Prayer for Mothers, and Motherland

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Mother’s Day, Second Sunday of May
Fourth Sunday in Easter, 08 May 2022
Photo by author, 2019.
O God our loving Father,
when you sent the Archangel Gabriel
to the Blessed Virgin Mary
to announce her becoming the
Mother of your Son Jesus Christ,
she was greeted “Hail, favored one! 
The Lord is with you" (Lk.1:28).
On this second Sunday of May,
I thank you for the gift of all mothers,
especially my Mom and all the other 
Moms so dear to me:  they are 
your favored ones, being chosen  
to bring life and us into this world,
enabling us to experience you, O God,
in them for you are always with every Mom
in all their love and kindness and tenderness, 
including their vast knowledge and wisdom 
in knowing almost everything; 
you know how we disliked them so much in 
acting like Google and Wikipedia rolled into one
but, lo and behold! - most of the time they
they were proven right with what they knew.
Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, 2019.
Thank you, our loving Father,
in giving us a glimpse of your beauty 
and majesty in our Mothers; most of all, for being
our first teacher and catechist who taught
us how to love and care, respect and obey
others and most especially you, God
in prayers and spirituality.

Thank you for our Mother's patience and 
perseverance, for their being the best
economists who taught us how to save
and invest not only money and tangible
wealth but most of all with virtues and 
values that give us fulfillment and joy
in your Son Jesus Christ.

Thank you most of all for our Mother's
mercy and forgiveness like you:  
you know, dear Father, how many times
we have hurt our mothers, how we have 
disappointed them but despite all these,
they have remained most loyal and faithful to us,
ready to forgive us, giving us with countless
chances that many of us have abused.
Photo by author, 2017.
O God, take care of our dearest Mothers,
ease their pains and sufferings not 
only in body but also in heart and soul;
heal them of their sickness,
assure them of your presence and
providence so that they may not worry
so much; lighten their loads and burdens
in life and most of all, fill their hearts with
your Son Jesus Christ's peace and joy,
fulfilling their wishes and prayers 
not only for themselves but also for their
loved ones; likewise, we pray for all Mothers
who have gone ahead us - please grant them
eternal rest in your Divine Presence.
Lastly we pray for our dear Motherland,
the Philippines:  tomorrow we vote for
our next leaders; let us express our love 
and gratitude to you and our dear Motherland
by choosing candidates closest to being like
your Son Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd
who values life and every person, 
values Mother Nature and most all,
values family - leaders with that beautiful virtue
of Motherhood of nurturing and caring 
of every person and family,
not those who will promote death in all forms
and destruction of family through divorce or 
same sex union.  Amen.
Photo by author, 2018.

Knowing is belonging

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourth Sunday in Easter-C, 08 May 2022
Acts 13:14, 43-52 ><}}}}*> Revelation 7:9, 14-17 ><}}}}*> John 10:27-30
Photo from https://aleteia.org/2019/05/12/three-of-the-oldest-images-of-jesus-portrays-him-as-the-good-shepherd/.

The Good Shepherd is the earliest portrayal of our Lord Jesus Christ in art. Mostly done in paintings in the catacombs of Rome, Jesus the Good Shepherd is shown as a young, muscular man to signify his eternity carrying on his shoulders a lost sheep.

But that imagery of a shepherd taking care of the lost sheep and flock was an original thought among peoples in the ancient Near East that included Israel. Kings in Babylonia and Assyria regarded themselves as shepherds tasked by their gods to care especially for the weak. This concept we also find in the Old Testament like in the Books of Psalms and of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel where God promised to send true “shepherds after his own heart” (Jer. 3:15) who shall lead his flock Israel with justice back to him.

That prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ who is not just a shepherd but “the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn.10:11) because he is one with his flock.

Oneness is an inner sense of belongingness in personhood and experiences, a common union or communion of selves and experiences like in Jesus becoming human like us to be one in our pains and sufferings and death so that we may be like him in his glorious resurrection and eternal life.

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. The Father and I are one.”

John 10:27-28, 30
Photo from Pinterest.com.

Jesus knows us, gives us eternal life; we hear and follow him.

To know in Jewish thought is not merely an intellectual activity of having information and details especially when used in relation with persons. To know somebody means to have a relationship. Knowing is belonging.

Jesus as the Good Shepherd knows us his sheep because we belong to him, and whether we like it or not, we know him precisely because we are his! Recall that during his trial before Pilate, Jesus declared “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (Jn.18:37).

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 2020.

From the very start, we have always belonged to God so that out of his great love for us he sent us his Son Jesus Christ so we can find our way back home to him. We are all God’s children created in his “image and likeness” who have become in many instances prodigal sons and daughters living like lost and injured sheep who need all the care and redemption to gain our status again as the Father’s beloved.

