Hospitality vs. Hostility

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XIV, Year I in Ordinary Time, 08 July 2021
Genesis 44:18-21, 23-29; 45:1-5  >>+<<   Matthew 10:7-15
Photo by Mr. Howie Severino, Taal Lake, Batangas, 2018.
It is the rainy season again,
God our loving Father
and we are awashed with news
of furies of nature:  floods and 
landslides including a restive
volcano in our midst at Taal.
How lovely sometimes to think
when nature is full of hospitality
with its beauty for all to see; but,
there are times when nature 
is more of hostility like an enemy
leading us to sadness and distress.
Hospitality and hostility
are extremes in our personality
one indicating maturity
the other a lack of self mastery
borne out of jealousy
causing so many pains and miseries. 
Come closer to me,
he told his brothers.
"I am your brother Joseph,
whom you once sold into Egypt.
But now do not be distressed,
and do not reproach yourselves
for having sold me here.
It was really for the sake of
saving lives that God sent me here
ahead of you."
(Genesis 45:4,5)

We pray, O Lord
for the hostilities among us
when we try to imprison one another
taking them hostage to our whims and  
selfishness like the brothers of Joseph
disregarding the value of the other person.
"Whatever town or village you enter,
look for a worthy person in it,
and stay there until you leave.
As you enter a house,
wish it peace.
If the house is worthy,
let your peace come upon it;
if not, let your peace return to you.
Whoever will not receive you
or listen to your words ---
go outside that house or town
and shake the dust from your feet."
(Matthew 10:11-14)
Teach us hospitality, dear God,
to welcome and accept each other
as a brother and a sister
in Jesus our Lord and Master
finding security in him alone
so we may proclaim his salvation.
In this time of the pandemic
may we find amid the crises
your image and likeness, O God
on the face of everyone so that
your "marvels may be done"
as we pray in the responsorial psalm. Amen.

A real Lent in a time not so real

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Ash Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Joel 2:12-18   >><)))*>  2Corinthians 5:20-6:2  >><)))*>  Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Photo by author, chapel at Franciscan Monastery at Mt. Nebo in Jordan overlooking the Promised Land or Holy Land, May 2019.

Today we begin our annual Lenten pilgrimage with Ash Wednesday in the very different situation and conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic now in its first full year. Although this may be the most unusual, both unreal and surreal Lent since the end of Second World War, this could also be our most real Lent so far.

Being real means getting into the very core of our very selves, focusing on the more essential that are invisible to the eyes. Since the popularity of social media and smart phones, life has become more of a big show than of living that we care more of lifestyles than life itself.

All three readings today invite us to get real, to confront our true selves, stop all pretensions by letting go of our many excuses and alibis. No more ifs and buts. Just our bare selves before God for tomorrow or later may be too late. St. Paul’s words perfectly express the challenge and beauty of Lent 2021:

Brothers and sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 5:20, 6:2

Lent is a journey into inner self 
to reach out to God through others.

The forty days of Lent are a journey characterized by three important acts so central not only to Christianity but also to the other two great faiths of the world, Judaism and Islam. These are fasting, prayer and alms giving. Through these acts, we journey back into our very selves in order to reach out to God through others.

And we start by cleansing our very selves through the putting of dry ashes on the crown of our head instead of the more usual imposition on forehead to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The use of ashes as an outward sign of our inner cleansing beautifully tells us of its being natural cleansing agents long before the invention of chemical solutions. As such, being closest to earth, ashes remind us so well of our mortality, “for dust thou art and unto dust shall you return”!

However, though we are all marked for death as the ashes signify, they are blessed at the start of today’s Mass to remind us too that we die in Jesus Christ because ultimately, we return to God who is our true origin and end.

Hence, the need to cleanse our very selves by emptying ourselves of all the dirt and filth of sin inside that have marred our image and likeness in God. More than the outward appearance of putting ashes on our heads to signify cleansing is its internal significance of cleansing within by self- emptying through fasting.

In fasting, we cleanse our inner selves by denying ourselves not only of food but also of the usual things that fill us especially in this age of affluence and consumerism. Not only of material things but anything that make us forget God and others, that make us forget that we are mere mortals, weak and imperfect.

