Prayer to keep fellowship in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Third Sunday in Easter, 18 April 2021
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19  ><)))*>  1 John 2:1-5  ><)))*>  Luke 24:35-48 
Easter Vigil 2021.
My dearest Lord Jesus Christ:
Today I am celebrating my ordination anniversary.
Twenty-three years of giftedness and grace and mystery, 
until now I wonder why you called and chose me. 
Thank you very much 
for your love and mercy to me.
You know very well my sins and failures,
my weaknesses and limitations
that on many occasions
I have failed you.
There were times 
I was like Cleopas 
traveling back to Emmaus
trying to forget you
feeling at a loss and defeated
when my plans do not happen.
But you would join me,
walk with me even if I go the wrong direction
just to bring me back to Jerusalem,
back to the Cross where your Resurrection is.
So many times, 
my eyes cannot recognize you appearing to me,
but surely always within me
my heart burns while you speak softly
as you tell me our stories
when you never left me. 
In those twenty-three years,
dearest Jesus, what I treasure most 
is when you appear and speak to me unknowingly,
an inner awakening happens in me
opening my mind, purifying my soul
that the more I see my sinfulness before you,
the more I see my worth in you
that is when you are so true!
One thing I ask you, my Lord and my God
keep me in your fellowship of the table
of your new covenant; even if I am not worthy
to receive you under my roof, but only
say the word and I shall be healed.
Be my guest always, dear Jesus,
appearing, speaking, and breaking bread
at your altar, sustaining and nourishing me
with the Blessed Virgin Mary 
in this journey until you come again.  Amen.
Easter Vigil, 2021.

Praying to “smell like sheep”

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, 22 February 2021
1 Peter 5:1-4     + + + + +     Matthew 16:13-19

Dearest Lord Jesus Christ:

On this feast of the Chair of St. Peter when we celebrate the sacred office of the Papacy you have bestowed upon St. Peter as your Vicar here on earth, I pray for us your priests.

Help us your priests to heed the call of Pope Francis to “smell like your sheep” which is so attuned with the call of St. Peter himself in the first reading:

Beloved: Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples of the flock.

1 Peter 5:2-3

Forgive us, dear Jesus, when we your priests demand so much from your flock that we forget to serve them faithfully and lovingly.

Forgive us, dear Jesus, when we your priests are allured by social media and all forms of glitz and glamor that unconsciously we have replaced you, making our selves as the new gods to be worshipped and adored by the people.

Forgive us, dear Jesus, when we your priests abandon your flock and go with the world that we look and smell like the rich and famous.

Chair of St. Peter in Rome. Photo from wikicommons.org.

Give us the courage and determination to first of all be centered in you, to pray daily and most of all, celebrate the Holy Eucharist with love and devotion so people may see you more, experience you more, hear you more and taste you more.

May we spend more time and energy with you, dear Jesus in prayers because it is you whom we must know first on a daily basis. Let us come to you always in Caesarea Philippi, your place of confronting us with that crucial question “But who do you say that I am?” that we never hear nor answer because we have left you. As a result, people are still confused of who you really are when we fail to live and serve in you.

May we keep in mind that the Primacy of St. Peter’s office, of our ministry and of every kind of leadership in our home and schools, offices and government is always the PRIMACY OF LOVE IN YOU. Amen.

From the Ear to the Heart

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Wednesday, Third Week in Ordinary Time, 27 January 2021
Hebrews 10:11-18     >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>     Mark 4:1-20

Forgive me, Lord Jesus, for being deaf, for refusing to listen to you, for not having the ears to hear your calls. Twice you called out on the crowd gathered before you in the gospel today, “Hear this! A sower went out to sow… Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear” (Mk. 4:3, 9).

So many times in life, we have forgotten the essential use of our ears which is to hear and listen so we may understand. Most of the time, our ears have been reduced to mere decorations of our head to hold eyeglasses as well as be stuffed with ear plugs or covered with headsets to be deadened by sounds we prefer to hear and listen to.

Make us realize anew that our ears were shaped in such a way to look like our heart when put together so that the more we hear and listen to you and others, the more we love.

So many things begin with our ears.

And so often, from the ears, they go to our hearts to be processed.

From hearing to listening to loving.

