Standing before God

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 23 October 2022
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18 ><}}}}*> 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 ><}}}}*> Luke 18:9-14
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

Standing is a very powerful posture. It expresses our stance or – stand – on everything. Where we stand tells who we are, both positively and negatively. It is always good to make a stand on our beliefs, defending them, making a “gallant stand” on whatever or whomever we hold so dearly. However, no matter how hard we make a stand on just about everything and everyone, we cannot fake our stand because people could surely recognize if it is just mere “grandstanding” or self-serving like what politicians always do.

That is what Jesus is telling us today in his second series of teaching about prayer, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, of how two men stood before God in prayer at the temple.

Painting by French artist James Tissot, “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector” (1886-1894) from commons.wikimedia.org.

Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

Our lost sense of sinfulness

Right at the start, Luke tells us the purpose of this parable, “Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” But, we have to be careful in reading this parable lest we end up like the Pharisee of not seeing ourselves being addressed too by the Lord!

While the Pharisee is clearly in the bad light in his kind of prayer that revealed his self-centeredness, feeling so self-satisfied with his holiness that in fact he felt no need for God, his character invites us to guard against this temptation within us that we are not sinners. That is the sin of the Pharisee, the reason his prayer was not heard unlike that of the tax collector: the Pharisee saw himself as clean and spotless like God! And that is what we have to keep guard of ourselves in this time when we have lost our sense of sinfulness.

Photo by author, Jerusalem 2017.

We may not have the kind of self-righteousness of the Pharisee in public or in private, of claiming to be not like other people who are sinful and corrupt; but, still deep inside us is the temptation of forgetting that even a true saint remains a sinner who must constantly pray deep in his/her heart, “O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Such attitude is the deeper meaning of why we must be powerless before God in praying like the persistent widow last Sunday. It is not that only God is capable of giving us whatever we need but most of all, we have to accept and own by embracing wholeheartedly the fact we are all sinners. Recall how in 2013 after being elected as Pope, on his first interview Pope Francis was asked to describe himself as a person and he simply said, “I am a sinner.” Beautiful!

Holiness is not being sinless but being filled with God. Anyone who is filled with God is one who is always aware of his/her sinfulness. The more we get nearer to God, the more we see our sinfulness, our being dirty and weak. Hence, the more we pray to become better persons, to be one with God; we cannot be one in him and with him unless we realize our sinfulness. That Pharisee in the parable comes so strongly, so proud to God as if he were God himself too! Worst, he wanted God to commend him, to reward him for being so good. Why prayed at all if he did not need God?

We pray because we need God and that is the prayer that “pierces the clouds; that does not rest till it reaches its goal” – God – as Ben Sirach tells us in the first reading. That is the reason we begin our Holy Mass first with admission of our sins, of being sorry for them. We come to Mass because we need God first of all to cleanse us of our sins.

How true are we in admitting our sinfulness before God?

Consistency and humility in prayer

On the surface, the Pharisee in the parable was really commendable as he tried to be a good person, avoiding all kinds of sins, piously observing the demands of his faith like fasting and tithing. However, he lacked consistency and humility.

Consistency in prayer means our lives become a prayer itself. The prayers we recite and say to God expressed in so many ways should make us become more like God – loving and caring, kind and understanding, merciful and forgiving of others, not judgmental like the Pharisee.

St. Paul in the second reading offers us an example of how he had considered his life his prayer, an offering of himself to God like a “libation”.

Beloved: I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.

2 Timothy 4:6-7
Photo by Ms. Mira Mandal Sibal, 2021.

Sometimes, people comment how they find St. Paul as too proud especially when he speaks of his virtues and works like when he wrote “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). But, reading all his letters, one finds his powerlessness before God like the persistent widow last Sunday as well as his being powerful in God like the unjust judge who was converted like him and channelled all his talents and energies in proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles!

Most of all, in today’s parable, we find St. Paul who referred to himself as “the very least of the holy ones” (Eph.3:8) so much like the tax collector, sinful yet sorrowful for his sins. In short, not just consistent but most of all, filled with humility.

It will always be difficult to be consistent in life as every saint had proven to us. That is why we should never forget that reality – even the saints are sinful, needing God’s mercy and forgiveness. Nobody is perfect. When there is inconsistency in our lives and prayers, surely there is sin. But, are we humble enough to accept that fact like the saints?

That is why humility is so important as exemplified by the tax collector at the temple. He could not look up to heaven because he was so humbled by his sin, looking more into himself, into his heart, of how he had strayed so far from God that he longed to be near him again.

