Everything begins in God

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul
Fifth Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle B, 07 February 2021
Job 7:1-4, 6-7 >><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23 >><}}}*> Mark 1:29-39
Photo by author, January 2021.

Mark continues to show us a slice in the daily life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We have seen last week how everything began at the synagogue where Jesus preached and healed on a day of sabbath.

The Lord is clearly telling us that everything must begin and end in God. Always.

This Sunday we see a complete 24-hour look not only into the life and ministry of Jesus but most specially to his very person as the Christ, the Son of God as he continued his preaching while proclaiming his good news of salvation to everyone.

And to truly experience him and his gospel, we have to make that effort of meeting him.

On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waiting on them.

Mark 1:29-31

Day time with the Lord…

Photo by author, morning inside our parish church during last summer’s lockdown.

We all know by heart God’s third commandment to keep holy the sabbath day. This commandment was perfected in Jesus Christ when he rose again on Easter, the day after sabbath which is our Sunday celebration.

It is true that sabbath day is Saturday but when Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, the early Christians who were all Jews shifted their day of worship to Sunday. Such shift was very remarkable, proving beyond doubt the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus for the Jewish followers of Christ to abandon their Saturday worship.

In Jesus Christ, we find sabbath not just a stop in work and everything but a return to God who is our life. Such is the centrality of God in our lives that sabbath is the day of the Lord because it is the only day without any other day at par with – walang katapat kasi walang katapat ang Diyos! See there are seven days in a week, an odd number because there is one day without any “partner day” like for example Monday-Tuesday, Wednesday-Thursday, Friday-Saturday.

Photo by author, parish altar one morning in November 2019.

Sabbath which is Sunday for us Christians is solely for the Lord!

The four disciples of Jesus must have known earlier of the fever of Simon’s mother-in-law; they must have been worried but they went along with Jesus to the synagogue to pray and worship God first, casting aside all their worries for they were with the Lord.

It was after coming from the synagogue, when Mark tells us how “they immediately told him about her” that they witnessed and experienced an outpouring of grace in their home and family.

That imagery of Jesus grasping the hand and raising her up is so rich in meaning that tells us how God helps those who help themselves.

Imagine how even if we do not pray daily nor celebrate Mass weekly yet God never fails to bless us every day. How much more if we come and meet him every Sunday!

Here we find how every true worship of God with the community extends to our families when we bring home Jesus if we are with him so we can immediately tell him our concerns in life. Jesus comes daily to us, always wanting to hold our hands and raise us up to be well and better than before like Simon’s mother-in-law but, are we willing to meet him especially in the Holy Eucharist?

In the first reading, we find Job crying to God, lamenting his many sufferings and the sad condition of life in general, something like what Qoheleth had written. It is not a cry of revolt by Job but more of a complaint coming from the heart of a faithful servant caught between despair and hope who finds life’s nothingness without God. Despite his losing all his children and workers in a day along with his properties not to mention his getting sick, Job never turned away from God and kept on calling to him in the silence of his heart from daytime to evening until the Lord heard him and blessed him fourfold.

When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door… Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon those who were with him pursued him… He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

Mark 1:32-33, 35-36, 38-39

Remaining in the Lord even in darkness…

Photo by author of seminarians meditating in silence after their evening prayers, November 2020.

It was still Saturday but sabbath day had already ended at 5PM (having started at 5PM of Friday) that people have started to come to Jesus to seek his healing from their sickness and possessions by evil spirits.

Darkness did not stop Jesus from serving the people despite the difficulties of seeing them, of being so tired and hungry at night, even sleepy. Likewise, darkness did not prevent Jesus communing with the Father by rising before dawn to go to a deserted place to pray alone. What a very beautiful image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd lovingly serving the sick and the poor and as our Eternal Priest making time to pray, ensuring prayer as center not only of his ministry but of his life.