Our “belonging” to God is different from “possessing” in the same manner we belong to our parents or spouses to their partner. Human belongingness is way different from things as belongings, although so many times, it happens that people treat persons as things and objects to be possessed than subjects to be loved and cherished.

What do we mean? Children belong to parents and spouses belong to their partner but they can never be considered as possessions or property to be used and manipulated. People belong to one another like children to parents, husband to wife, and wife to husband as most cherished possessions in the sense that they are gifts from God, so unique in one’s self, free to grow and mature as a person. We belong to one another in mutual responsibility not as property; hence, the need for us to accept and support each other in love which leads to deeper communion and oneness through intimacy that extends to eternity!

Now we see why Jesus said he knows his sheep and gives them eternal life. Here we find the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd is in fact the image of Christ the King of the universe which sheds light on his very kingship as seen by John in his vision in our second reading today “of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands” (Rev. 7:9) which is reminiscent of his triumphal entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

In the first reading we have also heard how from the very beginning, it has been God’s plan to lead all men to salvation in Jesus Christ. Despite the setbacks encountered by Paul and Barnabas in Antioch when they were rejected by their fellow Jews, their decision to turn to the gentiles to proclaim the Gospel was in fulfillment of of the Lord’s will that “have made them a light to the Gentiles to be instruments of salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47).

The mark of a true shepherd is like a light who leads us to Jesus Christ and his values of prayer, life, persons, family, and justice among others. Here is the distinction between the true shepherd and a thief – a robber does not pass through Jesus, the gate of the sheep (Jn.10:1ff). A thief like many politicians and dictators including their handlers see the flock as things and properties they own and possess who can be bought and be forgotten, even disregarded, until the next elections. (So, vote wisely by listening more to Jesus than to anyone like the candidates’ endorsers.)

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, QC, 2018.

Belonging and mutuality

Human belongingness calls for mutuality for it to truly lead to oneness and communion. Jesus said he knows us and gives us eternal life because according to him, we his sheep hear his voice and follow him (v.27).

Do we listen to him and follow him?

Today we are also celebrating Mother’s Day. What a wonderful tribute to mothers who are indeed one of the truest good shepherdess in the world – the one to whom we all belong to, having cared for us from the very beginning in their womb.

Mothers are the most loving, most merciful, and most forgiving of all persons in the world, just like Jesus our Good Shepherd but sad to say, the one we most hurt when we disrespect her, from answering her back to swearing and sadly, when we disobey her. Ironically, when things go wrong with us and our lives, the first person we go to and accepts us is our mother too!

So many times, mothers bear all pains and hardships in life just to see their children fulfilled in life, choosing to suffer and cry in silence to hide the great difficulties they face daily, both physically and emotionally. That is how loving mothers are that in the Old Testament, God introduced himself as a mother, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Is.49:15).

It is so easy to say “we love our mom” like claiming “Jesus is our Good Shepherd” but it is entirely another thing to live as a mother’s child or Christ’s sheep.

The grace of this Good Shepherd Sunday is Christ’s coming to us not only to lead us to greener pastures but to renew our relationships, our belonging to him and the Father to experience fulfillment in life. Whether at home or in our nation, may we listen more to Jesus by being mutual in our respect and love for one another and to our Motherland too!

May we have a peaceful and matured elections this Monday! Amen.

In praise of women

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Religious, 17 November 2021
2 Maccabees 7:1, 20-31   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   Luke 19:11-28
Photo by the author, 2019.
God our loving Father,
today I offer this prayer and 
praise to all the women of 
the world - to all mothers who
brought us to life and nurtured
us in your love and kindness, for
all women who make life go on
and prosper, even easier and 
comfortable for us all, for women
who toil and labor everywhere but
always abused or disadvantaged,
misunderstood and mistreated, 
worst, forgotten and neglected.
Like the mother of those seven sons
in our first reading today, I pray for all
women, praising and thanking them for
their "womanly heart with manly courage".

It happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king, to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law. Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother, who saw her seven sons perish in a single day, yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord. Filled with noble spirit that stirred her womanly heart with manly courage, she exhorted each of them in the language of their ancestors with these words: “I do not know how you came into existence in my womb; it was not I who gave you the breath of life, nor was it I who set in order the elements of which of you is composed. Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shapes each man’s beginning, as he brings about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.”

