Holiness is in the Cross

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Good Friday, 15 April 2022
Isaiah 52:13-53:12  +  Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9  +  John 18: 1-19:42
Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, ICS Chapel, 2016; sculpture by National Artist Ed Castrillo.

Perhaps, today we can truly feel the meaning and gravity of our favorite expression when somebody looks so sad and gloomy, when somebody seems to have been totally lost: “Biyernes Santong Biyernes Santo”.

That is Good Friday for us – so negative in the sense it is so sad and gloomy, so painful and too difficult but, good. 

Good Friday is so negative for us because it means death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Nothing would be more sad than that.

But thanks to this COVID-19 pandemic we have been living inversely or “baligtad” as we say. We would always pray at every swab test for the virus that we be “negative”.

Never has been thinking negative has become so positive, so good, in fact!

And it all began more than 2000 years ago at the calvary when Jesus offered himself for us on the cross.

That is why Good Friday is called “Good”: the cross of Jesus Christ is a sign not of death but of the good news, of the gospel of life, hope, and eternal life.

The cross of Jesus Christ is not a negative sign (-) but a positive sign, a plus sign (+).

We celebrate in the most solemn and unique way because the cross is no longer a sign of condemnation but honor. Before, it was a symbol of death but now a means of salvation. The cross of Christ has been the source of countless blessings for us, illuminating our path with light when our lives are so dark with sins and mistakes, sickness and disappointments. Most of all, the cross of Christ has brought us closer to God again and with one another despite our sins and past, promising us a bright a joyful Easter.

Yes, for some the cross of Christ is so negative: why display the body of the Lord everywhere in our churches and homes, bloodied and defeated, lifeless and dead?

See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted…for those who have not been told shall see, those who have not heard shall ponder it.

Isaiah 52:13-15

Many times in life, and we have proven this, God uses many of our “negative” experiences to lead us to more positive outcome and results.

Yes, we may be Biyernes Santong Biyernes Santo in sadness and fear, even anxieties.

But, we continue to pray and forge on with life’s trials and difficulties because we see the cross of Jesus Christ leading us to light and life, joy and celebration of his Resurrection at Easter.

In the Cross is found holiness. It is on the Cross of Christ when we are filled with God when like Jesus we are able to give up ourselves, when we are finished (Jn. 19:30) for God to start his life and work again.

I have not prepared any specific prayer this Good Friday. Just be silent and if you have a cross or crucifix with you now, let us all kneel and thank God in giving us Jesus Christ who brought out so many positive things in our lives out of the many negative experiences we have had lately in life.  Amen.

Photo by author, 2019.

Holiness is companionship in Christ

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Thursday, 14 April 2022
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14  +  1 Corinthians 11:23-26  +  John13:1-15
Photo from inquirer.net, 20 August 2021.

A blessed Holy Thursday everyone.  Tonight we begin the most holiest days of the year, the Holy Triduum of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection known as the pasch of the Lord. From the Hebrew word pesach, a pasch is a passing over, the journey of the Hebrew people from Egypt into the promised land of God.

A journey does not necessarily involve physical distance as it can be something within one’s self like an inner journey to God dwelling within us. Journey is a process that leads us to growth and maturity from the many difficulties and trials we experience as we travel in life.

And whatever journey we take outside or within ourselves, we always need a companion to travel with. From the Latin words cum panis that literally mean “someone you break bread with”, a companion is someone who helps us in our journey, a friend who shares life with us, guiding us, protecting us. Like the bread we break and share, a companion sustains and nourishes us in our journey.

That is exactly the companionship of Jesus which is holiness. Having Jesus as our companion in life’s journey is to have him as our daily Bread who fills us with God in every celebration of the Holy Eucharist. I used to tell our students in elementary school that every Mass is a journey into heaven, a dress rehearsal of our entrance into heaven when we have a foretaste of eternal life we all hope for until Christ comes again. That is why last Tuesday we said the first test of our fidelity in found in our celebration of the Sunday Eucharist.

We are all travellers and journeyers on earth; our true home is in heaven with God our Father.  We are merely passing over this planet temporarily.  That is why we always say life is a daily lent, a daily passing over.

