await the Virgin Mary’s reported apparition to three young children, Lucia Santos and her two younger cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto. The Blessed Virgin began appearing to the three children at the site on the 13th of May of that year and had promised to appear for the sixth and final time on that October 13, promising a great miracle to everyone. By noon, she finally appeared to the three children and after conversing with them, the sun “danced” or zigzagged the sky emitting radiant colors before careening down to Earth.

Page from Ilustração Portuguesa, 29 October 1917, showing the people looking at the Sun during the Fátima apparitions attributed to the Virgin Mary. From en.wikipedia.org.

Many people cried in fear, begging for mercy as the spectacular occurrence seemed like the end of the world that nothing of such kind was ever experienced nor recorded in history.

The dancing of the sun lasted for about ten minutes before it stood still, shining brightly with warmth that dried the people and nature soaked in rain the night before until that noon.

From then on, devotion to Our Lady of Fatima grew and spread worldwide until the Church recognized the apparition as authentic so that even its official feast was set on May 13, devotees have kept October 13 very special.

The eldest of the three children, Lucia became a Carmelite nun and provided so many useful information to later investigations and studies of the Fatima apparitions. She died on the 13th of February 2005, a few months ahead of the great St. John Paul II who had a very special devotion to Our Lady of Fatima after surviving an assassination attempt on the 13th of May 1981. Sr. Lucia’s younger cousins, as promised by the Lady to them in one of her apparitions, died earlier and have been canonized as saints recently.

Photo by author, April 2022.

Dance as expression of union

Lately I have been observing with great interest and appreciation how our young generation had been “borrowing” the music we grew up with from the 70’s to the 80’s into new level of dance steps via TikTok that are so coool and grooovy!

From the Bee Gees’ Staying Alive to EWF’s September and Groove Tonight to Patricia Rushen’s Forget Me Nots and Puff Daddy’s spin of Sting’s Every Breath You Take, generation gaps are being bridged, even closed with these endearing dance reels in social media.

Latest video I have been watching over and over these past two weeks is by a group of young Asians dancing to a James Brown 1973 funk song recorded by Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s. that is so funky and spunky. So fantastic! You may catch the fever and get the funky feel in both Instagram and YouTube in the link below.

The choreography is superbly modern and contemporary with dress and colors so 70’s yet as you watch the video, you do not feel lost or alienated because you feel a sense of belonging, of oneness unlike most modern music videos.

From YouTube.com.

Dance is a non-verbal communication that expresses our relationships and social interactions as a people, as a culture and as a society which we refer to as social intercourse. At the same time, dance is, generally speaking in the animal kingdom which includes us humans, the expression of gender roles in mating process or sexual intercourse. Notice how the many dance moves in the 70’s and 80’s expressed the promiscuity wrongly promoted by the so-called sex revolution.

Of course, sex is good, sex is holy.

But, it is more than an act or a part of the body! What the sex revolution of the 70’s until now missed greatly is the fact that sex is the totality of the person. Sex was created by God to bring humans into unity, into a communion and oneness with him and with others within his plan found in the sacrament of marriage. Not just according to human plans like same sex marriage nor union.

That noble union is the deeper meaning of a dance, of dancing – whether with a partner or by one’s self – it is always communicative of our higher aspirations of communion with God and others!

It is perhaps the reason why the sun “danced” on October 13, 1917 – it was God’s longstanding invitation for us mankind to dance with him, to follow his steps as taught to us by his Son Jesus Christ repeated by the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima. Notice how in our second reading, it was also the message of St. Paul to us through the Ephesians.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ…

Ephesians 1:2-5
Photo from vaticannews.va, 13 May 2017.

Guidance: God + u and i dance in life!

Like during that time of 1917 in Fatima and the whole world, life was very difficult with the First World War still raging in Europe. People could not find meaning as they found the world so chaotic like today with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, wars in various parts of the world, rising costs of living and so many other difficulties and sufferings in life.

But, like St. Paul, the Blessed Mother at Fatima reminded us of an alternative vision of the world found in Jesus Christ, of the need to renew everything in Christ who had “bestowed on us every spiritual blessing” we need in this life. Despite our sinfulness, God still “chose us in Christ to be one in him” here in this life and in eternity, offering us salvation and fulfillment when we turn away from our sins and evil ways to follow Jesus.