2 Maccabees 7:1,20-23
What is a "womanly heart", Lord?
Like you when you presented yourself
like a mother in Isaiah 49:15 who cannot
ever forget her child, we thank you for the
gift of fidelity and faith of every woman 
specially your many noble causes, first of
which are love and life; I pray for all women,
single and married, for deeper faith amid the 
heavy burdens they have to carry on their 
shoulders both at home and at work; not
to forget too are the women who taught us
to pray, those who made us experience 
your reality as God with their patience, 
understanding, and forgiveness.
What is "manly courage", Lord?
Like your Son Jesus Christ who had
come to the world to save us and make
you known to us, it is most wonderful
how the Blessed Mother Mary's heart 
was pierced with sword when full of courage,
she stood by him at the Cross. 
I pray, dear God, for so many women today
into so many fights, sometimes left alone
by themselves with just faith and courage 
in their hearts that someday your truth
and justice would prevail.  In a most special
way, I pray for all women battling cancer and 
other sickness these days:  grant them healing
in body, mind, heart, and soul.
Most of all, dearest God, I pray for 
all women in their senior years:  grant
them grace and serenity in facing eternity,
fill their hearts with joy and gratitude for
lives well spent in you, specially those like
the servants in the gospel who have invested
and made their "talents" grow in loving service
to you.  
And lastly but not the least, I pray for 
all the women who have gone ahead of us, 
our beloved ones.  Grant them eternal rest in you,
O Lord, and may your perpetual light shine
upon them always.  Amen.
St. Elizabeth of Hungary, pray for us!

Mary in the glory of God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, 11 February 2021
Thursday, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick
Isaiah 66:10-14     >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<     John 2:1-11 
Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago at Lourdes, France, 2018.

Praise and glory to you, dearest God our Father through your Son Jesus Christ who gave us his Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary to be our Mother too as we celebrate today the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick.

From the beginning since Jesus Christ began his ministry to our modern time, Mary has always been with him showing us your great signs of presence, of generosity, and of life first anticipated at the wedding feast at Cana.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. when the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”

John 2:1-5

I cannot help but rejoice at how our evangelist situated the first sign performed by Jesus which is “on the third day”, reminding us of Easter Sunday, the fullness of your coming to us, the fullness of our healing and salvation, the third day after the “hour” of the Lord.

Crucifix on the wall of a chapel at Cana, Galilee.

Both at Cana and at Lourdes there was water, the sign of your life and in both instances, Mary was present interceding for our benefit.

At Cana, water became an excellent wine to prefigure the Lord’s Supper we celebrate each day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as a foretaste of our promised glory in heaven while at Lourdes, water transformed the sick who were healed after they have come to bathe at its springs.

Through the example of faith by Mother Mary, our human efforts now encounter the gift of God in Jesus to create the feast of joy of communion, of healing, of fulfillment that can only be made possible by God’s presence and his gift of self in Christ.

At Cana and on to Lourdes and wherever we may be, every day is God’s coming, the “hour” of Jesus in every “here” and “now” when we experience the sign of God’s overflowing generosity to us all who are so tired and exhausted in this life especially the sick in this time of the corona pandemic.

Thank, loving God our Father in fulfilling your promise through the prophet Isaiah that you would send us a mother who shall comfort us in moments of sickness and darkness.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes help us get through these tough times and lead us closer to Jesus her Son who is our true Peace and Joy by doing whatever he tells us like the servants at Cana. Amen.

The Cross of Christ atop the church of our Lady of Lourdes in France. Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago taken September 2018.

Roadtrip in time of COVID-19, Part 2

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 26 January 2021

Every road trip is filled with music. A lot of music. In fact, it is not a road trip without any kind of music! As I was telling you, this road trip was inspired by that line from Steely Dan’s Kid Charlemagne, “Is there gas in the car?”

As we drove to Tanay from Baras Church, our playlist had Rod Stewart singing one of our generation’s staple music so “relate much” with our own experiences…

I didn’t know what day it was
When you walked into the room
I said, “Hello” unnoticed
You said goodbye too soon

Breezing through the clientele
Spinning yarns that were so lyrical
I really must confess right here
The attraction was purely physical (oh, yeah)

Okay. Suspend your judgments for now and let me say too that when men get together whether on a road trip or not, surely topic would always be on women and past relationships.

Always. Even with priests like me who had studied and worked for a long time “outside” the seminary. There is always that somebody in the group who would pop up with that question “have you had a girlfriend before”?

Sorry… you have to go with me in an actual road trip to hear my stories while I am obliged with the “seal of confession” of sorts to keep my lips zipped with Dindo’s stories as we talked about our past relationships while singing with Rod Stewart on our way to Tanay. One thing for sure, though, like real gentlemen, when we talked about women, it was very true, so divine, like those lines …

My love for you is immeasurable
My respect for you immense
You’re ageless, timeless, lace and fineness
You’re beauty and elegance

You’re a rhapsody, a comedy
You’re a symphony and a play
You’re every love song ever written
But honey, what do you see in me?

You’re in my heart, you’re in my soul
You’ll be my breath should I grow old
You are my lover, you’re my best friend
You’re in my soul

Main altar of the Parish of St. Ildephonse in Tanay, Rizal declared by the National Museum of the Philippines as “National Cultural Treasure”, another example of maintaining the noble simplicity of old churches.