According to recent studies, Filipinos rank as the highest users in the world of social media for the sixth straight year in a row, spending an average of more than four hours and 15 minutes daily (https://www.rappler.com/technology/internet-culture/hootsuite-we-are-social-2021-philippines-top-social-media-internet-usage)

That is 28 hours a week, meaning we lose one whole day or 24 hours weekly just for Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms! Not included are the hours spent watching television. How about time with God and with our loved ones?

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera during our Christ the King procession, November 2020.

Please allow me now to be a little personal as this is also my last full week in this first parish I have served for nine years and seven months.

If there is one thing I have learned so well from here is the value and importance of less.

Since my ordination in 1998 until 2010, I have always been celebrating Masses in major parishes like the Malolos Cathedral, the Santissima Trinidad in Malolos (a pilgrimage parish), and the Parish and National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Valenzuela. Every Mass, every sacrament there was really big time with large congregations coming.

Totally the opposite here in my first parish assignment under the beloved disciple of Jesus, St. John Evangelist. Small church building without a garage nor a patio in one small baranggay with about 12000 souls to care for.

Our Patron Saint, San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista of Bagbaguin, Santa Maria, Bulacan.

My predecessors saw this as too small that they did not have daily Masses. But I felt in my prayers that is the only thing Jesus wanted me to do here: make him present in the daily Masses and other sacraments.

We started with just five people attending our daily Masses while Sundays were half-filled. Before COVID-19, we have increased attendees to our daily Masses to about 20 people and our Sunday celebrations have become almost seating capacity.

At first I felt sad and disappointed but the people here kept on telling me it is a miracle already that “so many people” were coming for the Masses. Slowly, I have come to accept our situation that that’s the way it is. And that is where I felt God blessing us so abundantly with our less!

Modesty aside, in the past nine years we have sent more children to receiving the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Confirmation (without any fees but with free snacks) since 1998 when this started as a quasi parish. We have almost baptized every adult person who have not yet received the sacrament too.

COVID-19 stopped everything, affecting our collections so bad but we just kept on serving and proclaiming Jesus with our daily Masses seen online, motorcade of the Blessed Sacrament every week, distribution of the Holy Communion every Sunday to those who attended our online Mass including through our innovative “drive-thru” Communion.

01 November 2020.

We never beg the people for donations but they all poured in, enabling us to continue helping the poor like helping them bury their dead, even renovate our church with the finest liturgical vessels and things!

One thing has become clear with me: always begin in God, keep him as our center in everything and all else follows.

Remember those days when you were centered in Christ; despite the problems and trials, we were never forsaken by the Lord. Even if we have lost some of our life’s battles, we have still emerged victorious because we have become stronger and fulfilled inside.

We all come and go, especially us priests but, our mission as disciples of Christ remains the same everywhere which is to make Jesus present, make God known to everyone like in the gospel today. This we can only accomplish when we remain one in him, totally free for him and free from other attachments to be free for all.

Like St. Paul, may we all strive especially us your priests to be “all things to all men” -omnia omnibus (1Cor.9:22) by being free to lovingly serve others especially the weak and the poor in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son praying in our parish, November 2019.

Advent is being consistent

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B, 20 December 2020
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16  >><)))*>  Romans 16:25-27  >><)))*>  Luke 1:26-38
Photo by author, Christmas 2019.

We are now on the final week of our four Sundays of preparations for Christmas. We have been saying Christmas 2020 is surely the most different and difficult in our lives due to the pandemic. However, it may also be the most meaningful when we have more of spiritual values, less of material things; more of the other persons, less of ourselves; and, more of Jesus, less of the Christmas trimmings.

Today we heard the beautiful story of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus Christ found only in the gospel of Luke, the source of many inspirations in arts for many centuries even today. The scene reveals to us the artistry and spirituality of Luke believed to be a medical doctor who was a disciple of St. Paul. He is the only evangelist who admitted he had “investigated everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence (the events about Jesus Christ) so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received” (Lk.1:3-4).