If we reflect deeper into the miracle of the sun in Fatima 105 years ago, the great miracle was not really the sun dancing in the sky but how did the three little children so poor without higher form of learning believed in the promise of our Lady of the Rosary, that a great miracle would happen that day?

Clearly, the three children were guided by the Blessed Mother, most especially by the Holy Spirit! It was their faith that was so outstanding that like Mary, they believed the words spoken to them would be fulfilled as our gospel today told us (Lk.11:28) which were the same words spoken by Elizabeth to Mary at the Visitation (Lk.1:45)!

When we allow ourselves to be guided by the Blessed Mother and by the Holy Spirit, miracles happen in our lives: problems and sufferings are overcome, life becomes fruitful and fulfilling in God. And that is the meaning of the word GUIDANCE:

God
U and
I
D
A
N
C
E 
in life!

May we pray to imitate the three children’s faith in Fatima – that of Sr. Lucia, St. Francisco and St. Jacinta so we may follow the GUIDANCE of Jesus Christ with his Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary as we dance our ways into the many difficulties of this life like in 1917. May we dance with Jesus and Mary in prayers and faith, hope and love. Amen. Have a blessed Thursday!

Photo from cbcpnews.net, 13 May 2022, at the Parish of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City.

Every birthday a small Christmas

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Homily), 08 September 2022
Romans 8: 28-30   ><}}}*> + <*{{{>< + ><}}}*> + <*{{{>< + ><}}}*>   Matthew 1:18-23
Photo by author, Christmas 2021 at Our Lady of Fatima University Chapel at the Basic Education Dept., Valenzuela City.
"Every birthday is a small Christmas 
because with the birth of every person 
comes Jesus Christ."  

These words by the great St. John Paul II from his 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” (The Gospel of Life) is most truest today as we celebrate the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ.

It is right and proper that we celebrate her birthday today because of her coming to life and later her becoming a woman of deep faith in God, Christmas became a reality when she bore in her womb Jesus Christ our Savior.

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.
Matthew 1:18

Matthew beautifully tells us in his genealogy of Jesus Christ followed by this brief explanation of the Lord’s birth through the annunciation to Joseph how every birth, every coming of us is part of God’s plan.

Like Jesus Christ, we all came from God ultimately.

No one is an accident, nor a “chamba” as we say in Pilipino for we are not just lucky to have been born and alive but most of all, blessed. This is the gist of that beautiful alternative first reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:28, 30
“The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, a 1305 painting by Renaissance artist Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. The two babies are Mary: below is Mary upon birth wrapped in swaddling cloth and washed by attendants and then above being handed to St. Anne her mother. Photo from en.wikipedia.org.

It is part of God’s purpose and plan that we were born, from our “election” or calling, to our “justification” or redemption and “glorification” in Jesus Christ — these did not happen by chance but are parts of God’s grand design for each of us.

Every person, every life is a gift of God, so valuable and precious. That is “the good news of life” expressed by St. John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical we have cited earlier. We are all sharing in the very life of God with each one of us a sign of Jesus Christ, the Emmanuel which means “God is with us” (Mt.1:23).

But, are we with God in Jesus Christ – in our trials and sufferings, in our joys and pains, in our victories and defeats, ultimately, in our life and death?

This is something very important we must always examine in our lives, at least during our birthday if we can truly say that it is a small Christmas because Jesus comes through us!

Like Mary, we have to conform ourselves to the image and likeness of her Son Jesus Christ especially in this time when we have reduced life into mere lifestyles and every person into a commodity who can be possessed and used, then discarded just like things.

In this time of Tiktok with everyone vying to be instantly popular, would we trade our dignity as persons just to be trending and viral, doing all those inanities on camera, wearing almost nothing with all kinds of filth and obscenities spewing from our mouths?

How sad that despite the affluence we now enjoy with everything almost within reach of everyone, we have become more lost and more empty these days than before. Everything has become so decadent that the worth of life and every person is being measured in external factors so that everybody wants to be somebody else except their true selves!


