Keeping the Christmas story alive

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe for the Soul
Friday, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, 01 January 2021
Number 6:22-27  >><)))*>  Galatians  >><)))*>  Luke 2:16-21
Photo by Mr. Marc Angelo Nicolas Carpio, Christmas 2020.

A blessed Merry Christmas to you all!

Please, continue greeting one another with a “Merry Christmas” than with “Happy New Year” because Christmas is not over yet; besides, we Catholics celebrated our new year last November 29, the first Sunday of Advent. Most of all, it is so unfair to Jesus that we easily forget Him and think more of the new year! What happened to those Christmas countdowns that began in September only to stop greeting “Merry Christmas” after eight days?

Most of all, contrary to what most priests are erroneously saying today, our Mass is not for the new year but for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Although the sacramentary (our book for the celebration of Mass) has prayers for the Mass on new year, it also says – written in red ink to stress this point – that one cannot celebrate the Mass for new year on January first because the proper celebration on this date is the Motherhood of Mary.

The “Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God” used to be celebrated on October 11 but during the Second Vatican Council, the Fathers deemed it more right and proper to celebrate every January first which is the eighth day called octave of Christmas. This solemnity also abolished the feasts of the Circumcision of Our Lord (January 1) and the Holy Name of Jesus (Sunday between January 1 and 8, or January 2).

Nonetheless, as a further background to our liturgy, today’s celebration is also the oldest feast in honor of Mary, dating back to year 431 after the Council of Ephesus when the Church declared Mary as the Mother of God following heresies claiming Jesus was not born divine but only human, that he assumed his divinity later in life as he matured. It was during that Council of Ephesus when the Church Fathers insisted that when Mary conceived Jesus in her womb, His divinity was not diminished nor lost. Hence, Mary shall be called the Mother of God Jesus Christ who is true God and true human, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

While the whole world is celebrating in revelry with all the pagan practices of fireworks and noise that sadly include many Christians, we Catholics on this first day of the new year celebrate Mary the Mother of God as our model disciple in journeying through life this 2021 in Jesus Christ.

Photo by author, Mary in our Nativity scene, 25 December 2020.

Beginning anew in Jesus like Mary

It has been more than 24 hours since my iPhone “crashed” that I now merely rely on Messenger for communications. But, it is a wonderful feeling too! Nothing bothering me so I can rest fully today.

Yes, I am a “dinosaur” when it comes to these tech things and gadgets. When I got this phone in 2018, I never bothered to check its “storage capacity”, thinking since it is a high-end phone, it must be very, very good.

Then came the pandemic last year when I had to use it for our daily online Mass until it showed signs of problems two weeks ago when I found out we have used all its 32 GB capacity.

But, as I learned all those things about storage capacity of cellphones and computers, I remembered the Blessed Virgin Mary in our gospel today.

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. 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 2:16-19

How beautiful to hear those words of the evangelist, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

Yes, better than any cellphone and computer is the human heart with unlimited storage capacities for all memories, data and images of life! How sad we have been keeping all those wonderful events in our lives inside this tiny gadgets that eventually would be corrupted by bugs or even hacked.

But we have this heart – the core of our very being where we process all those memories and images of everything we are going through and have gone through.

We celebrate today this Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God to remind us in keeping the Christmas story alive through the new year by imitating the Blessed Mother in treasuring and reflecting all our experiences – good and bad – in 2020!

Imagine that image of Jesus born in a manger: it must be so dark, even filthy and smelly – maybe like how our lives have been last year. But, do not forget, there was Jesus present with us in the darkness and dirt and foul smell of 2020.

If life has been so good and kind to you last year, reflect on those memories, find Jesus in those joy like the shepherds and share the good news and blessings you have received!

I love that part Mary “treasured” – as something precious – all those things said by the shepherds, reflecting them in her heart. Luke would always present Mary keeping everything in her heart to reflect them especially when things and events were beyond her understanding.

Photo by author, Mary at the foot of the Cross.

