The human child, mystery of God’s love

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday in the Second Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 15 January 2023
Isaiah 9:1-6 ><]]]]'> Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18 ><]]]]'> Matthew 18:1-5, 10
Photo from reddit.com.

The photo above is a sculpture called “Love” by Ukrainian artist Alexander Milov he created in 2015. I have kept the photo as a bookmark in one of the books I have read and saw it recently. Milov rightly called it “Love” because it shows how that mystery of love expressed to us by God in Christ’s coming continues if we could only be like a child!

See how the sculpture depicts two adults after a disagreement sitting with their back to each other while their inner child in both of them wanting to connect. What a beautiful expression of our condition when despite our vast learning and knowledge, we seem to can’t live without ego and pride, hatred and grudges that prevent us from forgiving and moving on in life. The free spirit exhibited by children in this sculpture shows our true nature which is the very core of Jesus Christ’s teaching, of being a child always.

At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven… See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

Matthew 18:1-3, 10

On this Sunday of the second week in Ordinary Time, we extend our Christmas celebration for a day with the Feast of Sto. Niño or Child Jesus in honor of the crucial role of that image gifted by Magellan to Queen Juana of Cebu 500 years ago. It was the Sto. Niño who actually conquered our country to become the only Christian nation in this part of the world – proof enough of Christ’s teaching about being a child so powerful in God’s eyes!

This Feast is a very timely for us too as we go into the busyness of our lives to be reminded anew even for a day of the meaning of Christmas, of Jesus Christ’s coming in love. He came because of love, coming as love himself by being a child, an infant.

It was only recently as a chaplain in the hospital have I felt and realized why a baby is called a “bundle of joy” – my heart melts whenever I visit mothers with their newborn babies especially twins. It is said that even the most hardened criminals are softened upon seeing babies and children. And that is because of what Jesus told us today in the gospel,

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

Matthew 16:10

What is there with children and the face of God?

I think that is God’s gift of love in each of us, so innately in us right during our moment of conception when life begins as the Church rightly insists based on Sacred Scriptures. It is nurtured and cared for first by the mother that even after we have matured, we call on our mother when surprised or shocked as in “Inang ko po!” or “Nanay ko po!”. See how those approaching death would always speak of seeing their departed mother, coming and visiting them.

This shows and proves to us the deep impact of a mother’s love to each of us because she is always the first to make us experience God’s love in her womb that even long after our umbilical cords have been cut off at birth, there remains an invisible line always between us and our mothers.

It is not only with our mother but also with everyone. This love innately gifted upon each of us by God who is our very first love remains in us through our family and friends and later the people we meet in life as living representatives of that invisible love of God in us. This is what Jesus meant when he warned his disciples in the gospel today,

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

Matthew 18:10

How sad when this love that has always been in us and in the world suddenly becomes unrecognizable – even unrealistic – because of the darkness of sins and evil. When the child is born and begins to see, experience and realize the absence of love in the family, of a lack of that love between the child’s mother and father who quarrel or separate, or when the child himself/herself is threatened or hurt by anyone he/she looks up to, then trouble happens.

Children can only grasp the gift of life and of their existence when they experience the concreteness, the reality of love first right in their homes. One thing we adults always forget which I insist on every man and woman entering marriage that it is always the children who bear all the pains and sufferings when they separate. Experts claim that criminals mostly come from families where children witness domestic violence, especially when the husband beats the wife.

It is unfortunate that today’s gospel did not include Jesus Christ’s most terrible curse against those inflicting harm on children when he said in the same scene that “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and drowned in the depths of the sea” (Mt. 16:6).

As chaplain of a university, I have been hearing the confessions of our students, recently from junior and senior high school. After listening to their stories and woes, I tell them point blank about their parents and family, of the love among them and they start crying. I do not blame parents for their apparent lack of love for their children nor for their separation nor for their need to work abroad; I stress to young people human love is always imperfect. Only God can love us perfectly.

When the world and the people around us miserably fail in showing us the face of our loving God, that is when all the more we have to be like children anew as Jesus tells us today. It is is in going inside our inner child within, in becoming like a child trusting in the great love of God in us like when we were in our mother’s womb can we grasp again this invisible love poured upon us in Jesus Christ.

This is the challenge for us of the Sto. Niño: let us keep the face of God aglow in us, on our face and in our lives like the light Isaiah spoke of in the first reading when the Messiah comes. Anyone who lives in the gospel of Jesus Christ, even amid all pains and sufferings, would always be aglow with that radiant face of God filled with love and mercy, kindness and compassion despite our many imperfections. The beloved disciple said it so well, “No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us” (1 Jn. 4:12). Simply love, love, and love. No ifs nor buts. Just love.