It is only in humility when we can realize also the sad truth that when we sin, we actually offend ourselves, not God! That is why our conscience bother us, we feel untidy. God remains God and perfect even if we sin. The Pharisee wrongly thought he was not offending God as he believed he was clean and sinless that is why he felt so entitled too. Unknown to him, the more he had sank deeper in misery in his lack of sense of sinfulness.

Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his son, January 2020.

When we lost our sense of sinfulness, that is when we are most inconsistent, when we are most lost. Without humility, we live in our false selves, wrongly believing we can do everything, including earning our own salvation which only God had done in Jesus Christ.

This Sunday, let us pray for the grace and virtue of humility that St. Teresa of Avila described as “walking in truth.”

Being humble is not putting ourselves down but actually the path to true greatness, exaltation. When we humbly accept our sins and sinfulness, that is when we are forgiven by God and we are able to rise to greater heights as we lose ourselves in God and in his wonderful plans for us.

This Sunday, let us stand before God admitting our sins like the tax collector, our being poor and lowly, insufficient and weak as in the first reading needing his grace so that like St. Paul, we may compete well in this life to finish this race by keeping the faith in Jesus Christ. Amen. A blessed and fruitful week ahead for all of us!

Remaining in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist, 18 October 2022
2 Timothy 4:10-17   ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>   Luke 10:1-9 
Photo by author, 2018.
Dearest Jesus:
as we celebrate today
the feast of your Evangelist
St. Luke, I pray for the grace
to be like him - prayerful
and faithful to you,
especially when 
things become so tough
and difficult.
Of the four Evangelists,
St. Luke emphasized most
your praying so often
to show your oneness
in the Father, of your
going to deserted places
to pray especially before
major events like the choice
of the Twelve Apostles
and the Transfiguration,
clearly showing that prayer
is the very center of the life 
of every disciple to be able 
to follow Jesus closely by
carrying the cross "daily" (Lk.9:23).

Like St. Luke,
may my life be a prayer,
a gospel in writing.
Photo by author, 2018.

Beloved: Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Luke is the only one with me.

2 Timothy 4:10-11
Let my prayers,
O dear Jesus, 
lead me to deeper
faith in you especially
when in severe tests
like St. Luke who remained
faithful to you by standing
by his mentor St. Paul 
even in prison.

Like St. Luke, keep me faithful
to you, Jesus, by always remembering 
the poor and marginalized in the
society especially the women
and the sinners this Evangelist
had put on the limelight
like Elizabeth, Anna the Prophetess 
and the widow of Nain 
as well Zacchaeus and Dimas.

Like St. Luke, keep me faithful
to you Jesus by being faithful too 
to your Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary: 
St. Luke was the only one who sought her
in Ephesus to give us the lovely story
of Christmas from the Annunciation 
to the Visitation, the Nativity and 
the Presentation up to her presence
at the Pentecost found in his
second book called the Acts,
the gospel of the Church
which is the other side of 
every fidelity to you and Mary
is fidelity to your Church!
Dearest Jesus,
in writing the Gospel 
and the Acts of the Apostles, 
you have touched St. Luke so deeply 
that he narrated your story in great details
as if he was touching you 
that in the process,
he has touched us too,
enabling us to experience 
as well as paint and picture 
your Divine Mercy for everyone
Amen.
Painting of “Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin” by Flemish painter Roger van der Weyden (1400-1464); photo from en.wikipedia.org.  

Seeing Jesus

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

Five things to keep in your pocket as you move on to Senior High

Homily by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Baccalaureate Mass, 04 July 2022
Grade Six and Grade Ten, Our Lady of Fatima University in Valenzuela City,
Fairview, Quezon City and San Fernando, Pampanga
Photo by olia danilevich on Pexels.com

Congratulations, our dear graduates in Grade Six and also to our “completers” of Grade Ten! As you “move up” to Junior and Senior High School, please consider these five things I strongly recommend you must always have in your pocket or purse as you pursue your dreams in life.

These are the fruits of my own journey from elementary school to college and professional life and later, as a priest in the past 24 years. I have shared these with my former students in Malolos and later when some of them got married and asked me to officiate their wedding, I have used this again as my homily.


First thing you must always have is a handkerchief.

Photo by Zaid Ali on Pexels.com

If you are a man, make it white. And better, make it two – one for wiping your face and the other for sneezing. Or, who knows, someone might need a handkerchief in an emergency; it is good to always have an extra one like in my experience here at the National Shrine last week when I officiated a wedding.