The way we relate with women
indicates how we relate with God.

Twenty years ago, I have read from one of the writings by Papal Preacher Raniero Cardinal de Cantalamessa how an American Dominican exegete had put forward that the way we relate with women mirrors our way of relating with God.

That is very true.

Women are God’s loveliest creations that without them, we men would never be complete. Some even claim that women must be the one closest to God in appearance, more perfect than us men that is why she was created last.

What is amazing again with this road trip is how our second stop at the Tanay Church confirmed our discussions of women.

First, it was a woman who directed us to the main entrance to the church because its gate was partly hidden by some obstructions at that time from the main road. Then, inside the church, three women catechists warmly welcomed us near its magnificent altar.

And when I recognized its Patron is St. Ildephonse of Toledo in Spain, I realized again how this road trip “was taking us instead of us taking the trip” on that rainy Thursday, January 07, 2021.

When I was ordained deacon in 1997, I was assigned to help the late Fr. Johann Sebastian in a parish at Pinaod, San Ildefonso town in Bulacan. Of course, San Ildefonso is St. Ildephonse…

Next, Fr. Johann was a resident of San Ildefonso whose house was across the Parish Church where we used to watch the procession during his feast on January 23.

Most of all, it was from Fr. Johann that I learned so much about St. Ildephonse who had lived around the years 607-667 in Toledo, Spain that used to be the main seat of the Church in Spain before Madrid. Outside Fr. Johann’s room used to be displayed a huge painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary appearing to St. Ildephonse while giving him heavenly vestments (chasuble) as gifts for his efforts in propagating devotions to her. In fact, St. Ildephonse was one of the early bishops who had written about the Immaculate Conception of Mary that was finally declared a dogma of the Church in 1854.

Here we are in the beautiful church of Tanay recently declared by the National Museum of the Philippines as a “National Cultural Treasure” under the patronage of St. Ildephonse, truly a holy and a gentleman with a great devotion to the Mother of God that mirrored his fidelity in serving God his Master and Lord!

Shortly after praying and exchanging stories with the three catechists, the Parish Priest, Msgr. Rigoberto de Guzman came to meet and formally welcomed us in his church. Actually, we were hesitant to meet Msgr. Rigs as we did not want to disturb him but we were told that he usually welcomed pilgrims to their parish.

Likewise, I was not so sure if he could still recall me since we have met only twice ten years ago when he was the Rector of the Antipolo Cathedral during the time of Bishop Gabby Reyes while I was with Radio Veritas. And, lo and behold — Msgr. Rigs still knew me, even telling me how he had come across some of my reflections in the Sabbath publication!

A very soft spoken and kind-hearted man of God, Msgr. Rigs thanked me on behalf of our diocese in forming many of their priests who have graduated from our Major Seminary. As a token of his appreciation especially after learning that I teach and serve as a spiritual director in our major seminary, he gave me a framed image of Our Lady of the Poor and Suffering known also as Our Lady of Banneux in Belgium where she appeared eleven times to an 11-year old girl in 1933.

Oh my God!

First, it was St. Joseph who greeted us at Baras; now, we have my second most favorite image of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Banneux welcoming us in Tanay! As I thanked Msgr. Rigs for his gift, he led me to the side of their church where stood an exact replica of the Virgin of Banneux — something we have overlooked earlier due to the rains!

At that very moment, I felt the Blessed Mother’s comforting assurance of love and guidance, especially with my new assignment as chaplain of the Our Lady of Fatima University and Medical Center effective February 16, 2021. What a pleasant morning talking about the women in our lives now capped with the most wonderful woman of all, our Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The first time I learned about Our Lady of Banneux was when I met the sisters in charge of the Boys’ Town and Girls’ Town in Cavite way back in 2007 after learning about the works of their founder, the Venerable Fr. Al Schwartz, an American priest who worked here among the poorest of the poor. He was a devotee of the Our Lady of Banneux who is very much like the Our Lady of Fatima, so lovely and very simple. Both appeared in the early 20th century in Europe to show Mary’s oneness with humanity going through so many sufferings and afflictions up to this age. It is something many devotees in our diocese in Bulacan seem to be missing with their pomp and pageantry in crowning every image of the Blessed Virgin to be found, even in a bodega or a patio!

That is the beauty and charm of the two old churches we have visited in Baras and Tanay: both are simply elegant, not extravagant nor loud where one can have time with God and the sacred.

After the rains have stopped, Msgr. Rigs prayed over us and blessed us as we left for Pililla while listening this time to Hall and Oates. More rock and roll reflections in our final installment. See ya!

Dindo Alberto, Msgr. Rigs de Guzman, and author.