It is only with a listening heart that we can truly see you passing by everyday in our lives like the Sower sowing to us the seeds of love, the seeds of the kingdom of heaven.

Moreover, cleanse our hearts, remove so many other things not supposed to be there that distort our perceptions of you and of others.

May we realize too that in our refusal to listen to you, so many people have also stopped listening to us, your disciples, especially when we speak more of our words, more of our thoughts, than of your Word and Holy Will.

As you open our ears and hearts to your Word, dear Jesus, teach us to be patient too like our Father, the Sower, to never give up sowing your seeds of the kingdom of God even if nobody listens to us. Amen.

Van Gogh painting of “The Sower” from wikimediacommons.org.

Being true collaborators of Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday, Memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus, Bishops, 26 January 2021
2 Timothy 1:1-8    >><)))*>   +++   <*(((><<     Luke 10:1-9
Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News, sunrise at Natonin, Mountain Province after a devastating landslide in October 2018.

Dearest Lord Jesus Christ:

A day after celebrating the feast of the conversion of your great Apostle Paul, we now remember his two collaborators and companions in fulfilling his mission from you, Timothy and Titus, trustworthy men who carried out so many of his works.

And so today, we pray Lord Jesus in your name to please send us collaborators in your mission, men and women who are trustworthy who share in your vision and mission, endeavors and responsibilities. Collaborators in you, Lord, who are willing and ready to serve the Gospel with generosity like Timothy and Titus who represented Paul in many circumstances far from easy.

Send us, dear Jesus, more workers in your field, collaborators in you with our bishops and priests, even with our leaders in government who shall think more of serving the people, thinking more of the welfare of others than one’s personal advantages like power and fame.

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”

Luke 10:2-3

What will happen to your people, Lord Jesus when your servants and collaborators become the wolves, unmindful of the needs of the people, forgetting their mission of proclaiming your Gospel, of celebrating your Holy Sacrifice of the Mass much needed these days?

What will happen to your people, Lord Jesus when your servants and collaborators become afraid of doing what is true and right, trying to please men and women than God, avoiding problems and difficulties?

Photo by Dr. Mai B. Dela Peña, MD, Carmelite Monastery, the Holy Land, 2017.

“For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control … bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.”

2 Timothy 1:6-7, 8

Help us follow, dear Jesus, your Apostle Paul’s recommendation to Titus, “I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply to themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men.”

May we be more committed to you, Jesus Christ than to anyone else, even to our selfish motives so that we may be rich in good deeds to open the doors of the world to you our Lord and Master. Amen.

Bayan ng Diyos, Biyaya ng Diyos

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-20 ng Nobyembre 2020
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, 2019.

Labing-tatlong taon na akong pari nang ako ay maging kura paroko sa unang pagkakataon dito sa Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista sa Bagbaguin, Santa Maria, Bulacan noong 2011. Dapat sana’y anim na taon lamang ang aking panunungkulan nguni’t dahil sa maraming pangayari na ang pinakahuli ay COVID-19, halos abutin na ako ng sampung taon dito hanggang sa paglilipatan sa 2021.

Wala akong pinagsisihan at pinanghihinayangan sapagkat tunay napagyaman ang aking pagkatao at pagkapari sa parokyang ito sa loob ng siyam na taon. At maipagmamalaki ko na maganda at mabuti ang parokyang ito sapagka’t kumbinsido ako na bawat parokya bilang bayan ng Diyos ay biyaya ng Diyos.


Unang aral sa parokya:
pangalawa sa Diyos ay mahalin
at pagmalasakitan ng mga tao kanilang parokya.

Wala akong mga karanasan at kaalaman sa buhay parokya bilang pari nang dumating dito nguni’t unti-unti sa pananalangin at pagninilay, aking natutuhan ang maraming bagay. Una na rito ang tungkulin ng mga tao pangalawa sa pag-ibig at katapatan sa Diyos ay ang pagmamahal at malasakit sa kanilang parokya na kinabibilangan.

Ang mga pari ay dumarating at umaalis, palipat-lipat ng mga parokya nguni’t ang mga tao ang naiiwan at nananatili sa kanilang parokya. Kaya dapat lamang sila ang higit na bigyan pahalagahan sa ano mang usapin ukol sa kanilang katipunan bilang mga alagad ng Panginoon.

