When black butterflies mean more than death

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 31 October 2022

Now streaming at Netflix is Black Butterflies which we find so perfect for this long weekend coinciding with the Halloween celebrations in the real sense. By that I mean the hallowed – which is the old English for “holy” – evening of saints not of demons and evil creatures as Hollywood had erroneously preferred to portray.

Based on a French original “Les papilons noirs”, Black Butterflies is a psychological thriller of superb storyline and cinematography. Despite its depiction of violence and nudity, it is unmistakably French artistry at its best. Every bit in the series is interesting and masterly crafted that you won’t dare to skip and advance to the next scenes.

Overall, Black Butterflies is excellent first of all because of its brevity. It is a six-part series of not more than 60 minutes each episode except for the final one that went four minutes overtime. Despite the many twists and turns in every episode, it is not boring because there are always new revelations from the past and present lives of each of the main characters. I would not say the series is addictive but it is more of interesting as it tickles the mind, including one’s heart and soul that you examine your value systems and philosophy in life especially how we see and judge people.

Black Butterflies is a story of a novelist named Adrien who had agreed to write into a novel the memoir of an elderly man named Albert who had specifically chosen him for the task. How and why he was chosen to write, I will not discuss here so as not to spoil your viewing pleasures but that is the main plot actually.

Creators Olivier Abbou and Bruno Merle seamlessly weaved into a beautiful tapestry the stories of three men around one woman named Solange — Albert who had loved her so much, so true and so passionately worthy of emulation to some extent; Adrien the writer whose inner self was so affected and disturbed, later altered upon uncovering the real persons behind Albert and especially Solange later; and Carrel, the police investigator who had pursued the cold case against Albert and Solange.

Another woman, a tattoo artist and painter named Nastya who turned out to be a half-sister of Solange suddenly joined the plot later in the series. Albert helped launch her career when he bought her first major work of art, a painting of black butterflies that adorned the entrance wall of his residence. Adrien would meet her once at Albert’s home and would sought her about thrice for sex and conversations, only to find out that she is the “missing link” in his novel, even to his life when Nastya turned out to be a vital witness in one of Albert and Solange’s series of murders!

Oh yes, Albert and Solange as couple had the most strange and deviant sexual fantasy that seemed so unbelievable even to Adrien at first.

According to Albert, he met Solange when they were both young kids barely in their teens; she was an outcast in their village being the daughter of a prostitute to a German soldier in World War II. As a consequence, both mother and daughter were mocked by everyone including young boys.

Albert would be her knight in the shining armor, the one who would always defend her until they fell in love with each other and got involved into a series of murders together. Even up to the end after their separation, Albert remained faithful and true to Solange, defending her, covering up for her. In fact, he must have loved and respected Solange so much even from the very start of their relationship that having sex with her never crossed his mind – until one afternoon after an incident at the beach.

They were spending a quiet afternoon at the beach when two American brothers arrived and fascinated with tourists because “they were just like them”, they befriended them. Albert and the two visiting brothers played at the sea while Solange retreated to lie and rest at the shore. The elder American followed her and tried raping her; Solange fought by stabbing him with a corkscrew to his back. Albert and the younger American saw everything from the sea and when the kid tried to flee, Albert killed him to ensure there were no witnesses to the crime. Albert and Solange then fled from the scene, running into the woods and that was only when they had their first sexual experience together. It was so passionate that from then on they would be inseparable, would have a lot of sex. And murders.

The couple opened a salon and were very successful that they could afford to go on vacations so often around France and even Italy. Solange would flirt with men and once they are turned on, she would suddenly back out; naturally, she would anger her target who would then try to rape her. That is when Albert would come into the scene, “rescuing” Solange from her rapist by killing him. After every murder – whether inside the victim’s home or mobile camper, or outside in the wilderness – Albert and Solange would passionately have sex right at the crime scene with all the blood still in their hands.

One of their victims they have met while vacationing was the father of Carrel the police investigator; after killing his father, Solange who had had two previous abortions took the baby left behind but Albert refused the idea of adopting him. He then placed the baby in a basket and left him in a cemetery. That explained the troubled childhood and memory of Carrel who became a police detective spending much of his career looking for the suspects behind his father’s murder who turned out to be Albert and Solange. He almost arrested Albert one night in his home but was overpowered by Albert, thus ending all his investigations into Albert and Solange that spanned 30 years! It would finally be put into conclusion by Carrel’s only friend and partner, Mathilde.

Black Butterflies may have many scenes of violence and nudity but overall, it is a feel good series where the virtues of justice and kindness are highly extolled in the most unusual way. It is a great story of love told in the most absurd way that makes us examine too in our post-modern time how we have become so relativistic without realizing that in the end, moralities and virtues would always remain true and valid and relevant even in our modern time. Despite new discoveries in the many effects of genetics even in human behavior as espoused by Adrien’s wife Nora who worked as a researcher, the series showed the importance of human freedom that enables us to choose what is good and better and best for us.

