You are loved.

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Memorial of St. Rose of Lima, 23 August 2021
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 8-10     ><]]]]*> + <*[[[[><     Matthew 23:13-22
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, Rhode Island, April 2021.
Our loving God and Father,
today I pray only for one thing:
give me the grace to let others know
that you love them
like St. Paul.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father, knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God how you were chosen.

1 Thessalonians 1:2-4
In times like this with so many
getting sick and dying due to this pandemic
when so many have lost their jobs and
sources of income
when so many are so confused and 
depressed with how things are going on,
everybody seems to be so busy 
surviving and coping,
forgetting the most essential:
"work of faith
labor of love
and endurance in hope
of our Lord Jesus Christ"
as St. Paul wrote us today.
There are times we have become
like the scribes and the Pharisees:
so callous and self-centered, 
hiding in our devotions and 
religiosities when in fact
full of hypocrisies:

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides who swear by the temple and by the altar…

Matthew 23:13-16
I know it is not that easy
to make even just one person
realize and feel that he 
or she is loved.

Like St. Rose of Lima,
let my faith in you
bear fruit with good works;
that my hope may not just be
a wishful thinking but confidence
in Jesus and eternal life;
and lastly, that my love be
like that of Jesus and his saints:
willing to suffer and give total self
for another.

Yes, it is not that easy, Lord
especially if we are afraid
to get hurt, to be laughed at,
to be last and to be least.
But with your grace,
let me do it, Lord.
Amen.

When God comes to visit us

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 31 May 2021
Romans 12:9-16     ><}}}'> + ><}}}'> + ><}}}'>     Luke 1:39-56
Photo by author, bronze statues of Mary and Elizabeth at the patio of the Church of the Visitation at Ein-Karem in Judah, 2017.
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?"
(Luke 1:41-43)

In this time of the pandemic with threats of COVID-19 still prevalent, we feel exactly like St. Elizabeth, O God our loving Father, asking, “how does this happen that you O Lord, should come to us?” But that is how great and tender is your mercy for us, Father!

How great indeed is your goodness and mercy for us, Father, that your ways are always so different from our own ways like with the story of the cousins Elizabeth and Mary: ideally, it should have been the elder Elizabeth who visited Mary for she was bearing your Son Jesus Christ. That early, Jesus had shown us the nature of his mission here on earth, that he had come to serve and not to be served.

You know how much we miss one another so much these days, heavenly Father. We are getting tired of being kept at home and not able to visit or even receive visitors from family and friends for fear of getting sick.

Come and send us again Jesus your Son to visit us anew like what you did when Mary visited Elizabeth.

Increase our faith, let us believe like Mary that your words would be fulfilled as you have promised.

Keep our hope aglow like Elizabeth who, despite her old age and barrenness, joyfully received the gift of motherhood to the future John the Baptist.

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

Most of all, keep us humble and lowly before you, dear God, like Mary, hungry and thirsty for your words so we may have a space to receive and share Jesus with others, unlike the rich and powerful so filled with their pride and ego who could not welcome Jesus Christ’s coming.

Grant us courage, Lord, so we may heed and live out the words of St. Paul today so that like Mary and Elizabeth we may live in mutual love with one another, making you present among us. How unfortunate that we cannot see your coming to us in this time of crisis because we are so filled with arrogance and pride, of our lack of love and respect for one another.

Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor.

Romans 12:9-10

We pray for those who dwell on their evil and malicious thoughts in taking advantage of others especially the poor and powerless in this time of crisis. Please visit our political leaders, bring back their shame and sense of patriotism so they may think more of the suffering people than of their selfish motives and interests. Amen.

“Promise Ain’t Enough” by Hall and Oates (1997)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 18 April 2021
Photo by author, 2020.
Don't want to open your heart
You're afraid from the start
That a new love's gonna let you down
There is something you should know
Before you give up and go
I don't believe in the run around
I just want to define myself
And show you how I feel

Yes! We’re feeling so romantic this Sunday because of this great love we’re feeling deep inside.

