Putting on love

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Memorial of St. Bonaventure, Bishop & Doctor of the Church, 15 July 2022
Isaiah 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8   ><]]]'> + ><]]]'> + ><]]]'>   Matthew 12:1-8
Photo by author, 2020.
Praise and glory to you,
our loving God and Father
for another week that had passed,
we are halfway through July,
and most of all,
thank you for all the wonderful
gifts and blessings you
have given us without us even asking
you these.
Truly, that is how much you love us
which we fail to recognize, of how you
lavish us with blessings we never asked
for but so necessary, so important.
Teach us to be like you, God:  to be more
loving than precise in keeping tabs
with our obligations;
Teach us to be like King Hezekiah in
the first reading:  he never asked to be
healed of his sickness nor be given
another chance to live when told he
would die; he simply reminded you of how good
and kind he had been all his life, of "how faithfully
and wholeheartedly" he conducted himself in
serving you that you.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go, tell Hezekiah: Thus says the Lord, the God of your Father David: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you; in three days you shall go up to the Lord’s temple; I will add fifteen years to your life.”

Isaiah 38:4-5
Forgive us, Father, 
when we get to focused with
the letters of your laws like 
the Pharisees that we forget its
aim which is for us to love you
more through the people we meet,
the people who come to us asking
for help.
May we love more than
obey your laws;
May we put more love
in our obedience to you
and your laws, Father;
Like St. Bonaventure, may
we seek answers to our many
questions in God's grace,
not in doctrine; in the longing
of the will, not in the understanding;
in the sighs of prayer, not in research;
and look not to the light but rather 
to the raging fire that carries the soul
to God with intense fervor and
glowing love.

The test of love

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXX-A in Ordinary Time, 25 October 2020
Exodus 22:20-26  |+++|   1 Thessalonians 1:5-10   |+++|   Matthew 22:34-40
Nuns bringing relief goods during the lockdown due to COVID-19 last summer. Photo from Facebook.

Our gospel this Sunday is a very usual scene happening daily in our modern world when we keep on testing Jesus Christ like the Pharisees for so many things about life we feel we know better than even God.

We keep on “pushing the lines” to avoid crossing them lest we break the laws and commandments when our hearts are clearly bent more on the legalisms than their spirit and sense.

How unfortunate that until now, when we would rather see the small parts than the whole that we keep on breaking down everything specially laws as if they are entities unto themselves, forgetting that each part leads to greater good.

Such is the essence of the one law of love, love of God is always love of neighbor and vice versa. They cannot be separated, like a face with two cheeks.

But more important than understanding the nature of the law of love which is the inseparability of love of God and love of others is passing its final test of loving.

I have always loved this actual photo of a banana vendor during the lockdown who kept his prices low as part of his effort in alleviating the sufferings due to COVID-19 pandemic. Photo from Smart, March 2020.

We keep on testing Jesus
who has passed every test we have
subjected him into...
Can we pass his test of love, too?

As we come to close our liturgical calendar in the coming weeks, our Sunday gospel today challenges us to examine our very selves too if like Jesus, can we pass the test of love?

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law, tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

Matthew 22:34-36

The scholar’s question to Jesus was partly a result of the confusion among people of his time when their experts and scholars of the Laws broke down into minute details and parts the Decalogue that eventually ended having over 600 precepts including those rituals of cleansing of things Jesus and his disciples were often accused of disregarding whenever they came to gatherings.

The sad thing is that instead of simplifying them so the people may find more the spirit of the Laws than its legalisms, the Jewish leaders “did not lift a finger” about it for selfish motives.

And now they were using it to test Jesus which we sadly continue in our present time.

While it is true that evil exists in lawlessness or when we live lawlessly, God’s law is directly opposed to a legalistic understanding that must be seen always in the light of faith.

This is perhaps the main point of Pope Francis in his recent statement proposing for “civil coexistence law” (convivencia civil) that will protect homosexual people from mistreatment and social rejection even from among their own family circles. The Pope is not calling for same sex civil union nor same sex marriage. We have to go beyond the legalese and legalisms of laws to see the Holy Father’s genuine concern and love for people with homosexual tendencies he had longed to bring back to the fold.

We cannot separate law and love if either is to bring deepened relationships and unity among peoples that are in fact the goals of both law and love. Law and love always take into consideration the other person often forgotten when we have an excess of our very selves.

In the first reading, we are reminded how the laws themselves are manifestations of God’s love for his people, of laws coming directly from him without any hint whatsoever of the distant lawgiver we have always seen and experienced among men.

See how he admonished everyone to be kind with everybody specially aliens for after all, we are all immigrants and travelers of this earth whom he takes care of. In declaring “I am compassionate” (Ex.22:26), God assures everyone of his oneness with us, that to love him is to love others, to hurt others is hurting him too! The very same thing Jesus is telling us today!

He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus easily passed the “test” by the Pharisees at that instant and would prove it more decisively and concretely on the Cross when he gives himself up to the Father for our salvation as the supreme sign of love that is true.