And what is that certainty Luke looked into? That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises to the patriarchs and prophets, who is the very presence of God among us. That is why Luke wrote a second volume to his gospel, the Acts of the Apostles to show us Jesus still present in the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit. In this beautiful canvass painted to us by Luke on Jesus the Christ in his Gospel and Acts we also find in a supporting role the Blessed Virgin Mary, His own Mother and model disciple.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. then the angel said to her, “do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end”

Luke 1:26-33

The discipleship of Mary

As a former journalist, I have always considered the four evangelists as the premiere reporters of Jesus Christ. Mark is the old school type of straight news reporting, writing the basic who, what, where, when and why, making his gospel the first to be written and shortest as he was in a hurry, a true journalist. Matthew is more of a feature writer or interpretative reporter while John was a news analyst, an op-ed columnist.

Luke is the modern journalist using the “digital platform” who goes on “live as it happens” with all the colors and actions without losing depth and focus like the BBC and Al Jazeera. He brings us where the news is happening as you must have noticed yesterday in the story of the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah which also served as introduction to his lead story of Christmas, the annunciation of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Here we see the unique position of Mary as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke tells us how Mary is the only one to have believed in a “situation of contemporaneity” as Fr. Cantalamessa would love to say, meaning, she believed while the event was taking place and prior to any confirmation by the event or history.

See how Matthew presented some facts already known to him in narrating the annunciation to Joseph where the angel clarified Mary’s pregnancy was due to the Holy Spirit. Luke, on the other hand, is like reporting live in real time, so realistic with Mary and the angel conversing to each other!

Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, mosaic of the Annunciation at the San Padre Pio Church in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, 2016.

Writing in Greek like the rest of the authors in the New Testament, Luke did not use the usual Hebrew greeting of “Shalom” when Gabriel appeared to Mary, addressing her instead with chaire or “Rejoice favored one” that means especially graced from which came our translation from the Latin “Hail, full of grace!” in 1:28.

The favor or grace of Mary has found with God in 1:30 is explained in 1:31 in the future tense, “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son“. What is amazing here is that there is the sense of certitude on the part of the angel that the future will definitely take place because Mary has already been highly favored one by God before this event. How?

Though Mary will finally become a disciple at the end by saying “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” in 1:38, we find in 1:29 how she had always been disposed to the will and grace of God when Luke described how “she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be“.

Mary “pondered – meaning, she prayed, she meditated right away the greetings to her, indicating her openness and disposition to listen and follow the will of God. That shows how even before the annunciation happened, Mary had always been obedient to God that is why she could say yes to Him when asked to be the Mother of the Savior.

Here we find Mary’s consistency as a disciple of the Lord, her Son Jesus still to be born but already existing in eternity!

When we were growing up, our mother would always tell us that once our names are called either by her or by our father, we only say one thing, “Opo… ano po iyon?” (Yes, what is it?). That is old school discipline where we literally obeyed first even without any instruction yet because we have always been assured parents would never tell kids to do something bad or wrong. And we believed that. Unlike today’s generations where the usual reply to parents’ call is “wait” that no wonder, we now ask God wait before he can speak to us. Thank God I did not get married….

Going back to Mary, we now find the contrast with yesterday’s annunciation to Zechariah: Mary pondered and felt everything in her heart and soul while Zechariah reasoned out, used more his head than his heart – something we must ponder this Christmas. Mary right away had her heart, her very self onto the Christmas Nativity while Zechariah was stuck in his negativity.

Mary believed while the event, the annunciation, was taking place, prior to any confir­mation by the event itself or by history. Later we shall see that expression “pondering in her heart” repeated often by Luke and also by John in presenting Mary: after listening to the words of the shepherds who came to see baby Jesus at His birth in Bethlehem, at finding Jesus at the temple aged 12, and during the wedding feast at Cana where He did His first miracle.

Photo by author of the site where the annunciation to Mary took place found below the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth (2019).

The faith of Mary

From the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to His crucifixion, Easter and Pentecost, Mary always believed. During the Visitation, Elizabeth praised her, becoming the first to call Mary as “blessed” because “you believed what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk.1:45).

Eight days after Easter, Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe! ” (Jn 20:29). Early at the annunciation, Mary was the first to have believed without having seen Jesus Christ!