The same is true with life. Sometimes, we just cannot comprehend the many things that have happened in 2020.

Instead of blaming the year 2020 for all the negative things that have have happened, Mary shows us the way by looking into our selves, into our hearts to “process” all those experiences, find their meaning, and most of all, what God is trying to tell us. That is Christmas – Jesus became human like us to be with us specially in our sufferings and trials in life. Problem is, we are so filled with ourselves as our cellphones and other gadgets would show – selfies and so many posts most often done for the sake of “likes” and “followers”.

Do we still have memories? Do we still remember? Or, should the question be, do we still feel at all?

Whenever I see people with arms stretched looking through their cellphones in so many events, I pity them because they fail to feel and savor the moment, living in a “mediated” world, not grounded and detached from the realities of life. This is perhaps the reason why despite the affluence of life today, more people are lost, alone, alienated, and empty.

There are two local commercials that I have always loved and they both featured grandparents having Alzheimer’s.

First is McDonald’s about ten or 15 years ago of a lolo slicing into half his cheeseburger, saying, “ito para sa paborito kong apo, si Karen” (this is for my favorite grandchild, Karen).

Second is the Ayala Malls’ “Wishing Tree” in 2019 where the grandmother, so sad and haggard looking suddenly smiled again with her face lighting up in joy when she saw the old CCTV footages of her trips to the Mall with her apo in the past.

Both commercials show how big is the storage capacity of our hearts to keep our beautiful memories with loved ones even if the memories in our brain “crash”.

How amazing that the heart remains intact with its stored memories of events and persons who have loved us – and even hurt us. That is how big is our heart as a storage of memories that must be treasured, processed, and reflected upon like what Mary did to deepen our faith, widen our perspectives and most of all, find Jesus Christ.

See my dear Reader how at the end of the gospel on the eighth day Mary’s child was given with the name “Jesus” – the only thing she and Joseph were certain of about their child. The same is so true with us on this day as we begin 2021: we do not know what will happen to us. Nothing is really so certain, not even having that COVID-19 vaccine, legally speaking.

Like Mary and Joseph, all we have for sure is Jesus, the only One we must trust and follow, the only One we must nurture and share so that His face may shine upon us (Num.6:25) and lead us to eternal life as heirs to the kingdom of heaven as children of the Father (Gal.4:7).

Have a blessed Merry Christmas this new year, and may the Lord bless you and keep you! Amen.

Photo by Mr. Marc Angelo Nicolas Carpio, 25 December 2020.

Ano hanap mo sa 2020?

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-09 ng Enero 2020

Hindi pa tapos ang Pasko
ngunit iyo na bang napagtanto
ano hanap o nais mo
sa bagong taong ito?

 

Tayong lahat ay katulad 
ng mga Pantas o Mago
na naghanap sa Kristo
nang sumilang ito noong Pasko.

 

At iyon ang tunay na karunungan
hanapin sa kaitaasan
ang kalaliman nitong buhay
na sa Diyos lamang matatagpuan.
Mula sa Silangan
tinuturing silang puno ng karunungan
kalangitan ay palaging tinitingnan
ng mga palatandaan sa buhay nagpapayaman.

 

Kaya kung mga Pantas tutularan
tatlong bagay ating kailangan
upang tala ay masundan
at si Kristo ay matagpuan:

 

Una'y huwag matakot
sa mga kadiliman ng buhay
sapagkat mga bituin ay maningning
kapag kalangita'y balot sa dilim.

 

Sa bawat kadiliman ng buhay
may pagkakataong binibigay
upang makapagdasal at magnilay
makagamay direksiyon ng patutunguhan.
Sa pananalangin dinadalisay
puso at kalooban upang sarili maialay
kapalit ng minimithing makakamit
magpapayaman sa katauhan.
Ganito ang takbo nitong ating buhay
ano man iyong gusto at hanap
hindi basta nakakamit
dapat magsumakit.
Ngayon pa lamang sa epipanya ng Panginoon
landas ng kanyang kalbaryo at krus
agad nang matatagpuan
sa siya ring landas na sinundan ng mga Pantas ng Silangan!

