Our secret worries in life

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday XXVIII-B in Ordinary Time, 10 October 2021
Wisdom 7:7-11 ><]]]]*> Hebrews 4:12-13 ><]]]]*> Mark 10:17-30
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 2020.

Recently we have seen Jesus answered very well the questions thrown to him by his enemies with evil intentions of entrapping him. But, in his answers we find Jesus so focused to his mission of revealing the will of God our Father which sin had destroyed.

Last Sunday Jesus showed us that more than the unity of husband and wife, God had always willed our entering into communion in our human relationships after a Pharisee asked him about the issue of divorce. Today, two men with good intentions and disposition came forward to ask Jesus important questions we also ask, something we may consider as “secret worries” that disturb us while following him.

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments…” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Mark 10:17-19, 20-21

Our first secret worry: entering heaven.

How many times have we asked the same question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life”? It is in fact one of the most FAQ’s to us priests, always begging for so many clarifications from every inquirer because it is indeed so important especially during this time of the pandemic.

Photo by author, 2020.

To inquire about eternal life means we are not that far from heaven because to think about it reveals our inner desires to be one with God our Father who is both our origin and destination.

The question in itself is a sign of grace, something we must always ask with the proper disposition coming from deep inside us who know very well that it is not enough to merely follow the commandments, to do what we were taught by our parents and teachers, catechists and religious instructors, and priests.

As we mature in faith or simply go on with life, we realize something is still lacking in all these religious practices we have like prayers and being good with others. There seems to be a “Someone” pulling us closer to do more to gain eternal life.

To be at this stage like that man in the gospel means we are a fertile soil where the word of God has taken root and starting to grow, but surrounded by brambles and other shrubs that need to be cleared with some weeds too that must be removed.

And there lies the painful truth: we have to let go of things like possessions and inclinations that give us false securities and thus prevent us from growing deeper in faith, in being more faithful to God and being more like Jesus Christ in forgetting one’s self.

See how Mark described Jesus looking with love on the man in elaborating the path to heaven, contrasting it with how “his face fell” upon hearing the Lord’s statement.

Today, Jesus reminds us that eternal life is a gift from God, freely given to everyone but we have to make a clear stand and decision to have it. We have to do something and cannot be like Juan Tamad by simply waiting for the fruit to fall from the tree.

While it is very clear in the Lord’s explanation that on our own we cannot do anything about it because “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God” (Mk.10:27); however, after Jesus had accomplished our salvation by dying on the cross when he declared “It is finished” (Jn.19:30), he also signaled the start of doing our part in his saving mission.

How?

By going back to his central teaching he had reiterated twice these two Sundays – be like a child to welcome God’s gift and grace of entering into the kingdom of heaven!

We cannot let go of our possessions to join Jesus on his way of the cross to enter heaven unless we become like children welcoming and trusting God. But, this is something we cannot do on our own; we need the grace of wisdom which we have heard at the first reading.

As the author of the Book of Wisdom tells us, nothing is comparable to wisdom which we must all prefer above all in this world, enabling us to discern and judge things wisely. In his reflection, wisdom is beyond human grasp, a grace from God we must pray for like King Solomon who asked a heart that can distinguish what is good and what is bad.

When we have wisdom, that is when we are able to “sell everything” and empty ourselves of our pride and other impurities to welcome the Holy Spirit to guide and enlighten us in our lives. That is when we begin to allow God to work in us to gain our salvation, our eternal life.

Hence, the need for us to pray daily for wisdom, most especially when Jesus tells us of the many persecutions that come in following him!

Photo by author, 2019.

Our second secret worry: what about us following Jesus?

Let’s admit it: of the Twelve Apostles, we can easily identify with Peter the most often because of his big mouth, of his “damned honesty” in blurting out what is inside us especially when these pertain to things about our faith and relationship with Jesus.

Like Peter, there is always that “secret worry” if what we have done is good enough to be rewarded by God like entry into heaven. We do it so often in prayers and in those unguarded moments when we complain to Jesus about difficulties and trials we encounter that we worry about all our efforts going nowhere.

There is that “secret worry” within some of us who strive to become good persons, feeling “entitled” to something better considering we are less sinful and evil than others.

Peter began to say to him, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in the present age; houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”

Mark 10:28-30

Here we find the goodness of Jesus who looked with love on the disciples and people without putting Peter to shame with his daring question.

What I like most here is the sense of humor of Jesus after he had assured Peter with all the rewards including eternal life for those who have left everything behind to follow him by adding “persecutions” as perks!

