The difficulty and beauty of intimacy

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time, 03 August 2022
Jeremiah 31:1-7   ><)))*> + + + <*(((><   Matthew 15:21-28
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 2021.
Many times I have felt you,
dear Jesus coming to me in unfamiliar
grounds and situations
like when you came to the pagan
district of Tyre and Sidon;
for what, Jesus?
To test us?
Why do you come to me
when I am weakest,
when I am sinful,
when I am in doubt,
when I am unfaithful?
Why did you go to a pagan region but
would not even pay attention to the
Canaanite woman begging for your help
to free her daughter from evil possession?

At that time Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not say a word in answer to her.

Matthew 15:21-23
O dear Jesus!
Teach me to be more engaging with you,
arguing, debating, "fighting" like
in close contact karate in order to be intimate;
intimacy is more than being close with you
but also involves personal contact and
engagement with you that best happens
in unfamiliar territories
like Tyre and Sidon where we have
no one else to turn to except you,
when we have to bare to you our vulnerabilities
and weaknesses, our skin until we are stripped
naked before you like that Canaanite woman
admitting her being referred to as "dogs"
and be clothed only with your very self,
with your love and company.
That is INTIMACY,
dear Jesus!  A most beautiful status
and gift but most difficult because it is
a journey into foreign territories
requiring our complete trust and
faith in God who loves us so much.

Thus says the Lord: The people that escaped the sword have found favor in the desert. As Israel comes forward to be given his rest, the Lord appears to him from afar: with age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you.

Jeremiah 31:2-3
O God, loving Father,
keep me faithful,
keep me close to you,
especially when the path
is difficult,
when the journey is
exhausting.
Amen.

Ascension: a “leveling up” to God in Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, 29 May 2022
Acts 1:1-11 ><]]]]'> Hebrews 9:24-28, 10:19-23 ><]]]]'> Luke 24:46-53
Photo by author, Chapel of the Ascension at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, May 2017.

Today’s Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is a celebration of the mystery of Jesus Christ our Savior. It is not just an episode in his life because it is something about his very person and his personal relationship with us his followers that continues to this day.

In his Ascension into heaven, Jesus had brought us closer to heaven – and God – even while we are still here on earth! It is part of the mystery of his Person whose coming and going, so to speak, closed the wide gap before between heaven and earth which is actually relational than spatial in nature. Hence, the Ascension is not about Christ’s departure to a distant galaxy in the universe where heaven is supposed to be but a new and higher or deeper kind of relationship of humans with God in Jesus.

Ascension is a leveling up as kids would say these days in our relationships with God in Jesus. This we realize in a careful reading of our short gospel account by starting at its ending:

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.

Luke 24:50-53

Did you notice Luke’s description of how the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy”?

Photo by author, inside the Chapel of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, 2017.

Normally, we feel sad in every departure of a loved one, be it permanent like in death or temporary like when they move to a new residence or work or when kids go to college. Every parting with loved ones brings sadness in our hearts, rarely a great joy.

So, where did that great joy of the disciples come from after Jesus left them and ascended into heaven?

Recall how these past two Sundays when Jesus insisted on his disciples including us the need to obey his commandment to love, reassuring them not to let their hearts be troubled and disturbed when he leaves them. Loving Jesus is keeping his words of loving one another as he has loved us. Where there is love, there is always the gift of presence and relationships, of peace, of intimacy. Even if we are apart from one another, even if we do not see each other, love transcends the physical distance and presence; hence, heaven is oneness with God while hell is separation from God!

Mystery of Christ, our intimacy with God

The joy of the disciples at the Lord’s Ascension is the continuing intimacy they have with Jesus because of his commandment to love and his gift of peace. He said last Sunday that anyone who keeps his words shall be loved by him and the Father who shall both dwell on that person.

Jesus and the Father dwelling in us is intimacy, a deep and personal relationship that is as close as our breath. This is the whole point of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews in explaining the great difference of the old temple worship and worship in Jesus Christ: “Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself” (Heb.9:24) that enabled us all to reach and enter heaven “by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh” (Heb.10:20).

Heaven is not just a place or location but most of all a state of life, a state of grace made possible by Jesus Christ, in Jesus Christ. It is something we already have in our hearts which we feel and experience when we strive to live in communion with Jesus and everyone around us through personal and communal prayers, especially in the Holy Eucharist.