Most of all, despite all these trends in science and philosophy professing the concept of a “superman” even without claiming to be a follower of Nietzsche, Black Butterflies beautifully expressed in the end the reality of a personal and loving God in Jesus Christ. At a reception celebrating Adrien’s literary award for his novel based on Albert’s memoir, one of the guest reminds him that his favorite quotation in the novel was actually from the Book of Jeremiah, citing its complete quote as “In those days they shall say no more: the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (31:29). Albert used to tell Adrien the quotation as if it were his original, implying that his murderous tendencies were borne out of his father’s sins. The expression had an impact on Adrien especially whenever he, too, would remember his violent past. It was only after the guest had explained that this prophecy had long been fulfilled in Jesus Christ who had set us free from sin did Adrien come to his senses and decided to set everything in his life right by writing the final ending of his novel before turning himself over to the police for a murder too.

Incidentally, while the police were pursuing Adrien, his wife Nora was also chasing his mother who had kidnapped their son. She too would be arrested by the police for child kidnapping.

The series ends with Adrien seated inside the police interrogation room, finally stating his real name for the first time after it was hidden from him by his own mother for fears he might end up a murderer like his father. Or, mother?


Last interesting twist in this series is why it is called Black Butterflies?

It was never tackled in any of the six episodes though the term black butterflies and its images were mentioned and shown only in passing. It seems to me that while black butterflies are always considered as a bad omen in almost every culture like ours which often signify the dead and death itself, Black Butterflies the series is inviting us to examine anew what is really evil and bad, morally wrong by looking more into our hearts in the light of Jesus Christ and his teachings than putting its blame on somebody else, especially our dead ancestors. Have a blessed All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day!

Photo credits:
All from Netflix - Black butterfly in a frame, Adrien, Albert, and younger Albert and Solange at their Salon.
Last photo by Author, cemetery facing Jerusalem, 2019.

Seeing Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday in the Twenty-Fifth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II, 22 September 2022
Ecclesiastes 1:2-11   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   Luke 9:7-9
Photo by author, sunrise at Our Lady of Fatima University in Antipolo City, August 2022.
Your words today, 
O Lord our God are
"greatly perplexing" 
that I feel like Herod
the tetrarch in the gospel
"trying to see" you,
Jesus (Lk.9:7-9).
So many times
I have prayed before
asking you how I 
wanted to see you
because "all is vanity
in this world; nothing is new
under the sun.  Even the
thing we say as new has already
existed in the ages that
preceded us" (Eccl.1:2,9-10);
and so, what else is there
for us to see in this world,
in this life but you, 
dear Jesus! 
But, how can we see you
truly, O Lord Jesus, so that
we may also find the meaning
of this life amid all the vanities
around us?
When a group of Greeks
came to Jerusalem and
requested to see you
just before Good Friday,
you replied through Philip 
with the falling and dying 
of a grain of wheat 
(Jn.12:20-26) to show us
that in order to see you,
we have to learn to look
through your Cross; 
that we can only see you, 
Jesus, in your Passion
and Death to see your glory
in your Resurrection.
Forgive us, Lord,
when so many times
we wax our desire to see you
with novelties and sentimentalities
of the world that are simply 
vanities like Herod the Tetrarch;
let us go down to our knees
before you on the Cross,
commune with you in
prayers before the Blessed
Sacrament and most especially, 
live by witnessing your pasch
in a world so fascinated with
drama and effects
than with essence
that is love willing to
suffer and die like you
on the Cross.
Amen.

Of “old yeast” & “withered hand”

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday in the Twenty-third Week of Ordinary Time, 05 September 2022
1 Corinthians 5:1-8   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   Luke 6:6-11
Photo by Life Of Pix on Pexels.com
Your words today, O Lord
our God are so amazing:
in the first reading your speak
of "clearing out the old yeast so
that we may become a fresh batch
of dough" (1 Cor.5:7) while in the 
gospel there was Jesus healing a
man with a "withered hand" on a 
sabbath (Lk.6:6, 10).
Two beautiful images of death,
of decay so prevalent among us
even these days because we simply
would not heed St. Paul's calls for us
to discard our old ways of life in sins
and evil, of praising decadence as
progressive and liberal while at the
same time our refusal to break free
from our strict adherence to laws and 
traditions without seeing its whole
meaning of finding God in the face of 
every person we meet and those in need. 
Let us be aware, dear Jesus,
of the need for us to keep in mind
that holiness, being good and loving
with others is not just a personal effort;
let us realize that we as a community
of believers have to witness to what is
true and proper especially at this time
when many with various agendas in life
are getting organized to push for their
wayward beliefs on abortions,
divorce, same-sex marriage, including 
specific rights separated from human rights
being pushed by some feminists and LGBTQ's.
Father, it has been a crazy world lately
and sadly, those who are supposed to 
stand and voice out what is true and good,
what is reasonable and proper are the ones
now so silent and even timid like the Church,
the academic and education sector as well as
the media as vanguards of truth; stir the flame in
us, grant us courage to celebrate and live life 
"not with the old yeast of malice and wickedness 
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth"
(1 Cor. 5:8), always "stretching out our hands" to
reach out to others in loving service like Jesus
Christ in healing the sick (Lk.6:10).  Amen.