By fasting, we empty ourselves of our pride to be filled with Christ’s humility, justice, and love so we realize the world does not revolve around us. That we do not need so many “likes” and “followers” like in social media that inflate our ego but still leave us empty and lost.

And now is the perfect time, as St. Paul reminds us.

When we look back in this past year, so many of our relatives and friends have died, some alone, due to COVID-19 and other illnesses. The pandemic had grimly reminded us of life’s fragility and the need to be more loving always because we’ll never know if we can still be with everyone.

Fasting reminds us who and what are most essential in this life like God, life, and loved ones. Not likes or followers, luxuries, money, fame, or food.

In Tagalog, the word for meat is “laman”; to fast and go without meat literally means “walang laman” which also means “empty”!

When we fast and become empty, then we create space for God and for others.

That is why it is easier to pray and be one with God in meditation and contemplation when our stomach and senses are empty because we become more sensitive to his presence in Jesus. Silence in itself is a kind of fasting, the very key to any form of prayer.

Who needs to look gloomy when fasting when we are filled with the most wonderful and essential in this life who is God as Jesus tells us in the gospel, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites” (Mt.6:16).

In the same manner, whatever we save in our fasting, whatever we deny ourselves, we give and share with others in alms giving. Try opening your Facebook. What fills up your page? Your selfies? Your me-time? Your work and errands? Whatever fills your FB page, most often it always gratifies you for better and for worse. And yes, of course, they all indicate how glamorous and fabulous is your life.

This Lent 2021, so many people have lost their jobs. So many are struggling to make ends meet. Others’ sufferings have become more unbearable not only with financial difficulties but simply due to difficult conditions traveling to undergo chemotherapy or dialysis.

Life has been so unreal, even surreal for all of us since last year. And God is the one most sad of all in what we have been going through in this pandemic. But he cannot do anything for us because we still rely so much with our very selves, with our science and technology that all feed on to our pride and selfishness. Every day we hear of news of all kinds of abuses and lack of kindness going on, even among states and governments in the allocation of vaccines.

The pandemic is not purely medical and biological in nature but something spiritual.

Now, more than ever, is the Prophet Joel’s call more true:

Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.

Joel 2:12-13

If there is anyone who wishes this pandemic to end so we can see and be near with each other without any fear of getting sick, of dying, that must be God. Like St. Paul, let us implore everyone to be reconciled with God right in our hearts by taking our fasting, praying, and alms giving seriously. Amen.

We are God’s handiwork

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Week XXIX, Year II in Ordinary Time, 19 October 2020
Ephesians 2:1-10     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Luke 12:13-21
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

As we begin our work this Monday, guide us O God our Father to discover anew this great gift of life in you. May we see ourselves the way you see us – beloved and forgiven children made in your own image and likeness — your handiwork as St. Paul beautifully expressed!

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.

Ephesians 2:8-10

Let us value this unique blessing from you, dear Lord; in your power and supremacy, you could have just let us vanished and be forgotten. Yet, you chose to redeem us in your Son Jesus Christ, giving us countless opportunities to rise again, to bloom, and to be healed.

Make our hearts whole in you, undivided in pride, complacency and selfishness unlike that man in the parable whom we imitate most often, busy storing treasures for ourselves that we forget real wealth is found in what matters to you our God (Lk. 12:21).

Wake us up from this insanity of amassing too much of everything, not realizing that in the process, the more we have, the more we are actually empty and lost because all these things perish.

Only you, O God, suffices. Make us aspire and desire more of you so your glory and majesty may be seen in us. Amen.

In the presence of God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Feast of Archangels St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael, 29 September 2020
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14     >><)))*>   +   >><)))*>   +   >><)))*>     John 1:47-51
Photo by author, dome of the chapel at Shepherds’ Field in Bethlehem, the Holy Land, May 2019.

Thank you Lord Jesus Christ for opening the heaven for us to be in the presence of God the Father anew and most especially, to become like him again in his image and likeness.

As we celebrate today the Feast of your Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, we remember God’s original plan for us to be with him like his angels and Archangels, of being like him not to compete but to reflect his image and likeness.