Photo by author, part of the site believed where Jesus stepped on during his Ascension inside the Chapel of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, May 2017.

Keep in mind the upward movement of the Ascension which calls for a “leveling up” in our perspectives and way of life, of “witnessing” Jesus Christ to everyone “to the ends of the earth” as he instructed them outside Bethany (Acts 1:8) before “going up” to heaven to be seated at the right hand of God our almighty Father.

But that mystery of Christ is not everything. See how Luke mentioned both in Acts and in his gospel account the disciples as “witnesses” of Jesus.

The Ascension challenges every disciple of Christ to witness his mystery in a life in union with God, a mystery we must nurture and keep, calling us to “approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy” (Heb.10:22-23).

Ascension is therefore a call to holiness, to a life centered in God. But with the recent turn of events both here and abroad, we find we are still too far from the gifts and realities of Christ’s Ascension as life and societies seem to go down to the pit of death and destruction, pains and despair.

May 25: People attend a prayer vigil for the Robb Elementary School students and teachers killed in a mass shooting Tuesday at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Uvalde, Texas.
Joshua Lott/The Washington Post via Getty Images

All mystery and tragedy, but no Christ?

We are thousands of kilometers away from Uvalde, Texas but we too were pierced in the hearts by the reports of the killing of 19 school children and their two teachers in a shooting spree by an 18-year old who started his carnage by first shooting his own grandmother at home before going to their local school.

Two weeks earlier, another ten people were also gunned down in Buffalo, New York that has made mass shooting like a persistent plague in the US getting worst each year without any signs of being eradicated at all with the never-ending debates about guns especially by politicians.

See how amid all these decadence in our time, from the mass shootings in the US to the war in Ukraine and the never ending bickering in our local politics show us the exact opposite of the mystery of Christ expressed in this Solemnity of his Ascension, of how we have sank deeper in evil and sin, away from one another and from God.

Everybody is speaking each one’s point of view but never considered God at all and the value of every human life especially at its most vulnerable stage in the womb and old age. Media barrage us with so much statistics but never about the value and importance of virtues like kindness and love and spirituality.

Going back to our gospel this Sunday, Luke leads us to finding and witnessing Christ’s mystery as a person and of his Ascension in its opening when Jesus said to his disciples:

Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, springtime in Japan, 2017.

“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Luke 24:46-48

See the flow starting from the Scriptures or words of God that were written leading into its fulfillment in the Pasch of Jesus Christ we are tasked to preach and proclaim in words and in deeds which is what witnessing is all about.

This Sunday, Jesus is leading us out of our homes like his disciples to meet him in our churches where his mystery is celebrated daily in the Holy Eucharist as we listen and pray over his words in the Sacred Scriptures that open us to the many tasks of improving our relationships with one another, in learning to forget ourselves and love like Jesus did, not in attacking each other or defending ourselves from their attacks.

How sad that until now, so many of the faithful are still hesitant of going back to church celebrations due to misplaced priorities in life while some of us in the clergy continue to twist and bend the words of the Lord to suit their own way of thinking, especially in politics.

When we examine the life of Jesus, there has always been the letting go of everything in him, including his very life that when his Ascension came, he was totally light and free to go back to the Father. This in turn left so much imprints on his followers’ hearts including us today that even we have not seen Jesus, we can feel him present in us and with us.

How willing are we to be witnesses of Jesus, of letting go of our personal agendas and plans that prevent us from leveling up or arising to new heights of relationships with God and with others in Christ? Have a blessed and safe week ahead!

Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, springtime in Japan, 2017.

Contact

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Week XVII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 27 July 2020
Jeremiah 13:1-11 >><)))*> >>><)))*> >><)))*> Matthew 13:31-35
Photo from Google.

What a great way to start our last week of work and studies in July with your sense of humor, O God! Your words are so witty and funny but with a strong punch. Hard-hitting, so biting. And so revealing.

For, as close as the loincloth clings to a man’s loins, so I had made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the Lord; to be my people, my renown, my praise, my beauty. But they did not listen.

Jeremiah 13:11

You really got me, Lord.

What can I say?

Our underwear, that is, the loincloth of Jeremiah’s time, is our most intimate clothing, always in contact with our very selves, in that part of our body that we always guard and keep to ourselves.