His answer takes us all to the very foundation of all the laws we have which is loving God with one’s total self expressed in loving others as we love our selves. Here we find Jesus doing away with our legalisms that focus on the letters and individual laws and commandments, summing them all in love.

Again, following the background and personality of Pope Francis, here we find his love in action being bogged down by legalisms and limitations of the language.

What does he really mean with convivencia civil or civil coexistence law minus any romantic meanings in adherence to our moral laws?

I do not know but in my heart, I could feel the love and compassion of this Pope for homosexuals we have long ostracized from the Church and even society, making fun of them, forgetting their feelings and well-being and persons. It might still take some time before the Pope’s idea is realized even in the Church. What we need at the moment is openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit to finally find those words and terms to encapsulate the love and compassion Pope Francis has for them.

That is the problem with love — always beyond words. One has just to do it, to just “love, love, and love” as Leo Buscaglia would always say.

In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us how the world continues to frown upon us Christians striving to live the life Christ had called us to. We can see the continuing biases in the society even in social media against us Christians standing for what is just, moral and true. It is in this context where we are challenged to be true witnesses of the love of Jesus Christ that the credibility of his gospel is proven daily as the only path towards peace and harmony.

Jesus passed the tests of his enemies about his love for God and love for us; all the past Popes have proven too their complete love for God and for others in their lives of holiness. Pope Francis has striven while still in Argentina to witness this immense love of Jesus for the marginalized. Instead of wasting our energies debating about his recent statements despite his being passed the same test of love, let us now examine ourselves how are we faring in this test of love too?

And loving and lovely week ahead of everyone in Jesus!

Photo by author, 2019.

Love: the Spirit of God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Memorial of St. Pius X, Pope, 21 August 2020
Ezekiel 37:1-14 >><)))*> || >><)))*> ||+|| <*(((><< || <*(((><< Matthew 22:34-40
Photo by author, Jewish cemetery outside Old Jerusalem, May 2019.

Together with the psalmist today I sing to you, O God our Father: “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love is everlasting.”

Yes, O Lord, your love is everlasting, your fidelity is so true and whatever that is good for us, there is no stopping you from doing it because of your love for us.

Thank you for fulfilling this promise you made to Ezekiel your prophet in the Old Testament:

Thus says the Lord God: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Through the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus your Son, you have indeed opened our graves and put your spirit upon us for we have been dead to sin but now raised to life in Christ.

Unfortunately, many of us have turned into spiritual “zombies” by being dead to sin again – lifeless and therefore loveless!

Revive your Spirit in us, O God, the spirit of love that Jesus poured on us.

Let us love you beyond words and letters of your laws but in flesh and blood by being loving to our brothers and sisters, in loving you by loving others.

May we continue the work of St. Pius X whose papal motto was “Renew all things in Christ” by returning to you in Jesus through the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Eucharist.

St. Pius X came at a crucial stage in Church history in the early 1900’s when the world was experiencing great changes and revolutions not only in many nations but most especially in the thinking and outlook of people of his time — exactly like today, Lord.

May we restore all things in you, Lord Jesus by awakening in us anew the basic spirit of love through kindness and generosity to one another specially in this time of the pandemic.

We also remember today the assassination of Benigno S. Aquino Jr. who had offered us his life because he believed we “Filipinos are worth dying for.”

As our nation slid back to darkness these past decade, help us, O Lord, to rise again, to be filled with life and love for one another, for our nation and our future generation by being selfless and honorable before one’s self, others, and you. Amen.

Photo by Dra. Mai B. Dela Peña, Carmelite Monastery, Israel, 2014.

Fullness of person, fulfillment of law

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul, Week VI-A, 16 February 2020

Sirach 15:15-20 ><)))*> 1 Corinthians 2:6-10 ><)))*> Matthew 5:17-37

Photo by author of pilgrims entering the Church of the Beatitudes with a painting of the Sermon on the Mount above the door, May 2019.

Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount this Sunday, expounding the meaning of his teachings called the Beatitudes. As we have reflected last week, the Beatitudes tell us the person of Jesus Christ as being “poor, merciful, clean of heart” whom we must all imitate to become the salt and the light of the world.

Most important of all, Matthew presents to us at the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus is more than the new Moses as giver of laws like at Mt. Sinai in the Old Testament: Jesus himself is the Law, who is both our Teacher and Redeemer.

This we see in his teachings today when he claims to be the fulfillment of the Laws and the Prophets from God in the Old Testament.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill it. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.”

Matthew 5:17-18

Essence of the Laws: reflection of God, the good of man

Today, Jesus is teaching us to see the laws in the right perspectives, in the light of the will of God for the good of every person. Throughout his ministry, Jesus has always been consistent in reminding everyone that the laws were made for man, not the other way around.