Praying to fulfill Christ’s prayer for us

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday After Pentecost, Feast of Jesus Christ, Our Eternal Priest, 09 June 2022
Hebrews 2:10-18   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   John 17:1-2, 9, 14-26
Photo by author, Garden of Gethsemane, Israel, May 2017.
O dearest Lord Jesus Christ,
our Eternal Priest and Savior,
thank you so much for praying 
for us your disciples, 
thank you for consecrating us
to the Father in truth, most of all,
thank you for praying for our
protection against the evil one
(John 17:14-19).
How lovely it is that you, 
O Lord, personally prayed for us!
It is so touching, so humbling.
But most blessed of all, 
dear Jesus, is how you have
fulfilled yourself your prayer
said at the Last Supper right
away the following day on the Cross.

Therefore, he had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Hebrews 2:17-18
Forgive us, Jesus
when we especially your ordained
priests live so detached from you,
when we have forgotten your priesthood
is for others, not for us; when we think
more of our comfort and well-being,
enslaved by the lures of the world,
from flesh to the latest gadgets and 
even way of life.
Forgive us, Jesus
when we especially your ordained
priests forget the very essence of
your victimhood as Priest, 
offering your very self, flesh and blood,
to nourish the people when we escape
and deny all kinds of pains and sufferings,
or the Cross itself.
Continue to pray for us, 
Lord Jesus Christ, 
our Eternal Priest that like you,
we your disciples especially us
your ordained priests may 
imitate you, live like you,
suffer like you so that we may rise
to new life like you.
Pray that we may fulfill your prayers
for us in words and in deeds.
Amen.
Photo from gettyimages.com.

Imitating Jesus, our Eternal Priest

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday after Pentecost, Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest, 09 June 2022
Hebrew 10:11-18     ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>     John 17:1-2, 9, 14-16
Photo by author, 2020.

In a world becoming so callous and impersonal with one another despite the fresh lessons of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our recent celebrations this week after Pentecost are so well-timed for us to recover our lost “loving feeling” and attitude with one another.

Monday after Pentecost we had the Memorial of Mary, Mother of the Church to remind us of imitating the beloved disciple in “taking care” the Church signified by Mary as well as the women sent to us by God like our own mother, your wife, our sisters and aunts.

Today, Thursday after the Pentecost, we celebrate the Feast of “Jesus Christ, Our Eternal High Priest” established in 1987 by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to have Jesus as our model as believers and most especially for us priests who act in his person (in persona Christi) in the celebration of the sacraments.

You must have seen that viral video picked up by the news this week of the traffic enforcer bumped and later “intentionally ran over” by an SUV in a busy street corner in Mandaluyong. The video was so disturbing not only because it was so graphic but most of all, the inhumanity and utter lack of respect and mercy by the driver of the SUV who went into hiding after the incident.

Napaka-walang puso (so heartless)!


Our Feast today invites us to become like Jesus Christ, to imitate him in his gentleness and mercy, kindness and love. And the Feast itself shows us it is already in us, the ability to be like Jesus because he is our perfect mediator with God, our Eternal High Priest who became like us so that we become like him.

Photo from flickr.com, 7th-century mosaic from the church of Sant’Apollionare in Classe, near Ravenna, Italy.

This truth is found in the beautiful reflection by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews on the priesthood of Jesus as compared to the Old Testament priesthood at the temple of Jerusalem. For the author of this letter, Jesus is the the one heralded by the high priest Melchizedek mysteriously encountered by Abraham in Genesis out of nowhere. Nothing is mentioned of his origins or his whereabouts after meeting Abraham briefly; hence, Melchizedek is regarded as the type of Christ in the New Testament, “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb.7:17).

Unlike the priesthood of the Old Testament was temporary and imperfect, Christ the Eternal Priest is perfect because he is truly human and truly divine (Heb. 2:17) who intercedes for us with the Father in heaven not just in a temple or sanctuary made by human hands, “able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercessions for them” (Heb.7:25).

Recall how we reflected two Sundays ago that Jesus did not ascend somewhere in the universe up in the heavens but actually entered into a higher level of relationships with us his disciples, making his Ascension more as relational than spatial in nature. In Jesus Christ, we have been one with God and with each other which is being stressed by this Feast of Jesus as our Eternal Priest.

But, what have happened to us lately? Have we forgotten the value of one another and of God and Jesus that the early days of the pandemic’s lockdown had wisely taught us? Where is our compassion and kindness to one another like that of Jesus especially to the poor and elderly, the sick and those others marginalized in our society?

Jesus as our Eternal Priest, so human like us who had gone hungry and thirsty, weakened and abandoned by friends, mocked and jeered by enemies who eventually died for us is the perfect model we must imitate and whom we can become because as priest, he had shared us his divinity. This he showed us not only in his dying on the Cross but even before that happened, he prayed for us.