So funny but true! Like with the Pharisee last Sunday, Jesus must have read the mind of Peter in asking that question, assuring him it will not be as easy as a walk in the park to heaven.

There will always be persecutions. There will be a lot of difficulties and trials, pains and sufferings. And it begins when we truly give up our possessions, our false securities in life, our very selves.

When we reflect deeply into our lives and examine everything we have done and given for God, we realize that we have not really given up that much or anything at all. Whatever we give up and share with others, both material and spiritual, are all from God. We do not really give up anything at all because there is nothing here in this life that is purely ours! If we give love and mercy, if we share knowledge and wisdom, time or treasure or talent – they are all from God given to us meant to be shared with others!

Photo by author, 2019.

It is difficult to follow Jesus. The only thing very clear and definitive with us at the moment is the word of God that the Letter to the Hebrews described as “living and effective, sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Heb.4:12).

The more we immerse ourselves in the word of God, the more we gain wisdom and learn to discern his Divine Will so that in turn we are able to follow Jesus on the Cross that leads to eternal life.

In these two Sundays while Jesus journeyed with his disciples towards Jerusalem for his pasch, Jesus had tried to reorient ourselves into the true demands of following him that is so radical in bringing us back to God himself.

Yes, it is not easy but we are in good company with Jesus our Brother, our Lord and Savior.

Are we ready to leave everything to follow him?

Have a blessed week ahead!

Righteous acts of God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Red Wednesday, 25 November 2020
Revelation 15:1-4     >><)))*>  +++  <*(((><<     Luke 21:12-19
Photo by author, Red Wednesday 2020.

Once again, dear Jesus, we pray in the most special way this Red Wednesday for your persecuted Church including those severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic like the medical frontliners, the survivors and their families, and the poor who have sank deeper into poverty due to the prolonged lockdowns we have had.

We pray that we may find your good news behind every persecution we suffer and go through as a community of your believers and disciples because where there are sufferings, there are hearts and souls willing to comfort, willing to share, willing to sacrifice.

When there are sufferings, there is the color RED that means LOVE because that is when we have your Cross, Jesus Christ, and therefore share in your own destiny of glory!

It is in every shade of red like the blood poured out by Christ and the martyrs after him that the Father’s “righteous acts have been revealed” (Rev.15:4), that is, when we experience more of God’s protection and salvation in the face of grave dangers and even death.

Grant us the grace, Lord Jesus, to persevere in your words and ways so we may secure our lives in you. Amen.

Photo by author, Red Wednesday 2020.

St. Paul in time of Covid-19: need to be focused more on Jesus

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 05 June 2020
Ceiling of the main altar and dome of the Malolos Cathedral, 12 June 2019. Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the most severe test the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines has ever faced, striking on the final year of her preparations for the quincentenary of the coming of Christianity in the country.

Making things worst is the “unfriendly” Administration whose policies contradict almost every known Church teaching, from the most basic GMRC and decency to the sanctity of human life.

In this three-part series of reflections, I wish to share with you my brother priests and lay partners in our ministry some lessons I have found in the life and teachings of St. Paul the Apostle that is centered on the person of Jesus Christ.

He never gave specific instructions and answers in dealing with the many issues and problems that confronted the early Church that may help us in the present generation; but, he had taught us to be always centered on Christ, measuring everything in him and his Cross.

Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… Through it you are also being saved… For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: the Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.

1 Corinthians 15:1-3
A sculpture of St. Paul the Apostle upon the entrance to the Malolos Cathedral by the renowned ecclesiastical artist Mr. Willy Layug. Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza, 12 June 2019.

The gospel thrives most in hostile environment

St. Paul lived in a time very similar with ours when great developments and changes were overtaking the world with the usual problems of poverty and inequalities due to growing materialism, and persecution of the Church.

Instead of seeing them as problems, St. Paul saw them as opportunities to spread the Gospel because his sole focus was the Lord Jesus himself and his Cross.

In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But wicked people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But you remain faithful to what you have learned and believed…

2 Timothy 3:12-14

When the former Mayor of Davao City assumed the presidency and started lashing out us priests and bishops with his profanities and vitriol including blasphemies against God and Pope Francis, we all expressed our indignation and opposition.

And rightly so! – even in fighting for Kian and those fallen by tokhang as well as the victims of injustice and fake news.

As days moved into months and years, with more vulgarities and lies dished out by the man at MalacaƱang, there also appeared some silver linings over Pasig River but many of us in the clergy have refused to see and admit— that some of his accusations are true. Although these are more of the exception than the rule, there are indeed some priests leading inauthentic lives far from their vows of poverty and celibacy with others pretending to be shepherds of souls who do not smell like their sheep because they are more keen in amassing wealth and gaining fame and popularity.