Forgive me, my dear students and parents and faculty members: I was aghast – shocked and so kadiri to see the groom crying and sniffing as he pressed his nose and rubbed his eyes with his fingers when he saw his bride walking down the aisle because he did not have a handkerchief! I hope the video editor had edited that part of his wedding. It was good that his best man had some paper napkins and gave it to him.

It was exactly what my father used to tell me in elementary school to always have a handkerchief to wipe dirt off my face, adding that “baka mamya mabahing ka at sumambulat mga sipon mo tapos ni wala kang panyo, nakakahiya ka.”

Very true! It is part of good hygiene. And remember that saying we learned in Grade One, “Cleanliness is next to godliness”. And that is the deeper meaning of having handkerchief always: for us to stay clean. Be faithful to God who gave us his Son Jesus Christ to wipe away and cleanse us of our sins. That is the message of the prophet Hosea in our first reading today: be faithful to God. Remain clean before the Lord.


Second thing you must have in your pocket or purse for ladies is money. Never leave home without some money, at least a hundred pesos in case of an emergency.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

My mother used to tell me whenever I would go out with my classmates on weekends to watch a movie or visit friends to always have some extra money, saying “baka makatisod ka ng isang tumpok na kamatis wala kang ibayad sa tindera”.

I’m sure you do not understand what I am speaking of: before the coming of supermarkets, during our time, vendors would sell their goods on sidewalks like tomatoes and calamansi that are always grouped together (that is, tumpok). There were no weighing scale then. If you are careless in walking, you might step on the tomatoes and surely, you will be charged to pay for it.

You are so lucky these days, children. During our time, we only have either baon like sandwich that was actually a pan de sal with Cheez Wiz or money; today, you both have baon and money!

And I won’t be surprised at all that some of you might have G-Cash too! My point is, have some money for emergencies. Learn to budget. Never spend beyond your means. And, be generous to those in need. Remember, money is important in life but not the most essential; learn how to manage your wealth at a young age.


Photo by Plush Design Studio on Pexels.com

Third, always have a pen or a ballpen. I was a reporter before but after I have resigned and went to the seminary to become a priest, I have realized the importance of having a pen like when you witness a hit and run accident: you can always write down on your palm the plate number of the vehicle in the accident.

In this time of the pandemic, it is very important to have your own pen than borrow or use those pens laden with virus and bacteria in filling up forms to enter an establishment.

It is sad that in this age of computers that had gone paperless, your generation is missing a great deal about life itself in the art of writing. Look at the penmanships of your elders, how legible their writings are unlike us today who are more used to pounding keys than “romancing” the paper with pen.

My lesson for you my dear students is that like the pen, always leave a mark. And the mark you must always leave is the mark of Jesus Christ. The marks of kindness and respect, of love and generosity. What marks are you leaving behind at our Basic Education Department?


Photo by Mk7 Bober on Pexels.com

Fourth, always have a comb. I am sure the ladies among you always have brush or even a blower or hair dryer in your bag! A comb is our best weapon for looking good even on “bad hair days” so to speak.

But please, do not comb your hair in public. Go to the washroom to fix your hair. It is not vanity. It is good grooming, having proper decorum before other people. You might say what is essential is invisible to the eye, of what is inside us; yes, that is true. But keep in mind that what others see in us outside, in our appearance is an indication of what is inside us. If you look good, most likely, you must be a good person because you give importance to others you meet by looking good!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Last but not least you must have in your pocket or purse is a Rosary. It is not an anting-anting meant to keep you safe from all harm. It is to remind you to always pray, to never forget God and our Lady of Fatima, our Patroness.

I know some of you are not Catholics but my message is simple: never forget God. Handle life with prayer. As you advance in your studies, there will be more trials and hardships coming your way. But Jesus is with you, will help you in everything. So, hold on to him. Imitate Mary his Mother, our Lady of Fatima in being a faithful disciple of Jesus by remaining at his side at the Cross. Always begin and end the day with prayer.

In our gospel today, Jesus brought back to life a dead young girl who was about 12 years old, the daughter of a synagogue official. Just like some of you today.

See how Jesus held her hand and raised her up. Notice also how Jesus turned his face toward that old woman who touched his garment along the way to be healed of her sickness? That is how Jesus Christ would always want to relate with us, with you especially, young people: always touching us, calling us by our name, speaking to us. But, do we listen to him?

Since I came here last year, I have been telling our students to study hard, work harder and pray hardest. To you, I say the same. And add these five things you must have in your pocket or purse. Hope to see you again in August as you rise to the top! God bless you all!

Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, springtime in Japan 2017.