During Christ’s time, people have lost the real meaning of the Commandments of God as priests and religious leaders focused more on its letters than in its essence and spirit that in the process, the laws have become burdensome. It has continued in our own generation with laws taking precedence over God and persons.

Photo by author of the Church of the Beatitudes at the Holy Land, May 2019.

At the Sermon on the Mount, we find Jesus restoring and recalibrating the laws so that these become more relevant and powerful as reflections of God in the service of man.

Jesus “relectures” us the laws in this part of his Sermon on the Mount by adding more righteousness (holiness), declaring that,

“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 5:20

By using a pattern where he would cite Laws, saying, “You have heard that it was said”– Jesus shows us his fidelity and obedience to Judaism, contrary to his enemies’ accusations that he had abolished their laws. Moreover, in fulfilling the laws, Jesus put himself in the midst of every law and precept by declaring, “Amen, I say to you” or “but I say to you”.

In following that formula, Jesus gave the laws with a human face and a human heart in himself as its fulfillment so that from then on at his Sermon on the Mount, Christ made every law, every tradition, everything else to be seen always in his person.

Black and white photo by Mr. Jay Javier in Quiapo, 09 January 2020.

Performative powers of the laws in Jesus Christ

With Jesus in the midst of every law and precept as its fulfillment, God’s laws then become not only informative but most of all, performative to borrow one of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s favorite expression. This we find Jesus teaching us in three stages in our long gospel this Sunday.

  1. Education of the heart.

The first two laws cited by Jesus in this long list of commandments are “You shall not kill” and “you shall not commit adultery”. Both laws bring us to the very core of our personhood, of what is in our hearts and in our minds. The Lord explains that being angry as well as saying bad words against another person is like murder while looking lustfully at a woman is a form of adultery because in both cases, we have ceased to regard the other individuals as persons to be loved and respected, created in the image and likeness of God.

From Google.

It is an invitation for us to purify our hearts and minds for what defiles man is not what enters him but what comes out from him (Mt.15:11). Whatever is within us will always have an effect in all of our actions, for better or for worse.

What a tragedy that right here in the middle of our wired world of social media and instant communications, we have actually grown apart than together in the last 35 year with so much animosities fed on by lies and misinformation.

How ironic also that despite the information explosion from the Net, we have more benighted souls today than ever before who have actually gone to schools who know nothing of our history and geography?!

Education of the heart is formation of the whole person, not just a training of skills. One problem we have these days is when information is geared on data and facts without integration that we forget our relationships as well as the values we keep like respect, kindness, and dedication. Unless we have an education of the heart, a wholistic and integral formation, we can never be transformed into like Jesus Christ.

2. Get into the roots of our sins.

In telling us to pluck out our right eye or cut off our right hand if these cause us to sin, Jesus is inviting us again to probe deep into our hearts and being to understand what causes us to sin.

Photo by author, water plants in my room at the Fatima Parish and National Shrine, Valenzuela City, 2010.

The key here is to be totally free. In the first reading, Ben Sirach counsels us to “choose” rightly what is good and avoid what is evil.

We can only exercise our true freedom when we have clearer knowledge and understanding of ourselves and of things within us. We fall into vices and sins because we do not know what is going on inside us; hence, we are enslaved by our desires and sins to be not free at all.

Once we understand our sins, we commit them less often. Most of all, when we understand our sins, our struggles against committing these become more persevering, resulting to more triumphs than defeats.

The Season of Lent is near. Once again, we shall be busy with fasting and abstinence, contrition and confession of sins, almsgiving and other spiritual works that make us holy. But too often, these acts become mechanical that sooner, we sometimes reach that point when we cannot find meaning in doing them anymore that we sink deeper into sins and evil.

This happens when we get focused with letters of the laws and we forget its spirit that we become mechanical because we have failed to understand our very selves as well as our sins.

3. Be true.

Jesus said it perfectly well at the end of his teachings today,

“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.”

Matthew 5:37

In this last installment of reviewing the laws, Jesus underscored the problems with divorce as well as with lies that continue to this day because we always choose not to be true at all with ourselves, with God, and with others.

Photo by author of the last two Stations of the Cross at the chapel of my niece Ms. Babs Sison in Los Baños, Laguna 13 February 2020.

See the wisdom of Jesus in putting together divorce and oaths, the two great lies that until now continue to mislead so many among us who refuse to accept and carry the cross of Christ, preferring only the Easter Sunday minus the Good Friday.

Being true is embracing the Cross of Jesus Christ like St. Paul in the second reading. It is something we cannot deny in this life. There will always be pain and sufferings. As Dr. Scott Peck put it in his book The Road Less Travelled, “life is difficult.”

At his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly showed in his Beatitudes that he and his values are in sharp contrast to the wisdom of the world. And this wisdom is only accessible to those willing to embrace the crucified Christ and the scandal of the cross.

It is there on the Cross with Jesus Christ we truly find the fulfillment of the laws as well as our fullness as persons. Amen.

Have a blessed Sunday, everyone!