Like you, we have fallen in love, we have been hurt and disappointed, even felt betrayed and forgotten by a beloved that too often, we have closed our doors to new love, new relationships out of fear of being hurt again.

But, as Daryl Hall and John Oates sang in 1997 from their Marigold Sky album we thought would be their last (thankfully not!)….

If a promise ain't enough
Then a touch says everything
Got to hold you in my arms
Till you feel what I mean
Know that my heart just tells me what to say
But words can only prove so much
If a promise ain't enough
Hold onto my love

No… we’re not talking of a special relationship with anyone.

We’re feeling so good today because it is our 23rd year of Ordination to the priesthood – a love relationship like those of between a husband and wife that demands fidelity and trust, respect and kindness, mercy and forgiveness.

And a lot of prayers!

Human love is imperfect; only God can love us perfectly.

Too often in life, we we get hurt in so many ways, some so severe, others may be dismissed but still, every pain always leaves a mark in us that sometimes prevents us from loving again.

The disciples of Jesus felt the same: they thought he was gone after seeing his Crucifixion on Good Friday that when he suddenly appeared to them, they were so amazed and could not believe it so true that the Lord had risen (https://lordmychef.com/2021/04/17/jesus-in-our-midst/).

The same feeling we have when we love again.

When we forgive, when we move on, when we let go and let God.

Whenever we go back to our “Jerusalem” – to our crucifixion and sufferings, we are purified by Jesus, opening our minds and our hearts of how despite all the pains, the gains still outweigh the past that we can look forward to better days ahead as we share in his new life now.

So many times in our lives, in our relationships with one another, Jesus comes as the invisible guest, always appearing, speaking, and sharing meal with us. And after sometime, as we look back to our past, we feel deep inside how our hearts burned during those times we were not aware of Christ’s presence.

It is true, we humans make so many promises to be broken but only Jesus is keeping them.

Welcome him especially amid the many pains and darkness, let his love be perfected in your perseverance and you shall see…

It took a lifetime to find what I want
I won't let it get away
If a promise ain't enough
Then a touch says everything
Got to hold you in my arms
Till you feel what I mean
Know that my heart just tells me what to say
But words can only prove so much
If a promise ain't enough
Hold onto my love
If a promise ain't enough
Hold on
If a promise ain't enough
Hold onto my love

This is one of Hall and Oates’ most loved love songs that tells us the basic truth about love: it is best expressed in actions than in words.

Hold onto God’s love always. Amen.

“Pagtingin” by Ben&Ben (2019)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 21 March 2021
Photo from GMA Network of a scene from Ben&Ben’s music video “Pagtingin” with Gabbi Garcia and Khalil Ramos, 25 February 2021.

We go OPM this final Sunday in Lent to ease everyone with the alarming surge of COVID-19 infections happening in our country especially at the National Capital Region. Stay home, be safe, pray and listen to some good music from our homegrown local band Ben&Ben as we try to link the Sunday gospel to their recent hit “Pagtingin”.

I know… Ben&Ben is not my generation but that is the wonder and joy of music as food of the soul: it always strikes a chord in anyone’s heart that reaches to the soul, enabling us to see more beyond the material and natural realities.

Like with their 2019 hit called “Pagtingin” which means in English as “feelings, a sort of crush and attraction to a woman or a man.” Its Filipino root is “tingin” or “see” in English. Remember when we were growing up, feeling drawn to someone so special that we would look at her or steal glances just to see the woman we adore? And the kilig moments when your sights meet?

But of course, the moment you reveal those secret feelings, that is also when you begin to see the bigger picture: your object of pagtingin will either accept or reject you. There is always that risk because sometimes in life, what we see is not what we truly get.