Imitating Jesus, our Eternal Priest

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

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

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

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

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

Napaka-walang puso (so heartless)!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo by author, 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

John 17:1-2, 14-15

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

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

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

Ash Wednesday: rising from the ruins of life

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Ash Wednesday, 02 March 2022
Joel 2:12-18 ><}}}}*> 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 ><}}}}*> Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Image from Google.

For the third straight year, we enter the Season of Lent in the most unusual conditions in the world. Perhaps, even surreal. We had in 2020 the start of the COVID-19 pandemic persisting through 2021 up to the present that has altered the way we live and how we look at life.

Just when we felt like “Easter” coming in 2021, there came the stronger Delta variant at around this time that claimed so many lives among us.

Now in 2022 after we have all the vaccines available to put COVID-19 in control with a “tamer” variant Omicron, we have a more serious concern with Russia invading Ukraine.

To a certain degree, it is “good” this had happened at this time when we are starting the Lenten Season with Ash Wednesday that reminds us the question we should be asking is not “where is God” but “where are we, his people”?

It has always been the same question ever since – of “where are we in relation to God” every time there are man-made and natural disasters like wars and famine, epidemics and plagues, or earthquakes, drought and floods.

It is easier to blame God for all of our troubles because he is always silent, never answering us back; but, it is in his silence when we also realize the truth that we are the ones who have drifted apart from God, who have gone lost away from him who is always looking for us, waiting for us to come back.

It is in the silence of God that he is most present especially when we are deep in sin and sufferings.

Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. Why should they say among the peoples, “Where is their God?” Then the Lord was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people.

Joel 2:12-13, 17b-18
From istockphoto.com by Getty Images.

Lent: A coming home to God for us mortals, sinners, and ruined

Lent is a “coming home” to God with Ash Wednesday serving like a porch that leads us inside the “house of God” with each of its five Sundays acting like a door opening us closer and closer into the innermost room where God is.

In the shadows of the war in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic and the heated national elections in our country, let us focus on the practice of giving of ashes every Ash Wednesday which is a gesture often mentioned in the Bible.


Ashes remind us first of all, of our mortality, that we shall all die one day. This is the reason why we priests say “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” (Gen.2:7) while imposing ashes on your foreheads in the form of a cross.

And there lies the good news too of Ash Wednesday: we do not just die, rot and return to ash because at the end of time, we shall all rise again to become whole – body and soul – like Jesus Christ!

From ravenscov.org.

Though we are marked for death, Ash Wednesday reassures us of our resurrection and salvation in Christ signified by the ash in the form of a cross on our foreheads.

Ashes signal our readiness for repentance as expressed in the new formula in the imposition of ashes, “Turn from sin and believe in the Gospel”.

Recall how in the Book of Jonah when the king of Nineveh removed his royal robe, covered himself in sackcloth, and sat in ashes upon hearing Jonah’s preaching as he ordered too his people to do the same that averted the wrath of God.

In the gospels of Matthew and Luke, we find how Jesus lambasted the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida for not repenting upon seeing his mighty deeds, so unlike the pagans at Tyre and Sidon who would have “repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Mt. 11:21 & Lk.10:13).

Ashes also signify ruin, destruction and devastation in life like Job who had lost all precious to him when he said, “(God) He has cast me into the mire; I am leveled with the dust and ashes” (Job 30:19).

It is the most applicable signification of ashes to us today in this time of prolonged pandemic with its deep emotional and psychological impact on everyone trying to grapple with life’s many challenges as we try to start anew almost daily.

The feeling is best described by the Book of Lamentations in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem: “Those accustomed to dainty food perish in the streets; those brought up in purple now cling to the ash heaps” (Lam. 4:5).

Indeed, that ash on our foreheads reminds us of the ruin we are into as an individual, as a nation, as citizens of the world.

How often did we have to shelve and postpone our many plans in life since 2020 due to this pandemic with its recurring surges now worsened by this war at Ukraine launched by Russian president Putin?

We were already sighing in great relief the past weeks with declining cases of COVID when suddenly – to our great disbelief and dismay that this can still happen in the 21st century when Putin invaded Ukraine, casting the world into another grave danger of unimagined proportion.

And lastly, who does not feel ruined after all these years of the pandemic worsened by decadent politics that has gone into an abyss of filth and insanity?

Now more than ever we could feel and experience the “ash heap” we are into with only God who can raise us up and cleanse us again.

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, 21 February 2022.

Lent is a joyful season!

Contrary to what most people believe, Lent is not all that drab and dry. While its prevailing mood is of sobriety and seriousness in the light of its call for penance, fasting and almsgiving, Lent is a joyful season preparing us to Easter.