Mary teaches us the importance of subjective faith or the act of simply believing and trusting God, a person-to-person relationship with Him.

But it is not enough because it could lead to isolationism when we become individualistic and begin to have our own concept of God like what is happening these days especially with many Catholics with their own interpretations of God, heaven, evil and sin among other things.

Like Mary, we need to cultivate also objective faith, believe in the content of faith of the community. Mary believed God relating with the ancient prophets and patriarchs of Israel which the angel mentioned to her during the annunciation. See that after the annunciation, Mary hastily went to visit Elizabeth to share her good news and her faith. In her we learn that faith leads to a mission that is seen in the context of a community, the Church where Mary was portrayed to us praying with the disciples of Jesus during the Pentecost at the Upper Room in Jerusalem.

So here we find the consistency of Mary even before the annunciation that continued on in the life of the Church we still experience today in her many apparitions and messages always centered on Jesus not herself.

That is the call of Advent to us all: to be consistently clear with our faith with the one to be born at Christmas, Jesus Christ who is the Son of the Father, our Savior promised in Old Testament, now the very presence of God among us.

People kneeling on the streets during our Christ the King celebrations, 22 November 2020.

It is not enough that we just pray and believe; like Mary, we need to get out of ourselves and give ourselves to God and the Church. This is especially true with us priests who seem to believe more to himself and to media than with God! We must constantly examine ourselves if we truly believe in what we preach, in the kind of lives we lead. Is Jesus still center of our lives or us that we are so concerned always with our “image”, always seeking “likes” and “followers” than anything else?

If there is anyone who should be the first to be consistent in faith in God in any community, that must be the priest or pastor.

A few weeks ago while striving through the many challenges of my personal life and my ministry since this pandemic began, a parishioner told me how they draw strength and inspiration from me. I asked her why and how? What does my personal life has anything to do with them?

She explained that whenever they see me still going through with my ministry, holding on in my prayers and daily Masses, still smiling and can still laugh and crack jokes — they just feel they too can overcome their trials and difficulties.

I have realized in that short conversation more than preaching and explaining faith and its content, people look more at how faithful are we truly are as men of faith. That aside from dispensing the sacraments and doing all the ministries in my parish, there is also the task so unknown to me before of enkindling the faith of my flock, of guiding and leading them to God based on how do I live that faith in God with joy and patience.

People believe in God and the Church when they experience their pastor believing first in God and the Church. Like the COVID-19 virus, faith is contagious that spreads by coming into contact with. We priests must be the first to be “infected” with faith in the parish so that everyone would be “positive” with it, creating a “pandemic” in faith!

That is the consistency of Mary as a disciple — she is a “carrier” of a deep, joyful and active faith in Jesus, “infecting” everyone so positively that despite the difficult and trying situations we are into, we celebrate Christ’s coming amid the pandemic.

A blessed Sunday as we prepare for Christmas!

Bayan ng Diyos, Biyaya ng Diyos

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larawan kuha ng may-akda, Marso 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On staying home in the parish

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 08 May 2020
Photo by author, dome of the Malolos Cathedral, December 2019.

I hope our bishop and my brother priests forgive me with this piece.

Or at least, understand my points and feelings about our clergy reshuffle due on June 30, 2020.

It is a long overdue reshuffle, twice postponed in 2018 and 2019.

We have all been looking forward to it.

In fact, I have packed all my things, so ready to go that since December, I have been saying good bye to my parishioners.

I have explained to them that I am so eager to transfer – not “leave” – because we have been programmed for it since 2018.

Besides, I strongly felt I have fulfilled my mission here in my current assignment which is my first parish to shepherd since 2011.

But came this COVID-19 pandemic.

Listening to Jesus in this quarantine

Admittedly, at the beginning of this quarantine I was still hoping that somehow our reshuffle in June will push through. But, everything changed slowly with me as the quarantine days moved on.

On the first Sunday of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), we borrowed a truck to bring around our parish the Blessed Sacrament.