But, what happens when we “dirty” ourselves with sins, when we put on all those filth in ourselves, we also feel the same way inside, no matter how clean and crisp our clothes are but when deep down our loincloth – underwear – is rotted and good for nothing?

We can always hide it from others and they will never know the kind of underwear we have but we cannot deceive ourselves of how dirty we are with sins and evil.

And so far from you, O God.

Forgive us when you are supposed to be the closest to us, the one we are always in contact with but we have totally disregarded because of our many sins, when we thought we can always have our own ways without you, denying the fact it simply cannot be for indeed, you have made us to be that closest to you.

Forgive us in your Son and our Lord Jesus Christ. Renew us inside, cleanse us and refresh us to be in close contact with you again, O God.

Help us to remain good and clean inside like the little mustard seed so we may grow to have leafy branches for birds to come and dwell in us.

In your mercy, cleanse us of our sins and be our yeast to mix with us again to leaven into a dough to make your kingdom come here on earth. Amen.

Photo by Life Of Pix on Pexels.com

Loving presence of Jesus in us

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Easter Week VI-A, 17 May 2020

Acts of the Apostle 8:5-8, 14-17 ><)))*> 1 Peter 3:15-18 ><)))*> John 14:15-21

Nuns bringing relief goods to a remote village. Photo from Facebook.

We are about to end two great seasons in our liturgy and still, here we are in our enhanced community quarantine due to COVID-19. Prospects remain dim as experts say the corona virus may never be totally eradicated despite the discovery of vaccines and medicines later this year.

It is in this background we find our readings this Sunday so reassuring, reminding us of how so often in history that tragic or painful events in the lives of individuals and societies have led to happy endings.

In our first reading, we have seen how the persecution of the Church at Jerusalem so tragic but at the same time also helped spread Christianity so fast led by the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus Christ before he was betrayed and arrested on that Holy Thursday evening.

All this is possible if we believe in Jesus, if we love Jesus.

Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

John 14:15-18
Photo by author, flowers at Church of Gallicantu near Jerusalem, May 2019.

Intimacy with Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit

For the first time, Jesus promised during their Last Supper the sending of the Holy Spirit when he fulfills his mission.

In most translations, the Holy Spirit is referred to as Advocate although some prefer the transliteration Paraclete from its original Greek Parakletos to truly capture its full meaning or context.

Only St. John used the word Parakletos to denote the Holy Spirit. In its Hellenistic context, Parakletos had come to be known as Advocate like a lawyer or a friend who speaks on behalf of the “accused” like Jesus in a hostile world (Jn.16:7-11).

However, St. John also used parakletos in different contexts like in our gospel today.

See how before introducing to us the sending of the Holy Spirit, Jesus speaks more of a grand instruction – in fact, a reality, a truth in the life of his every disciple: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn.14:15).

Without specifying any commandments to keep, Jesus further explained that “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me” (Jn.14:21). He would be speaking of this like a refrain four more times later to stress that loving Jesus is keeping his commandments.

It is a very difficult task to fulfill and most often, more difficult to understand or interpret especially when we are in real life-situations like loving an arrogant president or loving officials who break the rules of quarantine!

This is so because Jesus himself is the law, the commandments which is his very person; therefore, to love him is to be like him and that is always keeping his commandments of love.

And that is why Jesus made sure to inscribe this lesson and reality into his disciples’ memory and hearts during their last supper by promising the Holy Spirit he called as Parakletos who would be acting as his Advocate, Counsellor, and Comforter when he returns to the Father.

It is the Holy Spirit who leads us now into an intimacy with Christ that we are able to love Jesus, love like Jesus, and love in Jesus. This is the same Holy Spirit who binds the Three Persons of the Trinity in love who also makes us one with God and with others.

Photo from Facebook post by Ms. Marivic Tribiana, 17 April 2020 fire in Tondo area.

Making Jesus present in our love

We make Jesus most present when we love because when we love, everything changes for the best, even the most difficult and worst situations in life.

Albert Camus rightly said when he wrote in his 1947 novel The Plague now being reread due to the corona virus, that “A loveless world is a dead world.”

Without love, we would have gone extinct by now.

Because of love, every tragedy, every suffering and problem we go through leads to happy ending primarily because we discover something, someone beyond far more important than any situation or plight we may be into.

Artwork by Fr. Marc Ocariza upon seeing the FB post by Ms. Marivic Tribiana above on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday 2020.