Photo by author, 2021.

Imagine, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Savior, praying for us. Like the “Our Father” he had taught us, his high priestly prayer for his disciples that included us today must be so powerful, one that is surely heard and fulfilled by the Father.

It was my mother who first taught me how to pray personally to God when I was about four or five years old. Every night before she would tucked me in bed, she would ask me to repeat after her by praying for everyone in the family including our relatives and friends by mentioning their names – one by one! As I child, there were times I did not like it especially when I felt so sleepy because it was so long. Later in life, I realized the beauty and value of praying for others by specifically mentioning their names as it gives us a personal link with one another. And that was how I realized as a priest that praying for other people by mentioning their names is as close as doing the simplest kind of deed to anyone that is so personal and so touching too!

Photo by author, Chapel of the Most Holy Rosary, SM Grand Central, Caloocan City, 19 May 2022.

That is what Jesus Christ our Lord and Eternal Priest did for us at the Last Supper when he specifically prayed not only for his apostles but also for us all who would believe them in their teachings (Jn.17:20). In this prayer, Jesus repeatedly mentioned our consecration or sanctification to the Father, of being made holy, of belonging exclusively to God, not to the world.

When Jesus had said this, he raised his eyes to heaven and said this, “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him… I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.”

John 17:1-2, 14-15

One thing we can be sure of is the sincerity of Jesus in praying this for us as well as its fulfillment. We have always been taken cared of and provided with our needs. Today on this Feast, we pray that we do our share, our part in fulfilling that prayer of Jesus by becoming like him, of being in the world but not of the world.

Most special prayer we must pray also on this day is for us your priests, that we may lead lives worthy as priests like Jesus Christ, priests not for ourselves but for others in our life of prayer and witnessing. And like Jesus, that we priests may keep in mind that aspect of victimhood, of offering our very lives, our very selves for the sanctification of others. May we not mislead and drive the Lord’s flock away from him but instead truly remain a mediator, a bridge to God and to one another. Amen.

Photo by author, Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, QC, 2017.

New commandment, new heaven, new earth

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fifth Sunday in Easter-C, 15 May 2022
Acts 14:21-27 ><}}}}*> Revelation 21:1-5 ><}}}}*> John 13:31-33, 34-35
Photo by author, Bolinao, Pangasinan, 20 April 2022.

Our readings today speak a lot about being “new” – new followers of the new faith as Christianity spread during the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, a vision of new heaven and new earth by John at the end of time, and a new commandment by Jesus Christ to his disciples that include us today.

What is so wonderful and so new in this “new” order of things in our readings is how they encompass the past, present, and future as expressed in the beautiful tension we all experience in life like Jesus Christ on the night before he was betrayed, after Judas had left their Last Supper.

Many times, we feel like being caught in a time warp when everything seems to be happening too fast that the past, present and future are in just one setting. It is like seeing one’s life in a flash.

“My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:33, 34-35
Photo by author, Bolinao, Pangasinan, 20 April 2022.

Most often, we feel ambivalent with anything or anyone that is new like being excited but at the same time afraid because it is always something or someone we are not familiar with. It is generally what we feel when we move into new residences or new school or new jobs; when we meet new people like new superiors, new co-workers and new classmates.

But lately, we have found something new and different with our new set of leaders after the elections last Monday: of course, followers of the winners are happy and glad while those who have lost are more than sad, wondering what have happened, and still could not accept the new developments (or retrogression, depending on which side you are with).

Perhaps it is in this recent events that we feel our readings this Sunday very relevant and appropriate to us all, to always welcome whatever and whomever is new by seeing them in the light of Jesus Christ who is ever new with us each day.

For a proper understanding of Jesus and of our faith in him, we need to experience him in that tension of the here and not yet he beautifully expressed in saying “I will be with you only a little while longer”. Remember, Jesus declared these words shortly before his arrest; notice his composure and dignity. Unlike most of us, Jesus was never caught off guard by his impending death. In fact, “when the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk.9:51) to face his death. As truly human, he was frightened but faced all his fears so that he was in total control with everything until he had given up his breath and spirit to the Father. That is why in this scene after he had washed their feet and Judas had left them, Jesus gathered his disciples in a “heart-to-heart” talk, calling them “my children”.

Problem with us when things or, as Pablo Coelho put it in one of his works, when the universe does not seem to conspire in our favor, we resist the change: we keep frozen in the past, spending the present thinking all possible scenarios in the future, forgetting that God is in the present as he calls himself as “I AM.” Focus on Jesus than on things around us so we may see beyond them.

Photo by Ms. Jing Rey Henderson in Taroytoy, Aklan, 30 April 2022.

First thing we recognize in the words of Jesus is what we have reflected last week in his being our Good Shepherd – his oneness with his flock, with us. There is that inner sense of belongingness of Christ in the Father, and of Christ in us. It is what that makes us embrace whatever or whomever new comes to us, regardless we like or do not like them because it is Jesus with whom we are one with first of all.

