The vessels of God’s grace to us

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 08 December 2021
Genesis 3:9-15, 20 ><}}}*> Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12 ><}}}*> Luke 1:26-38
Photo by Rev. Fr. Gerry Pascual at Santuario di Greccio, Rieti, Italy in 2019.
Praise and glory to you,
O God our loving Father
in giving us a Mother in Mary
who gave birth to your Son Jesus
in order to save us from our sins!
Indeed, nothing is impossible 
with you, dear God as you willed
Mary to be conceived immaculately
free from any sin to be pure and
clean to receive Jesus in her womb.
Because of that, she is rightly
called as our "advocate of grace"
and "model of holiness" for through
her, your life and blessings overflowed
upon us in Christ's coming.
And so, we pray to you, Father
in the name of Jesus our Lord
for all the people who have been
channels of your grace to us
like Mary:  our beloved mothers and
fathers who brought us forth into this
world and nurtured us in your love,
still patiently bearing all of life's
beatings and sufferings for our own
good and comfort; we pray for our
siblings, especially our elder brothers
and sisters who have faithfully acted as
our parents too after they were gone
who ensured our safety and well-being,
our sources of joy when life is rough;
we pray for our friends who have remained
faithful by our side through thick and 
thin, still believing in us despite our sins
and failures; we pray for our employers
and superiors and colleagues at work
who give us the chance to earn our
living with dignity and honor so we can 
keep ourselves and loved ones warm and
secured specially in this time of the pandemic.
Most of all, we pray for your Holy Spirit,
dear Father, to always enlighten our
minds and our hearts so that like Mary
we may always be open to Christ's
coming not only to share him with 
others but most of all like Mary his Mother,
we too may be conformed in him
our Savior as you have willed since
the beginning.  Amen.

Mary, advocate of grace and model of holiness

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 08 December 2021
Genesis 3:9-15, 20 ><}}}*> Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12 ><}}}*> Luke 1:26-38
Photo by Rev. Fr. Gerry Pascual at Palazzo Borromeo, Isola Bella, Stresa, Italia, 2019.

Recently I saw on a Facebook post the photo of American model Kendall Jenner in a swimsuit showing what for many is the “perfect body” in a woman. The photo had reportedly gone viral last year.

What caught my attention was the other photo posted opposite Jenner: that of 19-year-old Alyssa Carson who became the youngest female in history to pass all NASA aerospace tests to train as astronaut for future travel to Mars! The caption said it so well, lamenting the fact how the world gives so much attention to “fashion models” with many going insane imitating their bodies forgetting the more essential like inner beauty and intelligence.

More sad is how we have fixed our human understanding and analogies of a “model” as someone who poses and remains still to be painted or photographed for glossy magazines and giant billboards that people are willing to buy or pay for just to view and let their senses feast on.

It may sound funny but those two photos accompanied me while praying and preparing for our celebration today of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Sorry, I am not going to show you the link to those photos but wha I want to share with you are the two beautiful expressions depicting Mary as “advocate of grace” and “model of holiness” found in the Preface of today’s Mass (that is the prayer before the Holy, Holy leading to the consecration): “She, the most pure Virgin, was to bring forth a Son, the innocent lamb who would wipe away our offenses; you placed her above all others to be for your people an advocate of grace and a model of holiness.”

Photo by Fr. Gerry Pascual at Einsiedeln Abbey, Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 2019.

So often with Marian feasts, many people complain and find it hard to relate with the Blessed Virgin because they find them as celebrations of the privileges of Mary who was so blessed and unique, thinking she’s almost a god, not human anymore whom we cannot imitate and emulate.

That is totally untrue and baseless!

Of course, only she has the distinction of being immaculately conceived, one never stained by sin but, aside from that, Mary is like all of us, so human; and we too can be like her, full of grace and holy!

Brothers and sisters: 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, in accord with the favor of his will.

Ephesians 1:3-5

Very clear in this reflection by St. Paul in our second reading that our truest destiny is to be holy and without blemish – that is, immaculate. It is the plan of God since the beginning that we all become his people until sin came and destroyed momentarily that divine plan as we have heard in the first reading.

With the coming of Jesus through his sacrifice on the Cross, we were redeemed from sin to become God’s holy people which the same Preface mentions Mary as the “beginning of the Church”. The same prayer reiterates to us our universal calling from God which is to be holy and blameless before God through Jesus Christ. It is very doable and attainable “for nothing is impossible for God” as the Archangel Gabriel told Mary during the Annunciation (Lk.1:37). And Mary is our proof to that!

Photo by Rev. Fr. Gerry Pascual at Santuario di Greccio, Rieti, Italy in 2019.

While it is very true that nothing is impossible for God, today’s celebration of the Immaculate Conception reminds of how God “needs” us to cooperate and participate in his beautiful plans for us like Mary to be his instrument or seedbed for his Divine Word to receive and grow and bloom.

That is the meaning of Mary as “advocate of grace” who became the vessel in the coming of Jesus Christ. See how St. Luke was very clear in narrating Mary’s “supporting” role and place in the plan of God: she remains a human being – not God – like us except she was full of grace, that is, immaculately conceived.

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end… The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Luke 1:31-33, 35

The Church Fathers used to call Mary as the “aquaeductus ecclesiae” or neck of the Church connecting Jesus the caput or head and us the corpus or body. Mary as an advocate of grace is that vessel of all blessings we now have in Jesus Christ because of her obedience and participation in that plan of God of sending Jesus.