Dami pang gustong sabihin
Ngunit ‘wag na lang muna
Hintayin na lang ang hanging
Tangayin ang salita

‘Wag mo akong sisihin
Mahirap ang tumaya
Dagat ay sisisirin
Kahit walang mapala’

Pag nilahad ang damdamin
Sana ‘di magbago ang pagtingin
Aminin ang mga lihim
Sana ‘di magbago ang pagtingin

Bakit laging ganito?
Kailangang magka-ilangan
Ako ay nalilito, ooh-ooh-ooh
Ooh-ooh-ooh, ooh

Pagtingin speaks similarly with the gospel this final week in Lent wherein some pagans requested the Apostle Philip “to see” Jesus (https://lordmychef.com/2021/03/20/lent-is-seeing-jesus/).

Seeing in the bible means believing. There are times when we see, we believe; but, ultimately, it is in believing first that we are able to see the whole picture in life especially Jesus in the light of his dying on the Cross. And this is what the song Pagtingin is hoping in the end that amid the pains and hurts with some prayers, the man with special feelings will finally see closely with him the woman he sees from afar.

Pahiwatig
Sana ‘di magbago ang pagtingin
Pahiwatig
Sana ‘di magbago ang pagtingin

Iibig lang kapag handa na
Hindi na lang kung trip-trip lang naman
Iibig lang kapag handa na
Hindi na lang kung trip-trip lang naman

‘Pag nilahad ang damdamin
Sana ‘di magbago ang pagtingin
Aminin ang mga lihim
Sana ‘di magbago ang pagtingin

Subukan ang manalangin
Sana ‘di magbago ang pagtingin
Baka bukas, ika’y akin
Sana ‘di magbago ang pagtingin

A blessed week ahead of everyone. Stay safe always. Amen.

Why are violets blue?

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 30 November 2020
When we were growing up
discovering the power of love,
these nursery rhymes
were so sublime
we used to find
  every Valentine's
without knowing why
"Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet.
So are you.
And I love you!"
Red means love
but what about blue
that has become violet too?
It is funny, though
now that I have become 
a priest and pastor
that I have come to know
why violets are blue:
According to one review,
violets mean
fidelity, humility,
modesty and simplicity
that to give
a violet is to reply
"I love you too!"
Like the season of Lent
when everything is violet,
Advent's shade is in blue
to keep things subdued
as we try to imbue 
value of patience and vigilance too. 
During Advent, violets are blue
the hue of God's mercy, that is so true.
In these four Sundays before Christmas
hear my prayer to you, dear Jesus
as I borrow the rhyme from "Mother Goose":
"Roses are red,
violets are blue;
let your Advent come true
because I love you too!" 

*All photos by author from our Advent celebrations in the parish this year 2020 (topmost collage) and last year 2019 (collage above). Flower arrangements by our liturgy commission head Ms. Imelda Santiago and Ms. Lucila Verana; am so thankful to their dedication and creativity in the past eight years, learning everything by experience, nurtured by prayer.

Generosity comes from the heart

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXV-A, Ordinary Time, 20 September 2020
Isaiah 55:6-9   >><)))*>   Philippians 1:20-24, 27   >><)))*>   Matthew 20:1-16
Photo by the author on the way to Petra in Jordan, May 2019.

There was something amusing I realized while praying this Sunday’s gospel of how in our time we no longer hear or use the word “generous” anymore — except when the topic is about food like in the expression “generous servings”!

We all love and enjoy “generous servings” of food and drinks whether in restaurants or at home or at parties because it means something more than what we pay for or come for. And that is the essence of generosity: the giving of more than what is required and just. It is love in the real sense like the prayer for generosity by St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Dearest Lord:
Teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve,
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not heed the wounds,
To toil and not seek for rest,
To labor and ask not for reward, except
To know that I am doing your will.  Amen. 
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

Generosity bonds every community in Christ

Sorry if I have to start our reflection through the stomach because today is our “Pistang Pasasalamat” (Thanksgiving) in the Parish…

Going back to our reflection, my dear reader, recall how in the past two weeks we have heard Jesus teaching us important lessons how our relationships must be based on mutual love through fraternal correction and forgiving of those who have sinned against us.

This Sunday through another parable, Jesus teaches us the importance of generosity as a wonderful expression of love we forget most in our relationships and dealing with others.