Jesus stayed only a little while with his disciples here on earth; now he is risen, Jesus is in the glory of the Father in heaven who shall come again at the end of time to establish the new heaven and new earth John was privileged to see in the second reading. It is in this tension between the here and not yet, of Jesus who had come and will come again and is come that we are challenged to witness his presence among us in love.

It is love that is truly the power the Risen Lord has and enabled him then and now to break all barriers in time and space to appear to his disciples and us to experience him today. It is a love so unique – so new unlike the “love” preached by other gurus. Christ’s love is rooted in oneness, in his being one with the Father, one in the Father. It is a love so divine yet human too because it is a love Jesus had shared with us as a gift, something we have, a love we must acknowledge for it to work in us by having that inner belongingness and oneness with him, in him and through him.

How?

Photo from gettyimages.com.

This we find in the preceding scene of the washing of the disciples’ feet: it is Jesus who cleanses us in the sacraments and in our daily encounter with him. When we allow Jesus to cleanse us daily, purifying us from all our sins and imperfections, that is when we enter into communion in him. It is only then that we are truly able to love like him – love without measure willing to offer one’s self, loving even those we consider as enemies.

This is perhaps what we need most these days following the elections. Suspend our biases and presumptions for a while and allow Jesus to work in us, to make us new.

Let us go back to Jesus Christ, allow ourselves to be cleansed by him anew so that we may enter into being-in him and being-with him like Paul and Barnabas who always acted in union with him, never on their own. Since then until now, we continue to experience this love of Christ expressed in our liturgy and most especially in the Church’s oneness and charity. It is a love we all have to recapture and continue for it a love always new because it is Jesus who works in us and through us even in the worst situations to transform every dismal picture we see to become new and wonderful.


Lord, let us come to you again
for we have been not clean;
wash our feet so that
we may listen to you
and do your work and mission;
help us to let go of our own agenda
no matter how lofty they may be
for the mission is yours, not ours;
most of all, let us come to you again
at your Cross to be able to truly love
like you, one in the Father and the Holy Spirit
found among our brothers and sisters
especially those not like us;
forgive us for our harsh words
and our lack of kindness with them;
it is only in loving like you 
can there be truly a new order in this world
that heralds a new heaven and 
a new earth.  Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead.

Photo by author, 2018.

The joy of coming home in the Father

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourth Sunday in Lent-C a.k.a. "Laetare Sunday", 27 March 2022
Joshua 5:9, 10-12 ><}}}*> 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 ><}}}*> Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, in Lourdes, France, 20 March 2022.

Life is a daily Lent, a coming home to the Father. As I have been telling you, the 40-days of Lent is a journey back home to God in Jesus Christ with each Sunday like a door leading us closer to Him. We rejoice this Fourth Sunday – Laetare Sunday – as we near God’s inner room, knowing Him more than ever as we experience His immense love and mercy for us like a Father welcoming his children to “enter” and celebrate home in Him.

But, are we really in the journey?

Or, are we just like the two selfish, self-centered brothers in the parable who took their father for granted by pursuing for their own very selves?

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable: “A man had two sons…”

Luke 15:1, 3, 11
Photo by author, Laetare Sunday 2019 in my former parish.

Acting like the sons…

Once again, we hear another story from Luke that is uniquely his. It is more known as the parable of the prodigal son when in fact the center of the story is the loving and merciful father giving everything including his very self to his two sons.

There are two preceding parables before this third one, that of the lost sheep and of the lost coin that are in chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel. See how Jesus developed into a rising crescendo his series of parables starting with a lost sheep, a lost coin, and finally, lost sons. The common thread running through the three parables was the great joy of the shepherd, woman and father upon having their lost ones again. Clearly, God is the shepherd, the woman, and the father looking for the lost sheep, lost coin and lost sons. And here lies the very essence of the parables, especially in this third one about the loving and merciful father: “the Pharisees and scribes who began to complain why Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

We are those Pharisees and scribes who doubt and refuse to believe, even run away from our loving God in the belief there must be somebody else there who could love us truly by giving us what we need.

Photo by author, Laetare Sunday 2019 in my former parish.

Exactly like the younger son in the parable who sees God merely as a provider, an ATM or a Western Union counter who gives the cash we need to buy things we believe would complete us without realizing God is our life, our identity and root of being. This we find at what prompted the younger son to return home (return home, not come home which happens only when home is a person, not a place nor thing).

When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, “How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”

Luke 15:14-19

Sometimes we are like the younger son who returns home just to preserve one’s self – to have a roof and to have food so as not to starve, never go hungry. It is the first temptation of the devil, teasing Jesus and us to turn stones into bread because man lives to eat! That is why we keep on asserting our own power so we can do everything because we have forgotten our being-ness in God. We hate having nothing, being empty and would rather fill our bellies with whatever we can stuff our mouth with that in the process even swallow our pride and dignity to have, to possess everything, even everybody except God.

Photo by author, Laetare Sunday 2019.