St. Paul tells us in the second reading that “now is the day of salvation”:

Brothers and sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 5:20, 6:2

To be reconciled with God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” begins right inside our hearts when we open it – rend – so it may be cleansed of sins for Jesus to dwell inside again.

Like our reflection last Sunday, it is the truth of the heart that must be expressed on this Ash Wednesday, that must be cleansed and “repaired” after so many beatings and ruins especially these past years (https://lordmychef.com/2022/02/26/taking-jesus-to-the-heart/).

It is the heart that must be strengthened and converted by our lenten practices because its purity is revealed by our very lives, the kind of life we lead, the aura we project even if half of our face is covered by the face mask.

This is the very essence of the Lord’s calls in the gospel to do these practices “in secret”, not be seen by others that it becomes more of a show. It is God whom we must please, not the people; to enter into one’s room is to enter into one’s self to meet God with our true selves, without our usual alibis, of ifs and buts.

From Google.

This is the grace of Lent that begins on this Ash Wednesday: it is God who actually comes to us, to meet us, to work in us in his “mercy and graciousness” so we may experience his loving presence again despite all our sins and troubles.

Life is a daily Lent, a cleansing of our hearts, a repairing of our hearts ruined especially when we have truly loved and ended up being misunderstood and persecuted.

Do not worry, human love is always imperfect; only God can love us perfectly. That is what Ash Wednesday is reminding us, that we are finite and sinful, ruined most of the time but always open to God who never leaves nor forsakes us his children.

In this spirit, let us also not forget that Lent is a journey we take with others, a daily exodus from darkness to light, from sickness to healing, from ruins to newness, from sin to forgiveness and grace.

Photo by author, Lent 2019.

We come home to God together as a people, as a family, as brothers and sisters in Christ.

May our gathering together on this Ash Wednesday be an occasion to free ourselves from the ever-growing threats of individualism that has marked our age with everyone feeling a celebrity, even playing God.

Please don’t forget to practice fasting and abstinence today to create a space for God and for others in your heart.

Have a blessed and safe Lenten season, everyone!

Becoming an adult Jesus Nazareno at Christmas

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday, Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, 09 January 2022
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 ><}}}*> Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7 ><}}}*> Luke 3:15-16,21-22
Photo from flickr.com by Mark S. Abeln, Resurrection Cemetery in Affton, Missouri, USA, 16 November 2010.

Today’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord closes the Christmas Season in the most unique way as we are again in another surge of COVID-19 while for the first time, not even during these past two years of pandemic, people are totally barred from celebrating the Mass outside the Quiapo church for the feast of the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno or the Black Nazarene.

It is the second consecutive year due to pandemic that there is no Traslacion of the Poon Nazareno but whereas before despite COVID-19 all roads led to Quiapo every January 09, all devotees today are directed to the website of the Minor Basilica of the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno to celebrate the hourly online Masses from dawn until late night tonight.

Police and Church officials have appealed to the public to stay home with the Archbishop of Manila assuring devotees of the grace and blessings still being granted to them by the Señor Nazareno through the “modern means of communications”.

Here we find a most wonderful grace of God for us to mature into an “adult Jesus” in this time still in the Christmas Season when we are invited to put some spirituality to our devotions that are both amazing but baffling even to us. How can we so devoutly Catholic as a nation be blind to all the corruption and disrespect for life going on in our country that we cannot progress like other Asian nations made worst by our choices of leaders in government?

As we close the Christmas Season before going into Ordinary Time tomorrow, let us not remain children but become adults like Jesus Christ when baptized at Jordan by John.

After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had 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.”

Luke 3:21-22
Photo by author, Ubihan River, Meycauayan, Bulacan, 31 December 2021.

Jesus as “one of us”, present among us

All four evangelists have their particular emphasis in narrating the baptism of Jesus at Jordan by John. For this year, we look into Luke’s version that celebrates the anointing and royal investiture of Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

Though there is no need for him to be baptized, Christ’s baptism at Jordan signified his solidarity with us sinners making us share in the gift of the Spirit he had received on that day, making each of us a “beloved child” of God with whom he is well pleased!

First thing we notice with Luke’s baptism account is the Lord being incognito during the baptism by John. There were no conversations or “debate” with John as Jesus was readily presented as among the crowd. It is a beautiful imagery by Luke of the Christ always present but unknown among us.

Jesus being with the people in Jordan River reminds us that Christmas does not mean only of him remaining a child lying in a manger because part of this season’s story is how he grew up and matured in wisdom and spirit in Nazareth, Galilee before embarking on his ministry and mission.