Generosity is the glue that keeps our ties stronger and keeps us filled with joy because it is thinking more of the other person than of self. It is love at its finest – charming and elegant as in suave – but so disarming and revealing when overlooked as we shall see in this parable.

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for is vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. Going out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.’ So they went off. And he went out again around noon, and around three o’clock, and did likewise. Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them… You too go into my vineyard.’ When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them i reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?'”

Matthew 20:1-15

Notice how Jesus again elicited our feelings to drive home his lesson today about love as basis of our relationships. Last week we totally agreed with the king in punishing the merciless servant whose debt he had forgiven but was unmerciful to a fellow servant and debtor.

This Sunday, with whom did we take sides with? Be honest. Did you side with the workers hired in the morning and worked all day only to receive a pay exactly the same with those who worked only for an hour? Did we also feel treated unfairly like them?

But, why are we reacting the same way as those workers who toiled under the sun? What is our complaint? Are we envious because the owner is generous?

Recall our reflections last month about the parable as a simple story conveying deeper truths about life and our selves. From the French parabolein -along the way – Jesus is inviting us to read anew this parable we have heard so many times in the past so we may enter into a dialogue with him to purify and cleanse us to get its whole picture. And hopefully, become generous too.

Nuns bringing goods to the poor during the height of the Luzon-wide lockdown last summer.

Human justice, Divine kindness

The parable is not about social justice and just wages: it is about the immense love of God for us all. Jesus said it at the start, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…” – it is a parable about God and his kingdom.

See the great love of the landowner who went out five times during the day, even at late afternoon so people may have a job to earn some money for the day. We have to keep in mind that the workers were hired because the owner is kind. Period.

The owner is like the good shepherd Jesus described as who would leave the rest of his flock to search for one missing sheep.

How many times have we acted like those early workers, complaining to God when we feel “shortchanged” for our work and efforts, or being better and more good perhaps than others?

It happens so many times when we question him even in the Church and specially in the society and government when we cannot understand how God who is supposed to be just and fair is allowing all injustices and evil to happen like during this time of COVID-19.

The first reading reminds us that to think that way as if we know everything is dangerous because we could be very wrong and mistaken after all. God sees and knows everything that in the end amid all the twists and turns in history and in our personal lives, it is always his will that prevails which proves best for us and mankind. In times like these, we need to have faith in God and trust him more through prayers and reflections.

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call him while he is near… As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:6, 9
Photo by author, Jaffa in Israel, May 2017.

We keep on saying that one immediate fruit of having a prayer life is the heightening of our sensitivities when we see more of God in others than more of ourselves. The problem with those workers hired earlier in the day that instead of thanking God for his kindness in hiring them, they even wanted more in their pay than what they have agreed upon — so selfish and feeling so entitled like some among us!!!

God as the landowner is teaching us not only to be thankful for the blessings we have received from him but also to rejoice when others aside from us are also blessed. As everyone would say these days, “sana all” are blessed, not only a selected few.

Again we find here a similar situation in the parable of the prodigal son where the father told the elder one that “everything I have is yours” (Lk.15:31) when he refused to come home to celebrate the return of his younger brother, citing how he had obeyed the father all his life without being given a young goat to feast with his friends.

Like that loving father of the prodigal son, God is reminding us this Sunday in this parable to rejoice that others have been blessed, instead of grumbling and complaining, demanding for more than what we have, forgetting everything is out of God’s goodness, never because of our merits.

Looking inside our hearts

My dear friends, this time of the pandemic invites us to be generous by looking deep into our hearts, of seeing God more and others than just our self. At this time when life is so difficult and death is so closest to home with everyone, the best thing we can do is to thank God for his gift of life to us each day and to deepen our faith in him.

Lately I have been praying to God to grant me St. Paul’s clarity of mind and purity of heart as we find ourselves in his similar situation of being imprisoned: him for the gospel, us due to COVID-19.

See the faith of St. Paul in God that even in prison with his death approaching each day, he continues to rejoice and experience peace within because he had realized that the success of the gospel is not on human efforts but in Jesus whom we cannot box in our little worlds and beliefs, rites and rituals. In fact, he was so confident that even with his death, the more the gospel would spread.