By celebrating the Lord’s Supper that Thursday evening with his disciples who represented all peoples of all time, Jesus established for us the everlasting memorial of his loving presence as our companion and our very Bread and Wine in the journey back to the Father that is often dark and difficult.

What he did that Thursday evening foreshadowed what he would do on Good Friday when he did his greatest act of love for us by dying on the Cross. What is most beautiful meaning we can find here is the importance of communion, of oneness as a community, as a family that are expressions of our companionship in Jesus. Every journey becomes wonderful when done in the context of a community, with true companions beginning in our very family.

At the very core of every companionship, of every community is LOVE. To become bread for someone in a journey is to become LOVE – like Jesus Christ at the last supper.

Love can never be defined for it has no limits; love can only be described like how Jesus described to us in his actions on that night of his supper, his kind of love we all must emulate:

So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.

John 13:3-5
Photo from GettyImages/iStockPhotos.

During the time of Christ, restaurants were stops not only for meals but for rest that consisted of soaking their feet on a basin of water. It was therapeutic that gave travelers enough strength to travel far again as there were no other modes of transportation at that time and not everybody could afford an animal to ride on. Any hiker and mountaineer can attest that after so much trekking, one thing you would always hope for is a stream or tiny brook with cool, crisp, running water to dip your feet and rest!

This Holy Thursday, let us be a companion in Jesus Christ with others, beginning with our family members. Do not get tired of being broken and shared like bread, of loving and caring when the journey becomes so tiring like in this time of pandemic that seems to be still far from over.

“Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

John 13:12-15

Lord Jesus Christ,
may we never get tired 
walking in love 
as a companion and 
bread to one another like you 
by giving rest to others 
already tired and about to give up. 
Let us all be together in welcoming Easter! 
Amen.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Holiness is being true

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Wednesday, 13 April 2022
Isaiah 50:4-9   +   Matthew 26:14-25
Photo by author, St. John the Baptist Parish, Calumpit, Bulacan, 31 March 2022.

It’s Holy Wednesday, also known as Spy Wednesday, the night Judas Iscariot agreed to betray Jesus Christ to the chief priests in exchange of 30 pieces of silver (Mt.26:14-15). Tonight is the night of traitors, of betrayers, of those not true to us!

This is the reason why in most parishes after the Mass tonight, there is the ritual of tenebrae or gradual turning off of lights and extinguishing of candles in the church to show how momentarily darkness and evil prevailed in the world when Judas sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

Photo from saopedroesaopaolo.com.br.

To betray literally means to hand over a loved one to pain and sufferings like when a husband is unfaithful to his wife, when we spill the secrets of our friends, when we answer back our parents or refuse to obey them, when children waste their money on their vices and other non-essential things instead of studying their lessons while their mother or father is toiling day and night abroad as an OFW.

Betrayal is so painful and most unkind because we exchange or “sell” our loved ones like commodities for someone or something less in value; imagine the pain a betrayer inflicts on the someone who gave everything, with all the love and care only to be “traded” for lesser value? It is said that during the time of Jesus, a slave can be bought for 30 pieces of silver; how foolish Judas must have been in exchanging Jesus who loved and cared for him for a slave! And that is what we are too when we betray God and our loved ones – fools to replace someone so precious for anything else!

Betrayal is rebelling against a loving God, a beloved one, turning our back from them who are most true to us. And that is the short of it: betrayal is not being true.

Holiness is being true; holiness and truth always go together.

The word true is from the Anglo-Saxon treowe or tree. For them, truth is like a tree that evokes a sense of firmness, of being rooted in the ground. When our words and actions are not firm, shaky and always changing, flimsy or “pabago-bago” as we say in Filipino, then it must not be true. It must be a lie and not true at all because it is always changing or shifting.


Photo by author, St. Paul Spirituality Center, La Trinidad, Benguet, 2019.

Truth is always firm, does not change and remains true forever. It may be concealed or covered by lies for sometime but sooner or later, truth will always come out. It cannot be deleted. That is why the Greeks referred to truth as aletheia or phusis, the blooming of a flower that cannot be hidden and would always manifest or show. Jesus himself assured us that “nothing that is hidden will not be revealed; nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Lk.8:17).