Keep Christmas Alive

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe for the Soul, 01 January 2020

Wednesday, Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God

Numbers 6:22-27 ><}}}*> Galatians 4:4-7 ><}}}*> Luke 2:16-21

Photo by Rev. Fr. Gerry Pascual, Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC, 2017.

Today marks the octave or eighth day of Christmas when we celebrate the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.

Octave means we extend the celebration of Christmas Day into eight days because one day – December 25 – is not enough to reflect on the meaning and mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God.

The eighth day also signifies eternity which comes next after the seven days of the week.

Hence, whenever people greet me on this day with a “Happy New Year”, I just say “thank you” and then greet them too with “a blessed Christmas to you” or the usual “Merry Christmas”!

I am not disturbing your peace this Christmas and it is more than my being a “language nerd” – but, if you really want to appreciate more and experience the depth and the joy of Jesus Christ’s birth, stop that happy new year greeting.

The more proper and perfect greeting this January 2020 is still “blessed Christmas” or “Merry Christmas” because it is another year in the Lord Jesus Christ.

And here we find the very important and deeper meaning of Christmas: do not ever forget it is about Jesus Christ. Christmas is not about gifts and bonus, it is not about food and merry making, it is not about vacation and long weekends.

Christmas is all about Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became human like us in everything except sin in order to save us and bring us back to the Father in heaven. In his coming, it is not only us who were made holy but even our time that became “his story”.

Indeed, Jesus Christ is the reason of the Season. Let us maximize in greeting “Merry Christmas” and stop its abrupt ending with the coming of the new year that after all, is based on his birth that is why we call it “Anno Domini” (AD) or “year of the Lord”.

Nativity Scene at the National Shrine of the Minor Basilica of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Quezon City. Photo by author, 30 December 2019.

Why stop greeting everyone with a happy new year

Keep greeting everyone with “a blessed Christmas” or a “Merry Christmas” until January 12, last day of our Christmas Season with the Baptism of the Lord.

In the Philippines, you may continue greeting people with Merry Christmas until January 19, Feast of the Sto. Nino which is an extension of the Christmas Season in our country granted by Rome.

Furthermore, for the lazy among you, you can have the excuse of not removing your Christmas decors until February 02, Feast of the Presentation at the Temple because chronologically, that is the precise moment when Christmas Season ends. That is why, the giant Christmas Tree at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square is traditionally removed only on this date.

Also, please stop announcing in churches about the Mass tonight and tomorrow as “New Year’s Mass” because there is no Mass for New Year.

Though our Sacramentary offers prayers for Mass at New Year, the same book stipulates that “this cannot be celebrated on January 1 because it is the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.”

Basic reason why we should not be greeting one another with a happy new year on January 1st is the fact that we celebrated our New Year in the Church during the First Sunday of Advent, that Season of four Sundays when we prepare for Christmas.

Remember, Advent has two aspects: from First Sunday of Advent until December 16, our focus is on the Second Coming of Christ or Parousia at the end of time. Nobody knows when it will be, not even Jesus Christ except the Father in Heaven. Then, from December 17 to 24, we enter the second aspect of Advent which is the focus on the first coming of Jesus when he was born in Bethlehem more than 2000 years ago. All the readings on these days center on the events and stories leading to Christ’s birth.

So my dear reader and follower, we start each year in the Church preparing for the coming of the King of kings and we end the year with Solemnity of Christ the King.

To be exact, we start and end each year in Jesus Christ, not in numbers.

Every day of the year is a Christmas in essence, a coming of Jesus Christ.

And for us to continue this beautiful story of Christmas especially on these first 19 days of 2020, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ who is true God and true Man, teaches us the way to keep this spirit of bringing the Savior into the world even beyond December 25 and January 1.

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. 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 2:16-19
Shepherds approaching the Nativity Scene at the National Shrine of the Basilica of Mt. Carmel, Quezon City. Photo by author, 30 December 2019.