Kaya naman tungkuling din naming mga kura paroko na unang ituro sa mga tao ang pagmamahal at pagmamalasakit nila sa kailang sariling parokya, lalo’t higit sa kanilang patron at mga kaugalian kung ang mga ito naman ay tunay na naunawaan at nasa katuwiran.

Isinasaad sa Vatican II lalo’t higit sa “Gaudium et Spes” ang pangangalaga sa kalinangan ng bawat lunan sapagkat doon nangungusap at naramdaman ng mga tao ang pagparito ng Panginoong Hesu-Kristo.

Malaking trahedya kapag nakalimutan ang mayamang kasaysayan at mga tradisyon ng isang bayan alang-alang sa mga kung anu-anong naiisipang gimik at kaartehan gaya ng sari-saring debosyon na umuusbong na wala namang pinag-ugatan sa karanasan ng mga tao.

Maliwanag wala doon ang Panginoong Diyos na palaging nagpapakilala sa isang pamayanan, hindi lamang sa iilan lalo na kung ito ang nagiging sanhi ng pagkakawatak-watak sa halip na kaisahan.

Larawan kuha ng may-akda, Marso 2020.

Ang ating Patron ng Parokya,
gabay sa buhay dito sa lupa
hanggang sa kabila.

Isang bagay na nagpatingkad nito sa akin ang sariling karanasan ng aking Lola Cedeng na tiyahin ng aking Ina. Siya ang kauna-unahang may-sakit na aking dinasalan at pinahiran ng Banal na Langis matapos mag-comatose ilang linggo pagkaraan ng aking ordenasyon noong Abril 1998.

Akala noon ng aking Ina at kanyang mga kapatid ay magtutuluy-tuloy na sa kamatayan ang Lola Cedeng kaya dagli nilang inihanda lahat ng gagamitin sa libing – damit, kabaong, sementeryo nguni’t gaya ng kasabihan, humahaba pa raw ang buhay ng may sakit kapag pinaghahandaan kanyang kamatayan.

Pagkaraan nga ng isang linggo ay nagkamalay ang Lola Cedeng at tumagal pa ang buhay ng limang taon!

Dagli ko siyang dinalaw at ang unang hiniling niya sa akin ay ipanalangin siya kay San Martin ng Tours, ang patron namin sa bayan ng Bukawe (dalawa lang kaming bayan sa Pilipinas na ang patron ay si San Martin ng Tours;Taal sa Batangas ang isa pa na mas nauna).

At ito ang dahilan ng kanyang kahilingan: isinaysay sa akin ni Lola Cedeng kung paano sa kanyang NDE o “near death experience” habang naglalakad sa madilim na kalsada nang kanyang makita na dumarating si San Martin ng Tours nakasakay ng kabayo.

Sinabi raw sa kanya ni San Martin, “Cedeng… bumalik ka na sa Bunlo (ang aming baranggay). Nagkamali lamang at hindi mo pa oras,” aniya.

Pagkasabi daw niyon ay kaagad tumalikod si San Martin at umalis habang siya naman daw ay natigilan, iniisip paano siya nakilala ni San Martin?

Maya maya daw ay bumalik si San Martin at tinanong niya, “Hindi po ba kayo si San Martin ng Tours? Paano po ninyo ako nakilala at nalaman aking pangalan at tirahan?”

“Paanong hindi kita makikilala Cedeng,” paliwanag daw sa kanya ni San Martin, “hindi ba’t palagi kang nagsisimba sa Bukawe tuwing pista ng Mahal na Krus sa Wawa at sa akin tuwing Nobyembre onse? Sigue, umuwi ka na.”

Noon din daw ay natuwa ang aking Lola Cedeng, tumalikod at nagulat na lamang siya paano siya napunta sa Mt. Carmel Hospital!

Larawan mula sa Facebook ng Parokya ni San Martin ng Tours, Bocaue, Bulacan.

Naniniwala ako sa kuwento ng aking Lola Cedeng dahil pagkalipas ng limang taon, pagkaraan ng kanyang kaarawan noong ika-29 ng Hunyo 2003 bago sumapit ang Pista ng Krus sa Wawa noong ika-03 ng Hulyo ng taong iyon, siya ay aking dinalaw at mismong sa harap ko nalagutan ng hininga at pumanaw.