E-mail me at <lordmychef@gmail.com>.

Nobility of motherhood

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of St. Monica, Married Woman, 27 August 2020
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 >><)))*> || + || <*(((><< Matthew 24:42-51
Photo by author of a pilgrim writing petitions to the Blessed Mother at a Madaba Church in Jordan, May 2019

This prayer, O Lord, is specially offered for all mothers as we celebrate today the Memorial of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, one of the great Saints of the Church.

Thank you, dear God our Father for St. Monica and all the other mothers who have offered their whole lives forming and transforming their children to reflect your image and likeness of holiness.

Truly, the gift of motherhood is one of your greatest grace ever bestowed to the human race for because of mothers, countless men and women selflessly work for peace and development.

This selflessness of mothers, in working hard for the success of their children, is the nobility of motherhood which is also a call for everyone exemplified by St. Paul in our first reading today:

I give thank to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all the discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you await for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:4-7

What a beautiful trait of every mother like St. Monica to imitate St. Paul’s joy, thanking God for the maturity of their children, to see their sons and daughters growing deeper in faith, hope, and love.

So many mothers can forgo their own career, forget their own well-being for the sake of their children. So often, they hide their tears when they are deeply aching from our many sins and lack of concern even respect for them because they do not want us to go out of focus with our goals in life.

To your question, dear Jesus, “Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time?” (Mt.24:45) — there is no other most faithful servant true to your calling except our mothers, Lord!

Photo from Google.

Bless all mothers today and always, Lord; lighten their burdens, be their joy in moments of sadness, clarify always their minds and their hearts so that every decision and action they take may always be through the leading of your Holy Spirit like in the experience of St. Monica.

Strengthen their faith especially of mothers who have lost their spouse or children to COVID-19 and other sickness and accidents; fill them with hope in you when things are getting so rough and tough for them especially at this time of the pandemic.

Many mothers are also suffering not only from COVID-19 but also other sickness during this pandemic. Heal them, dear Jesus.

Keep them healthy not only in body but also in mind, heart and soul so that they may continue to lead and enlighten their families in moments of darkness and trials.

Most of all, like St. Monica, fulfill their dreams and prayers for their children.

Likewise, dear Jesus, we remember and pray today for the souls of all the mothers who have gone ahead of us, now with St. Monica whose only request on her death to her sons was to bury her anywhere by including her always in St. Augustine’s celebration of the Eucharist. Amen.

St. Monica, pray for us especially for all the mothers to be like you!

Dalangin para sa mga Ina sa paggunita kay Santa Monica

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-26 ng Agosto 2020
Larawan nina Sta. Monica at San Agustin mula sa Google.
O Santa Monica,
matimtimang ina ni San Agustin
tulungan mong makarating aming dalangin
sa Diyos Ama nating mahabagin
na Kanya sanang pagpalain, ibigay mga hiling
ng lahat ng ina sa Kanya dumaraing
sa araw-araw na mga pasanin at gawain;
pagaanin kanilang mga tiisin
pahirin ang mga luha sa kanilang mga mata
ibalik ang sigla at tuwa sa kanilang mga mukha
samahan sa kanilang pangungulila
lalo na mga biyuda at nawalan ng anak;
higit sa lahat, Santa Monica
iyong ipanalangin mga ina na katulad mo
mapagbago asawa at anak na barumbado
tularan iyong pananampalataya at pag-asa
kay Kristo Hesus na nagkaloob sa atin 
ng Kanyang Ina si Maria
upang ating maging Ina
na siyang iyong ginaya 
at tinularan hanggang kamatayan.
Amen.
Larawan ng painting ni Titian ng “Assumption of the Virgin” (1518) mula sa wikidata.org.

Life after life after life

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 17 June 2020

Today is my mother’s 81st birthday and my father’s 20th year of death.

Since June 17, 2000, we have “stopped” celebrating my mother’s birthday as she ordered that date to be remembered more as my father’s birth into heaven.

So many things have happened in our lives as a family, most especially with me as a man and a priest being the eldest.

Yes, I always dread this date, feeling at a loss until now at how to behave or what to say when I come home. There is always a “drama” we have to go through when we get together, with a lot of “dead air” moments during Mass and later at the dinner table.

Though somehow they have lessened in these past 20 years, the sadness is still there.

I thought time heals.

True.

But the pain remains. And the more it gets painful.

Lalong bumabaon, as we say.

With her apos when still able to move freely; Sunday after Mass was always at my father’s gravesite.

Since her 61st birthday, Mamu as she preferred to be called when the apos came, she had “stopped” living because my dad was really her life. We believe her sorrow contributed to her stroke in December 2004.

Growing up until I have become a priest, I have always seen my father preparing coffee and breakfast daily for her. She had in fact forgotten how to cook or learn new dishes because my father was a superb cook — that is why we all have gout in the family.