I was so moved by the sight of the people waiting for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, kneeling on the street, some holding candles. There were people raising their hands praising God while others were in tears that made me think that despite our live streaming of the Mass, people were still longing for Jesus in reality through our ministry as priests.

Towards the end of our “libot”, we saw a rainbow.

Photo by Ms. Anne Ramos of our Social Communication Ministry.

I held the monstrance tightly and prayed hard, thanking Jesus for the grace to serve him, to bring him around my parish.

Most especially, I felt the rainbow as God’s reminder of his promise to Noah that he would never destroy earth, that he would take care of us in this pandemic.

As I prayed for my parishioners and loved ones to be delivered from the deadly COVID-19, I felt the Lord telling me to stay in my parish, to forget all about our reshuffle in June, and to take care of his flock entrusted to him.

I dismissed it, though I have always knew, the faintest voice within is always Jesus Christ.

Sharing Jesus in this quarantine

We kept that Sunday “libot” (going around) of the Blessed Sacrament, except on Palm Sunday when we blessed palms and on Easter when we brought around the parish the statue of the Risen Lord at dawn and afternoon to make the people feel Jesus is with us.

Last Sunday, against the advise of friends and relatives, I went to distribute Holy Communion to some parishioners after our 7AM Mass. Many came out to the streets to receive Jesus.

Again, there was a drizzle and soon after the last faithful received the Holy Communion, there was a heavy downpour.

“Pinagbigyan lang po tayo ng ulan, Father,” my tricycle driver told me.

I just nodded my head in agreement but deep inside, I felt Jesus crying with me, crying with us for all these sufferings and uncertainties we are going through.

In all these experiences nurtured in prayers, I felt Jesus asking me to stay, to remain in my current assignment.

Moreover, I am now more convinced we must forget all about this clergy reshuffle altogether while we are in a pandemic.

Photo from Reddit.com

Remaining in Jesus in quarantine, in suffering with his sheep

We are living in a very historic moment of humanity, a suffering so widespread the world over, perhaps eclipsed only by the two world wars of the past century.

We in the country, especially in our province of Bulacan, are so blessed we have never gone through wars and other major calamities except for the perennial floods of the rainy season.

This is the only time we are truly one in suffering with our people.

And to think, we are not yet suffering that much as priests unlike in Italy and Spain where many priests have died due to corona virus!

I am not asking nor praying for more sufferings, of getting infected with COVID-19.

Simply be with our people for a longer period of time not until we get a semblance of some “normalcy” from this pandemic.

Yes, that could take until 2021 or November the soonest because for us to be thinking or be preoccupied with our new assignments at this time must be the least of our concerns, even something we should not be thinking at all considering the plight of our sheep these days.

The quarantine must be heaven sent for us priests to finally go down on our knees to pray more often than before, to be silent and be one with the Lord again whom we have banished from our altars and ministry especially at this time when many of us have already fallen into the trappings of television and social media to become instant celebrities.

For those having problems in their parish, transferring to another assignment will not solve our many issues. We just have to accept the truth the problem is not among the people but in us, priests. This quarantine is a silver-lining to show the goodness within us, the Christ in us who have been muddled by past mistakes and misinterpretations by people and brother priests.

Photo by Lorenzo Atienza, carving of the Good Shepherd on the cathedra at our Malolos Cathedral.

Again, my apologies to our bishop and brother priests.

I have no intentions of knowing more nor claims to have received a message from God or his angels, not even in my dreams.

We may all be ready to transfer but, how about our people?

On May 11, we shall be commemorating the second year of the passing of Bishop Jose Oliveros.

I do not have fond memories with him.

But one thing I have learned from him is this: in 2006 I asked him permission for me to serve in Canada. He allowed me to go there to see for my self. He asked me to return after one year before making any decision because he told me, whatever is the will of God for me, God will surely let him know it too.

Glad I have obeyed him.

In the same way I am sure the Lord is speaking to us about his plans for our reshuffle.

Mine is just one.

Salamuch for listening.

The road to Emmaus from clarusonline.it