On the other hand, we are like the Pharisees and scribes “complaining why Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them” so personified by the elder son who refused to enter their house to join the celebrations at the return of his prodigal brother because his manipulative schemes have been unmasked. For him, serving his father was just a show because he was only an actor, everything was a movie or a teleserye playing one’s roles in exchange of a fee and fame.

He said to his father in reply, “Look all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.”

Luke 15:29-30

Again, we find here some semblance of the second and third temptations to Jesus and to us by the devil: worship him and you will be popular and powerful! We all want having the best for us to be the very best among our peers and neighbors. We are willing to buy time, even buy people just to be known and popular. We would not mind being patient over a long period of time believing in the end, we could end up having all.

When we think of our needs to be secured and safe, popular and powerful, the first that comes to our minds and consciousness are things that money can buy, food that fill stomach, and drinks that refresh the body. Like the two brothers, they were all concerned with material and physical, nothing spiritual nor emotional or even mental. A life without any depth like Alfie played by Michael Caine with music by Burt Bacharach asking, “What’s it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live?”

That’s the tragedy of our lives, of being like the Pharisees and scribes personified by the two brothers who were so lost in their own selves, refusing to see beyond to find others and God, now and eternity, earth and heaven.

Photo by author, view from the Old Jerusalem, May 2019.

…becoming like the Father

This is the grace of this fourth Sunday, its greatest joy and cause for celebration: our being home in God, being whole again in Him after realizing and accepting our broken and sinful selves.

Make no mistake that it was us who have found God; no, it is the other way around.

God is the Father always awaiting for us that He sent Jesus Christ to lead us home again in Him. In this parable, the late Fr. Henri Nouwen rightly said Jesus is the “prodigal son” who left heaven not out of rebellion but because of obedience and submission to lead us all back to the Father, the only One who loves us truly, our very “first love” for He is the one who loves us first and still loves us no matter what.

Stop seeking for the world’s basic staples of food and wealth, fame and power because the most basic truth in this life is we are loved by God who is love Himself because He is life. See Luke’s sense of humor: the prodigal son wanted only food and shelter but the father gave him back his status as son with the ring, fine clothes and slippers, and feast while the elder son was longing for a mere young goat without realizing it has long been his for everything the father has was his too! Like us in many occasions in life, we fail to see how much we already have in God that we turn away from Him to settle for lesser things.

See our foolishness in desiring the world when it has always been ours if we remain in God. That is why we need to celebrate because finally we have found what is truly basic and valuable, God who gave us his Son Jesus Christ so we can find our way back home to Him and learn what is most valuable in life.

In this parable, Jesus is asking us to “level up” our existence, to rise above our very selves and be who we really are as beloved children of the Father who is merciful and rich in kindness.

Like in the first reading, no more manna for we have entered the Promised Land where we can have real food and real drink – Jesus Christ who sustains us to eternal life. Let us keep in mind and heart Paul’s reminder and call in the second reading that “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation… so, let us be reconciled in God” (2 Cor. 5:17, 20). Only those who are reconciled in God in Jesus can experience true joy… so, stop complaining and whining of others getting close with God. Join us and celebrate! Amen.

Have a joyuful week ahead.

Welcoming the New Year with Mary

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God, 01 January 2022
Numbers 6:22-27 ><]]]'> Galatians 4:4-7 ><]]]'> Luke 2:16-21
Photo by author, sunset at Ubihan Island, Meycauayan, Bulacan, 31 December 2021.

If there is any Christian and Catholic way of welcoming every new year, the liturgy teaches us today a very valuable lesson often overlooked by many through the years especially in our country where it is so difficult to eradicate totally the use of fireworks and firecrackers that are not only fatal and dangerous but also dirty and so pagan.

Recall that the Masses on the evening of the 31st of December and the first day of January are not for the new year – so, please stop those parish announcements “Mass for the New Year”! What we celebrate every evening of December 31 and January 1 is the “Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God” which is the Eighth Day of the Christmas octave. The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is part of the Christmas season that is why I insist we keep on greeting each other with “Merry Christmas” until its closing day on the Baptism of the Lord (January 09, 2021).

Why do we spend so much time counting the days until Christmas when right away we stop greeting Merry Christmas on December 26 and replace it with Happy New Year? Is it not crazy and insane? We had our new year on the first Sunday of Advent; let us continue the “romance” of this most wonderful day of the year with our “Merry Christmas” greetings. In fact, in the old calendar, there are 12 days of Christmas (yeah, the song!) until the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord that used to be fixed every January 6.

But that is another topic we shall discuss in another piece… for now, let us meditate on how Mary welcomed the new year, the new phase in her life as Mother of God, Jesus Christ.

“The Adoration of the Shepherds”, a painting of the Nativity scene by Italian artist Giorgione before his death in 1510. Photo from wikipediacommons.org.

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.

Luke 2:16-17

Mary went in haste for the Lord

We are familiar with the popular proverb that “haste makes waste” because doing things too quickly leads to mistakes that result in greater losses in time, effort, and materials. Even the saints have always cautioned us that haste is the biggest enemy of growth in spirituality.