Habang hinihintay ko aking mga tiyo at tiya na tumawag ng duktor, kaagad ako nag-alay ng Misa sa tabi niya.

Pagkaraan pa ng ilang panahon mula noon nang aking mapagtanto mga kahulugan niyon, na kung paano si San Martin ng Tours ang gumabay sa aking Lola Cedeng habang nabubuhay, siya marahil din ang umalalay sa isang Bukaweñong tunay patungo sa buhay na walang hanggan.

Iyan ang kahalagahan ng mga Patron natin sa parokya. Sila ang ating mga tagapamagitan sa Diyos. Sila ang ating mga gabay at patnubay sa buhay hanggang kamatayan.

Kung saan marubdob ang pagmamahal at malasakit sa patron ng parokya, palaging buhay ang pananampalataya. Sino mang pari mapunta roon sa kabila ng kanilang maraming kapintasan maging kakulangan, palaging buhay ang parokya sapagkat sila’y nakasandig sa Diyos at hindi sa kung sinu-sinong tao lamang.

Gayon din naman, wala sa mga gusaling bato at kung anu-anong gawain matatagpuan ang buhay ng parokya kungdi sa buhay na pamimintuho sa patron nila na nagbubuklod sa kanila bilang isang bayan ng Diyos, mga alagad ni Kristo na nagmamahal at nagmamalasakit sa bawat isa.

Sa panahong ito ng pandemya, nawa higit nating makita wala sa karangyaan at luho ng simbahan at mga pagdiriwang ang diwa ng parokya kungdi sa pagiging payak at bukas palagi sa galaw ng Banal na Espiritu patungo sa higit na makabuluhang katipunan ng mga alagad ni Kristo. Amen.

Mary in the hiddenness of God

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 10 September 2020
Chapel of the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem where the Holy Family hid before fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s murder of innocent babies. According to tradition, a drop of milk from the Virgin Mary fell on the floor of the cave that turned color of the stones to white.

We have just celebrated the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most perfect example of one who had experienced God’s hiddenness in her life, teaching us with some important lessons in rediscovering and keeping God’s hiddenness specially in this age of social media when everything is shown and has to be seen.

We have mentioned in our previous blog that hiddenness is different from being invisible that simply means “not visible”; hiddenness is more than not being seen per se but that feeling with certainty that God is present though hiding because he wants to surprise us. 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 too as seen in the life of Mary (https://lordmychef.com/2020/09/04/the-hiddenness-of-god/).

The hiddenness of Mary.

Simplicity and humility of Mary as venue for the perfect setting of God’s coming in Jesus Christ. Consider her origins: her town of Nazareth in the province of Galilee was definitely outside the more popular city of Jerusalem that was the place to be at that time. Most of all, it is the only town in the New Testament never mentioned in the Old Testament nor by the prophets for lack of any significance in the coming of the Messiah.

Nazareth was largely unknown with some hint of notoriety as expressed by Nathanael (aka, Apostle Bartholomew) when he expressed disbelief to Philip who told him they have found the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, by saying “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

Photo by author of chapel at the grotto believed where Mary received the good news of bearing Jesus Christ in her womb underneath the Basilica of the Annunciation at Nazareth, Israel (2019).

But that is how God works in his hiddenness, coming to us in the most ordinary places and circumstances, even least expected like Mary who was definitely not “in” if we go by today’s popular standard of “who’s in and who’s out?”

In fact, she was so “outside” the circle of influence of their time with her being promdi as we say these days, without any illustrious lineage to be proud of like her spouse Joseph who was from the royal Davidic line or her cousin Elizabeth from the priestly branch of Aaron, the brother of Moses whose husband, Zechariah belonged to another priestly clan in Israel.

Yet, God chose Mary to be the Mother of Jesus Christ because of her hiddenness expressed in her simplicity and humility. It is a far cry from our extreme “Marianism” when we almost worship Mary forgetting Jesus Christ her Son and our Savior! Worst still is the growing trend of “triumphalism” in many parishes racing for the so-called “episcopal” and “canonical” coronation of their various images of the Virgin Mary that come in all kinds of names and titles that has come to look more of a fad than authentic Marian devotion.