Photo by Dra. Mylene A. Santos at Katmon Harbor Nature Sanctuary, Infanta, Quezon, March 2020.

Brothers and sisters: Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death… conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Philippians 1:20, 27

Last Sunday, Jesus taught us to forgive from the heart, that is, to see one another as a brother and sister in God our Father who forgives us without limits for our many sins.

Today, Jesus is asking us to give from the heart – to be generous – not for anything else but because we are brothers and sisters in God our Father who blesses us without limits despite our sinfulness.

Generosity comes from the heart when in that heart is Jesus whom we find dwelling, giving us peace and joy no matter how much suffering we go through because him alone suffices that we are willing to let go of everything.

Share a generous serving of God’s blessings today to someone in need. Amen.

A blessed Sunday and week to you!

Forgiving from the heart

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXIV, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 13 September 2020
Sirach 27:30-28:7     >><)))*>   Romans 14:7-9   >><)))*>   Matthew 18:21-35
Photo by author, dusk in our parish, July 2020.

This Sunday we go deeper into the lessons gathered by Matthew from Jesus regarding love as the basis of our relationships. Last week we were told how mutual love is the sole reason why we correct brothers and sisters going stray in life.

But, more sensitive and delicate, not to mention most difficult than fraternal correction is the question of forgiving.

How many times should we forgive?

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a kind who decided to settle accounts wit his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before hm who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all is property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.

Matthew 18:21-27

Forgiving is always difficult because it is from God, calling us to be one with him, one in him, and be like him as that saying perfectly summed up, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” It is beyond human abilities, reserved only for God until he became human like us in Jesus Christ who made us share in his greatest expression of love which is forgiveness. Hence, every time we forgive, we also become like God, divine and holy that unfortunately, we refuse and even hate!

Yes, it is very difficult because like love, forgiving is the nature of God. In fact, any kind of love is best expressed when it is forgiving. The good news is that we now share in this great love of God in forgiving others like him as we shall see in today’s parable, keeping in mind also that it was the Risen Lord’s commission to his disciples when he appeared to them on that Easter evening (John 20:22-23).

Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, January 2018.

Forgiving like God our Father

The beauty of forgiving is that it is always a grace from God freely given to us. It is doable in Jesus Christ. The problem is when we refuse to let God work in us, when we refuse to level up our relationships to that of brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

There is always that pride in us exhibited by Peter at the start of the gospel today when he asked Jesus how many times he must forgive his brother. Must it be seven times?

Of course, seven being a “perfect number” does not specify a numerical figure of times to forgive except that it gives enough room to let go of a sinner or an offender. However, it still connotes some form of “counting” or taking tabs at how many times must one forgive, implying a limit.

But Jesus pushed it further when he told Peter to forgive “not seven times but seventy-seven times” — that is, twice the perfect number he had cited!

The Lord is telling Peter, and us today, to forget all about keeping tabs, of counting how many times you must forgive because God forgives us without limits which his parable tells us.

The king or master in the parable is God, so wealthy that he could lend sums exceeding the normal level of what one can borrow. Most surprising is like God, the master lent so much amount beyond the debtor’s ability to pay!

That is how rich our God is — so rich in love and mercy, giving us with so much even beyond our ability to pay him back in return. Exactly what we have in the responsorial psalm: “The Lord is kind and merciful; slow to anger and rich in compassion.”

And when that servant prostrated before his master, then the more we see in that religious gesture the deeper meaning of the parable: the rich mercy of God forgiving us for our debts even after we have lost everything like that debtor with nothing enough to pay his loans, not even his wife and children.

See the contrast of the king moved with compassion echoing the same attitude of Jesus so often like in the wilderness where he fed more than 5000 people and that servant so lost with nothing else left but still forgiven.

The parable could have stopped there but Jesus went on to continue what happened next to teach us the deeper truth of forgiving, which is imitating God our Father because we are brothers and sisters in him.

From Google.