Most of all, as I would always tell my students before, since childhood until I have become a priest, dad never ate his meals without Mamu at his side or at least to personally tell him to eat because she had gone to a party or some prayer meeting.

Every Sunday after my Masses in a nearby town, I would visit my father’s grave and surely find fresh flowers and candles earlier placed by my mom and sister’s family.

After praying and blessing his gravesite, I would talk to him, telling him, “Dad, there are 365 days in a year. Why did you die on June 17, 2000?”

It took my father more than a year before answering my question.

Yes, he spoke to me in his usual deep, whispering voice I heard from within as I looked down on his grave, “Nick, I died on your mother’s birthday so you would love her more like I have loved her.”

Tears swelled in my eyes and eventually rolled down my cheeks that I almost watered the grass on his gravesite!

It was a very tall order that until now, I really do not know if I have fulfilled.

Mothers are like God

God cannot be everywhere that is why He created mothers.

Jewish saying

Every Thursday I come home to visit Mamu on my day off, as well as during special occasions and gatherings like birthdays of my siblings and pamangkins.

Sometimes I ask myself if I have loved my mom that much as my dad had wanted me to.

This comes strongest to me when going to a sick mother in my parish to anoint with Holy Oil or when presiding at a funeral Mass of a deceased mother; I would listen intently to the “thank you speech” of a son or a daughter and marvel at how great his/her love for the deceased parent.

As a priest, I have always been with so many mothers but not so much with my own mom. But one thing I have experienced since my father died on my mother’s birthday 20 years ago is the life that continues to flow from her very self and presence which flows unto me and spills even up to my parish and community.

My mom as a teenager.

She’s from the “old school” who had taught me a lot about sacrifices, of keeping things in order like telling me after lunch that while resting, I should mop the floor and dust off the jalousies of our windows downstairs. Resting meant doing something worthwhile like removing cobwebs at ceilings; so, you can just imagine what is housecleaning for her!

Another thing I have learned from her is harimunan wherein you try to save little amounts of money with things you may forego like instead of taking tricycle, I walked for three kilometers or instead of buying soda, drink from the water fountain at school.

The only lesson that I have refused to learn from her which I now admit I should have taken into heart is the art of bargaining or asking “tawad” in the “palengke” (market). It is a gift from God I think reserved for mothers.

One important lesson I have learned from Mamu came via a picture I have found in a copy of a Reader’s Digest. I was five years old then while scanning the new copy of my dad’s magazine, I saw the picture of a baby crying so hard after being delivered.

I asked her why the baby was crying and her explanation had stuck into my mind since then that later as a priest I realized it so existentially true! According to her, when a baby is born crying, that means she/he is alive; if the baby does not cry, that means she/he is dead.

So simple yet so deep.

When we cry, we are alive.

And sometimes, to be alive, we have to cry. A lot.

And I believe that is why mothers continue to give life to us despite the passing away of their husband because they are the ones who cry a lot.

Mothers cry in silence, alone because they are the ones who can truly feel the flowing of life, the slipping away of life.

In a few hours I will be coming home and I could already visualize and feel my mother’s crying on her birthday.

As much as possible I hold my tears, praying that in God’s time, we would just be the ones crying so that finally, Mamu would no longer be crying.

But, that’s another thing I dread so very much…I hope not yet that soon because I really do not know how life will be for me and my siblings.

Thank God for all the Mothers who have given and nurtured our lives even in old age.

Thank God for their tears of love and joy for us.

Stay home, save lives in Christ like moms

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Easter Week V-A, 10 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7 ><)))*> 1 Peter 2:4-9 ><)))*> John 14:1-12

Photo by Ezra Acayan for gettyimages.com, 2020.

Our Sunday celebration today is a confluence of things that perfectly jibe with our situation during this pandemic – the quarantine call worldwide to “stay home, save lives”, Mother’s Day, and Jesus telling us in the gospel we are one family going “home” to the Father.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”

John 14:1-3
Photo from istock.com

Home is where the heart is

One good thing with this COVID-19 pandemic is how it has driven home so hard one lesson modern man has forgotten: the importance of home, of family life.

It is hoped that during this quarantine period, we do not merely stay home to prevent spread of corona virus but most of all to build anew our relationships in our family that we have neglected in our pursuits of so many things in life.

A home is more than a house; it is about relationships, of love and acceptance, kindness and forgiveness.

From Google.

Our Filipino word says it all – tahanan, from the root tahan which is to stop crying.

Tahanan or home is where you stop crying because that is where you are loved and accepted, safe and secured from any harm or danger.

Jesus assures us today in the gospel that we have a home in heaven where there is a room for everyone. This is the reason the same gospel text is the favorite in funeral Masses.