Mary to guide us through another year closer to Jesus

A natural reason we have for cutting short our greetings of Merry Christmas to one another is the very close proximity of December 25 with the New Year. Though the civil calendar also came from the Church, in a sense the start of the year has been made holy by its closeness with Christmas.

Rightly then, all the more we find the reason to keep on greeting Merry Christmas than happy new year!

Notice the sudden shift from the holy and transcendent so evident in just a span of one week that personally, I feel we have to promote all the more a stop in this greeting of happy new year at Christmas Season.

How easily we can forget the wonder and awe of Christ’s birth!

See how from our rich liturgical celebrations of Advent and Christmas then suddenly this last seven days of the year, we turn to pagan practices to usher in the new year?

Have we become like the shepherds who came to Jesus only at his brith and never to be mentioned again in the entire account of St. Luke?

What happened?

A shepherd near the Nativity Scene at the National Shrine and Basilica of Our Lady of Mat. Carmel in Quezon City. Photo by author, 30 December 2019.

Mary guides us to the true meaning of Christ’s birth and of the new year that closely comes after Christmas. See how St. Luke narrated the attitude and disposition of Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God:

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

That’s the problem with our Christmas celebrations: after December 25, we go back to “normal lives” which is more of living without Jesus, of getting into the daily grind of life away from Jesus.

Like us, Mary did not know what was really ahead of her with the birth of Jesus: she had no idea about his being lost at the temple, of his being tempted by the devil, of his being rejected and killed by his own people despite his many healings and other miracles.

Mary simply believed in Jesus. And that is why she is blessed according to Elizabeth, because she believed the words spoken to her would be fulfilled.

Mary had nothing certain about her coming year, of her life except the name to be given to her Son, Jesus which means “God is my Savior”.

The same is true with us! We do not know if we will still be together until December or at least in January 2021. We do not know who would get married this year, who would be migrating to another country, who will hit it big time in business or whatever.

Stop consulting fortune tellers because they know nothing about the future! Only the Father of Jesus knows everything that is going to happen. And he had sent us his Son Jesus to make sure that through everything that is going to happen, none of us would ever be lost (Jn.6:39).

Like Mary, we have only one surety and security this 2020: Jesus Christ, our Lord and God living with us!

Let us focus this year in Jesus Christ and his words of salvation.

And that is the challenge of Christmas of the new year 2020: that every day, despite all the good news and bad news we hear and encounter in life, we make that conscious decision to trust in Jesus that good is coming to us for his name means God is my Savior.

Like Mary, let us lose ourselves every day in this wonderful moment of Christmas of looking at the child Jesus inviting us to be caught up in his joy of coming, to fear not of the new year ahead for he has come precisely to be one with us.

May we stay with him, keep his words in our hearts like Mary by reflecting on their meaning trusting and awaiting their fulfillment.

Let us not leave Jesus like the shepherds, though, they were the first to see the Lord at Christmas, they missed his full glory of resurrection because they never went back to him again.

Have a blessed and Merry Christmas!

From the inside of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the small doors that require pilgrims to humbly bow first to enter the church and find Jesus. Photo by author, May 2019.

This 2019, Handle Life with Prayer

baptismjesus
The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe
Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, 13 January 2019
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-10///Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7///Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

            Today is the last Sunday of the Christmas season that closes with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  But that does not mean we stop celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ.  In fact, this feast of His baptism reminds us of the great importance of praying daily to celebrate His coming the whole year through.

            The people were filled with expectation… After all the people had been baptized and Jesus had also been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Lk.3:15, 21-22).

            One thing we shall notice this year when St. Luke guides us in our gospel every Sunday is how he always presents Jesus Christ at prayer like here at His baptism.  Only St. Luke records this detail that Jesus was praying after His baptism when the “heaven was opened.”  That is the meaning of Christmas, the opening of heaven for us through Christ’s coming after it was closed when Adam and Eve were banished following their Fall.  See how St. Luke situated the Lord’s baptism like his Christmas story to show us that Jesus lived at a specific time and period in history, that He had really come!  “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas” (Lk.3:1-2).