Closely linked with the word true is trust which also came from treowe: the Anglo-Saxons saw in the tree not only firmness but also rootedness or connectedness. The firmer the tree, the deeper are its roots. And that is what a true person is – always trustworthy, someone who can be trusted, someone who values relationships or ties and links. Traitors betray their loved ones because they do not value their relationships; a true person is always trustworthy because he values his relationships. A true and trustworthy person is one who would always listen to God and others, not insisting on his own plans and agenda like the Suffering Servant of God.

The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear, and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.

Isaiah 50:4-6
Photo from Pinterest.

Remember the scene of the scourging at the pillar in the film The Passion of the Christ (2004)? Biblical experts say that gory scene was very true as it was the most painful aspect of the Lord’s passion next to the crucifixion; every time the knuckles would hit the body of Jesus, a piece of his flesh is torn off. Pilate ordered Jesus to be flogged in the belief that people might pity him when seen so tortured and bruised, perhaps agree to let him go freely.

But it did not happen as the people shouted more for his crucifixion.

And that is what happens when we betray our loved ones, including Jesus: the more we become indecisive in life like Pilate, the more we also betray them because we could not stand for what is true. That is also when we hurt them more and ourselves in the process too.

So often, traitors are not aware of their betrayals, believing in their wrongful and misplaced convictions, forgetting the people who love them most. Many times, we absolutize the truth, forgetting that only God is absolute. Most of all, that truth is a Person, Jesus Christ who said “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn.16:6). Being true, being holy is always directed to a person, not just a conviction.

So be careful by being true always with one’s self, with others and with God.

What makes you forget the truth and be untrue to others?


Lord Jesus Christ,
teach me to be true and holy
not only to you but most especially
to the people you give me,
those who love me truly and dearly;
make me like a tree,
firm and reliable, 
dependable and trustworthy,
most of all, deeply rooted in you
through then people I love and care and serve.
Amen.

Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA7-News, January 2022.

Holiness is being faithful

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Tuesday, 12 April 2022
Isaiah 49:1-6   +   John 13:21-33, 36-38
Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, Christ the King Procession, 2020.

Maybe so many times you have felt nothing seems to be happening with all your efforts in school or office, in your relationships, and even in your prayers and devotions. Everything seems to be going to nothing at all.

Have a heart. Just be faithful in your studies, in your work, with your family and friends, most especially with God.

Though I thoughts I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.

Isaiah 49:4

When I was still a seminarian, there was a moment after our class when I went straight into our chapel and slouched on a pew, complaining and whining to God for the many problems that never stopped coming my way despite my efforts to be good. With my head bowed down, I had a litany of complaints to God that I felt like packing my things, go home and forget all about the priesthood. But after getting tired with my monologue and as I raised my head, something struck me that I felt so good while looking at our huge image of the Crucifixion at the altar of the chapel. As I looked in silence, I felt myself praying,

"Lord Jesus Christ, 
before all these pains and sufferings came, 
before all these problems happened, 
you were there first on the Cross - 
suffering for me, dying for me first."
Photo by author, ICMAS Chapel (Theology Dept.), 2020.

My dear friends, holiness is being faithful to God in Jesus Christ. St. Mother Teresa perfectly said that, “We are called to be faithful, not successful.” In my 24 years in the priesthood, I have realized that many times, our success are actually failures with God while our failures are what he often considers as success!

Of course, we need to plan and set goals in life and in work but we need to focus more on Jesus Christ as center of our lives, trying to see everything in his light not in our own limited views and perceptions. There so many things in life that cannot be quantified like our spiritual and emotional well-being on which actually depend many of our other aims in our personal and professional life.

Notice how in our gospel today the Apostles were so focused on themselves instead with Jesus that they totally missed what he was telling them about his coming betrayal by “one of them”. Particularly interesting was Simon Peter who asked the beloved disciple, John, to clarify it with Jesus since he was seated closest to him.

He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, “Master, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I had the morsel after I have dipped it.” So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. After Judas took the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him.

John 13:25-28

Did you see the comedy, the humor?