Imagine the Lord joining the sinners like tax collectors, soldiers, and perhaps with some prostitutes going to John for baptism without any special treatment whatsoever. From the very start, Jesus had been eating and conversing, interacting and living with sinners that include us today.

Photo by author of sisters posing along the Israeli border near Al-Maghtas in Jordan, the site where Jesus was baptized, May 2019.

His being immersed in Jordan River (that has always been dirty according to our pilgrimage guide) with the sinful people was a testament of his love and kindness for us without any hints of being judgmental to anyone. Whether we are in dire situations or in the midst of sins and evil or darkness and sufferings, we can always find Jesus standing with us, one with us, even reaching out to us. All we need is to be matured enough to open our eyes and our hearts like the people around him to admit we need conversion, we need God.

Second thing we immediately notice with Luke’s baptism account is Jesus at prayer when the heaven opened and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon him with a voice declaring, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”.

One distinct characteristic of Luke’s gospel is presenting Jesus always at prayer. In fact, all major events in his life in Luke’s gospel are always preceded by prayer, part of his artistry in teaching us about the importance of prayer.

Here in the baptism of Jesus at Jordan, we are reminded that prayer always precedes every divine revelation. Recall also during the Feast of the Holy Family a day after Christmas last year when we heard Luke’s account of the finding of Jesus at the temple when he told Mary how he must be at his “Father’s house” – of being one and united with the Father especially through prayer! The Christmas story is an everyday reality that happens with those who mature in their faith in Christ in prayers.

Prayer is more than the recitation of prayers and novenas nor of keeping a devotion; prayer is oneness with God. See that after narrating to us the baptism of Jesus at Jordan, Luke tells us the Lord’s genealogy traced back to “Adam the son of God”(Lk.3:38). Unlike Matthew who began his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus Christ, Luke puts his version of the Lord’s genealogy in the context of baptism at Jordan to show us Christ’s eternal birth in God. And this we all share in our Baptism, in our faith we nurture and celebrate daily in our prayer life.

The sad thing with our Christmas celebrations, along with that of the Holy Week, is how we immediately lose sight of the meanings of our feasts and devotions meant to make our lives centered on God. It is good to be led and carried by the signs of our liturgy but these were meant to inculcate in us, to deepen in us our relationship with God expressed through our relations with others which is what spirituality is all about.

This invites us today on this Feast of the Lord’s Baptism along with that of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo to examine our level of maturity in Jesus Christ whom we religiously and devoutly remember and celebrate during Christmas and Good Friday, the two most prominent dates of the Lord’s feasts tied up in this month of January.

Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, Quiapo, 09 January 2020.

Like Jesus Nazareno, we are consecrated to God

As we have mentioned at the start of our reflection, this is a most unique Sunday when we celebrate together two Christ feasts – the Lord’s Baptism and the Traslacion in Quiapo – with the former signaling the closing of Christmas and the latter as the most popular Christ devotion in the country.

Both feasts show us an adult Jesus in Christmas, especially the Black Nazarene of Quiapo.

When Matthew spoke of the Holy Family residing in Nazareth so that what the prophets spoke might be fulfilled that “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Mt.2:23), the evangelist was not referring to the Lord’s place of origin.

Nazareth is the only town in the New Testament never mentioned in the Old Testament to be of significance unlike Bethlehem. The word “Nazoraios” or Nazarene mentioned by Matthew refers to the overall designation of Jesus by the prophets as the hope and fulfillment of God’s promise that there shall come forth a “shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Is. 11:1). Shoot in Hebrew is from the word nezer which is also the context used by Isaiah in chapters 7 and 9 found in Isaiah 11:1 cited by Matthew.

If we add that in the inscription above the Cross, Jesus is called ho Nazoraios (cf. Jn.19:19), then the title acquires its full resonance: what at first sight refers simply to his origin, actually points to his essence: he is the “shoot,” he is the one completely consecrated to God, from his mother’s womb to the day of his death.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, pp. 117-118.

Now we get a complete picture of an adult Jesus Christ at the closing of Christmas Season.

Truly an Emmanuel, God-with-us, whom we so often fail to recognize journeying with us in life specially at its most difficult moments because we continue to refuse to grow and deepen in our spiritual maturity in him in prayers.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the first reading telling us “Here is your God! Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care” (Is.40:9, 11).

Let us heed the calls by St. Paul in the second reading that we “reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and our savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12-13).

Have a blessed and safe week ahead, everyone! Amen.

Photo from Google.com.

Advent is beginning with the end in sight

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
First Sunday of Advent-C, 28 November 2021
Jeremiah 33:14-16 ><}}}*> 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2 ><}}}*> Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Photo by author, Malolos Cathedral, 2019.