Let us remain children of God most especially in our adulthood like Jesus Christ who upon his death on the Cross called God Abba – Father – because he has always been the Son, the Child of God. Remember how at the Last Supper when he gave the new commandment of loving one another as he loves us: it is “new” because unlike the love the world knows which is all feelings and self-centered, Christ’s love is rooted in God through him, in him, and with him.

Let us pray:

Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
every spiritual blessing in the heavens (Eph. 1:3),
as he chose us to be born
and be filled with his love as 
icons and representatives of his love;
enlighten the eyes of our hearts, Father,
so we may always answer your call
in your Son Jesus Christ for us to follow
him in being like a child
manifesting your face full of
warmth and love,
kindness and care
especially to those 
feeling unloved.
Amen.

Christmas is when God’s love came down so that our love may rise in him

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday in the Octave of Christmas, Feast of St. John Evangelist, 27 December 2022
1 John 1:1-4     ><000'> + ><000'> + ><000'>     John 20:1, 2-8
God our loving Father,
we thank and praise you in 
giving us a great saint in
John the Evangelist, 
the beloved disciple of your Son Jesus Christ
whose feast we celebrate in this
Octave of Christmas;
it was John who declared that
"God is love" (1 Jn. 4:8, 16),
the most sublime assertion about God
not found in any other religion!
John did not merely said "God loves"
nor "love is God"; instead, John expressed
that you, O God, is love, your essence is love
that is why everything you say and do is love!
In his gospel and letters,
John showed us how your love, O God,
came down on us so that our love
may go up in you, with you, through you
in Christ Jesus who is the expression of your
love himself when you sent him to us this Christmas
for "God so loved the world that he gave us
his only Son" (Jn. 3:16);
when Jesus Christ was about to offer himself
on the Cross, his lowest point in life when he
suffered and died, he gave us his new commandment,
"that you love one another; even as I have loved you,
that you also love one another" (Jn.13:34).
How beautiful that John,
the only Apostle to have grown old
without tasting death as a martyr
unlike the others and remained standing
at the foot of the Cross to whom Jesus 
entrusted his Mother,
was able to contemplate all these
wondrous movements of your love, O God,
so that our joy may be complete in Christ.
Open our eyes and our hearts of faith, 
Lord Jesus Christ like John the Beloved
so that we may always believe even when
the tomb is empty, when you seem to be missing
and absent; teach us to love you more dearly
so that we may be true in our love in
loving our brothers and sisters whom we can see
as expression of our love to God whom we cannot see; 
let us keep on loving so that love may be perfected in us
so we may see God in others
and God may be seen in us always.
Amen.

Advent is putting on love

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church, 14 December 2022
Isaiah 45:6-8, 18, 21-25   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   Luke 7:18-23
Photo by author, 08 December 2022.
Glory and praise to you,
God our Father, for this lovely Wednesday!
We have Isaiah with all your wonderful words
of love and assurance from whom 
all good things come from
for there is no other God but you 
who "form light and create darkness...
designing earth to be lived in" (Is. 45:7, 18);
wherever there is a healing of the sick,
when "the blind regain their sight, 
the lame walk, lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear, the dead are raised,
the poor have good news 
proclaimed to them" (Lk.7:22),
then, indeed, you are there!
Where there is love and everything that
is good, sincere and true, 
like saints and holy people,
then it must be only, YOU, God
who had come to us;
like St. John of the Cross,
inflame us with your love
move us with your love
let us live in your love!
Let us never get tired walking in your love,
Lord, as expressed to us by St. John of the Cross:
"El alma que anda en amor, 
ni cansa ni se cansa"
(The soul that walks in love 
neither tires nor gets tired);
and if there is no love,
let us therefore put love
in order to find love.
Amen.

Daily presentation to the Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog 
Monday, Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 21 November 2022
Revelation 14:1-3, 4-5   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   Luke 21:1-4
Lord Jesus Christ,
as we enter today this final stretch
of the current liturgical calendar,
you gave us the Memorial of the 
Presentation of your Blessed Mother
as an occasion for us to present ourselves
to you fittingly like her.
Help us to always remember your love
and mercy, Lord, so we may remain on track
on your path of humility and obedience
like Mary; may we always remember
your call to holiness and to mission
being sent like you by the Father;
may we always remember like Mary
to be always truthful and clean in our lips.

These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been ransomed as the first fruits of the human race for God and then Lamb. On their lips no deceit has been found; they are unblemished.

Revelation 14:4-5
Help us imitate, dear Jesus,
that poor widow at the temple area
who gave everything she had - 
"two small coins" - into the treasury box;
grant us the grace to be like her,
to be like your Mother Mary,
to be like your grandparents St. Joachim and St. Anne
who offered their whole lives, 
their whole livelihood to God
because they believed,
they trusted, and hence,
they loved without measure.
Amen.