Everybody was so focused on everyone and with each self except with Jesus! Were they so dumb not to understand the words of Jesus that to whomever he would give the morsel dipped in wine is the one who would betray him? Not really. Most likely, they were not listening, they were not focused on Jesus but with their very selves.

Being faithful is first of all being focused on God, in Jesus.

How can God fill us with his holiness when our thoughts and our being are always somewhere else or with somebody else? How can God fill us with his holiness when we cannot spend time with him every day in prayer?

Photo by author, Mass by the shore of Galilee, the Holy Land, 2017.

How lovely is the context of Simon Peter’s question that it happened during their Last Supper because that is where our fidelity to God is first nurtured to grow and deepened – at the Holy Eucharist of the Mass.

Remember, the minimum requirement for anyone to be called a good, practicing Catholic is to go Mass every Sunday. That is the most minimum but, have we kept it? It has been more than two months since we returned to alert level 1 in this time of the pandemic with almost everybody going to the malls and many vacation spots but what a shame when many still refuse to go to churches for the Sunday Mass!

Being faithful to Jesus to become holy begins with the Sunday Eucharist where we are nourished by the words of God and by the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ himself who enables us to overcome the many trials and difficulties of this life and make it into the Father’s house in eternity.

Have you gone back to your parish church for the Sunday Masses?

Forgive us, Lord Jesus Christ,
for being unfaithful to you, 
for betraying you like Judas Iscariot
right in the context of the Holy Eucharist
when we skip Sunday Masses;
when we come to Mass not for you 
but for our friends to whom we listen more; 
and most especially when we refuse or fail 
to practice the essence of the Eucharist
of sharing the love of Christ to everyone.
Amen.
Photo by author, Parish of St. John the Baptist in Calumpit, Bulacan, 31 March 2022.

Holiness is being gentle

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Holy Monday, 11 April 2022
Isaiah 42:1-7   +   John 12:1-11
Photo from Pinterest.

A blessed Holy Monday to you and your loved ones!

Every year beginning with the Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord until the morning of Holy Thursday, the Church has regarded since the fourth century these days as holy and sacred in commemoration of the Lord’s Passion in Jerusalem.

These days, people frown and withdraw from any discussions about holiness, believing it is just for a selected few like saints and angels, and religious men and women like priests and nuns. For many, holiness is being sinless like God.

Not really.

The word holy came from the Greek holos meaning whole or perfect; holiness is being filled with God who fills in the gaps and broken corners in us, making us whole, a person of integrity and character. Holiness is an ongoing process, never a one-shot deal. That is why Jesus said “be perfect (or holy) as your heavenly Father is perfect (or holy).”

Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images.

One beautiful aspect of holiness is being gentle, something that has become so rare in our highly competitive world today. Jesus described himself as being “humble and gentle of heart” in whom we can find rest for his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (cf. Mt. 11:29).

Being gentle means being open to everyone, especially those burdened in life like the poor and the sick, the elderly, the orphans, the widowed, the marginalized.

Being gentle is to be welcoming or hospitable and caring of others instead of threatening and indifferent. Hospitality is from the Latin word hospis which means to welcome like hospital while hostility is from the Latin word hostes which means to hostage.

Just like Jesus who was prefigured as the Suffering Servant in today’s first reading described by God as one who “shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench” (Is.42:1-3).

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Center for Spirituality, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

In our world where everyone has all the means to be heard and seen loudly and clearly in high definition, gentleness has become so rare, almost extinct! Lahat na lang “mema” may masabi. What is sad is how we speak and get our messages across in every media platform, from the simple text messages to the giant tarps and screaming stickers on vehicles that are always harsh and laden with insults and sarcasms.

In this world where “size always matters” while power is expressed in force and violence, gentleness is being one with the weak and the suffering, the broken ones like the “bruised reed” that the Suffering Servant “would not break or smoldering wick he shall not quench.”

Wherever there is gentleness, there is always hospitality, there is God; without gentleness, we get hostilities like war and violence.

See the attitude of Jesus in today’s gospel, how he welcomed Mary at a dinner in Bethany who anointed his feet with a liter of costly perfumed oil and later dried them with her hair that the house was filled with fragrance. Notice the hostile attitude of Judas Iscariot pretending to care for the poor when he asked “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” (Jn.12:5).