And so today, we pray that we may have the grace to be like St. Michael whose name means “who is like unto God?” that we may be like God not to compete with him but to be holy and merciful like him, fighting evil and sins with justice and truth.

Make us strong, Lord Jesus, like St. Gabriel whose name means “God is my strength” so we may deliver always your good news of salvation to the world now numb to bad news of wars and murders, injustice and inhumanity, poverty and starvation as well as the excesses of the first world with more than half the world starving and barely surviving with bare essentials.

Lastly, we beg you Lord in this time of the pandemic to grant us the gift of healing for those sick not only with COVID-19 but with other sickness. May St. Raphael who name means “God has healed” come and guide us in this journey like he did to Tobias, providing him the medications to heal not only bodily sickness but also emotional and spiritual maladies.

These we present to God our Father through you our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Love: Morality of Christianity

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul, Week VII-A, 23 February 2020

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 ><)))*> 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 ><)))*> Matthew 5:38-48

Altar of the modern Minor Basilica of the Holy Trinity at Fatima, Portugal. Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, 2017.

Jesus concludes his Sermon on the Mount this Sunday just in time for the start of Lent this coming Ash Wednesday. He taught us last Sunday that righteousness is not only measured by acts but most of all by the purity of the heart’s intentions that we call “education of the heart”.

Today Christ comes to the demands of charity and love, the fullness of the Laws in himself.

Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well… You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father..”

Matthew 5:38-39, 43-45

See again the Lord’s pattern in his preaching like last Sunday: a recall of the laws to show his adherence to them contrary to claims of his enemies, and then his infusion of his teaching that perfects the laws: “You have heard… But I say to you…”

Jesus focuses only on two laws today, that of revenge or “lex talionis” (from Latin talio for the word such) and that of hate for enemy which needs some clarifications.

Nowhere do we find in the Laws of Israel “to love your neighbor and hate your enemy”. Experts say Jesus must be citing a popular saying of his time in this part of his teaching. Besides, the Aramiac spoken by the Lord does not connote the harsh meaning we have today for the word “hate”. In short, Jesus is correcting here the norm among Jews of his time to “just love those who love us”.

This is why he adds this beautiful explanation with the most unique conclusion of all.

“For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5:46-48
Photo by Lorenzo Atienza, 12 June 2019, Malolos Cathedral.

A fraternity of humanity in the Father

Here we find a beautiful dimension of Jesus Christ’s assertion last week that he had come to fulfill the Laws: more than having a broader approach to the spirit of the laws, education of the heart leads us to see everyone as a brother and a sister.

No one is different. Every one is a family – a kin! which is the root of the word “kind”.

Being kind is more than being good as we say in Filipino, mabait or mabuti.

Being kind is treating the other person as a kin, a relative or family; someone who is not different from us. When we say “he is kind to me”, it means more than being good to me but treating me as a family, a brother or a sister – not as “another” or “iba sa akin” as we say in Filipino.

Photo by author, Mt. St. Paul, Baguio City, 03 February 2020.

This is the essence of our “Year of Inter-religious Dialogue, Ecumenism, and Indigenous Peoples” in preparation next year of our 500 years of Christianity in the country.

Everybody is included in that celebration as we reach out to peoples of other faith and beliefs as well as to the indigenous peoples whose forefathers were actually the first settlers of the country.

This is very important in any dialogue and relationship and partnerships including marriage: there must always be the acceptance of everyone in equal footing with same dignity as a person. It is from here we start that fullness of the Laws in Christ in love.

Human holiness as a reflection of God’s holiness in love

Love can only happen where there is equality and fairness. Love demands we are first of all at equal footing with each other. This is why Jesus became human like us: the Son of God became human to stand on equal footing with us that we cannot argue that he is greater because he is truly human, too, going through everything we have gone through except sin.

When he said that we offer our other cheek, to give our cloak, and go for another mile, he is not referring to criminal or penal codes but more into our humanity, that spirit of universal brotherhood so that even our oppressors and enemies come to realize within them that we are one, that we should be caring for one another, not hating and hurting each other.

