Zeal for God not enough

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Dedication of the Basilicas of Sts. Peter and Paul, 18 November 2021
1 Maccabees 2:15-29   ><]]]]*> + <*[[[[><   Luke 19:41-44
Photo by author, Capernaum, Israel, 2017.
Once again we celebrate today
the Dedication of two other major 
churches in Rome, the Basilicas of 
St. Peter and St. Paul, the two pillars
of the Church who signify our unity 
as one body in Jesus Christ.
Thank you, dear God our Father
for this tremendous grace of being
your holy people that unfortunately
many among us disregard, even 
refuse to recognize; worst, many have turned 
away from the Church in the belief that
they can worship you on their own.
Teach us anew the importance 
of having "zeal" for you and your Church, 
of being zealous for your house of stone here
like Jesus two weeks ago who cleaned the temple
and now like Mattathias and his men 
filled with zeal in preserving the sanctity 
and honor of your house of worship;
twice the word “zeal” was used in today's
first reading to show the men’s passion for you, 
dear God.

Then Mattathias went through the city shouting, “Let everyone who is zealous for the law and who stands by the covenant follow after me!” Thereupon he fled to the mountains with his sons, leaving behind in the city all their possessions. Many who sought to live according to righteousness and religious custom went out into the desert to settle there.

1 Maccabees 2:27-29
How sad, O God, 
when it is us your priests 
who lack the zeal 
in keeping your sanctuary holy 
and dignified for worship;
worst, when we also lack 
the courage to sustain our zeal for you!
Zeal for you alone is never enough, Lord, 
while too much zeal can sometimes 
distract us from you; give us focus
and direction in our zeal for you.
Let us not be like Simon Peter 
who zealously asked Jesus to let him 
walk on water but upon seeing the strong winds, 
he was terrified and started to sink;
help us learn in prayers and faith like
St. Peter and St. Paul, Mattathias and his men
"who sought to live according to righteousness 
and religious custom went out into the desert" 
to cultivate and harness other virtues needed 
so that our zeal for you would lead us and 
your people closer to you in worship and in
service.  Amen.

The colors of Lent

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 16 March 2021
Lately
 I have been feeling gladly
at how the Lord is blessing me abundantly
showing me daily
how life is a journey like Lent
bringing me to desert and valleys
where me and the holy
parry attacks by the wily
making me see the beauty
of colors mixed playfully
in a huge tapestry
woven in mystery.
What I like most in Lent
is its shades of violet
calling us to repent and relent
our ways of evil and sin
so we begin to see God again
in the face of every human being;
if Lent were a palette of spirituality,
imagine mixing white of the Father's purity
with Christ's love colored red so bloody
then everybody shall rejoice in ecstasy
with colors bursting in pink so rosy
as Easter promises it to be!
Photo by author, Laetare Sunday 2020.

The hiddenness of God

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 04 September 2020
Photo by author, sunset at the Lake of Galilee (Tiberias) in Israel, May 2017.

August has always been a “ghost month” for me since elementary school. Long before I have heard these stories and words of caution against many things in the month of August, I have always dreaded this month when days are grindingly slow.

Specially this year 2020 when the whole month of August felt like the season of Lent when everything was dry and empty, even literally speaking in our churches when the five Sundays of August were like five Good Fridays.

But, for the first time in many years during this pandemic, amid the dryness and emptiness of August 2020, I felt and “found” God anew in his most unique and wonderful characteristic — his hiddenness.

Hiddenness is different from being invisible that simply means “not visible”.

Hiddenness is something both simple and complicated but beautiful and wonderful when we find God in his hiddenness.

Hiddenness of God means more than not being seen per se; it is that feeling with certainty that he is present but, just hiding somewhere. In fact, if God were not hidden, we would have not found him at all!

And the more God is hidden, the more we are able to see him and experience him!

Photo by author, April 2020.

Remember when we were kids and could not find the things that our mother had asked us to get from somewhere in the sala or kitchen or her tocador? She would threaten us with the classic line my generation have all heard and memorized, “Pag hindi mo nakita yan, makikita mo sa akin!”