Blessed happy New Year, everyone!

Today we are celebrating a new calendar year in the Church with this First Sunday of Advent. From the Latin word adventus meaning arrival or coming, it was adapted by the early Christians from the Roman practice of preparing for the visits or assumption to power of their emperors then considered as “gods”.

It is most fitting that we prepare not only outside but most especially inside our very selves for the coming of the true God and King of kings, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior!

Hence, Advent not only opens but also defines our whole liturgical year that is centered on Christ who has come, who comes now and will come again in the end of time. This is the reason why our gospel this Sunday is looking towards the end of time at the beginning of our Church calendar.

The three comings of Jesus Christ

Advent has two aspects: beginning today the First Sunday of Advent until December 16, all readings and prayers are oriented towards the Second Coming of Christ; from December 17 to the evening of the 24th, our focus shifts to the first coming of Jesus at Christmas.

Between these two comings of Jesus that the Season of Advent reminds us is what St. Bernard of Clairvaux called as the Lord’s “third coming” – his coming everyday into our lives, especially in the celebration of the Sacraments, particularly the Holy Eucharist.

Photo by author, 2019.

Again we find that tension of his being here but not yet. It is in that between his first coming more than 2000 years ago and his Second Coming which no one knows exactly when where we are situated daily, making everyday Christ’s Advent.

“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

Luke 21:27-28

It may sound frightening to hear Jesus spoke of the signs of his coming but at closer look and reflections, we find it filled with joy because our redemption is at hand!

Yes, every ending forebodes destruction and passing of the old but that is in order to give way to something new, something better which Jesus had promised his disciples then and us now.

The grace of this season of Advent is the reawakening of our hope in the salvation that has already come in Jesus, who still comes now, and will surely come again in the end of time which is happening in every here and now.

That is why, there is also the sense of urgency and vigilance this Advent.

We are already living in the end-time Jesus had predicted as we have seen in the wars and conflicts going on among nations, the natural calamities happening around the globe made worst by the climate change plus this pandemic we are now having. But, it does not mean the creation will end soon as portrayed in many Hollywood films because these signs are calls for us to be ready and prepared for the final end that will prelude the new beginnings of all.

The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah… In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure; this is what they shall call her: “The Lord our justice.”

Jeremiah 33:14, 16
Photo by author, 2018.

Meeting Jesus in Advent

Notice how Jeremiah’s prophecy so “pregnant” with meanings: more than the coming of the promised Messiah is the radical newness of the whole creation. Judah and Jerusalem, the main province and city of Israel at that time will be transformed, referring to John’s vision in the Book of Revelation of “new heaven and new earth”.

As we have said, Advent not only opens our liturgical calendar but also defines the whole year which is the daily coming of Jesus who had come over 2000 years ago and will come again at the end of time which nobody knows.

Meanwhile, in this “third coming” of Jesus everyday, we find God working in him silently and subtly in the human history and right in our individual lives.

It is in our faithful waiting when Jesus Christ comes. It is the beauty and joy expressed by Jeremiah’s words “the days are coming” that assure us no matter how dark and bleak are our days, despite all the destructions and even death around us, the days are coming when we see everything getting better because God never stops working in our midst in Jesus, the Emmanuel.

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Luke 21:34-36

Last Sunday in our celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King we have reflected how Jesus spoke of the “truth” of his kingdom being among us, of how he had made us into his kingdom which is the reason why he was born and came into the world to testify to this truth (Jn.18:37).

See now the clearer picture of our life, of our time: we start our Church calendar preparing for the coming of Jesus our King and we end every year with the celebration of Christ the King. And we begin each new year with the end in sight of his Second Coming.

On this season of Advent, we are reminded how in our joyful waiting through prayers especially in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist that Christ’s presence is little by little being unveiled, unfolding before us, and being revealed.

It is a call for us of deepening our prayer life to truly experience Christ’s coming in our daily life. This new year in the Church, St. Luke will be our guide in our Sunday readings during the Ordinary Time; one distinction of his gospel is his portrayal of Jesus in prayer always.

Jesus comes to us first of all when we pray, when we enter into communion with him, when we listen to his voice and follow his instructions. In prayer, we are filled with God, allowing him to work his wonders in us and through us and thus make Christ’s coming a daily reality.

That is how prayer truly leads to holiness: when we are filled with God, our prayers are translated into a life of kindness and acceptance, mercy and forgiveness and most of all, of loving service to one another especially those in need.