            The same is very true today in our own time.  In this specific period when everything seems to be so dark and in disarray, when we are filled with expectation after a long period when God had seemed forgotten us, suddenly there comes a voice in the wilderness, not in the desert of Jordan but right here inside our hearts of new hope, new beginnings this 2019!  Jesus had opened heaven with His coming to us more than 2000 years ago and He continues to call us to come to Him, to be one with Him and be in Him.  He is here inside our hearts inviting us to open up with Him, to converse with Him, to speak to Him and to hear Him in the context of prayer.  This feast of the Baptism of the Lord reminds us of that invitation from God for us to open up to Him too because He is now more accessible to us than ever in Christ.  In becoming human like us in everything except in sin, Jesus brought God nearer to us that we can converse with Him to air our concerns and innermost feelings to Him.  Most of all, experience in prayer God’s great love for us when we listen to His voice and heed His calls to discover far more great things in this life than we have ever imagined!  Why waste this great grace in Him?

               Second reason why we need to handle life with prayer is because it purifies us, cleanses us like the waters of the river.  Jesus need not be baptized because He has no sins; but, He chose to be baptized by John to show His solidarity with us sinners.  This is the main point of the prophecy by Isaiah in the first reading as well as the letter of St. Paul to Titus:  Jesus is the mercy of the Father to us sinners who had come to expiate our sins by taking upon Himself – the sinless one – our sins.  It is very sad that fewer people are now praying in the real sense because many of us have lost that sense of sinfulness.  Everything has become relative especially morality as if everything is now acceptable and therefore, nothing is sinful.  When people refuse to see and accept their sinfulness, when they feel being sinless, then they start acting like God, even claiming to be the Messiah and stop praying altogether.  We pray because we are sinful, because we have failed in doing what is right and what is good.  We pray to be cleansed of our sinfulness so we can be with Jesus to follow and imitate Him.  Real prayer happens when we admit before God our sins to be purified in Him.

                   Most of all, we have to pray always because life is difficult.  After the scene of the baptism of Jesus at Jordan, the next chapter tells us about His temptation by the devil in the wilderness.  After the long Christmas vacation, almost everybody had gone back to “reality of life”, of work and studies, of constant struggles and sufferings as well as sacrifices.  Jesus came to the world to help us in this life, calling us to come to Him for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  That is the beautiful symbolism of Jesus plunging into Jordan.  For the Jewish thought, bodies of water like the sea, the lake and the river are symbols of the nether world, of the powers of darkness and evil.  When Jesus plunged into Jordan River and when He walked on water, they both mean the power of Jesus over darkness and sins.  That is why we pray to be purified, to be cleansed from our sins.  Now, flowing river is symbolic of life in the Old Testament as attested by the Nile in Egypt, the Tigris-Euphrates in Babylonia, and the Jordan in Israel.  There is always the danger of losing one’s life in the river especially when it is swollen but at the same time, there is also the abundance of life from its waters that nourish plants and teem with marine life.  Jesus choosing to be baptized at Jordan River tells us His coming to us in our lives marked with many dangers as well as with opportunities.  In fact, right in His baptism at Jordan, Jesus was already giving us a hint at the inauguration of His ministry about His coming Passion, Death and Resurrection symbolized by the river.  We all know this too for sure that great opportunities await us this 2019 but we all know we can attain these all if we are willing to take the plunge and meet head on the many challenges that would entail sacrifices and pains on our part.  Life is very much like a river and the good news is Jesus is here with us to help us and assure us of being fruitful if we can open to God in prayer.

            Every morning when we wake up, the heavens open with the Father telling us that due to the oneness of Christ with us, we too are His beloved children with whom He is well pleased.  Noteworthy in this part how St. Luke inserted after Christ’s baptism his version of the genealogy of Jesus, starting it backwards to end up with Adam, “the son of God” (Lk.3:38).  Aside from showing us the humanity of Jesus, St. Luke fittingly closed his baptism account of reminding us how in the Lord we have become God’s children too.  And that is enough reason for us to always pray not only because God converses with us and we need to be purified of our sins but most of all because we are the children of the Father in Christ Jesus.  With that in our minds and in our hearts, 2019 looks so promising indeed!  AMEN.  Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.