But there is something more about heaven than being a house with many rooms.

It is good that our lectionary used the modern translation of the Greek word “monai” or rooms into “dwelling places” because Jesus in this passage is not merely referring to a place or location but more specifically of a relationship with him in the Father.

In fact, the word “monai” is used only twice in the New Testament, both in the fourth Gospel: at this part and later when Jesus reprimands Philip in verse 23, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him”.

Home and room are a dwelling — a relationship and a privilege of abiding in God’s presence!

Lent 2019 in our parish.

When Jesus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be”, he never meant it to be taken in the literal sense because if it were so, that would be the only thing he has been doing in heaven these past 2000 years!

What Jesus is telling us along with the Twelve at that time is that by his going to his Passion, Death, and Resurrection after their supper, we are able to dwell, to abide in the loving presence of the Father even here on earth in this very life.

Such was the immense love of Christ when he assured the Apostles, including us in this time of pandemic to “Do not let your hearts be troubled” because his pasch is for our own benefit as our passageway into being with the Father in Jesus when we join him at the Cross.

Remember our gospel last week of Jesus as the “gate of the sheep” because he is “the way and the truth and the life” that now comes into full circle in the Last Supper.

It is in our sharing in his sufferings and pains on the Cross we enter heaven, we dwell in his loving presence that he also becomes manifest in us in this life.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

Mothers know best

Connecting now our quarantine slogan of “stay home, save lives” and Sunday gospel with Mother’s Day celebration today, we are reminded of the importance of ties and relationships that we keep especially in this period of pandemic.

In the Old Testament, God is revealed to us like a mother because she is the epitome of fidelity:

“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name.”

Isaiah 49:15-16

How unfortunate that again, the song based on this part of Isaiah “Hindi Kita Malilimutan” (I Will Never Forget You) has become a favorite song in funeral Masses when in fact it is best sung in weddings because it is a pledge of love and fidelity by God who is like a mother.

The mother is the premiere homemaker also referred as the “light of the home” who seem to always have that magic touch in everything, in turning out little things, even scraps, into something lovely and beautiful, and delicious!

Her love and dedication can never be measured and nothing can ever make her happy except the abiding love and presence of her husband and children.

Photo by author, painting of “Our Lady of the Grotto in Bethlehem”, May 2019.

And we all know of our mother’s presence that transcends time and space, not to mention their intuition that defies logic but always true!

No wonder, there is a Jewish saying that “God created mothers because he cannot be everywhere”.

When we are sick, when we feel low, mothers know them all. Nothing can be hidden or kept secret with our moms because they are a home, a dwelling place for each of us all.

In the first reading we have heard the “ordination” of the first seven deacons of the church whose primary task was to take care of the widows as the Apostles were busy proclaiming the Gospel.

Eventually, it paved the way for the many services and ministries in the church that have become the clearest signs of God’s presence in the world. There is no need to publicize the countless efforts of the Church in reaching out to all the marginalized sectors of the society in the whole world that is truly a sign of her being a mother to all.

Now more than ever, in this time of the corona pandemic, we in the Church are challenged to continue being the signs of the living and loving presence of Jesus Christ in the world that has become so materialistic, less humane, even loveless and so unkind.

Let us be a mother, a living and loving presence of God so that people may find a home in us in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Amen.

A blessed happy Mothers’ Day to all moms!

Photo by author of the entrance to the original chapel of Our Lady of Grotto in Bethlehem, May 2019.

Blessed are the women!

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe, 21 December 2019

Zephaniah 3:14-18 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> Luke 1:39-45

Bronze statues of Mary and Elizabeth fronting the Church of the Visitation in Judah; inscriptions on the wall are Mary’s “Magnificat” in different languages including Filipino. Photo by author May 2017.

For most Filipinos, being “blessed” (mapalad) and “lucky” (suwerte) are often used interchangeably because they both mean the same which is being fortunate. And most of the time, we mean blessedness as being endowed with wealth and material things.

Anyone with a stable job or a flourishing career or a growing business with at least a car and a house and lot is always considered as blessed. If you go big time or have made it to the top, then you are most blessed!

Parents who have put all their children through college, especially in expensive and exclusive Catholic schools and universities are also considered blessed in our culture that puts a high premium on education.

For most of us Filipinos, being blessed means to be financially stable and secured with some degrees of fame and accomplishments.

But our gospel today says nothing about these things as being blessed. Fact is, nowhere do we find in the Bible, especially in the gospel accounts where Jesus tells us that financial viability is a blessing. On the contrary, his teachings teem with a lot of moral aspersions against reliance and worship of money and material wealth.

True blessedness is having faith in God, believing that his words would be fulfilled!

Church of the Visitation, the Holy Land. Photo by author May 2017.

Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:39-43, 45

Conversations between women

The Bible rarely records conversations exclusively between women. And even less frequent in the Bible is a conversation between two pregnant women that makes St. Luke’s account of the Visitation unique in itself.

For St. Luke, this encounter and exchange is significant because here are two women who bore a child in the most miraculous manner. Observe that St. Luke never used the word “pregnant” to describe the two women but simply told us that it is obviously the situation of both Elizabeth and Mary.

Exegetes explain St. Luke may have never used the term “pregnant” to emphasize to his readers God’s powerful grace on the two women in bearing a child: Elizabeth in her old age and barrenness and Mary in her youth and virginity.

What is most remarkable here is the way the two women were so “absorbed” in their conversation that one can imagine the “holy ground” they were standing so filled with Divine presence with the Holy Spirit hovering above them as two great souls met to honor God!

Even now if you go on a pilgrimage to the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, you can still experience that serenity and joy both women must have experienced on that hallowed ground.

Left painting on the dome is the Visitation while the other at the right is a depiction of how the angel saved St. John the Baptizer with St. Elizabeth from the murder of Holy Innocents ordered by Herod after learning the birth of Jesus Christ. Photo by author, May 2017.

True Blessedness

St. Luke tells us a lot of stories about “blessings” in his gospel account like here at the Visitation.

The most significant of these story of blessings is found in Luke 11:27-28 when Jesus was preaching, “a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.’ He replied, ‘Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.'”

And that “blessed one who hears the word of God and observes it” is none other than his own Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the first and par excellence “Doer-of-the-Word” for St. Luke!

Here at the Visitation, Elizabeth became the first human person, a woman, to call Mary “blessed” – the first of many disciples from future generations who will address the Blessed Mother in this manner as proclaimed by Mary herself in her Magnificat, “from now on will all ages call me blessed” (Lk.1:48).

Mary blessedness is primarily due to her faith and trust in God’s word spoken to her by the angel Gabriel. Unlike Zechariah, Mary right away submitted herself to the will of God by asking “how can this be”, indicating her deep faith.

Mary’s faith makes her a model disciple whom we must all imitate in following and believing Jesus Christ our Savior.

Likewise, Elizabeth can also be considered as a model disciple to us all because she believed and recognized the coming of the Christ by calling Mary “the mother of my Lord” (Lk.1:43). And again, holds the distinction as the first person and woman in St. Luke’s gospel to call Jesus “Lord”.

Here we find again the story of the Visitation that true blessedness and holiness is to be filled with God like St. Joseph the other day.

The Immaculate Conception at the Cathedral Basilica in Malolos City. Photo by author, December 2019.

In praise of the women of the world, man’s part-ner

Another beautiful trait of St. Luke’s gospel account is it emphasis on the important roles of women not only in the spread of the Gospel but most especially in the world. He is the first champion of women’s rights, next only to Jesus Christ.

In narrating to us this brief story of the Visitation, we rediscover the beauty and blessedness of womanhood – and that is the celebration of Messianic age. Mary and Elizabeth are great women because of their faith, we now celebrate Advent and Christmas.

They both brought Jesus Christ into the world, something that women always do until now, especially mothers who faithfully teach and form their children to become good and faithful Christians.

Both women are a testament to Isaiah’s portrayal of God as a woman who is like faithful mother:

“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”

Isaiah 49:15

Christmas is a beautiful reminder to us all of the very noble and important role of women in the world that unfortunately many of us, especially men, have continually refused to accept or ignored since the Fall of Adam and Eve.

In Genesis, we find God declaring “let us make man a suitable partner.”

And he created the woman, a part-ner of man, taken from one of his ribs because she is equal in dignity with him, created in the image and likeness of God. In fact, she is the most beautiful of his creation, being the last and most perfect!

During his recent concert in the country, U2’s Bono praised the women and human rights activists in the country, dedicating to them their song “Beautiful Day”.

“Human rights drown out human wrongs, that’s a beautiful day. When sisters around the world go to school with their brothers, that’s a beautiful day. When journalists don’t have to worry about what they write, that’s a beautiful day. When women of the world unite to rewrite history as herstory, that is a beautiful day.”

Bono from news reports

Because of Mary and Elizabeth, we now have that beautiful day of the year, Christmas that led to the most beautiful day of all, Easter.

In a fitting rejoinder to our gospel today, another woman the other day gave us a beautiful day to celebrate justice and democracy in the country when Quezon City RTC Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes convicted Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. and other members of his influential clan for the murder of 57 people in the Maguindanao massacre that happened ten years ago.

Throughout history, we have seen that it has always been the women who make it happen for us all to have a beautiful day because they are the ones who bring life, who nurture life, who deepen life.

Let us make each day more beautiful by loving and caring always especially for those special women in our lives who have shown us the beauty and meaning of life, beginning with our own mother. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.