Worst of all are those who have sold their souls to politicians for some petty favors and a taste of power, of being seen with the rich and famous.

I am not putting down our priests. There are more good and holy priests working faithfully and silently not only in our country but everywhere in the world.

What I am trying to say since our “persecution” by the present Administration began, this is a wake-up call for us priests to shape up and regain our bearings in Christ.

Actually, it had been coming since the previous Administration, too. For the longest time we have been lording it over the people with our abuses and excesses hiding in the excuse as “alter Christus” but, now the changing times have finally caught on us, demanding more transparency and honesty on our part.

Like with the experience of St. Paul, these situations of “persecution” with a pandemic are calls for our conversion in Christ anew, something that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has been insisting that we priests go back to Jesus, especially in the Blessed Sacrament.

Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza, ordination to the diaconate at the Malolos Cathedral, 12 June 2019.

Like St.Paul, priests are first a witness of Jesus Christ

This time of crisis due to COVID-19 and the continued “persecution” by an unfriendly administration that has continued to keep our churches closed for no sane reason at all can be a grace-filled moment for us if we allow Jesus Christ to shine in us by bringing hope and inspiration to our people saddled with so much burdens due to COVID-19 and the government’s inconsistencies in managing the pandemic.

It is here where we are most expected by the people to be at the forefront but – unfortunately – we have been silent in asserting our religious freedom to worship within the rules and protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Only Bishop Pabillo of Manila had spoken against the “laughable policy” of allowing only five and ten people inside the church in areas under ECQ and GCQ, respectively.

Making matters worst was how the CBCP issued its statement reminding us priests and bishops to follow the directives and guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases regarding the celebration of the Mass! Instead of supporting the lone voice championing our rights to celebrate Mass in public, the CBCP just repeated the same situation when Jesus saw the crowd who have followed him to the wilderness, “sheep confused and lost without a shepherd” (Mt.9:36).

How sad we have given up the fight so easily to have our churches opened in the transition from ECQ to GCQ.

More sad now are the bishops and priests again in the news – filled with fire and courage – speaking out loudly against the anti-terror bill recently passed by Congress.

No problem fighting oppressive measures by any administration but to miss out that same fervor and zeal for our own rights and duties to provide the essential spiritual nourishment of our people at this time is something disturbing, something St. Paul would not allow to happen.

Yes, it is part of our priesthood to fight for people’s rights but always in the light of Jesus Christ.

St. John Paul II had shown us in recent history what it is when while still a priest and later as bishop in Poland, he spoke only of the words of God in the scriptures and fruits of his prayer that he was able to tore down the Iron Curtain his homeland and eventually throughout Europe.

St. Paul never played partisan politics like our Lord Jesus Christ, considering how they have lived at a time rife with occasions to be politicized. He never missed addressing social issues in the light of the gospel as he wrote one of his friends – presumably rich and influential – regarding a slave named Onesimus:

To Philemon, our beloved and co-worker… Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.

Philemon 1, 15-16

How sad when we priests speak of so many things like current events and other trends without giving the people the Word of God.

It is even a scandal when we priests are more busy with social advocacies forgetting we are first of all a “man of the Word” according to Vatican II.

Let us not forget St. Paul’s reminder that though we are in the world, we are not of the world:

Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:2

The gospel of Christ thrives most in hostile environment and situations but that does not mean going out like activists with clenched fists and raised voices walking the streets. We are not going to change the world; Jesus will — if we can proclaim him in words and in deeds.

The other week as we neared the conclusion of the Easter Season, one of the first readings on weekdays touched me so much, wondering if we priests can also say with all sincerity St. Paul’s words at Miletus when he spoke to the presbyters of the Church of Ephesus before sailing to Jerusalem for his trial:

So be vigilant and remember that for three years, night and day, I unceasingly admonished each of you with tears… I have never wanted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You know well that these very hands have served my needs and my companions. In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus…

Acts of the Apostles 20:31, 33-35

According to St. Luke, after those words, the people wept loudly as they threw their arms around St. Paul and kissed him. He was so loved by the people because of Jesus Christ, not of his very self.

Surely, like Jesus, St. Paul stretched out his arms and hands more to pray over people after hearing their confessions and problems, spent longer hours praying in silence or writing his letters to the various churches he founded, strengthening and inspiring them in Christ than be out on the streets seething with anger against any despot and regime.

On Monday our second part in the series, Fighting our detractors like St. Paul in time of COVID-19.

St. Paul saying goodbye to Ephesians at Miletus on his way to Jerusalem to face trial.