When this servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him… but he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger is master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

Matthew 18:28-35

Forgiving from the heart

After hearing the second part of the parable, we all felt like the master, angry and indignant with that merciless servant whose action was very shameless and scandalous. But, more than being like the king who properly judged the conduct of that merciless servant, Jesus is also inviting us to probe deeper into our hearts the realities why we felt like the king in the parable?

How many times have we felt so angry and frustrated during this pandemic period at the many occasions when we heard news of injustices and abuse of powers against the little ones like Mang Dodong or the Marawi verteran shot to death in Quezon City? Of those punished in violating the protocols when its chief implementor got away free after attending a mañanita party?

The list goes on specially in our country where laws favor the abusive rich and powerful, those with connections while ordinary citizens with lesser violations, even without any crimes at all suffer the same fate as the servant with lesser debts.

Photo by author, “patak-dugo”, 2019.

We all feel so angry and very sad because more than the injustices and lack of mercies committed by those in powers, they have forgotten we are brothers and sisters in one God our Father. Parang sila lang ang anak ng Diyos…

We feel like the king in the parable because we felt left out, disregarded, and disrespected despite our kindness and mercy with others.

Forgiving from the heart means to forgive others not because we are fellow servants but most of all as brothers and sisters of a loving and merciful Father who forgives us always from our unpayable debts of sin and evil against each other.

This is the very thing St. Paul is telling us in the second reading, that “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself” (Rom.14:7). Sometimes we need to be in control of our lives but the truth is, when we try to live St. Paul’s message that our lives belong to one another in Christ, the more we become truly free and happy.

It is the same reminder from Ben Sirach in the first reading telling us how we must avoid anger and resentment specially revenge because it is contrary to our faith in God. Most of all, we also know so well that we need the mercy of God in forgiving our countless sins.

The example of St. John Paul II about forgiving like God

I know what I am telling you are easier said than done. And I confess that I also find it so hard to forgive people who have wronged me, specially those I have loved and helped. Allow me to end this reflection with this beautiful bit of history that happened in our lifetime.

We were in high school seminary when Mehmet Agca shot and almost killed St. John Paul II at St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981. We were shocked, so sad for him and very angry with Agca. But, two years later after Christmas in 1983, we were more shocked in disbelief while at the same time in tears with joy when news came out that St. John Paul II came to visit Agca in his cell to forgive him!

It was a major news that landed on TIME magazine the following year with the cover story so relevant with our gospel today:

From Pinterest.

Those who do not forgive are those who are least capable of changing the circumstances of their lives…

Not to forgive is to be imprisoned by the past, by old grievances that do not permit life to proceed with new business.

Not to forgive is to yield oneself to another’s control. If one does not forgive, then one is controlled by the other’s initiatives and is locked into a sequence of act and response, of outrage and revenge, tit for tat, escalating always. The present is endlessly overwhelmed and devoured by the past. Forgiveness frees the forgiver. It extracts the forgiver from someone else’s nightmare. “Unless there is a breach with the evil past,” says Donald Shriver, “all we get is this stuttering repetition of evil.”

Lance Morrow, TIME Magazine, 19 January 1984

As I searched for photos of the assassination attempt on him by Agca, I came across this photo below of their meeting with an accompanying report that made me admire and love St. “JP2” more than ever.

It said that while recuperating in the hospital, St. JP2 learned from the news how people hated Agca, prompting him to ask everyone to “pray for my brother (Agca)… whom I have sincerely forgiven.” That is how holy is this great Pope of our time! Long before visiting Agca in 1983, St. JP2 had already forgiven him, calling him a “brother” despite the evil and sin done to him.

What a great Amen!

Have a blessed and wonderful week ahead, brothers and sisters in Christ!

From https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/pope-john-paul-mehmet-agca-1983/.

“Where Is the Love?” by The Black Eyed Peas (2003)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 06 September 2020
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, April 2020 at Infanta, Quezon.

The most severe test of our being Christian lies in our being able to love one another specially when it is so difficult to love them, when the one we love like a brother or a sister or a friend sins (https://lordmychef.com/2020/09/05/presence-and-love-of-christ/).