It is one of our funniest memories of childhood! I am sorry for my English-speaking readers but there is no appropriate translation for this because it is very cultural and even spiritual in nature. Literally translated, it says that if you do not find what you are looking for, you would find it with me. Crazy and insane, is it not?!

I told you, hiddenness of God is both simple and complex but whenever we remember those “sweet, maternal threats”, we laugh and shrug off the experience as we were dead serious then searching for whatever thing mom had asked us because deep in us we knew too well, it must be somewhere there. Sabi kasi ni Inay! (Mom said so!)

That is how it is with God too! We know for sure he is around, he is present. But in hiding because that is how loving God is, like moms and some lovers with surprises for us his beloved.

The Prophet Jeremiah experienced it so well when he wrote:

You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter, everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding itin, I cannot endure it.

Jeremiah 20:7-9

No one can understand this without having experienced such intense kind of love of God or of another person that even if we are pained, we just cannot walk away or leave. More so with God, the most intense lover of all!

At the very center of Jeremiah’s torment is the invincible power of attraction of God. This is also the reason human love – whether for another a friend or a spouse, for the Church or any institution – must always be based on the love of Christ who told us to “love one another as I have loved you.” If our love remains in the human level, it can never go deeper or higher making it so sublime, so true, so pure.

That is how God is in his hiddenness who is like a lover who never stops looking for us, calling us, luring us, even seducing us to come to him, search him and once found, we may dwell in his great love; hence, even if we do not “see” him, we keep on following him as we also find him in his hiddenness!

Hiddenness of God, mystery and gift of Easter

This hiddenness of God is both the gift and mystery of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection. It is a gift because in his hiddenness, God has become closest to us more than ever while at the same time, a mystery because it is in his very hiddenness that we truly find and discover God.

Remember the two disciples going home to Emmaus on Easter afternoon who was accompanied by Jesus while traveling? They did not recognize him but as they talked, their “hearts were burning” as he explained the Scriptures. Then joining them at their meal at sundown upon reaching Emmaus, Jesus took the bread, blessed it and broke it — and the disciples’ eyes were opened, recognizing him as the Lord who immediately disappeared! The two then rushed back to Jerusalem to announce to the other disciples that Jesus had indeed risen.

That is the beauty of hiddenness, its giftedness and mystery that we find God even our beloved who had died or not physically present with us but deep within, we are certain of their presence as being so true and so real.

Hiddenness is a deeper level of relationship coming from one’s heart and soul not dependent on physical presence. This is the reason why upon appearing to Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, Jesus asked her not to touch him because from then on, knowing and relating with the Lord need not be physical and corporeal as he used to relate with them before his Death and Resurrection.

All these we must have experienced like when after a friend or a relative had died, that is when we felt growing closer with the person than when he/she was still alive and physically present with us. Or, when we were feeling low and down, we experienced sometimes so amazed at how we have felt the presence even the scent of our deceased loved ones comforting us, assuring us that all would be better.

This quarantine period invites us to experience and discover God anew in his hiddenness through prayers and silence so we can reflect on the many lessons this pandemic is teaching us today. In the darkness and emptiness of this pandemic are grace-filled moments with God hidden in our poverty and sadness, sickness and even deaths around us.

Photo by author, Christmas 2018.

Some people have already asked me about what or how would our Simbang Gabi and Christmas celebrations be. They are sad and worried that it must be a very bleak Christmas for everyone with so many out of work.

But, despite this gloom, I tell them that Christmas 2020 would be one – if not the most meaningful Christmas we shall ever have despite forecasts that there would be less of everything, materially speaking.

So often in life, when we have so much material things, that is when we fail to find and experience God.

Recall that in Bethlehem more that 2000 years ago when Jesus Christ was born, God came to us hidden in a stable, on a manger in the darkness of the night.