Jesus simply told Judas to leave Mary alone with what she was doing that was a preparation for his burial soon to happen, adding, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (Jn.12:8).

Very loaded words from the Lord, telling us to be gentle with everyone’s devotion and expression of faith and love in God while reminding us all how the poor must always be welcomed and cared for even after he had gone back to the Father.

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Center for Spirituality, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

Gentleness is more than offering a seat to an elderly or opening the door for a woman; being gentle is having that disposition to care for everyone, consciously guarding against hurting them physically and emotionally.

Gentleness is holiness because it is an act of loving others, of finding Christ in everyone because whatsoever you do to the least of his brethren, that you do unto him.

There is a beautiful saying I have found from an unknown author who said “if you have love in your heart, you have been blessed by God; if you have been loved, you have been touched by God.” So many among us could not know nor experience God because many of us refuse to be gentle with everyone; many could not understand nor imagine a loving and merciful God when everybody is hostile and violent.

This Holy Monday, let us examine ourselves, our attitude with others, if we have been welcoming, hospitable and caring. It costs us nothing to adjust ourselves, to be more gentle in words and in deeds – and looks, too! It could be your step closer to simple holiness as God fills you with himself in Christ who is humble and gentle of heart.

Lord Jesus Christ,
teach us to be gentle like you;
make us feel more our being human
and stop feeling superior with others,
always analyzing, always thinking
that in the process we have forgotten 
to feel the persons around us.
Make us gentle in our thoughts
and in our words.  Amen.
Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, 2018.

“When It Was Done” by Hugo Montenegro (1970)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 10 April 2022
Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, Lourdes, France, 2015.

All roads lead to churches today as we begin the holiest week of the year with the celebration of the Palm Sunday in the Lord’s Passion today reaching its highest point on Saturday evening with the Easter Vigil that leads to Easter Sunday, the mother of all feasts in the Catholic world.

Our celebration today is actually a combination of two practices in the earliest times of the Church that were only merged in 1963 during the reform of the liturgy at Vatican II: the procession and blessing of palms was the practice in Jerusalem as early as the 4th century while a hundred years later, the Pope in Rome ushered in the Holy Week with the proclamation of the passion narrative of Jesus Christ.

Hence, the long title of our celebration, Palm Sunday in the Lord’s Passion; however, it is not something we look back in the past but one that we make present in the here and now as we look forward in that future when we shall all be together celebrating eternal life in God’s presence in heaven.

That is the challenge of this Holy Week: how we can follow Jesus in his Passion and Death in order to be one with him in all eternity. Like the people in Jerusalem when he entered the city more than 2000 years ago, would we side with those who followed and believed him or be with those who mocked and jeered him? (https://lordmychef.com/2022/04/09/the-cross-our-door-to-heaven/)

That is the problem of the main character in the song When It Was Done which is a list of wishful thinkings of a man to a woman already in a relationship with another man. It seems the man was too slow or came late to do everything in order to win over the woman he loves and all he could do at the moment now is to wish of having her perhaps in the afterlife in the future.

If I could bind your mind to mine
In time I'd keep you from that world of his
If I could change the strangeness in your kind
Then I'd know where your soul is

Then I'd know what song I'd have to sing
To touch that chord within you
And I would weave such wonders
That when I was done I'd win you

If I could stand with the stars on either hand
And say, "This ain't the answer"
If I had been where you're goin'
But then I'll never be no dancer

And if I was I'd know what step to take
And laugh at what had freed me
And smash the great wall down, girl
When it was done you'd need me

If I could face the fait that waits to cast me
In the scramble
And sit across the velvet boards from God
Then I'd gamble

Then I'd know what chance I'd have to take
And before somebody sold you
I'd bet my soul against the stars
When it was done I'd hold you
When it was done I'd hold you

Composed in 1969 by Jimmy Webb and originally recorded that same year by Walter Wanderly Set, it became popular in 1970 after Hugo Montenegro released his version. Montenegro was a former US Navy musician who pioneered research and recordings in electronic music. His biggest break came in 1966 when he covered Ennio Moricone’s theme for the Clint Eastwood starrer The Good, the Bad and the Ugly that paved his way into a long career in creating music for movies and television series.