*Photos from Google.

fultonsheen

Love is Being a Food for Others

people-at-table-with-food
The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday after Epiphany of the Lord, 08 January 2019
1 John 4:7-10///Mark 6:34-44

            “In this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10).

             Today as we move on to new directions and new beginnings this 2019 on this first full week of work and school – when we claim to be back to “normal” in life – you remind us also Lord Jesus Christ of the nature of love:  that everything is because of you because “God is love.”

            As we return to the usual grind of life, teach us always Lord to feel with the people like you when you were moved with pity upon seeing the vast crowd following you.  Most of all, teach us Lord that love is being a food myself for others to receive, to share with.  Yes, this is precisely what you meant when you told your disciples in the wilderness to “give the crowd some food yourselves” (Mk.6:37).  Whenever we share food and drinks to others, when we offer them to partake of our meals, we actually share ourselves with them.  That is the meaning of your sacred meal, the Eucharist.  And that is why such meal is also called agape, the highest form of love when nothing is expected in return.

             Give us the grace O Lord this New Year to be more loving, more caring with others by giving more of ourselves to others. AMEN. Fr.Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.

*Photos from Google.

lovequotesfoodcooking3

 

Back to Normal is Back to You, Lord

49343012_2024145807682044_4537657116004974592_n
The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Monday after the Epiphany of the Lord, 07 January 2019
1 John 3:22-4:6///Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25

            Almost everybody is feeling heavy today, Lord Jesus Christ:  students, workers, employees are complaining Christmas break is over, it is back to normal.  Many are so wary of today’s traffic and other woes when everything returns to normal.

           And what is normal for us Lord?  The daily grind of waking up early, working for a living, pursuing our goals, keeping up with our obligations and responsibilities in life.  It is as if we have not met you this Christmas which is after all, just a break from our normal, ordinary routine.

          Give us the grace of integration Lord.  Give us the grace to “test the spirits to see whether they belong to God because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1).  Fill us with your Holy Spirit Lord to always live with the spirit of truth, the spirit of life.

            Make us realize Lord that going back to normal is our life being with you, leaving our comfort zone of Nazareth to retreat to “Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Napthali” (Mt. 4:13).  Going back to normal is staying in Galilee, the province where you did most of your preaching and miracles, where you first proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of heaven, where your first lesson is to repent.

             There will always be trials and tribulations in our lives like in the arrest of John the Baptist (Mt.4:12) but let us remain in you, following you, believing in you, always cleansing ourselves of our impurities and imperfections so that you may dwell in us to make your kingdom come here on earth as it is in heaven.  AMEN.  Fr.Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.

*Photo of a painting by Bulakenyo artist Aris Bagtas of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the sufferings of the people in her mind, perhaps a normal slice in her daily life with Jesus.  Used with permission.

Let the Light of Christ Shine In You

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Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 02 January 2019

            I come from the fireworks capital of the country, Bocaue in Bulacan about 25 kms. north of Manila.  Unlike most of my town mates, I have always advocated for the total ban of manufacture and sale of fireworks and firecrackers long before I became a priest.  My first reason is because I have seen firsthand how many lives were lost in the manufacture and use of these products meant to bring good luck and more life.  My second reason is simply because it is a pagan practice.  What an irony it is so widespread in our country considered to be the only Christian nation in this part of the world!  The best way to welcome every New Year is to pray in silence to thank God for all the graces of the past year and to ask Him to keep us anew and to guide us through 2019.