Loving our enemies does not mean we let evil continue; loving our enemies means continuing to “love” perpetrators of evils until they realize we are brothers and sisters, keeping each other, caring for each other.

Loving our enemies is making them realize that there are nobody else here on earth for them except us – why fight and perish?

Yes, these are easier said than done. And admittedly, I must confess it is the most difficult part of the gospel, of being a Christ-ian. But it is something Jesus is asking us in the most personal manner.

From Google.

Let it be clear that Jesus is not asking us to behave with naiveté that we give in to injustice, evil, and violence but that we always be peacemakers, the blessed ones he said in his Beatitudes. In our fight for justice and peace, we fight with the moral persuasions of love which is the morality of Christ.

The American civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had shown in our modern time that the Lord’s teachings are doable: we just have to be convinced and must truly believe in Jesus.

“Love is the most durable power in the world. This creative force is the most potent instrument available in mankind’s quest for peace and security.”

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When we love truly in Jesus Christ, asserting what is true, what good, what is just, we make God truly present in the world. When that happens, the more we allow him to do his works of changing us within, of transforming us within. It is in our imperfect love that we make God present, the perfect I Am.

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

Leviticus 19:1-2, 18
Photo by Dra. Mai B. Dela Peña, Santorini in Greece, 2016.

Hubris, our greatest temptation and sin

The Season of Lent is fast approaching us, set to start with Ash Wednesday this week. It is a season characterized by barrenness: no Gloria and Alleluias, no flowers, no decorations, no images to make us turn back to God again, our Lord and Master alone.

St. Paul reminds us today in our second reading that we are “God’s temple… that there is no need to boast of anyone including one’s self” (1Cor. 3:16, 21). Instead of embracing or holding on to anyone including one’s self, we have to embrace the scandal of the cross of Christ, that is, power in weakness, wisdom in what the world considers folly.

For the ancient Greeks as depicted in their epics, the greatest temptation and sin of man is hubris – the arrogant presumption that he is god, that he can do everything, he can have everything that he defies the gods.

Hubris is the sin of pride that has led everyone from Adam and Eve to all the powerful men and women of history into their downfall. It is absolute power crumbling absolutely, always tragically.

In his Sermon on the Mount where we heard many of the Lord’s teachings this whole month of February, Jesus shows us the path away from hubris, his path of love and holiness in the Father. Let us heed his calls, give his teachings a try and a chance to be fulfilled in us.

A very lovely and loving Sunday to you!

We are the mosaic of God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Thursday, Easter Week IV, 16 May 2019
Acts 13:13-25///John 13:16-20
Madaba Mosaic Map on the floor of the Byzantine church of St. George in Madaba, Jordan dating back to 560 AD, one of the oldest maps of the Holy Land discovered in late 19th century. Photo by author, 02 May 2019.

Your readings for today, Lord Jesus, remind me of that wonderful experience you gave us to see so many beautiful mosaics in your Holy Land. Some are very old, some are new. But they are all so lovely not only for our sight to behold but also for our hearts to reflect and cherish.

It was only then when I realized in the production of a mosaic that each stone represents every one of us who has rough edges cut into a tiny piece then glued together to form one big picture by highlighting each one’s smooth and shiny surface.

Just one shiny, smooth surface needed to complete a beautiful picture.

Just one good character or trait of us, never mind our rough and uneven edges and sides, to portray your beauty, your majesty, your glory.

Thank you, Lord, for looking more on our beautiful side like in a mosaic.

Thank you for washing us of our sins so we may be smoother and shinier.

Thank you for that long story of salvation Paul summarized in the first reading at how you patiently waited in time to fix everything until you came to save us. It is the same kind of patience and love you must have put on each of us to be a part of your big picture, Lord.

May we always see the bigger picture of you among us who are tiny pieces of little stones with many rough sides with just one good side needed to portray you. May we keep in our minds and our hearts that “no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him” (Jn.13:16) so we may always focus on the brighter and smoother side of us and of life to reflect you more. Amen.

The Madaba Mosaic Factory in Jordan employs disabled persons with a large part of its earnings supporting other disadvantaged people in the area. Photo by the author, 02 May 2019.