When It Was Done is one of the 200 songs covered by Montenegro he had waxed with his cool arrangements using modern electronic instruments and technologies of his time that gave his music a different feel, like in this piece that is very soothing with a sense of sublimity.

It is a very lovely and feel good music that reminds us too to do every effort in the present moment to express our love for others like Jesus Christ who until the end never ceased from doing good for everyone. It is in being like Jesus that we can truly sing Monetenegro’s When It Was Done more convincingly and truly. Amen.

*We have no intentions of infringing into the copyrights of this music and its uploader except to share its beauty and listening pleasure.

From Youtube.

The Cross, our door to heaven

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, 10 April 2022
Isaiah 50:4-7  +++  Philippians 2:6-11  +++  Luke 23:1-49
Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, ICS Chapel, 2016; sculpture by National Artist Ed Castrillo.

Officially we begin today the Holy Week leading to the Triduum of the Lord with Easter, the Mother of all feasts in the Church. Today we enter the “innermost room” of the house of God our Father after our 40 day journey in Lent.

We are actually celebrating today two distinct rites merged into one, the procession and blessing of palms to commemorate Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem that led to his arrest and crucifixion on Good Friday which we heard in the gospel proclaimed earlier. As early in the fourth century, Christians in Jerusalem have been commemorating the Lord’s entry to Jerusalem from the city gate while a hundred years later, the Pope ushered in the Holy Week in Rome by proclaiming the long gospel we have heard of the Lord’s crucifixion and death. With the reforms of the liturgy in 1963 at Vatican II, these two celebrations were merged as one with the designation as “Palm Sunday in the Passion of the Lord”.

More than a going back to the past, our celebration today reminds us of the ever-newness of Christ’s saving work and love for us while at the same time assuring us of the future that would bring us into the fullness of life in him with the Father in heaven. This we find in the last three words recorded to us by Luke while Jesus was on the Cross.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

The mercy and forgiveness of God

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:34

Very consistent with his theme of the mercy and forgiveness of God to us as shown the other Sunday in the parable of the merciful father, a.k.a. the parable of the prodigal son, Luke presents to us again this most wondrous and touching trait of God in Christ even while crucified.

Again, only Luke has this detail of Jesus praying forgiveness for his enemies while being reviled and mocked by them on the cross.

It is another example of Luke’s artistry in presenting to us God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ in a sort of play of words, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” as we confront our selves with the question, “what do we really know?”

What do we really know at all that we continue to crucify Jesus today, nailing him on the cross with our many sins as we pretend and assume to know so many things in life?

Until now, we still have wars raging in various parts of the world, and more than half of these conflicts according to studies are ironically due to our different religious beliefs! Until now debates continue as everyone would want to have the power to decide for themselves who shall live and who shall die, from abortions to artificial contraceptives to capital punishment. Until now we pretend to know the truth and yet the more we have shown our ignorance as our problems become more complex than ever leading to more deaths, more disillusions, more anxieties and more emptiness in life.

And right there on the cross, Jesus continues to pray to the Father to forgive us for we do not know what we are doing to pave the way for the conversion of more others like Paul who realized he “acted out of ignorance in my unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13). In his other book the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us how Peter said in a speech to the people how they “acted out of ignorance in putting Jesus to death” (3:17). Here we find Luke driving at the basic truth how so often it is in our sinfulness and “ignorance” that eventually we come to “know” and realize God who is always ready with his unfailing mercy and forgiveness. The key is to emulate Dimas, the good thief crucified at the other side of Jesus on that Good Friday.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

The promise of Paradise

He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:43

Imagine the evil that men do portrayed by Luke in Christ’s crucifixion, of the relentless insults and mockery by the people on the ground and even up there on the cross when one of those hanging reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us”(Lk.23:39).

See how we are not contented and satisfied in putting others to shame but would even bury them deeply with insults as we say in Filipino, “baon na baon”. But, all is not lost as there is always a glimmer of hope. especially among the sinners and the ignorant who open themselves to god’s grace like Dimas who rebuked his fellow criminal, reminding him how they deserved the punishment but not Jesus “who has done nothing criminal” (Lk.23:41). It was at that instance when he snatched heaven by telling the Lord, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk.23:42).