There will always be sins and shortcomings on our part but in prayers and vigilance, we slowly “increase and abound in love for one another… strengthening our hearts to be blameless before our God our Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen. (1 Thess. 3:12,13)

A blessed happy new year again and a more blessed first week of Advent to you!

Losing to win, lesson of Our Lady of the Rosary

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, 07 October 2021
Acts 1:12-14   ><}}}*> + ><}}}*> + ><}}}*>   Luke 1:26-28
Photo from canningliturgicalarts.com.

This feast of the Holy Rosary has its origin in the victory of Christian forces against the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Lepanto Bay in 1571 that decisively stopped the Moslems from occupying Europe.  The first Dominican Pope, St. Pius V attributed that victory to the recitation of the Holy Rosary.  Popularity and devotion to the Rosary eventually grew and spread when subsequent other victories in various parts of the world, including the Philippines’ La Naval were attributed to our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. 

In our gospel today, we find the key behind every victory attributed to the praying of the Holy Rosary:  it is when we “lose” that we actually “win”!  After explaining to her the plan of God, Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”  Then the angel departed her (Lk.1:38).  In a sense, Mary was a loser— she “lost” herself to God and eventually became an instrument for our victory in the salvation through her Son Jesus Christ.  The Lord Himself was crucified, another “loser” in a sense but truly a victor because in dying on the cross, Jesus Christ resurrected on the third day and won over death and sin.

Sometimes it can happen we feel at a loss, when we have lost in some battles in life when later on, we find out we have actually won

Some may have been bullied while in school. Or, sometimes we fail an exam or flunk a semester but eventually we graduated, now have a career, a wonderful family.

In business, sometimes investors and entrepreneurs may go bankrupt before hitting gold.

That’s how it is with life. Win or lose, in the end, it is always a win. Especially when we in God.

When we choose to be like Mary, to submit ourselves to the will and plans of God, we must be ready to endure so many sufferings and hardships in life that sometimes we feel like we are at the losing end.  When we try to be patient, when we try to understand, when we forgive, when we bear all the pains because we love, that is when we win as we lose ourselves and begins to be filled with Christ Jesus like Mary in the gospel. 

True, a lot often we lose so many battles when we try to stand for what is true and good but in the end, we actually win the war against evil.  That is the greatest victory Christ had gifted us, first His Mother Mary:  salvation.  Hence, we find in Marian prayers and hymns the requests for the Blessed Mother’s prayer for us sinners to be saved from hell and be brought to her Son Jesus Christ in eternity.  That’s the final victory we all hope for in praying and living out the Holy Rosary with Mary. 

But first, lose yourself to Jesus.  

On the path of holiness with Mary

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, 07 October 2021
Malachi 3:13-20   <*(((><  +  ><)))*>   Luke 11:5-13
Photo by author, December 2020.
Glory and thanksgiving
to you God our loving Father
in fulfilling to us your promise
to the Prophet Malachi in
sending us Jesus Christ, our Light
of healing and wholeness born 
by the Blessed Virgin Mary.

But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.

Malachi 3:20
But, still, times and people have
not truly changed that much since the time
of Malachi as many of us are easily tempted
to seek the easier way to the good life
through evil and sins; many of us choose
to simply pay lip service to calls of faith,
going through external religious observances,
and worst of all, still refuse to pray and 
reach out to be one with you, O God. 
Teach us to rediscover prayer through 
the beauty and efficacy of the Holy Rosary 
of the Blessed Virgin Mary that has guided
nations and history for almost 2000 years,
enabling us to contemplate the face of Jesus
your Son through Mary his Mother.

Yes, it is a Marian prayer method but
strongly Christ-centered because it is
Mary who truly knows Jesus so well
that through her Holy Rosary, we are able
to enter into the Lord's very life expressed
in its Mysteries that hopefully help us to
become like him through Mary. 
Most of all, open our eyes
to the wonder and joy of praying,
of coming to you, loving Father,
that is pure grace from the Holy Spirit
who enables us to call you in
Jesus Christ your Son; in the Rosary,
"we plead to you with Mary, the 
sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, interceding
for us before you Father who filled her
with grace and before the Son born
of her womb, praying with us and
for us" (St. John Paul II, Rosarium 
Virginis Maria, #16). 

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

Luke 11:9-13
On this day of remembering
the intercession of our Lady of the
Holy Rosary at the Battle of Lepanto Bay,
we praise and thank you Father
for this unique grace of praying
to be like Jesus Christ your Son
victorious over sin and evil at his Cross
where he gave us his Mother Mary
to be our teacher in following and
imitating him our Lord and Master.
Amen.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com