Most of all, love has a distinctive characteristic that moves the lover to become like the beloved. This is the reason why we who love strive harder, persevere and forge into every obstacle and fight until we are one with our beloved!

And who is ultimately our very love?

God.

The God revealed to us by Jesus Christ his Son who became human like us to be one with us in everything including death except sin so that we become like him – divine – in his Resurrection.

Jesus Christ whom we “sanctify as Lord in our hearts” (1Pt.3:15) is the one we imitate and follow, the one we see and, most of all, the only one we (must) share when we love, when we serve especially in this time of the corona pandemic.

Sometimes, it is still difficult to believe how these pandemic and quarantine are happening to us when all of a sudden here comes typhoon Ambo that wreaked a path of destruction in the Visayas and Bicolandia the other day, making us wonder what is happening in the world right now?

Making things worst that have stressed us all so much is our government at all levels lacking preparations, with some officials into alleged corruptions while the enforcers of the laws are the ones breaking all the rules of quarantine!

We just keep on hoping things would get better by starting right at our own end.

Sometimes it can be funny although painful when some people forget us or take us for granted, thinking we are fine or doing great without any hint of the sufferings within.

But the grace is always there because Jesus is within each one of us who believes in him and tries hard to keep his commandments.

“In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”

John 14:19-20

We just have to do our part, to keep on believing in Jesus, loving Jesus, and most of all, keeping his commandments because Jesus is the “explanation to anyone who asks us for a reason for our hope” (1Pt.3:15).

This does not mean the world is lacking the Lord’s presence.

He has not left us indeed and sooner or later, we shall see how he, the God of history, will direct everything according to his greater plan for us.

Today’s gospel reminds us of his assurance to be with us always in the Holy Spirit.

It is now our turn to pick up the pieces and make him more felt, especially in comforting those affected severely by the many storms that hit us in this time of the corona virus.

Have a blessed Sunday and stay safe! Amen.

Photo from CBCPNews of the debris left by Typhoon Ambo in Arteche, Eastern Samar, 14 May 2020.

Our sense of belonging

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Monday, Easter Week-IV, 04 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 11:1-18 ><)))*> ooo+ooo <*(((>< John 10:11-18

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

One good thing about this COVID-19, O Lord, is how it is teaching us today that we all belong to each other, that we all belong to you, our loving and merciful God.

How wonderful that in the midst of quarantine, the many brothers and sisters we have looked down or taken for granted for so long a time are finally telling us, showing us that in this life, we do not need boundaries or walls but bridges to link us all as one.

We belong to just one flock with one Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

In him alone can we rely and trust because he is the only one who is “the way and the truth and the life.”

Even him tells us in today’s gospel that there are still other sheep who do not belong to our fold of whom he must also look after and guide (Jn.10:16) because ultimately, we all go to one destination in life which is eternity in you, O God, our Father Almighty.

Help us realize like Peter in the first reading that the key is to be inclusive than exclusive. May we see that more than the many superficialities of our color, beliefs, and gender is your Son’s Easter gift of divinity you have shared with us.

May we focus more on our similarities than differences so that we may work and live harmoniously as one big community to never allow this calamity to befall us again. Amen.

From Google.

Private time with Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

Tuesday, Week 4, Year 2, 04 February 2020

2 Samuel 18:9-10, 15, 24-25, 30-19:3 ><)))*> <*(((>< Mark 5:21-43

Photo by author, Mt. St. Paul Spirituality Center, La Trinidad, Benguet, 03 February 2020.

Thank you very much, Lord Jesus Christ, for this gift of rest in you. Thank you for reminding us last Friday how you would always explain everything about your parables “in private” to your Twelve apostles (Mk.4:34).

Today I feel that if there is one thing you would really want to ask each one of us is to have some private, personal time with you.

We have always been so busy with so many things in life except with you, Lord.

Like that woman in today’s gospel afflicted with hemorrhages for 12 years seeking to touch even your clothes to be healed, many of us still feel so alone, even alienated in the midst of the crowds, of so many friends and followers in social media and of all kinds of BFF’s.

Many of us have forgotten that of all the bestest friends we can ever have in life is no one but you, Lord. And that’s the good news!

You are always here for us, Lord Jesus, always looking for us, searching us, wanting to enter into a personal relationship with us that is vibrant and alive.

Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?’ But his disciples said to him, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you asked, ‘Who has touched my clothes?'” And he looked around to see who had done it.

Mark 5:30-32
Photo by author, Mt. St. Paul Spirituality Center, La Trinidad, Benguet, 03 February 2020.

After meeting the woman you have healed, people came to inform Jairus that his sick daughter had died, that he should no longer bother you. But, you assured Jairus that his daughter was asleep and has not died, asking him to just have faith in you. Again, you asked him for some private time with you:

Then Jesus put them all out. He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with him (Peter, James, and John) and entered the room where the child was.

Mark 5:40

Give us O Lord Jesus the grace to make that precious moment to spend time with you in private to experience your healing and loving presence.

May we always keep in mind that in the beginning when God created the first man, it has always been your desire that we be alone with you, first of all. Amen.

Keep the fire burning

The Lord Is My Chef breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Thursday, Week XIII, Year I, 04 July 2019
Genesis 22:1-19 >< }}}*> >< }}}*> Matthew 9:1-8
Waiting for the Mass to start, ready to light the candles. Photo by Lorenzo Atienza, 12 June 2019.

Our loving Father, your words today are so picturesque that I feel so speechless before you with the meanings they convey.

In the first reading when you tested Abraham to offer to you his son Isaac, he at once obeyed you without any question at all so that the following morning, he left for Moriah with his son, two servants, and some wood for the burnt offering.

On the third day, Abraham got sight of the place from afar. Then he said to his servants, “Both of you stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go on over yonder. We will worship and then come back to you.” Thereupon, Abraham took the wood for the burn offering and laid it on his son Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife.

Genesis 22:4-6

I really wonder O Lord what was in the mind of Abraham? Did he ever doubt you or at least entertain some other thoughts about your mood, of why you made him wait for so long to have a son then suddenly you would ask for him to be offered?

How great indeed is Abraham’s faith in you, O God! He was so composed in speaking to his servants and most especially to his son Isaac on whose shoulders he laid the wood for burnt offering. Not a hint did Abraham spill of your actual command that could have made Isaac fled in fear!

But what I like most is when Abraham carried the fire and the knife. Beautiful images of faith in you God: Abraham kept the warmth and illumination of his faith within him symbolized by the fire he carried and his generosity in offering Isaac symbolized by his knife.

I love that scene, Lord as I ask myself if I could truly offer you like Abraham who or what is most dearest to me?

That scene in the wilderness is complemented by Matthew’s story in the gospel that shows us how Jesus, like Abraham, continued to travel and reach out to you his Father to bring your mercy upon your people.

Jesus entered a boat, made the crossing, and came into his own town. And there people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.”

Matthew 9:1-2

Jesus himself is the fire of love who purified our hearts, our desires and most especially, our evil thoughts like some of the scribes there who accused him of blasphemy.

So many times Lord Jesus, we cannot keep the fire of faith burning within us that we keep on harboring evil thoughts in our minds, casting doubts not only on you but most especially with those around us. Like Abraham, teach us to be silent in your love. And like Jesus, teach us how to enter into our brothers and sisters that we may spare them of our evil thoughts. Teach us to speak words of wisdom and power of God to heal those sick among us, most especially us with our many anxieties and mistrust of others.

Teach us to be pure like Abraham in our faith in you and most especially, in our trust in your great mercy. Like Jesus, teach us to keep on crossing the street, of reaching out to others especially those trying so hard to find you.

Let us keep the fire of your faith, hope, and love burning within us, sharing it with others to find the fulfillment of your promises to us all. Amen.

“The Nearness of You” by Rod Stewart (2002)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music, Ascension Sunday, 02 June 2019
Pilgrims on top of Mt. Sinai, Egypt. Photo by Atty. Grace Polaris Rivas-Beron, 07 May 2019.

Today is the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus Christ, the beginning of a new level of “nearness of God” with us.

And that explains the reason for our music this Sunday, “The Nearness of You” composed way back in 1938 by Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics by Ned Washington. The song debuted in 194o and since then has delighted many hearts and souls with its lovely melody and music interpreted by so many artists in every generation.

I have chosen Rod Stewart’s version taken from his 2002 album It Had to be You: The Great American Songbook because the song fits him so well. Yes, Rod is a rocker but he had matured so well that after all the noise, he has grown deeper in his art that his unique voice suddenly had acquired a depth coming not only from the heart but even from the soul. I won’t be surprised at all if one day Rod Stewart would be talking about some sort of spirituality and holiness.