Keep in mind that as advocate of grace, Mary brings us all to Jesus as the one Mediator, not away from him. True devotees of Mary bring others to Jesus not away from him for he alone is the Mediator. A true and authentic devotion to Mary always result in deeper knowledge and intimacy with Jesus and his gospel. Notice this in her apparitions especially at Fatima in 1911 where her messages call us to get closer to Jesus, not her.

Mary continues as our advocate of grace telling us the very same words she had told the servers at Cana to “do whatever he tells you” (Jn.2:5).

Do we do the same? Or, mislead others into putting Mary at par or even above Jesus her Son and Lord? In this time of pandemic, are we like Mary as an advocate of grace, a vessel and instrument of blessings to others or do we grab every credit of “charity” and “kindness”, grandstanding for more media mileage of “likes” and “followers” to be viral and trending?

Photo by Fr. Gerry Pascual at the Cathedral of Barcelona, Spain in 2019.

From her being an “advocate of grace”, Mary thus becomes our “model of holiness” too as she reminds us of God’s original plan for us, created in his image and likeness destroyed by sin with the fall of Adam and Eve. See how God immediately promised salvation through the woman fulfilled in Mary as he reprimanded the serpent in tempting Eve:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike you at your head, while you strike at his heel.”

Genesis 3:15

Because of her being the advocate of grace of God by giving birth to Jesus, Mary stands before us as the perfect reminder of Christ’s work of purification and recovery of the image of God in us. Described as the “perfect disciple” and “doer of the Word”, Mary had shown us in her very life which continues to this day in her intercessions and apparitions how discipleship is a life-long process and commitment of holiness. From giving birth to Jesus to his dying on the Cross until his burial, Mary had always been with Jesus that on Easter, it was to her that the Risen Lord first appeared because she was the first to believe totally in him.

At the Pentecost, Mary was with the Apostles awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit that became the coming out party of the Church. In her life, Mary is the model of holiness because she keeps on working with us and in us, guiding us in following Jesus our Lord and Master so that we might be “conformed to his image” (Rom. 8:29).

Photo by author, Christmas 2020.

Holiness is not being sinless but being filled with God who is all-holy, being like Jesus Christ. Mary showed us the way to holiness is being humble before God, seeing herself as the “handmaid” or servant of the Lord.

If there is one thing the world needs now so badly in this time of the pandemic, it is holiness. Before the pandemic came, mankind was so filled with self, so arrogant and proud acting like god, manipulating everything.

How ironic that a microscopic virus with the simplest signs similar to the common colds made the world stood still for some time, reminding us that there is a God all-powerful who is in control of everything.

Through Mary, may this Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception lead us back to God to recover in us his image and likeness, cleansed and purified of our blemishes and wrinkles of sin by having an enlightened devotion to her, the servant of the Lord par excellence. Amen.

A blessed day to everyone!

Silent listening

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the BVM, 08 December 2020
Genesis 3:9-15, 20   >><)))*>   Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12   >><)))*>   Luke 1:26-38 
Photo by author, Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Malolos City, 08 December 2019.

Glory and praise to you, O God our loving Father! In your eternal love you have desired to restore us to our original state in you as pure and holy by sending us Jesus Christ our Savior who was born by his immaculately conceived Mother, Mary of Nazareth.

Brothers and sisters: Blessed by 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.

Ephesians 1:3-4

On this most joyous day of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, I pray only for one thing: that like the Blessed Virgin Mary we may recover the value of silent listening in our world that has become so noisy. In the streets, in vehicles, in homes and everywhere including houses of worship, people are always plugged into something they only want to listen to. Worst, many people have come to refuse and even fear unconsciously silent listening.

How amazing, O Lord, that “silent” and “listen” are both an anagram of exactly same letters for these words perfectly go together: we need to be silent in order to be able to listen. And when we learn to listen in silence, then we become trusting and obedient too like Mary, something we need so badly these days of too much materialism and individualism.

How unfortunate and tragic, O Lord, that in our world today, we care to listen not only to the loudest sounds we can hear but ultimately to voices that would please and massage our ego like in the story of the fall of man.

Silent listening is heeding your call to enter into a communion in you when we have to lose ourselves and trust you entirely like Mary. She was willing to make time for you, to leave everything behind in order to silently listen to the angel announcing the birth of Jesus.

Forgive us when we refuse to “make” time of silent listening for you and even our neighbors because we are afraid of silence in the first place; we are so afraid to hear our true selves speaking, that we are all your servants, that we are mortals, that we are limited, that we need you inasmuch as we need others too. We prefer the noises of the world that make us feel we are in control of everything, even of our very selves when we are not.

We think that silence is like waiting when we have to be empty, not realizing that silence is a fullness when we are able to listen to so many voices and sounds, even the most faintest we disregard but often most valuable like your voice deep within our hearts that asks us to do what is good and avoid what is evil; the feeble voice of our true selves desiring meaning; and, the silent cries of the voiceless among us, of those living in the margins, the poor, the sick, the old, and the children.

In silent listening, Mary was able to grasp so much in your fullness that she gave her fiat after listening to the good news from the Archangel Gabriel:

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

Luke 1:38

As we prepare for your Second Coming, dear Jesus in this season of Advent, give us the grace of silent listening like Mary so we become more sensitive of your presence within us and especially among the poor and suffering. Amen.

Photo by author, Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Malolos City, 08 December 2019.