Most of all, the best birthday gift we can give Mama Mary
 is to bring out the giftedness of everyone 
so that each one may find in themselves Jesus 
who was born into this world more than 2000 years ago 
by the Blessed Mother herself! 

In celebrating the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we are reminded that we are all good and pleasing in our very selves. We are so good that when Jesus chose to become human like us in everything except sin, he entrusted himself to us as his carriers or bearers so that we may rediscover our giftedness as God’s beloved children.

Photo by author, La Niña Maria at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 07 September 2021.

Now that we are slowly going back to our “normal” ways of life with more “face-to-face” activities, may we keep in mind this great honor from God, of how he trusted us so much to bear his Son into this world like Mary by being his very sign of presence and love especially to those feeling alone and left out. Like Mary, may we bring the joy of Christ and his good news of life and salvation to those in despair, those sick, and dying inside because of bitterness and being so unforgiving not only to others but to their very selves.

It is said that whenever we greet someone with a “happy birthday”, what we really tell them is “I love you and thank you for making me who I am today”. Do we truly feel that way when we greet Mama Mary with happy birthday today?

The best birthday greeting we can give the Blessed Mother Mary today is to be like her, of being conformed in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ so that people may truly feel God is with us, that through our kindness and simplicity minus all those stunts and excitements that exist only on Facebook, people may have a glimpse of the beauty and majesty of God in us.

Most of all, the best birthday gift we can give Mama Mary is to bring out the giftedness of everyone so that each one may find in themselves Jesus who was born into this world more than 2000 years ago by the Blessed Mother herself! Amen.

Photo by author, the patio of the Church of St. Anne in Jerusalem (2017) that was dedicated on September 8 sometime in the sixth century from which originated the celebration of Mary’s birth on this date since then until it spread to Rome and the whole world; the date stuck to become the basis in setting December 8 as the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary which is exactly nine months preceding her birth.

The problem with our greetings

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 15 August 2022
Revelation 11:19, 12:1-6, 10 ><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 15:20-27 ><}}}*> Luke 1:39-56
Photo by author, view of sunrise from Our Lady of Fatima University in Antipolo City, 14 August 2022.

It is very rare to find in the Bible a story of two women together, conversing, blessing each other. And that rarity happens in our gospel scene today of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth in a town in Judah as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary.

What kind of greeting did Mary say that when Elizabeth heard her, the child in her womb leaped in joy, filling her with the Holy Spirit to call Mary blessed? This could have not been any ordinary greeting to elicit such a response from Elizabeth, for her to be filled by the Holy Spirit!

Luke does not tell us how Mary greeted Elizabeth who was six months pregnant at that time with John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus who was also in the womb of Mary at that time. Most likely, she must have said something too close or similar with Gabriel’s greeting to her during the Annunciation, “Hail favored one! The Lord is with you” (Lk.1:28).


As we await of that future glory, 
part of the basis for our assumption
 into heaven like Mary someday depends 
 in the way we greet others because 
that is an indication of our generosity 
and selflessness to a great extent.

Perhaps some of you are wondering why the Church is using this story of the Visitation on this Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. One reason is of course, there is no written account of the Assumption of Mary into heaven.

However, the Visitation story which includes Mary’s Canticle of the Magnificat that she sang as a response to Elizabeth’s praises reflects the meaning of the Assumption: it is a celebration of the great things that God has done for Mary and for us including which he would also do in the future like our “assumption” into heaven like we profess every Sunday in the Apostles’ Creed, “the resurrection of body and life everlasting.”

“The Assumption of the Virgin” by Italian Renaissance painter Titian completed in 1518 for the main altar of Frari church in Venice. Photo from en.wikipedia.org.

Mary became the first human to experience fully the salvation by her Son Jesus Christ, from her Immaculate Conception which speaks of our lost glory from the beginning, and unto her Assumption which promises us of the future glory we shall have in heaven.

As we await of that future glory, part of the basis for our assumption into heaven like Mary someday depends in the way we greet others because that is an indication of our generosity and selflessness to a great extent.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:41-42, 45

To greet is to recognize God working in us, among us.  
It is thinking more of the other person and God than one's self.