Without any intentions of denigrating the role and stature of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our faith as well as her proper place in the life of the Church defined by Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, I dare ask the following questions:

Photo by author, a replica of Our Lady of the Poor of Banneux, Belgium at Girlstown, Cavite (2009).

Is her coronation in heaven as Queen of heaven and earth not enough?

Why the need for these lavish spectacles for the coronation of the most simplest and humblest woman to have lived on earth?

It is a clear case of triumphalism – that exaggeration or overdoing our worship and rituals – especially if the Marian image is less than 200 years old without widespread devotions like the ones at Sto. Domingo (Quezon City) and Manaoag (Pangasinan).

I do not think the Blessed Mother would favor this considering her simplicity and solidarity with the poor and marginalized peoples seen in her many apparitions.

See the quaint and charming simplicity of Mary at Fatima in Portugal (1917) and lately at Banneux in Liege, Belgium (1933) where she identified herself as “Lady of the Poor”.

Note how the Virgin Mary reads “the signs of the times” in her apparitions and appearances when during the 1500’s at the height of European royalties and expeditions, she was always portrayed as victorious in regal clothes; but since Fatima in the 20th century as the world sank into the excesses of Industrial Revolution and affluence, Mary appeared simple, always in solidarity with the poor and suffering.

It is a cue we are sorely missing and sad to say, instead of renewing the world as St. Paul had asked us, we have allowed ourselves with the Mother of God to be transformed into the ways of the world by immersing in its showbiz frenzies, focusing on the material aspects like expensive clothes and jewelries.

Second example of Mary’s hiddenness is her oneness with Jesus Christ. She was never on her own, always seen in Jesus, with Jesus her Son and Lord. She believed in him so much, making him the focus at the wedding feast at Cana as well as at the foot of the Cross where she expressed in the most strongest terms her solidarity with the Savior of the world.

This has always been insisted by the Church since Vatican II regarding our devotions to Mary that must always be in relation with Jesus and his mission — never on her own.

Photo by author, 2019.

In all her apparitions, the Blessed Mother has always been consistent with her messages of conversion and return to God through her Son Jesus Christ, the frequent reception of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession or Reconciliation.

Mary’s Christocentricity is best seen in her oneness with him in pains and sufferings like in the Pieta and the Mater Dolorosa where Jesus is the one standing out, not her. Nor anybody else.

When Mary, or anybody else for that matter goes on one’s own, Jesus is no longer hidden but removed from the scene. Then his Cross disappears and all that is seen is Mary in all her “beauty and glory” that are empty, very secular because these attributes come precisely from her communion in Jesus!

Perhaps, this pandemic is teaching us today to review our Marian devotions and processions that have become more of a show and a spectacle for Instagram than for deepening of our faith.

I pray that the Cofradia that holds the annual December 8 processions at Intramuros would take a rest this year until 2022 to discern their noble efforts before that have degenerated to pomp and pageantry among “devotees” specially camareros and camareras trying to outshine and outclass each other with some participation at the sidelights of their pastors and sacristans.

Keeping the hiddenness of God while we remain hidden in contemplation.

Of all the qualities of Mary we all must imitate to help people rediscover God’s hiddenness is her being hidden in prayer and contemplation.

St. John Paul II noted in Rosarium Virginis Mariae when he launched the Luminous Mysteries in 2002 that although the scriptures are silent about where was Mary during the other significant moments of the life of Jesus, especially at the institution of the Holy Eucharist, it was most likely that Mary was also present deep in prayer.

This we find clearly at the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary while they were praying at the Upper Room in Jerusalem (Acts 1:13-14).

Modern rendition of the Pentecost with Mary among the other disciples of Jesus. From Google.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI shares with us his profound insight in his second Jesus of Nazareth book series (Birth of Jesus) how after the annunciation of the the birth of Christ to Mary, the angel left her totally without ever coming back to warn or instruct her unlike with Joseph. After saying “Yes” to the plan of God to be the Mother of Jesus, Mary immersed herself deep in prayers and contemplation, becoming hidden herself in God.