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you… If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector… Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Matthew 18:15-16, 19-20

In our Sunday gospel today, Jesus is asking us to have love as basis of our relationships, whether at home or in the community, in the church or in the society. When there is love, there is Jesus, there is order, there is peace and harmony. Even when there is imperfection and sin, when love prevails, life and its struggles become bearable, even fulfilling. But when there is no love, there is always disorder and chaos and life becomes more difficult.

And that is why we go back to Black Eyed Peas’ 2003 hit “Where Is The Love?” for our Sunday music today which is very timely and relevant in this time of the pandemic.

People killin’ people dyin’
Children hurtin’, I hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preachin’?
Would you turn the other cheek again?
Mama, mama, mama, tell us what the hell is goin’ on
Can’t we all just get along?
Father, father, father help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me
Questioning
(Where’s the love)

Of course, we all know our kababayan apl.de.ap is part of this group and one of the composers of this smash hit that was also the largest selling record of 2003, earning a nomination to the Grammy the following year for Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung collaboration. From their third album Elephunk, “Where Is the Love?” gave Black Eyed Peas its first commercial success that also put them onto the mainstream music scene. Not mentioned at its single release was the back-up vocals rendered by Justin Timberlake who showed support to the group even though he was from another record label.

Very interesting is the last stanza which I just realized while reflecting on the song relating it to the gospel this Sunday: our problem is not really the corona virus but a disease within us when we refuse to accept and share that love freely given us by God.

I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders
As I’m gettin’ older y’all people gets colder
Most of us only care about money makin’
Selfishness got us followin’ the wrong direction
Wrong information always shown by the media
Negative images is the main criteria
Infecting the young minds faster than bacteria
Kids wanna act like what they see in the cinemas
What happened to the love and the values of humanity?
(Where’s the love)
What happened to the love and the fairness and equality?
(Where’s the love)
Instead of spreading love we’re spreading animosity
(Where’s the love)
Lack of understanding leading us away from unity
(Where’s the love)

Some people have been asking me this early how would Christmas 2020 be?

We need not read the news for we can feel and readily see around us the bleak prospects of this coming Christmas — financially and materially speaking. But I am filled with hope that Christmas 2020 amid the pandemic will most likely be one, if not the most meaningful Christmas we shall ever have because when we have less of the material things, that is also when we have more of the spiritual things in life, more of love, more of kindness, more of the person next to me, and most of all, more of Jesus. All we have to do is honestly answer the question, “where is the love?”

Have a blessed Sunday everyone!

Music video by Black Eyed Peas performing Where Is The Love?. (C) 2003 Interscope Geffen (A&M) Records A Division of UMG Recordings Inc.

Presence and Love of Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXIII, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 06 September 2020
Ezekiel 33:7-9 /// Romans 13:8-10 /// Matthew 18:15-20
Photo by Mr. Gelo N. Carpio, January 2020.

For the next three Sundays beginning today, our liturgy directs our gaze to the nature of the Church as the mystical Body of Jesus Christ. For today we hear from Matthew how we as a church or a community of believers are signs of the presence and love of Jesus Christ.

Recall how two weeks ago at Caesarea Philippi Jesus called Simon as “Peter” (“Rock”) to head his “church”, giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven that whatever he binds on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever he looses on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Mt.16:17-19).

Matthew is the only evangelist so particular in using the term “church” that he devoted chapter 18 of his gospel on its nature, collecting and giving some of the Lord’s teachings about community life to his own group of disciples or early church.

And off he went to start with the most important part of community life:

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you… If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector… Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Matthew 18:15-16, 17, 19-20
Photo by author, dome of the Malolos Cathedral, 2019.

Presence of Jesus in the love and unity of community

In a very short teaching taking a step by step method, Jesus tells us today how our mutual love shall always take precedence above all in our community life as his disciples and sign of presence.

Though we do not find in our gospel this Sunday the word “love”, it is clearly the Lord’s lesson for today: it is mutual love for one another that must guide everyone specially in the delicate matter of fraternal correction when one is going wayward in his/her path of life.