Have you noticed these past several years of a silly and inane trend especially in many churches of commentators greeting the congregation with “Magandang umaga po sa ating lahat” or “Good morning to us all”?

What kind of a greeting is that?

To greet somebody is to share something with others. In the Visitation, Mary shared Jesus Christ who was in her womb to Elizabeth that even John in her womb felt him, leaping for joy.

To greet means to extend goodwill to someone, to desire blessings and good things to others.

That was the reason Mary went to visit Elizabeth; she was thinking more of her cousin who was old and barren yet pregnant for six months by the grace of God. Mary visited Elizabeth to affirm the goodness and kindness of God, to recognize that God’s plans for Elizabeth and her baby in her womb have direct correlations with God’s plans for her and her baby in the womb, Jesus.

To greet is to recognize God working in us, among us. It is thinking more of the other person and God than one’s self.

Now, how did it happen that we Filipinos have retrogressed especially in our religious gatherings as well as civic activities when those holding the mic would always say, “Magandang gabi sa ating lahat… Pagpalain tayong lahat ng Diyos” (Good evening to us all or May we all be blessed)?

Photo by author, Church of the Visitation, Ein-Karem, Holy Land, May 2017.

Keep in mind the greeter is sharing what he/she has like a “good morning” or a “blessed day”. Then why is it there are so many among us especially commentators who include their very selves when greeting the congregation, saying “good morning to us all” and other inanities?

To greet others where the greeter includes self in the greeting is like giving a sandwich or coffee to everyone yet takes a bite first or sips too! It is very much the same as replying “me too” when someone tells you “I love you”.

If you include yourself in a greeting, it is not a greeting at all but an insult, a clear sign of callous ego and selfishness to the highest degree that one cannot wait for others to be greeted back.

See the humility and wisdom of Mary: after she had greeted Elizabeth who praised her in return by calling her “blessed” – the first to call her as one – Mary praised God. Not Elizabeth.

When we greet anybody with good morning or good evening or whatever, we do not include ourselves in the greeting because the very fact we are greeting others means we have a lot of good and blessings in us. Like Mary and Elizabeth, we feel so blessed by God that we share Jesus freely to others. Like Mary, we believe and trust that God will never forsake us, will never forget us.

If we can’t even greet somebody so well and so freely, how can we be truly Christian like Mary?

Photo by author in Nazareth, Israel, May 2019.

The Solemnity of the Assumption reminds us today of that great and powerful greeting by Mary to her cousin Elizabeth that led to an encounter and revelation to happen between two women, one old and barren to bear a child with the other too young and unmarried virgin yet both bore children in their wombs by the grace of God.

And it was not just an encounter between the two mothers-to-be but also between their two infants still in their wombs!

In their greetings, God’s mighty deeds became evident, truly present and felt through their mutual exchange of believing, of saying “yes” to Jesus.

The blessedness of this celebration today is found in God’s mighty deeds now resounding in the eternal greeting Mary gives her Son Jesus in heaven.

Photo by author, sunset with the Makati skyline from Antipolo City, 13 August 2022.

Do we hear Mary’s greetings in our own greetings to one another?

Do our greetings elicit responses from others?

Do our greetings lead others to leap for joy?

Or, do our greetings annoy them because we do not greet them at all, we refuse to share Jesus because we have become too conceited?

How can we be assumed into heaven body and soul if we are so filled with our very selves, when we can’t even freely and truly give away greetings to others?

Then, it must be a case of too much presumptions, of assuming everything for us. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead everyone!

Shrewd as serpents, simple as doves

Homily by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Baccalaureate Mass of Senior High School,
Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City, 08 July 2022
Photo by author at Mt. Nebo, Jordan overlooking the Holy Land, May 2019. Modern sculpture of the bronze serpent God told Moses to erect in the desert so that those bitten by snakes would be healed when they looked up to it, a prefiguration of Christ himself.

Congratulations, our dear graduates of Senior High School. You are so blessed today because our gospel is like a valedictory address given to you by no less than our Lord Jesus Christ whose message is so simple, yet so rich and so timely during this COVID-19 pandemic.