Praying to bring back love

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday in the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time, Year II, 14 November 2022
Revelation 1:1-4; 2:1-5   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   Luke 18:35-43
Your words today, O dear Jesus,
to your servant John 
in writing the Book of Revelation
speak also directly to me:

“I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate the wicked… Moreover, you have endurance and have suffered for my name, and you have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and the works you did at first.

Revelation 2:2, 3-5
Thank you, dear Jesus, for reminding me
of how I have lost that love for you
when I have stopped loving others too;
help me find my way back to you.
Like the blind Bartimaeus in today's gospel,
I have been blinded too by so many
other things like wealth and power and fame;
help me see again your face in the persons
closest to me, those I encounter each day;
let me see beyond the ordinary
and temporary things so I may be more 
loving, looking beyond outer appearances
but more into the worth and dignity of
everyone bearing your identity which is also
LOVE,
Why is it, O Lord, that as we grow old, 
when we mature,
when we are supposed to be
more knowledgeable and more intelligent
when we become less loving?

Why is it, O Lord, as we become
more blessed in you in so many things
when we turn away from you,
when we love less
and think more,
desire more,
count more?

Lord Jesus,
like Bartimaeus,
please let me see:
let me see again myself so loved
and forgiven by you;
let me see again one another as
my brother and sister in you,
a companion in this journey of life;
let me see the way back home
to you in the Father
and start loving again!
Amen.

Walking in love, walking in truth

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Memorial of St. Martin of Tours, Bishop, 11 November 2022
2 John 4-9   ><000'> + <'000>< --- ><000'> + <'000><   Luke 17:26-37
St. Martin of Tours, Patron of our hometown Bocaue in Bulacan.
Lord Jesus Christ,
today you confront us with
the two contrasting attitudes
we disciples should have,
walking in love and 
walking in truth.

To walk in love is to live in love
which is to love one another
as you have loved us, Lord Jesus,
even to the point of giving our very selves
in love for another just like you.
Of course, we know it so well
and we have said so much about it
but have miserably failed in truly loving
like you because, O Lord, we have failed
to walk in truth; love and truth
always go together!
We cannot truly love when 
we live in lies and falsehoods,
when we are not sincere and faithful;
most of all, when we choose to be
blind and deaf 
to what is true and good.

For this is love that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, as you heard from the beginning, in which you should walk. Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh; such is the deceitful one and the antichrist. Anyone who is “progressive” as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son.

2 John6-7, 9
Grant us, Jesus, the grace of walking in love
and walking in truth like St. Martin of Tours,
a great Saint who taught us in his life
how these two contrasting attitudes
perfectly go together in witnessing your gospel.

Upon seeing a beggar on a cold winter night,
he cut his cape into two without hesitation
to share it with the beggar freezing in cold;
he was not yet baptized at that time that
you appreciated it Lord by appearing to him
in a dream with the other half of his cape.

After he was baptized, as a soldier of
the Roman army, he realized that war
and the gospel are incompatible that he
refused to fight in a battle by declaring
"I am a soldier of Christ; I cannot fight."
Threatened to be jailed for cowardice,
St. Martin volunteered to be sent unarmed
to the frontline when just before his
commanders challenged his offer,
their opponents sued for peace,
preventing any battle.
After his discharge from the Roman army,
St. Martin founded monasteries
and soon his holiness became known that
he was elected Bishop of Tours in France,
faithfully serving you Jesus by
walking in love,
walking in truth.
After his death,
 his cult spread and was so popular
in Europe, proof that indeed,
"whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it,
but whoever loses it will save it"
(Luke 17:33).
St. Martin of Tours,
Pray for us!
Amen.
An icon of St. Martin giving the other half of his cape to a beggar; photo from blog.obitel-minsk.com.

Prayer against complacency

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday in the Thirty-Second Week of Ordinary Time, Year II, 08 November 2022
Titus 2:1-8, 11-14   ><]]]'> + <'[[[>< === ><]]]'> + <'[[[><   Luke 17:7-10
Lord Jesus Christ,
as we approach the end of the year
before we get carried away
with the excitement of your birthday
that is Christmas, help me focus on you
more earnestly these days.
Do not let me be complacent.

Jesus said to the Apostles: “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table?’ When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'”

Luke 17:7, 10
Forgive me, Jesus
when there are times I feel so entitled
to you after I have done your assigned
task and mission;
let me keep in my mind always
that more than fulfilling the will of the Father,
what matters most is our relationship with God.

Do not let me be complacent in being good,
in being faithful,
in being a good example to others
as St. Paul instructed Titus
to remind everyone,
both the elder men and women,
 and younger men and women too!