And we all know the response of Jesus, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

What a great God do we really have in Jesus Christ! Despite the pains and sufferings of being nailed on the cross, he not only begged the Father for our forgiveness because we do not know what we are doing but most of all, readily handed our salvation, promising Paradise to anyone who would humbly surrender one’s self to him like Dimas.

See that Jesus was very precise in assuring Dimas and us with Paradise – right at the very moment we are in him, with him on the Cross of pain and suffering, of truth and righteousness – not later when they die nor on Sunday when he rises from the dead but TODAY, right now!

The very moment we open ourselves to accept Jesus Christ our Savior, that is also precisely the very moment he is very present in us and among us. The other moment Luke used the word TODAY to indicate the very moment of here and now was at the birth of Jesus when the angels told the shepherds “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Lk.2:11).

What a beautiful reminder to us all of God present among us in every here and now, not yesterday nor tomorrow, but today for indeed our God is “I AM WHO AM”!

Anyone who is always one in Jesus, one with Jesus is assured of Paradise, in fact already entering Paradise, our end and ultimate destination in life. This leads us to the third important words of Jesus on the Cross according to Luke…

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

Coming home to the Father

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

All four evangelists attest in their respective gospel account that Jesus died on the cross at the ninth hour or about 3:00 PM. Most of all, they tell us that Jesus died while praying.

In Luke’s account, Jesus’ final prayer was from Psalm 31:6, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” As we have mentioned in our previous reflections, Luke presents Jesus always at prayer like during the second Sunday of Lent during his transfiguration; only Luke tells us why Jesus went up that high mountain with his three Apostles in order to pray. Inasmuch as the transfiguration was a prayer moment, the crucifixion is the Lord’s prayer moment par excellence. Recall how we truly learn to “pray” when in deep pain and trials like before a surgery, when we no longer know how to pray or even have forgotten what is prayer all about except that we give ourselves entirely to God and to our doctors.

There on the Cross at his final moments, Jesus never ceased from doing good, always praying, always united and one in his Father in heaven. In commending his spirit into the Father’s hands, Jesus shows us exactly what discipleship is all about: everything we have, all we are are God’s. We have nothing to lay claim as ours in this life and that is the challenge to us daily: to live for God in Jesus through our loving service to others.

In this long passion narrative we heard today is the gospel, the very good news of our salvation as proclaimed by Paul in the second reading of how Jesus gave his total self in love to the Father for us all.

May we keep our eyes and our hearts open to Jesus, relying only in him like the Suffering Servant for he shall never put us to shame. We cannot experience the joy of his Resurrection unless we imitate Simon Cyrene, Dimas, John and the Blessed Virgin Mary in welcoming and following him in our daily life whether in the comforts of Jerusalem or the sorrows of Calvary for that is where we truly enter Paradise with Jesus, in Jesus. On the Cross. Amen.

Lent, a preparation and a fulfillment

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday in the Fifth Week of Lent, 08 April 2022
Jeremiah 20:10-13   <*[[[[>< + ><]]]]*>   John 10:31-42
Photo by author, Lent 2020 in the midst of COVID-19 lockdown.
As we approach
the closing of Lent
this weekend with the 
start of the Holy Week,
we pray, dear God our Father, 
for the grace to continue to
seek and follow your Son
Jesus Christ:

They they tried again to arrest him; but he escaped from their power. He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained. Many came to him and said, “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” And many there began to believe in him.