Since then, she never doubted Jesus her Son as the Christ, nurturing her faith with prayers beautifully expressed by St. Luke in saying how “Mary treasured things in her heart” when facing difficult situations like during his birth and his finding at the temple. It is not surprising that in the contemplation by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Risen Lord must have first appeared to his Mother upon rising from the dead because she was the first to believe totally in him (which became the basis of our tradition of the Salubong).

Mary has always been present in the hiddenness of Christ from his coming in the darkness of the night on a manger in Bethlehem, to his hidden years in Nazareth, to his ministry when he would always retreat to a deserted place to pray, to his Crucifixion and death and burial on Good Friday and finally, in the darkness of Easter.

In this age of social media where everyone and everything has to be seen and shown with nothing hidden anymore even without qualms and shame at all, part of our mission and ministry as priests and religious is to lead people back to God’s hiddenness like the Virgin Mary so they may realize anew that the best things in this life are not always seen.

To fulfill this is for us first of all to imitate God like Mary — be hidden!

How unfortunate that instead of leading the people back to God’s hiddenness, we priests and religious have in fact joined the secular world, imitating the “influencers” like bloggers and vloggers that instead of focusing on God who is hidden, we are concerned with our selves and all the “porma” for the sake of number of “likes” and “followers” we have in our posts.

The more we try so hard to make God visible in our ministry by imitating the styles and gimicks of some media personalities that make our liturgy look like a variety show complete with song and dance numbers with our altars heavily decorated like a studio set with giant tarpaulins like in EDSA, that is when we remove God totally – not only his hiddenness – from the scene and inverse proportionately, the more we priests and pastors become more popular than the Lord himself.

“The Assumption of the Virgin” by Italian Renaissance painter Titian completed in 1518 for the main altar of Frari church in Venice. Photo from wikidata.org.

And that is how cults begin, with or without Jesus. It is very sad, even tragic and ironic because we have removed God himself – even Mary! – by unconsciously making ourselves the center of attention like pop icons and idols.

Mary had shown us the most perfect example of discipleship which is more of Jesus, less of self.

Can we not post without using our own pictures – no matter how profound our thoughts are – so the people may see the hiddenness of God in a photo of a lovely flower or a magnificent sunset? Unless you are a bishop or the Pope himself, having your photo published specially in the news is part of the information process about the person in focus. It is totally different in Church communications which is all about God and his message of love, not us.

The quarantine period invites us in the Church to appreciate and share this wonderful hiddenness of God by first becoming incognito, unknown and hidden from others, preferring to be at the background or “behind the camera” as we follow God in his hiddenness until we go to that great beyond of totally hidden from everybody except God.

Do not worry. We have Mary in every step along the way. Amen.

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.

Maturity in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Week XXII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 02 September 2020
1 Corinthians 3:1-9 <*(((><< || + || >><)))*> Luke 4:38-44
Van Gogh’s “The Sower” from wikimediacommons.org.

Thank you very much, Lord Jesus Christ for the words by St. Paul today that remind us of something hidden among us, something we take for granted that prevents us from maturing fully in you as disciples which is our tendency towards factionalism.

While there is jealousy and rivalry among you, are you not of the flesh, and walking according to the manner of man? Whenever someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely men? What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord assigned each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

1 Corinthians 3:3-6, 9

So many times, we remain “infants” in our spirituality as we continue to see more of ourselves and of other persons than YOU, O Lord, in our mission and ministry. Instead of being united as one, we move towards being on our own, towards factions so we can choose whom to follow among us.

There are times we forget we are your stewards, that we are all co-workers in your field that we try to “own” everything, specially people and God himself. We idolize people, setting you aside from the whole picture.

We cannot let go of our labels and tags for each other, forgetting the more essential name of being Christians, of just belonging to YOU alone.

Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us also when we try so hard to always “keep you” or “box” you like the people of Capernaum who tried to prevent you from leaving their town for selfish interests like healing of the sick.

Let us grow deeper in your mind, Lord Jesus Christ by reaching out to more people to proclaim your good news of salvation meant for everyone. Amen.

When we are lost

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, 13 June 2020
1 Kings 19:19-21 <*(((>< ><)))*> <*(((>< ><)))*> Matthew 5:33-37
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019

Glory and praise to you, O Lord Jesus Christ, on this most joyous feast of St. Anthony de Padua, our patron saint for lost items like keys and money. Nobody really knows for sure why he is the one invoked upon whenever we lose something.