Jesus said to his Apostles: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.”

Matthew 10:16

You are the modern apostles of Jesus Christ.

You are so special, Senior High Batch 2022. The past two years are the most difficult in modern history, and probably doubly difficult for young people like you who were supposed to be outside learning and discovering more about life beyond the classrooms but COVID-19 kept you grounded.

But, here you are! Nakatapos din! – despite the poor internet services, the boring online classes, and limited personal interaction with others, you are graduating, soon fulfilling your dreams to become doctors, engineers, nurses, teachers.

Truly as Jesus Christ had said in the gospel today, you are being sent like sheep among wolves, a very wild world indeed where evil and darkness seem to prevail especially when you listen to all the news of missing ladies or even adults.

Photo by author, view of the desert to the Holy Land as seen from Jordan, May 2019.

I refuse to use that expression when somebody graduates, “welcome to the real world”. Was there any moment in your lives that was not real like, kunwa-kunwarian lang? What you went through in senior high was real, what you have experienced were all true. Lahat ay totohanang buhay especially those two years of isolation and lockdowns which may continue for the next three or five years according to experts.

Life will be more difficult in college but most challenging for growth and maturity.

Yes, there are so many dangers from within and from the outside but trust in God for in him alone can we find life and fulfillment as the prophet Hosea reminds us in the first reading today.

Thus says the Lord: “Let him who is wise understand these things, let him who is prudent know them. Straight are the paths of the Lord, in them the just walk, but sinners stumble.”

Hosea 14:10

What Hosea is telling us is to be wise, to be filled with wisdom which begins in having that holy fear of the Lord. Handle life with prayer. As I would always tell you, “study hard, work harder, pray hardest”. In God alone can we find meaning and fulfillment in life.

Photo by author, St. Catherine’s Monastery near Mt. Sinai, Egypt, May 2019.

Maybe you are wondering why Jesus is asking us to be shrewd like the serpents. As you must have learned in world literature and world history, the ancient peoples like the Egyptians have always considered snakes as symbols of wisdom. But what I wish to focus more is the revision of the older translation of this passage from “be wise as the serpents” to “be shrewd as the serpents”.

Being shrewd is often mistaken into a negative trait because it suggests a practical wisdom that does not necessarily look deeply into things at all but wily and conscious of its personal interests.

That’s according to the late Dr. S. I. Hayakawa of the the veritable Reader’s Digest guide to synonyms, “Use the Right Word”. However, Dr. Hayakawa explained that the word “shrewd” is often used to indicate an unusual mental agility or perceptiveness of taking advantage of hidden opportunities. It speaks of a more penetrating kind of wisdom that is why the new versions of bible of “be shrewd as the serpents” is more precise and exact.

In that sense, too, you are all shrewd as the serpents during your senior high school because you were able to perceive hidden opportunities during the pandemic that you strived in your studies. Believe me, you are well-equipped for life because of the online classes during the pandemic, teaching you, showing you so many opportunities our generation had never seen.

Here is the more interesting part of being shrewd like the serpents….

From reddit.com.

The snake is the only one in the animal kingdom that regularly sheds off its skin, a sign of renewal. In Filipino, we call that “paghuhunos ng balat”. During Lent, we hear the elders telling us “maghunos dili” – literally to shed some of one’s self or pride and ego. In short, be converted.

The snake is shrewd because it sheds its skin so often, renewing itself, adjusting and adapting to new situations.

And that is true wisdom – adjusting and adapting to new situations. Most of all, spiritually speaking, it is a daily conversion in God.

Conversion is not changing our personality, like a very courageous person becoming timid or a talkative person becoming silent. Conversion means having new directions in our selves. Perfect example is St. Paul who used to persecute Christians but upon conversion, became the missionary of the gospel of Christ. He was practically the same person still – zealous and full of enthusiasm but no longer in persecuting Christians but promoting Christ.

Conversion is being like the snake in shedding its skin, letting go of the old ways and self to be renewed – still a snake but a better snake after each shedding of skin. That’s being shrewd like the serpents: of the many lessons taught to us by this COVID-19 pandemic, one of the leading lessons is the need for us to adapt and adjust when things are not going good.