However, during Christmas season, we find something so good with making haste – when it pertains to the things of God like when Mary went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth in Judah and when shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem after being told by the angels of the birth of Christ as we have heard in the gospel today.

Haste is not totally that bad at all.

If there is one thing that merits haste in us, it must be the things of God. Why, when we pray and say, “O God come to my assistance”, we respond with “O Lord make haste to help me”? Because God always hasten to come to us even before we have called him! But, who among us these days make haste where the things of God are concerned?

How sad that we rush to everything and everyone except to Jesus our Lord and God! In less than a week, we have gone back to over 1000 infections of COVID as people rushed to the malls and places of interests, forgetting all about the pandemic! More sad is the fact so many people have been in making haste to these days for the more mundane things without even spending some quality time in the church to pray.

This 2022, let us be quick to God and prayers, be cautious with things of the world. That is the lesson of COVid-19: all these years we have been in haste to get rich and famous, to produce so much but we have neglected going to God, to feeding our souls, to spending time with our loved ones. For so long we have kept many people waiting until COVID-19 came and quickly took them without warning at all.

Before the shepherds went in haste to see the newborn Jesus, there was Mary in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Let us go in haste always in the Lord for he has so many things in store for us as the shepherds and Elizabeth realized.

From forwarded cartoon at Facebook, December 2019.

All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

Luke 2:18-19

Mary meditating in silence

It is very interesting that Luke had told us how people were amazed at what the shepherds spoke about that night on the birth of the Christ, the Infant Jesus they have found on a manger with his Mother Mary and her husband Joseph. Keep in mind that the shepherds were among the least trusted people of that time but their story went “viral” and “trending” so to speak.

And amid all these talks was Mary, the Mother of Jesus, silently meditating everything in her heart!

That is the most Christian and Catholic way of welcoming the new year – silent prayer like adoration of the Blessed Sacrament after the evening Mass on December 31. We look back for the blessing of the past year as we silently listen to God’s instructions and divine plans for us this new year. We are his children, not slaves as St. Paul reminded us in the second reading.

This first day of 2022, let us have some silent moments with the Lord Jesus. Simply listen and wait for his words. He always have something to tell us but we always go in haste somewhere else or to somebody else. Jesus is right there in our hearts, the faintest voice you always dismiss and take for granted.

This 2022, let us cultivate to have a prayer life like Mary who always kept in her heart the words and experiences she had with Jesus. Let us not be like the shepherds who were there only at Christmas, never came back to Jesus specially when he was preaching in Galilee and when crucified on Good Friday wherein his constant companion in silence was Mary his Mother.

Photo by author, 24 December 2019.

When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Luke 2:21

The faith of Mary

Like us when Mary gave birth to Jesus on that first Christmas, she was totally unaware of what was in store for her, of what would happen to her Son. She was totally unaware of what would happen in the future. The only thing she was certain was the name to be given to her child, Jesus which means “God is my Savior”.

As I have told, ushering the new year with all those loud firecrackers and fireworks are pagan practices.

All blessings come only from God, not from any other spirits.

We drive all the malas and bad spirits and negative vibes of the past year not with noises and blasts of trumpets or fireworks but with silence that is rooted in deep faith in Christ Jesus.

Such was the attitude of Mary on that first Christmas until her glorious Assumption into heaven: she never knew Jesus would be betrayed by one of his trusted friends and apostles. She was never told by the angel how after Jesus would feed and heal so many people that he would later be arrested and crucified like a criminal but believed in him until the end, remaining with Christ at the foot of the Cross.

All Mary had was a deep faith in Jesus as told her by the angel as the name to be given to her child is also the child of the Most High.

There is no need for us to consult fortune tellers nor feng-shui masters to look into the future and tell us how it is going to be this 2022. No matter how easy or difficult this new year may be, only one thing is certain – Jesus Christ is with us and will remain with us even if we abandon him or turn away from him for he is the only Lord and Savior of mankind. Let us keep our faith in him alone – and not to round fruits nor stones nor other stuffs peddled to us to bring luck this new year.

Let us imitate Mary, the Mother of God, so human like us except in sin who was always in haste with things of God, silently meditating his words and workings, and most of all, trusting wholly in her Son Jesus. Amen.

Photo by author, sunset at Liputan Island, Meycauayan, Bulacan, 31 December 2021.

Christmas is reflecting Jesus, the Light of the world

Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Day 1, 16 December 2021
Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8   ><]]]]*> + <*[[[[><   John 5:33-36
Photo by author at San Fernando, Pampanga, 18 November 2021.

The Parol or lantern is a uniquely Filipino sign and reminder of Christmas. When we were in elementary school, we used to make our own parol with colorful papel de japon as part of our subject “work education”. The most beautiful parol submitted was usually the one hanged above the Belen like that star pointing to the Child Jesus born in Bethlehem at the first Christmas.

And that is the truth about the beautiful and colorful parol – a sign leading to Jesus Christ like John the Baptist.