But, one thing so beautiful about this most humble saint of great intelligence and gift of speaking is how he leads us back to you, O Lord Jesus and to our loving Father with his teachings and homilies.

He reminds us in his writings to be always be filled and guided by the Holy Spirit in our speech and action.

The man who is filled with the Holy Spirit speaks in different languages. These different languages are different ways of witnessing to Christ, such as humility, poverty, patience and obedience; we speak in those languages when we reveal in ourselves these virtues to others. Actions speak louder than words; let your words teach and your actions speech.

From a sermon by St. Antony of Padua (Office of Readings, June 13)

Most of the time, we are lost because we have become empty of you, Lord, and filled with our very selves, with our ego and pride, insisting on what we know, what we want.

From Pinterest.com

Most of the time, Lord, we are lost that we cannot “mean ‘yes’ when we say ‘yes’, and mean ‘no’ when we say ‘no'” as you reminded us in the gospel today.

Give us the courage like Elisha who accepted God’s call to replace the Prophet Elijah by slaughtering his 12 oxen and cooking them with his plows and yokes to feed the people as he bid goodbye to family and friends for his mission.

In this time of pandemic and many other social problems, we pray for those who feel lost in life without any sense of directions, those who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19 and other illnesses, those who have lost their jobs and means of livelihood, those who have lost their faith — for all of us lost, help us find our way back to you, Lord! Amen.

St. Anthony of Padua, pray for us!

St. Paul in time of Covid-19: fighting with the sword of Christ

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 08 June 2020
Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, Rome, Italy. Photo from Google.

My earliest memory of St. Paul was not really so good; it was even scary.

It was summer of 1972 when we settled in our new house in my mother’s hometown of Bocaue in Bulacan. I was so skinny then (believe me, I can prove this with my pictures) and shy when my mother brought me to apply for Grade 1 at the only Catholic school there known as “SPCB” or St. Paul College Bocaue.

A male, dark teacher wearing those dark glasses like Leopoldo Salcedo clad in a barong interviewed me (the late Mr. Martin De Guzman, aka, Bagyo for typhoon). I cannot recall what he had asked me which I could not answer that made him say I cannot enroll in their school; but my mother angrily told me not to listen to him and, angrier told me to always speak louder.

That’s when I saw the statue of St. Paul at the window of the registrar’s office, eyes so intense while resting his right hand on a sword in front of him with the other hand clutching a bible with the Latin words, “Caritas Christi urget nos” – the love of Christ impels us (2 Cor. 5:14).

I stayed at SPCB for seven years and formed me into who I am today, making me so proud of being a Paulinian. Until now, that image of St. Paul with a sword is etched in my mind reminding me of how he fought so hard for Jesus Christ and his Body, the Church.

The Apostle Paul

Sometimes called the “Thirteenth Apostle”, St. Paul always stressed in his writings and teachings that he was personally called by the Risen Lord to be his Apostle sent to preach the gospel to everyone. That is why Jesus is so central in his life, declaring “whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ” (Phil.3:7), desiring only “omnia omnibus” — that is, to “become all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22) without any reserve.

As we have mentioned in our earlier reflection, St. Paul’s sole focus in his ministry and very life was the person of Jesus Christ: everything in our lives, especially us priests, is marked essentially by our encounter and communion with the Lord and his Word.

It is only in the light of Christ that we measure every other value in our lives and ministry.

Red Wednesday Mass and prayers in our parish for the Church persecuted last November 2019.

Even in this highly diversified and pluralistic society, while we join hands in promoting and working for a more humane and inclusive society, the more we must stand up for Jesus Christ like St. Paul as quoted by St. Luke while addressing the presbyters of the Church at Ephesus with these words:

“I served the Lord with all humility and with the tears and trials that came to me because of the plots of the Jews, and I did not at all shrink from telling you what was for your benefit, or from teaching you in public or in your homes. I earnestly bore for both Jews and Greeks to repentance before God and to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ… for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God.”

Acts of the Apostles 20:19-21,27

I am so struck with that word “shrink” that St. Paul used twice to stress his dedication, fervor, and conviction in being centered in Jesus Christ alone. In what aspect did he not “shrink”? Did he raise arms and fought back against his detractors? Did he align with other forces to pursue his mission?