Now back to our Sunday celebration of the Ascension of Jesus Christ…

15th century Greek icon of the Ascension of Jesus. From Google.

In the gospel today, St. Luke tells us that after Jesus had ascended into heave, the disciples “returned to Jerusalem filled with great joy.”

That is totally strange because whenever someone leaves, the general feeling is always sadness like when we have to change residence or old neighbors move out, when loved ones have to go abroad to work or worst, when a beloved dies. They all bring sadness.

Where did that great joy among the disciples of Jesus come from after the Lord had ascended into heaven?

From their hearts! The key to understanding and appreciating the Ascension of Jesus into heaven is not in looking up the skies or looking down on the ground where he stood. It is in looking deep into our hearts.

Anything that remains in our head or in our mind is always open to doubts. When that truth we believe in sinks into our hearts, then we get the conviction that it is really true. And that is when we experience great joy within: It is in the heart where we come to conviction that leads us into living authentically no matter how painful that truth may be. That is why there are saints and heroes – including lovers – willing to die for their beliefs because they are so convinced with the truth in their hearts.

From Google.

At the Ascension, the disciples had the conviction that Jesus is truly alive, that his going to heaven is more of coming to a new level of existence and relating with them, something no longer bounded by time and space, something always so near and so personal.

It is the same feeling we have with those we love. Even if they are not physically present with us, we feel their nearness because we love.

There lies the beauty and timelessness of the song “The Nearness of You”: nothing beats the love that brings us so close, so near with one another. Unless we have that deep conviction and love for a person, we will never rise up – or ascend – to higher level of relationship that is so near, so close.

 It's not the pale moon that excites me
That thrills and delights me, oh no
It's just the nearness of you

It isn't your sweet conversation
That brings this sensation, oh no
It's just the nearness of you

When you're in my arms
And I feel you so close to me
All my wildest dreams come true

If you can say these words to a beloved, imagine when you level this up to Jesus Christ? That would definitely be a new level of nearness with him and with others.

Look into your heart, believe, and be convinced.

Knowing is Intimacy

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Year C, 14 April 2019
Isaiah 50:4-7///Philippians 2:6-11///Luke 22:1-49
Photo from Bing.com.

Today we begin the Holy Week with two celebrations merged into one, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. The Palm Sunday is a tradition started by the early Christians in Jerusalem in the fourth century while in Rome during the 12th century, the Pope proclaimed the long gospel account of the Lord’s Passion on this Sunday to signal the start of Holy Week. Almost 2000 years later in reforming the liturgy, Vatican II merged these two traditions into one to usher in our holiest days of the year.

Like in the four Sundays of Lent except last week, St. Luke guides us today in reflecting the Lord’s Passion with emphasis on the Cross with its call to conversion. For St. Luke, the cross is the object of discipleship in Christ. Join me in reflecting on the last three words our evangelist had recorded when Jesus was crucified.

First word:

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other to his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:33-34
Mosaic of the Crucifixion at the crypt of the Manila Cathedral. Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, October of the Jubilee of Mercy 2016.

This is very striking. Immediately upon his crucifixion, Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of his enemies! It is a total adherence to his preaching during his sermon on the plain, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk. 6:27-28, Seventh Week Ordinary Time, 24 February 2019). Here we find the immense love and mercy of Jesus — no hatred, no calls for revenge or threats like “karma” against those who crucified him. He simply begged for their forgiveness because “they know not what they do.”

In Jewish thought, to know means more than an intellectual knowledge for it implies relationship. Knowing somebody for them is more than knowing one’s name but having ties with the person. And to know something is always to see things in this perspective, always in relation with a person. Had they known Jesus is the Christ, they would have not crucified him! Exactly the preaching of St. Peter at the healing of a lame man after Pentecost at the temple when he told them they have “acted in ignorance” in “killing the Author of life whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:15). St. Luke also notes in his Acts of the Apostles how the crowd upon hearing St. Peter’s preaching were moved or “cut to the heart” (2:37) that many were baptized on that day. Recall also how at the arrival of the wise men from the East searching for the child Jesus: the scholars of Jerusalem “knew” from the books how the Christ would be born in Behtlehem yet he was found by the pagan magis! Even the most learned man in the New Testament, St. Paul admits how ignorant he had been in persecuting and blaspheming Jesus before (1Tim.1:13) experiencing God’s loving mercy.