And you are the experts in this because during those two years of online classes – for better and for worst – you must have perfected the art of adjustments, of adaptation. Nobody ever expected or even predicted the things that happened in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic is so unique, even surreal. We were so used to our comfort zones, so used to what has always been long before but COVID forced us to abandon that frame of mind and be like serpents, to adjust to situations by shedding off our skins, our pride to be more attuned with the environment to eventually emerge victorious. And we are all better now, especially you who are graduating soon!

Of course, you do not have to adjust and adapt to everything. You have to weigh things carefully. That is why Jesus balanced his instruction to be shrewd as the serpents with being simple as doves. We do not change and renew ourselves for the sake of adapting to new situations; we renew and adapt to become better persons, to become holier.

Remember, you are like the sheep – symbol of humility and holiness – being sent among wolves.

Be shrewd as the serpents and simple as doves. God bless you more in your college studies, Batch 2022!

Tenderness and care of God – and nurses – to heal the world

Homily by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 07 July 2022 
Capping and Pinning Ceremony of Nursing Students
Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City
Photo by author, Nursing students taking their oath at their capping and pinning ceremony at the RISE Tower of the Our Lady of Fatima University in Valenzuela City, 25 June 2022.

If there is one thing that the world needs so badly now in these days of the pandemic is what we call “tender loving care” or TLC. And that is why nurses are so in demand everywhere in the world today, especially those imbued with TLC.

I had the opportunities of exercising my ministry briefly in the States and Canada in the early 2000 during my vacations there. One of the things I always heard from white people I have met in hospitals and retirement homes as well as those in parishes was the statement that “my nurse is a Filipino” or that their caregiver is from the Philippines. And they say it with pride and conviction! Fact is, I never heard people there even our own kababayan speaking so proud of us Filipino priests! Laging binibida sa akin noon yung nurse na Pinoy!

Why? Kasi mabubuti daw ang mga nurse na Filipino. And most likely, mabubyuti din!

Photo from Facebook of a nurse going to work amid the typhoon, November 2020.

“Mabuti” means good and kind, like God. And that trait is something so natural for us Filipinos because of our religiosity and high regard for good education which I can safely claim with pride you can find here at Our Lady of Fatima University. Thank you for choosing us for your education and formation as future nurses of then world.

Next to Veritas (Truth) in our University motto is Misericordia or mercy in English. In the bible we find the mercy of God is part of his quality of being tender and caring, the two qualities of nurses I wish to reflect today for you to be TLC like God, that is, with “tender loving care”.

Misericordia literally means “to move the heart” or “to stir the heart” wherein one’s heart is moved into action, into doing something to alleviate other’s sufferings. More than the feeling of pity, there were the hands doing something to help those sufferings.

Mercy implies an involvement of the person to another going through pains and sufferings like a father or a mother as the prophet Hosea described God so like our daddy in the truest sense in the first reading, full of tenderness and care for Israel representing us today; and despite our sinfulness and ingratitude to him, God spares us of his wrath.

Thus says the Lord: when Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew him with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks; yet though I stooped to feed my child, they did not know that I was their healer. My heart is overwhelmed; my pity stirred. I will not give vent to my blazing anger, I will not destroy Ephraim again. For I am God not man, the Holy One present among you; I will not let the flames consume you.

Hosea 11:1, 3-4, 8-9

Hindi ba ganun din ang nurse, tatay na nanay like God?

In his book on Rembrandt’s painting of the return of the prodigal son in Luke’s gospel, the late Fr. Henri Nouwen noted how the father’s two hands are of a father and a mother. The father’s hand looked firm evoking senses of being supportive, empowering, and encouraging while the mother’s hand looked soft that is consoling, caressing and comforting.

From en.wikipedia.org.

Tenderness is being like God, of having both the hand of a father and of a mother with a big heart able to accommodate those suffering because you know and realize the gravity of what they are going through. You forego plans of getting even, of vengeance, of punishing because a tender person is one who tries not to add more insult to one’s injuries or rub salt onto one’s wounds so to speak. 