“He was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light. But I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.”

John 5:35-36

Since the second and third Sundays of Advent, we have been introduced to the person and mission of John the Baptist. As we begin our nine-day novena to Christmas with our Simbang Gabi, we are reminded again of that important role we have in becoming another John who not only prepares the way of the Lord but must also be very sign of Christ’s presence.

All routes lead to churches every December 16, a beautiful sight to behold with so many devotees trying to fulfill their vows of completing the Simbang Gabi for so many reasons, from thanksgiving to favors granted and for more wishes for the coming year!

But, like other novenas, Simbang Gabi in itself will not make one a better or holier person. It takes a lot of prayer and hard work on our part to be like John the Baptist, a parol “burning and shining” pointing to Jesus who had come 2000 years ago, who comes daily in our lives, and will come again at the end of time.

In our gospel we heard Jesus praising John who did a wonderful job preparing the people for his coming because in his very life, they have found hope and inspiration to strive in what is good and just. In fact, the people felt as if John was already the Messiah they were waiting for!

It was very clear to John that he was not the Messiah, that he was merely the Precursor of the Lord, not even worthy to untie his sandals. This is what we must pray for in every Simbang Gabi, specially at this time of the pandemic: that we beam more of the light of Jesus who is like the sun while we are the moon. What we share is the Light itself – Jesus Christ – not our own light that can sometimes be misleading and not really that bright at all.

Photo by author, National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Valenzuela City, 08 December 2021.

To reflect the light of Jesus Christ is to be like him, good and kind, just and merciful, exactly what we heard from the first reading which is a call to personal conversion; we cannot convert others to Jesus unless they see first we are converted in Christ.

Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just… All who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold on to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer.

Isaiah 56:1, 6

No matter how good or “holy” as we can be, we are not the Light; our mission is to bring people closer to Jesus and be “conformed to his image” (Rom. 8:29).

How sad these days when “credit-grabbing” has become a hobby and a national past-time not only among those in power but even with everybody else specially those in social media trying to draw attention to themselves to earn precious statistics to be known as “influencers”.

This is our second Christmas in the pandemic: last year was more difficult than this year and we have so much to be thankful to God in tremendously blessing us since last year. We are still alive, many still have their jobs with steady income, others have started to pick up the pieces of their lives but moving on personally, spiritually, emotionally and even financially. Kids still go to school no matter how difficult online classes may be.

We have so many things to thank God this Christmas – first among them are the many John the Baptists who were like a “burning and shining lamp” to us, guiding us and inspiring us to move on with life amid the darkness and gloom of this pandemic

Yes, Christmas this year like last year is still difficult, so unlike the other Christmases we have experienced in the past. Perhaps the only other worst Christmas than we ever had in 2020 and 2021 were the Christmasses experienced by our parents and grandparents during the Japanese occupation at World War II. Ours pale in comparison with those wartime years.

During this Simbang Gabi, let us ask ourselves how much have we changed and matured in our experience of Christmas since the start of the pandemic last year? Do we now have Jesus in our hearts or, are we back to our old selves of having that “Christmas rush” for material things, forgetting Jesus Christ is Christmas himself?

Let the light of Christ burn and shine in you! Amen.

Photo by author at San Fernando, Pampanga, 18 November 2021.

Seeing Christ in what is traditional and what is new

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Memorial of St. Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church, 
03 September 2021
Colossians 1:15-20   ><)))'> ><]]]]*> ><)))'>   Luke 5:33-39
Photo by Dr. Mai B. Dela Peña, MD in Barcelona, Spain, 2018.

The scribes and the Pharisees said to Jesus, “The disciples of John the Baptist fast so often and offer prayers, and the disciples of the Pharisees do the same; but yours eat and drink.”

Luke 5:33
Oh yes, God our Father!
So many times we are like
the scribes and the Pharisees
asking Jesus not to seek the truth
but to confirm what we believe 
as true and proper, trying to find
justifications for what we are
doing which we hardly understand
the deeper meaning.
Like the gospel last Sunday,
we cannot distinguish what is
traditional and what is new,
what is clean and unclean,
and most of all, what is good
and what is evil because 
we are more focused with our
selves than with you and Jesus.

And he also told them a parable. Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined. Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins. And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new, for he says, “The old is good.””

Luke 5:36, 37-39
Like St. Gregory the Great,
refresh us in your Son Jesus Christ,
dear Father.  
Make us "new wineskins"
to be poured with Jesus, the "new wine";
indeed, old wine always tastes good
but we have to become new wineskins too
to be able to adjust to the new wine
to bring out its goodness and zest.

For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the Blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.

Colossians 1:19-20
Let us always seek first Jesus Christ,
loving Father in looking at things
in life and especially in the Church;
like St. Gregory the Great who
accomplished so much not only
in the Church but also in civil society
despite his short stint as Pope for
only 13 years, help us to center our
lives in Christ Jesus because
"he is the image of the invisible God,
the first born of all creation"
(Colossians 1:15).
Amen.