In the bible we always see this combination of knowing and ignorance at the same time to indicate that more than factual and cerebral knowledge, there is that deeper knowing of relating and of loving. If we really know somebody, the more we love, the lesser we sin. St. Thomas Aquinas used to say that the more we know and become intelligent, the more we realize the truth, the more we must become good and holy. That is why saints are the most intelligent people that they were able to do what is good and what is right.

In this age of Google and Wikipedia , Jesus is challenging us that if we truly know so much that we have become smart and more intelligent, then, how much do we really love and care for others?

Photo from Google.

Second word:

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:42-43

The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to claim that Dimas was indeed a great thief who was able to steal or snatch Paradise from Jesus just before dying on the Cross. It may be funny but very true. But more than “stealing” his salvation from the Lord, Dimas had displayed on the cross what we have discussed earlier about the combination of knowing and ignorance. I would say Dimas is perhaps the “most learned thief” of all time who truly knew what is most essential in life which is to know Jesus. The moment he called out to him “Jesus”, Dimas expressed his knowing Jesus, of belonging to Jesus. As we have reflected earlier, to know is to relate. Anyone who truly relates must first believe in order to love dearly. Dimas believed in Jesus that he called out to him while hanging on the Cross.

Today, Jesus is reminding us that the door to Paradise is him alone. And we begin to enter Paradise the moment we entrust our total self to Jesus like Dimas who came to know Christ at the Cross, and then believed him and loved him. If we really know, do we believe?

Altar of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre over the exact site where Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem. Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, October 2017.

Third word:

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” and when he had said this he breathed his last.

Luke 23:46

One of St. Luke’s unique feature is always presenting to us Jesus at prayer. Especially here at his crucifixion. See how his first words were prayer of forgiveness for his persecutors. Now at his death, St. Luke presents Jesus again at prayer, reciting Psalm 31:5, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Here we find the whole picture of Jesus Christ’s life which is a prayer and his prayer is his very life. From the very start, Jesus has always been one with the Father which is the essence of every prayer called communion. And that is the important aspect of his being our Savior: everything he said and did was everything the Father had told and asked him. There is that perfect communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit so that in his death, Jesus offered his total self with us to God. Everyone and everything is thus sanctified anew in Christ. This became possible only with his kenosis, his self-emptying eloquently expressed to the Philippians by St. Paul in our second reading.

On the Cross, everything in the life of Jesus Christ came to a full circle, God’s whole picture emerged. Now more than ever, we have become closest to God in love. In his dying on the Cross, Jesus made known to us God, brought him closest to us so we can relate and be intimate with him more than ever. In his becoming human like us by bearing all the pains and sufferings expressed in the first reading from Isaiah, God proved to us his love in Jesus. Most of all, he enabled us too to be capable of knowing and loving like Jesus Christ by being intimate with him always. This is why these days are called Holy Week when we are filled with God so we experience him anew and have him more than ever in our hearts, in our very selves. Amen.

When Being Near Is Not Enough

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Photo I have taken at the Yehliu Geopark, Taiwan of a unique rock formation depicting intimacy. (29 January 2019)

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday, 05 February 2019, Week IV, Year I
Hebrews 12:1-4///Mark 5:21-43

            Everyday O Jesus I pray to be near you like Jairus falling at your feet, begging for something or someone so dear to me.  Or like that woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years, hoping to be close to you, contented in just touching your cloak (Mk.5:22, 27).

            But being near you O Jesus is not enough for you.  You desire us to be intimate with you, to be one in you not simply be with you.

            Every time I touch you, I get near you, you always look for me, asking me to step forward like what you did to that woman because you want more than a mere encounter but a relationship, face to face, heart to heart.  Every time I beg you to walk with me in darkness and dangers, you always demand complete faith and trust in you like Jairus when things get worst, insisting that I dismiss what I know, disregard my plans, and ignore what others say so I can rise up and be alive and free to be myself.

 

           O Jesus, help me to trust you more, to believe you more.  How foolish I am, O Jesus, when so often you ask simple things from me like looking at you, staying with you, remaining in you to always remember that “in my struggle against sin I have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood” (Heb. 12:4) like you.  Amen.  Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan. 

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