John 10:39-42
Indeed, life is a daily Lent,
a constant coming of your Son
Jesus Christ accompanying us to
pass over every day from darkness
into light, from sickness into health,
and from sin into grace; Lent is 
both a preparation and a fulfillment
of Easter if we believe as John 
had testified in Jordan a long time ago 
that Jesus is the Christ, 
the one on whom the Spirit
dwells (cf. Jn.1:32-34).
Until now, O God,
many among us still doubt
you, refusing to accept Jesus
as the Christ like his enemies in
Jerusalem; no miracle will suffice
for them to be believe unless
they remove their blindness and 
shed off their layers of pretensions 
of knowing you even in the 
scriptures; like those who have 
followed Jesus at Jordan after
being stoned in Jerusalem, may we 
truly believe in him by deepening
our faith in him especially in moments
of trials and tribulations like Jeremiah.
Most especially, dear God,
we pray for those who continue
to refuse to believe in you,
those who malign your good 
and holy name in words and 
in deeds by persecuting those
testifying to Jesus as the Christ.
Help us to witness the truth
of Jesus Christ, to tell others
of your unconditional love as 
testified in the many good works
through Christ.  Amen.

Lent is keeping our ties in God

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday in the Fifth Week of Lent, 07 April 2022
Genesis 17:3-9   <*{{{{>< + ><}}}}*>   John 8:51-59
Photo by author, sunrise at the Lake of Galilee, Israel, 2017.
God our Father, 
on this blessed Thursday
as we come nearer to the closing
of Lent, we rejoice in that beautiful
truth about you proclaimed in our
responsorial psalm today, "The Lord 
remembers his covenant forever."
How lovely it is to recall that story
of how you called Abraham, not only 
in making a promise with him 
to be the father of all nations but 
in entering a covenant with him to
be our God forever with us your 
people; in doing so, you changed his
name from Abram to Abraham 
to show us that every relationship
is built in calling with names not with
shaking of hands nor with other signs
and gestures we are used to.
So many times we forget how 
all our relationships are based and 
rooted in you our Father because 
without you, all our ties as family
and friends will never last, will never
have meaning for we are all fragile 
and weak, very erratic and so
moody unlike you, always faithful
and true.
Remove the blindness that prevents us
from finding you in every person we meet
like the Pharisees debating with Jesus 
at the temple area, refusing to believe him
that "before Abraham came to be, I AM" 
(Jn.8:58); enable us to grow and mature
amidst the many tensions and frictions 
we experience in our relationships with 
you and others for it is in pains and
sufferings our love and fidelity are
purified and harnessed, just like when 
"Jesus hid and went out of the temple
area" (Jn.8:59) when his enemies tried
to stone him as they could not accept
him and his words.  Amen.  

Lent calls us to be free

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Fifth Week of Lent, 06 April 2022
Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95   <'((((>< + ><))))'>   John 8:31-42
Photo by author, sunrise at Camp John Hay, Baguio City, 2018.
Dear God our Father:
I have heard it so often
from your Son Jesus Christ
that "the truth will set you free"
but I must admit how I feel 
too far from that reality of
being truly free.
So many times in my life, despite
my strong profession of being free
like the Pharisees asserting 
to Jesus they have never been
"enslaved to anyone", that is really
when I am enslaved - to sin, to ego,
to the world, to my past especially
my hurts and pains, and to a lot of
other people expecting a lot from me, 
demanding so much from me 
that, ironically and funnily,  
I work so hard to please and fulfill
without realizing how I am in fact
enslaved!  

Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”

John 8:31-33
To be free, O God, 
is to belong to you alone, 
our loving and eternal Father;
from the very start, Jesus had
always professed his belonging to
you like when he was found by
his parents in the temple when he
told them "why are you looking for me, 
don't you know I should be in my 
Father's house?"; during his ministry, 
he repeatedly declared his oneness with you;
to be free, therefore, is to owe nothing
to anyone at all but to you alone.
It is when I feel I owe others when I
begin to cheat and lie, when I sin
because I cannot express freely and
truly what is in me - YOU whom I 
disown and betray always.
Give me, O Lord, the courage to be
my true self like Shadrach, Meshach,
and Abednego who boldly declared
to King Nebuchadnezzar they would
rather be thrown into the fiery furnace
than worship false gods; true freedom is
when we are able to accept death gladly
and wholeheartedly because that is when
nothing and no one holds us back;
we are truly free when we are able to 
express our deepest longing and desires
in life which is to finally be one with our
source and end - YOU!
In these remaining days of Lent,
grant us dear Father through Jesus
the grace to shed off the many layers 
of false freedom we convince ourselves
to have so that we may finally be free
to love you and follow you, free to be our
true selves as your beloved children.
Amen.