A tender person is one who tries to soothe and calm a hurting person, trying to heal his/her wounds like God often portrayed in many instances in the bible in lovingly dealing with sinners filled with mercy.  Like God, a person filled with tenderness is one who comes to comfort and heal the sick and those taking on a lot of beatings in life. 

When Jesus Christ came, he personified this tenderness of God like when he is moved with pity and compassion for the sick, the widows, the women and the children and the voiceless in the society.  Tenderness is coming to heal the wounds of those wounded and hurt, trying to “lullaby” the restless and sleepless. 

That was the tenderness exemplified by your role model, Florence of Nightingale in all her life that is why she is always portrayed holding a lamp bringing light into the world plunged to the darkness of war and sickness that continues to these days.

Later, you will be lighting your candles from those giant lamps while your professors along with the Dean put on your cap and pin to signify your going to hospital duties as part of your formation as future nurses. Totohanin ninyo na!

You are already a nurse once you receive that cap and pin.

Take care of that light that you are supposed to illumine the world. Most of all, take care of that light that also signifies every patient you shall be taking care of. Do not let the flame of life be extinguished.

Care, on the other hand, means to have compassion, from the Latin words cum patior, to suffer with. To care is to be human because care is recognizing the other person is my brother or sister, a human who is weak and vulnerable just like me.

When Jesus told his Apostles in our gospel today to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive our demons” (Mt.10:8), it is not literal at all. Remember before that he instructed the Twelve to proclaim “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” which means the most important is for others to realize and experience they are not alone, they have God with them amid all their miseries and sickness. And surely, amidst all of these is the certainty of death. Very often, as you would experience later, we cannot heal and cure all the sick.

What matters most is that they are cared for with all the tenderness so that even in their final moments, they feel they are not alone. That is why, nursing is more than a profession but also a vocation. A call from God to be like him, tender and caring to others, especially the sick and the dying. May God bless you more, our dear Nursing students along with all the nurses of the world. Amen.

Photo by author, Nursing students taking their oath at their capping and pinning ceremony at the RISE Tower of the Our Lady of Fatima University in Valenzuela City, 25 June 2022.

“Sleeping” in Christ, trusting in God

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Solemnity of Sts. Peter & Paul, Apostles, 29 June 2022
Acts 12:1-11 ><}}}}*> 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18 ><}}}}*> Matthew 16:13-19
Photo by Fr. Howard John Tarrayo, August 2021.

Our readings today are a parable of the Church, of what we should and would be as the Body of Christ celebrating the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, the pillars of the Church.

Despite their personalities being poles apart while their social, cultural and religious backgrounds were greatly different, both men were won over by Jesus Christ to proclaim his good news of salvation, eventually dying as martyrs like the Lord. Both apostles displayed deep trust in Jesus Christ whom they have come to know on a personal basis.

Let us reflect first on St. Peter, the “prince of the Apostles” and servant of all. Notice how Peter could sleep soundly inside prison, even between two soldiers as narrated to us by Luke.

Photo by Cristian Pasion, Easter Vigil, National Shrine of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 2021.

On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter, secured by double chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison. Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, “Get up quickly.” The chains fell from his wrists. The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.” So he followed him out, not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real; he thought he was seeing a vision.

Acts 12:6-9

It is very amusing, even funny, but facts can truly be stranger than fiction!

How could Peter sleep soundly after being arrested and thrown into prison with two soldiers sandwiching him inside his cell while a host of other guards secured the area outside?

We think again of St. Joseph sleeping soundly in a similar critical situation when he decided to silently leave Mary who was found pregnant with a child before they were married. Too often, we find it difficult to sleep when we have problems because we cannot decide decisively as we lack trust and faith in God. Both Joseph and Peter slept soundly under critical situations because of their complete trust and faith in God.

But, Peter shows us another dimension of his trust in God – his total trust also in the Church, believing that they were all praying for him.

Photo by Cristian Pasion, Easter Vigil, National Shrine of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 2022.

It is a beautiful imagery of the Church then and now, always in darkness like during night time when Peter was imprisoned. And that is the parable of this scene: it is always a time of Exodus for us in the Church, of passing over from every trials and difficulties, always trusting our leaders, trusting our faithful and most of all, entrusting everything to God!