This explains why Jesus spelled out step by step how we correct others primarily because we love, not because we are better than them or that we have such authority or task and duty. Paul beautifully says it in our second reading:

Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:8, 10

But of course, we need to clarify that all these lessons of love from the Lord and Paul are based on the love of Jesus Christ who clearly mandated us during his last supper how we must love:

I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

What makes this loving one another a “new commandment” is loving like Jesus Christ, unlike the pagans in ancient times that are still imitated to this day even by many among us who are also Christians. So often we find specially in media how love is portrayed as mere feelings like physical attraction that always leads up to sex, devoid of any sanctity and inner beauty at all.

St. Augustine called it “disordered love” when we become self-centered and selfish, directing our love solely to attaining what pleases us that we use persons and love things like money.

Love is not just a feeling but a decision, a choice we make and affirm every day specially when times are very rough and tough for us like when we are not loved in return.

Most of all, love is when we find somebody else we can love more than ourselves (Thomas Merton). This is the kind of love that Jesus and Paul as well as all the other saints speak of: the self-sacrificing love Christ showed us when he offered himself on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Monastery of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem where the Holy Family hid before fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s order to massacre the Holy Innocents, May 2019.

Love of Jesus builds, not destroys

Applying the law of love to our community is the most severe test of our being disciples of Jesus when we are challenged to be sincere in our love by hating what is evil and holding on to what is good like blessing those who persecute us, foregoing vengeance against those who have wronged us along with other expressions of mutual love in our community that Paul tells us in Romans 12:9-21.

In teaching us mutual love for one another in a step by step manner, it may seem to be a duty that one must follow in the church. It may even sound as contradictory that Jesus seems to be commanding us to strictly follow his law of command because no law can ever impose love.

However, when we try to reflect the ending of his teachings today – “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” – we find Jesus not ordering us to love but asking us our love because he loves us. He comes to us, grants our prayers because he loves us; therefore, when we love, when we gather as his disciples, we become his presence. And that is when our prayers are most effective because Jesus is in our midst!

Jesus and his love always build people and community; without him and his love, all we have is destruction and divisions. Hence, love is the only debt we owe to anyone. Love as a debt and “duty” is never paid back because the more we love, the more we have love, the more we are indebted to Jesus. It is the only debt that is never burdensome; in fact, the opposite happens when we refuse to love – we are burdened, life becomes heavy and so difficult.

This is what Ezekiel is telling us in the first reading: we are a “watchman”, a brother’s keeper of everyone. St. Pope Gregory the Great wrote a beautiful homily on being a watchman:

Note that a man whom the Lord sends forth as a preacher is called a watchman. A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming. Anyone appointed to be a watchman for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight.

Office of Readings, Memorial of St. Pope Gregory the Great, 03 September
Photo by author, sunset inside our parish, 25 August 2020.

In the Church, those designated as watchman of the flock of Jesus is the Bishop or episkopos in Greek that means watcher or overseer. It is the bishop’s duty to always be above others in the loving service of the Church that sometimes out of love for Christ, he has to discipline those going astray as instructed in our gospel today, “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector”, that is, excommunication or suspensions and other measures not meant to punish but to convert and correct the sinner.

Next Sunday, Matthew deepens our lesson on mutual love when he presents us the teachings of Jesus on how often we must forgive our brother or sister who repeatedly sins against us.

See my dear reader, how after presenting to us who is Jesus Christ last month, in how much he loves us and seeks us, these following Sundays we are challenged by the Lord to be like him – loving and merciful – to truly keep our relationship with him.

It is the first Sunday of September, the -ber months that tell us Christmas is around the corner. But, it seems we are still in a long haul in this pandemic. Having a vaccine will not totally eradicate COVID-19 nor guarantee us this won’t happen again in the future because the disease that is truly plaguing us until now is our refusal to love and live as brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us give it a try. Slowly. Jesus is not rushing us. All he is asking us is be open to his words expressed earlier in our responsorial psalm: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Have a heart and have a blessed, lovely week, everyone!