             My third reason why fireworks and firecrackers must be banned is the fact these destroy and damage our already fragile environment.  While many are rejoicing that firecracker injuries are down by 68% this New Year celebrations, air quality almost everywhere remained dismal and even hazardous especially for the sick and elderly people.  Coming home to my parish after midnight of January 01, I thought my staff members have forgotten to turn on the lights outside the church or worst, there was a brownout because our whole neighborhood was so dark.  It turned out that thick smokes from the fireworks and firecrackers lit earlier to brighten our lives this 2019 have actually darkened our whole surroundings!  The scene was very surreal that spoke a lot of our inconsistencies and stupidity as a nation and most of all, as Christians.  How crazy that we as Christians are not only imitating the pagans in welcoming the New Year in the hope to better our lives when in fact we are destroying life itself in damaging the environment!

             Jesus Christ was born more than 2000 years ago during the darkest night of the year at winter primarily to be our light.  This is what Christmas reminds us at the end of each year as we usher in the new one that we have no other light but Christ alone.  And the light of Christ shines not from any bright star or comet up in the sky but right from the faces and hearts of every believer to whom Jesus is born within.  This is the daily challenge we all face that we must let the light of Christ shine in us so that people are illumined by His light not by our selfish, bloated ego projected by our supposed to be bright ideas.  How sad that even in the Church and among us priests, what we really project is our own light not Christ’s.  We cannot have the humility of John the Baptizer to admit that we are not the Christ because like during the first Christmas, so many modern day Caesars and Herods continue to claim these days that they are the Messiah or Savior of the world, even in the name of Jesus.

            To be a light of Christ in the world requires us His disciples to first withdraw from the limelight and go back to Jesus in prayer and meditations.  We are now living our faith in a mass-mediated culture but it does not mean we have to immerse into social media and other modern forms of communication.  We in the Church, both the clergy and the lay people have to realize and understand that while these modern communications are a gift from God, we do not have to allow it to overwhelm us that eventually, unknown to us, become our guide replacing Jesus Christ.  What a pity that many churches today look like conference halls with giant TV screens everywhere, tarpaulins covering every wall even the altar that people could no longer feel the sense of the sacred.  See how some priests have become as entertainers even clowns with all the jokes and antics without delivering any homily at all.  Or act like marketing agents using power points to deliver homilies without any point at all.  There are churches that have become ballrooms in total disregard of the sanctity of the place complete with all kinds of lights for dramatic effects with giant ceiling fans hovering above that do not necessarily complement the interiors.  People are rightly complaining of the commercialization of some churches that have become to look like a giant birthday cake than a house of worship due to so many decorations that are mostly cheap and kitschy.  Worst of all are those churches that have become like a perya (fair) with all gimmicks and publicity stunts that fool people by heightening their feeling levels only to get more collections but never to share Jesus Christ.   

                What a shame!  People come to church for Jesus, only Jesus and always Jesus.  And they would always come because that is something natural within each of us, even unbelievers.  The Church does not need public relations as advertisements for media mileage because we offer only Jesus Christ alive within each one of us.  I have always believed that there are only two essential things needed to share Jesus Christ and let His light shine in a parish:  meaningful liturgy and true charity and service to everyone.  Our dignified worship and celebrations of the sacraments along with our loving service and kindness to everyone who comes to our parish are more than enough to be the presence of Christ, to beam His light.  Stop making the church and everything in it a spectacle or a show we call palabas because Christ came in silent simplicity of the darkness of the night to be felt more deep inside by the heart not to be feasted on by the eyes.  The late German-born thinker Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy who converted into Christianity from the Jewish faith after World War II said that “A Christian is a person to whom Christ speaks.  The body of Christ is those who listen to him.”  How beautiful!  All we really need is Jesus Christ alone, not so much of things and gadgets, gimmicks and publicity stunts for He alone is our light who gives life.  The beloved disciple said it so well last Christmas Day, “through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn.1:4-5).  Bring out that light of Christ in you this New Year!

*Photo by Dra. Mai Dela Pena, from a church in Sydney, Australia many Christmas ago.  Used with permission.