No! St. Paul did not shrink in proclaiming Jesus Christ by fighting back with force or with harsh words but by being more like our Lord and Master — more loving and understanding, more patient and more persevering, yet more intense in insisting the Gospel.

He did not shrink by running away from his detractors or diluting the gospel message by pleasing some powerful people or accommodating prevailing thoughts and culture. As we have mentioned in our previous reflection, St. Paul saw opportunities for the gospel in the midst of the hostile environment he lived during his time.

Despite all the pains and scars he had gone through, one can still find the light of Christ shining in this great apostle who bore everything filled with joy and pride without any complaint.

We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that in the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

2 Corinthians 4:8-11

Standing for Christ and his Church

From 2006 to 2018, I was so blessed to have worked at our Church-run Radio Veritas as a co-host in a morning program once a week and as a host of another show on Saturdays. Aside from bishops and priests, we interviewed experts and advocates in a lot of various topics affecting our faithful in particular and our society in general.

So many times I felt something so wrong when we have to interview whom we considered as “allies” or “kakampi” in some of our advocacies because I have found no single person fully believing in our Church teachings even if some of the issues they fight for jibe with ours.

Can we really ally ourselves with lawmakers and cause-oriented groups fighting capital punishment which we strongly support and yet support artificial means of contraception for population control? Can we align with those fighting repressive laws like this anti-terror bill and yet support same-sex marriage and divorce?

And please, spare us with those labels on these people that they insist on putting on with us priests and bishops: let us keep in mind we are only for Christ, no progressives or liberals, conservatives or whatever.

We are neither lobbyists nor cause-oriented advocates pushing for something because we only stand for Jesus Christ and his Word at the Cross. There can be no any instance of partisan politics or traces of strange bedfellows whatsoever because we are either for or against Jesus Christ:

Jesus said: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

Matthew 12:30

Here lies one of the greatness of St. Paul who never shrunk to other forces except Christ.

St. Paul statue at Malolos Cathedral by renowned ecclesiastical artist Mr. Willy Layug. Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza, June 2019.

What a tragedy especially in our country that no amount of explanations can remove from the thoughts of ordinary people that priests and bishops do not even dabble their hands in partisan politics when it is so glaring they are beholden to these modern charlatans.

What moral ascendancy is left of our being pastors when after speaking against corruption and ineptitude in the government we turn to solicit from the same politicians and bureaucrats not only for parish projects and charities but even for our personal needs like vacations and trips abroad?

How can we reconcile all these immediate reactions by bishops and priests against the anti-terror bill urgently passed by Congress last week when not even a whimper was ever heard from them for the longest time to open our churches to serve the spiritual needs of the people?

Let me clarify like in my previous reflection that I am not saying we must be quiet about social issues; my point is, it must always be primary the Church as the Body of Christ that is primary in all our concerns.

This was very clear with St. Paul because it is the first reality he faced when he was called by Christ:

On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Acts of the Apostles 9:3-5

Next to our Lord, it is the Church that St. Paul had considered so much in his activities as subject of his thoughts and reflections. For him, adherence to the Church was directly caused by Jesus Christ himself, not by any chance or moments of realization and conversion.

And see the words of the Lord to him: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

He was the first to speak of the Church as the Body of Christ, illustrating for us in his many Letters our being “one in Christ” (Gal.3:28) deeply rooted in the Holy Eucharist, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body” (1 Cor.10:17).

Pope Francis blessing the world at an empty St. Peter’s Square last March 27 when COVID-19 was ravaging the whole of Italy and many parts of the world. Photo from Vatican News.

Until now our churches remain closed in many parts of the only Christian nation in this part of the world. It behooves us priests and bishops to first fight and insist, without shrinking, the opening of our houses of worship to allow the people to experience Jesus Christ anew in this pandemic.

Most of all, may the people feel and realize at the resumption of our public Masses that God is truly in us and with us because of our deep communion in our Lord Jesus Christ and with one another when we celebrate the Sacrament of our unity, the Holy Eucharist.

Our final installment of the series this Thursday, “St. Paul in time of COVID-19: Communicating Jesus Christ”.