If there is one thing most needed these days in our Church especially in the Philippines is this attitude of being in an Exodus, of exiting from our excesses from the past, of submitting ourselves more to God than to our own thoughts and plans especially in politics that we have forgotten the more crucial proclamation of the gospel by reaching out to the grassroots level, of witnessing our faith in God instead of lording it over among people, exerting our influences. The recent elections is a dark period of our imprisonment with secular thoughts and dispositions, forgetting our sphere of influence in spiritual matters.

May we, both clergy and laypeople, imitate Peter by abandoning everything to God in deep prayers, following God not our plans as symbolized by his putting on his belt and sandals as commanded by the angel.

Photo by Cristian Pasion, Easter Vigil, National Shrine of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 2021.

Meanwhile, we find the same kind of total abandonment by Paul of himself to God while in prison where he wrote some of his finest letters like this Second Letter to Timothy, the last of his captivity letters which we heard in the second reading today.

Imagine the stress of being in prison but without any hint of duress on Paul while awaiting death amid all humiliations with his incomparable eloquence:

I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. The Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it. The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4:6-7, 17, 18

Very evident in all his letters, Paul had always expressed his total abandonment of self to Christ, of his faith in God. Here in this portion of his second letter to Timothy, we find two important lessons so apt in our celebration of this solemnity.


First is the nature of Christian life lived as a worship: am already being poured out like a libation. That is what I like most with Paul, his mastery of language, always using the most perfect words to express his experiences and ideas. For some, especially first-time readers of Paul, they may find it so “mayabang” as we say in Filipino. But no. For me, Paul is the most sincere and most humble writer in the world of letters then and now.

A libation is a drink offered to gods in ancient Greece and Rome. Here, Paul as he approached death, summarized his entire life as an offering to God that we also see in his other writings.

And that is the challenge of this solemnity to us, that we live our lives as a form of worship to God.

Photo by Fr. Pop dela Cruz, 15 June 2022.

Our very lives in itself are a prayer, always centered on God, something so foolish when we go by the standards of the world today that is all show – palabas – with nothing substantial inside because only money and fame matter. Paul was very much like Peter who lived their lives as prayers that like Christ in the end, both offered the highest offering of all, martyrdom.

Second thing we find in this short but rich excerpt from Paul’s letter to Timothy is the deeper meaning of death as a passage to heaven, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom”. Like the gospel last Sunday when we heard Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” wherein Jesus freely chose to face his death to fulfill his mission and express his deep love for the Father and for us. To the Philippians Paul declared that “for me life is Christ, death is gain”. Here in his letter to Timothy, Paul freely accepts his death, making it a blessing for others, something we must emulate. Instead of having those bucket lists of things to do before dying, Paul is teaching us death comes in every present moment that we must always prepare for its happening so that the next generation may continue the good things we have started. And that is exactly how until now the Church’s missionary zeal is kept aflame by Paul’s letters and works.


Photo by author, 2019.

In the gospel proclaimed today about the investiture of Peter as the head of the church of Christ, we heard Jesus entrusting to him “the keys to the kingdom of heaven that whatever he binds on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever he loosens on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (cf. Mt.16:19).

As I end this reflection for this Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, I wish to use the word “key” in a different sense – the key to unlocking how Peter and Paul achieved so much for God and for the Church lies in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Both apostles who have become the pillars of the Church today truly experienced Jesus in their lives in the most personal and in timate manner that in the process they have mirrored the true Christ himself.

The problems we have in the Church today, notably the declining number of the faithful following an all-time low in credibility is largely due to the many wrong answers we give Jesus to his question “who do people say I am?” Many Christians are losing their faith and interest in the Church because of the mixed signals we give them on what do we say who Jesus is.

The Church grew so wide during the time of Peter and Paul because both apostles shared the true Jesus Christ not only in their words but also in their deeds. May we have the courage to open ourselves to Jesus Christ again so we may know him more clearly, love him dearly, follow him closely and preach him daily. Amen.

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, QC, 2017.