 

Meeting Jesus in 2019 with Mary

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The Lord Is My Chef New Year Recipe
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, 01 January 2019
Numbers 6:22-27///Galatians 4:4-7///Luke 2:16-21

            One of my favorite sayings came from the waiting the room of our former family dentist Dr. Eddie Calalec of Meycauyan, Bulacan that says, “Time is fast for those who rush; Time is slow for those who wait; but, Time is NOT for those who love.”  We all complain of time being so fast.  Everybody is always in a hurry.  According to an elderly man I have talked to a couple of years ago, time moves so fast these days because people are always busy.  He explained that before, time was so slow because after farming earlier that day, they just waited for sunset and for time of harvest.  Life was so laid back at that time that truly time was so slow.  But life is not about time being fast or slow but of love.  The Church rightly celebrates today not the New Year which is time; remember that we celebrated the new year in the Church calendar last first Sunday of Advent.  Today we are celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God to celebrate her great love for Jesus that we hope to emulate this 2019.

             Mary embodies the whole meaning of that saying “TIME is not for those who love” as she presents to us not only the first but the perfect disciple of Jesus who loves Him so much.  St. Paul beautifully expressed in the second reading when time is not because of love which is “the fullness of time” (Gal.4:4).  When we love, there is fullness of time as if everything is suspended in animation, everything is frozen.  Every man who had courted any woman knows this very well of how time freezes when conversing with a beloved, not realizing the passing of time.  Old couples experience the same thing and so are good friends who could “waste” time together doing nothing, saying nothing to one another that after a few hours are all surprised at how long we have been together.  Time and space cease to bound people who truly love.  And that is why“if you want to be eternal, then, love” like God.

             People who love are always in haste not to do things or accomplish tasks but to be with their loved ones.  Luke tells us how “The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger” (Lk.2:16) after a heavenly host of angels proclaimed to them the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ.  We also heard from Luke during our Simbang Gabi after the annunciation of the birth of Jesus when “Mary set out and travelled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah” (Lk.1: 39).  This is the kind of haste – to come quickly to meet God, to be with a beloved, dear one – that is slowly fading away among us in this crazy world always on a mad race.  Everybody is rushing, running around, multitasking to accomplish so much that deplete us of energy even of time to be with our loved ones.  Many parents are guilty of this who turn nights into days making money to send their kids into expensive schools because of love; yet, when you ask them to attend a school meeting, to get the card of their children, they send the grandparents or nannies because they are busy at work.  More so with God as seen in the steady decrease of Mass attendance with people coming in late and then rushing to leave for meals and other things.  And admittedly, this is partly because so many priests are also in a rush to celebrate more masses and sacraments sadly for the wrong reasons and most of all, many of us could not share Jesus in homilies because we could not even come to Him for prayers.  It is simply a case of lack of any concern for God despite professions of faith or belief in Him.  Would we be like the shepherds if a host of angels appear tonight or today to tell us where Jesus Christ is?  Would we go in haste to find God, to meet God?  Would we be in haste to be with our loved ones, really?

         In this age of instant connections and social media via modern communications, actual meetings and coming together person to person have been replaced by mediated interactions.  We hardly experience anyone’s presence anymore that relationships have become superficial without any depths and meaning at all.  There is always the TV and the gadgets to entertain everyone, forgetting the tremendous blessing of everyone’s presence.  In the first reading we heard how God instructed Moses and Aaron to bless the people whenever they gather because every human presence is a blessing, a gift or a present.  And the highest blessing we can all have is the presence of God among us in Christ Jesus!  Mary as the Mother of Jesus is teaching us today that God is always present within us and with one another.  Let us not waste our time rushing for so many things that we only realize the giftedness of everyone most especially of our very selves when we are already old or sick.  Mary as the Mother of God and our Mother too shows us the need to always be in haste to meet Jesus right here inside us for He is here to stay with us, to be with us for the next 365 days of 2019, come rain or shine, no matter what.  AMENFr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.

Photo of another painting by Bulakenyo visual artist Aris Bagtas depicting Mary with the child Jesus in lively colors, going out perhaps to meet the rainy new year.  Used with permission.