For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14
Keep me temperate,
dignified, self-controlled,
sound in faith, love and endurance,
showing myself as a model of good deeds
in every respect, with integrity in teaching,
dignity, and sound speech 
that cannot be
criticized.
Amen.

Making things happen in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Memorial of St. Charles Borromeo, Bishop, 04 November 2022
Philippians 3:17-4:1   ><}}}*> + ><}}}*> + ><}}}*>   Luke 16:1-8
Praise and thanksgiving,
God our loving Father
for the grace of your Son
Jesus Christ 
who had come 
to make us closer to you
more than ever, 
making us "citizens of heaven"
(Philippinas 3:20).
Teach us, dear Jesus,
to be imitators of St. Paul
witnessing your Cross, 
the only path to salvation
because it is our liberation from sin;
do not allow us to be
"enemies of the cross"
whose "God is their stomach;
their glory is in their shame.  
Their minds occupied with earthly
things" (Philippians 3:18-19);
keep us faithful to your teachings 
and example, Lord Jesus Christ
by living your paschal mystery.
Like St. Charles Borromeo
whose memorial we celebrate today,
give us the grace of determination
and perseverance in keeping us
true and faithful to you
by making things happen 
like making Christ present
no matter how difficult and 
unpopular it may be especially 
when others especially our pastors 
have forgotten to live in your footsteps,
when too much time and emphasis
are spent with outward appearances
forgetting internal reformation;
let us stop wishful thinking that
things may get better by being just idle,
simply awaiting for events to happen.
Like that shrewd steward in the gospel,
let us find ways, O Lord, in making
justice and mercy,
love and kindness
become realities
by making them happen
by standing firm in you
Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Praying not to be deceived

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday in the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II, 24 October 2022
Ephesians 4:32-5:8   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   Luke 13:10-17
Photo by author, 2018.
Lord Jesus Christ,
help me to be kind
to one another, 
compassionate and 
forgiving as you have
forgiven us (Eph.4:32);
let me live in love
by being true always
to you in words and
in deeds.
In this world and life
saturated in media whose 
only concerns are profit and
influence, let us not be deceived
with its colorful displays of images,
and most especially of talks and 
languages full of obscenities and
curse, reducing persons into things
who can be dispensed in the name of
"human rights" and then portrayed as cool
and progressive; worst, many of them
claim to be your followers as Catholics. 

Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the disobedient. So do not be associated with them. For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.

Ephesians 5:6-8
Give me the courage,
Lord, to stand for what
is true and good like you
in healing the crippled woman
who was bent and incapable of
standing erect;  let me choose to
do what is right and pleasing
to you, doing justice to everyone,
following your straight path
of kindness and compassion
for everyone especially the weak
and powerless.
Amen.

Losing one’s self in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday in the Twenty-Ninth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II, 20 November 2022
Ephesians 3:14-21   ><000'> + <'000>< = ><000'> + <'000><   Luke 12:49-53
Photo by author, 2018.
Dearest Jesus,
Help me imitate St. Paul's
beautiful prayer for the Ephesians:
may the Holy Spirit strengthen my 
"inner self" so that you may dwell
in my heart that is "rooted in faith"
and "grounded in love";
grant me the "strength to comprehend" -
not just understand but embrace totally
"the breadth and length and height and depth"
of your love that "surpasses knowledge"
by entering into a communion in you,
an intimacy "with all the fullness of God"
(Ephesians 3:16-19).
This can only happen to me,
Lord Jesus Christ,
if I allow myself to lose my soul to you
in order to gain it by allowing
your fire to purify me of my sins
and self-centeredness
(Luke 12:49-51).
Set me on fire, Jesus,
as you have declared in the gospel:
lit me with courage and joy in witnessing
your Cross in this time of darkness
when everybody follows the artificial lights
of the world that lead to emptiness;
let me be immersed into your paschal mystery
of Passion, Death and Resurrection,
of bearing all the pains that lead to conversion
and to true peace as you have promised
at the Last Supper that is the fruit of
love and sacrifices, not of compromises
as the peace of the world offers.
Dearest Lord,
let me see everything in your love
even if it seems so impossible
like your victory over death;
seduce me, O Lord,
dupe me like Jeremiah
to join you in your adventure,
to go beyond my limits
even if it may be fatal
for that is the only way 
to lose myself
in order to gain you,
Jesus Christ our Lord!
"Now to him 
who is able to accomplish
far more than all we ask or imagine,
by the power at work within us,
to him be glory in the Church
and in Christ Jesus to all generations,
forever and ever.  Amen."
(Ephesians 3:20-21)
Photo by author, 2018.