And do not forget, too, that Christmas is not a date but an event, the very person of Jesus Christ, the all-powerful God who came to us hidden in a child, who upon becoming an adult, was crucified and died. These are sad and down moments for us but for God, it is his hiddenness, his presence. Let us go and find him again for he continues to come to us in hiddenness. Amen.

Some lessons from Emmaus

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 26 April 2020

This is for my brother priests and fellow communicators in the church who might be failing to recognize Jesus Christ along the way and sadly, stuck at Emmaus.

That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the tings that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.

Luke 24:13-16

We live our faith today in a mass-mediated culture.

Media is all around us.

Vatican II tells us that these modern means of communications are gifts from God that are “necessary for the formation of Christians and for pastoral activity” (Inter Mirifica, 3).

Communication is a sharing in the power of God who created everything by just saying “Let there be…”. When this power to communicate is mishandled and eventually abused, sooner or later, it can blind us and prevent us from recognizing Jesus in our midst.

And sadly, it is already happening.

Even before the start of the enhanced community quarantine, many of us were already using the various platforms of social media proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

But, are our hearts still burning deep inside in him and for him?

Is Jesus still the One we are proclaiming, or are we now trying to be like the so-called “influencers” of the secular world that we are more preoccupied and focused with gimmicks and antics, shows and bravaduras for the sake of followers and likes?

Are our hearts still burning with the Sacred Scriptures or the words of the world that we have made our ambos and altars like studios and stage complete with all the props to tickle the bones of people than build up their faith and experience Jesus?

On the road to Emmaus, after Cleopas had expressed their feelings and thoughts to Jesus, he and his companion fell silent and simply listened to Jesus explaining the Sacred Scriptures. No need to shout or mimic voices.

No need to keep on clapping hands like in a circus or even dance like Salome who later asked for the head of St. John the Baptist.

It is sad that on the road to Emmaus, it has become our monologue, our show that Jesus can no longer speak.

Remember that “in the beginning was the word, and the word became flesh”: God’s communication is always preceded by silence.

Even in the road to Emmaus, there was total silence when Jesus spoke that the two disciples were silent that they felt their hearts burning.

As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them…

Luke 24:28-33

The Mass and our Priesthood are both a mystery so unique especially for us. It is something beyond explanation without much physical descriptions but more of inner recognition.

Exactly like Easter: the moment we recognize Jesus in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, he vanishes because he is more than enough than anybody or anything else in the Mass and in our ministry in general.

Even in our very own lives!

St. Mother Teresa asked us priests long ago to “always give (them) Jesus, only Jesus”. And that will always be valid until the end of time when Jesus comes again.

And here lies the great lesson for us from Emmaus: the more we try harder, insisting on giving “physical appearances” of Jesus in our celebrations with our showbiz kind of preaching complete with a song and dance number to the excessive use of modern means of communications like slide presentations during homilies to our “creative liturgies” that are very distracting to other trappings of overdoing everything called “triumphalism” — that is when we BANISH Jesus from the scene.

In Emmaus, Jesus vanished when the disciples’ eyes were opened.

In some Masses today, unfortunately, Jesus is banished and many eyes are not only left closed but sadly, even blinded.

“Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio.

We are priests called to preside the celebration of the Eucharist in persona Christi.

We priests do not own the Mass and we cannot insist on whatever we want to do, even if it is very pleasing and delighting to the senses of the people.

Do away wit all those “styles” and gimmicks.

Jesus saved us not with activities; Jesus saved us by dying on the Cross.

If all we are concerned with is to “feel good”, to tickle our bones and senses, our eyes – and those of the people we serve and bring closer to God would never be opened to recognize Jesus Christ.

Our Masses and other celebrations need only Jesus, always Jesus.

There is no need to put our pictures in every tarpaulin or announcement. Rest assured that every disciple of Jesus is always good-looking and handsome. Believe. And stop bragging it.

Let us have him always and let others recognize him from within. If there is no inner recognition of Jesus, maybe we have never met him at all. Neither in Emmaus nor in Jerusalem nor in our selves.

A blessed week ahead of you, my brother priests and fellow communicators of Christ, in Christ.