The joy of Lent

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday after Ash Wednesday, 19 February 2021
Isaiah 58:1-9     <*(((><  +  ><)))*>     Matthew 9:14-15

Today I remember, O Lord, our old days of yore when Fridays were of simple food of all fish and veggies without any meat, of how we were told to remember this day so special because of Good Friday even if it were not the Season of Lent.

Austerity and low key were all over as peg to make your presence, O God, during Lent that the prevailing mood was more of joy than of being somber and serious as most people would think these days of fasting and abstinence as self-inflicted sufferings and pains.

Forgive us this modern age of instants and affluence, fasting has become centered on our very selves, with our “piety” like the Pharisees (Matt.9:14) who questioned Jesus why his disciples did not fast unlike them and the followers of John.

Enlighten us on this first Friday of Lent to realize anew that this is a season of joy and rejoicing because when we fast, we become empty of ourselves, of our filth and sins so we can be filled with your Holy Spirit to become your vessels of justice and love and joy with one another.

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.

Isaiah 58:6-7

How lovely and beautiful the world must be if we shall heed your words, fulfill your longing from us in true fasting more focused only in making you present among us who have gone to choose darkness over light.

O God our Father, give us the wisdom and courage to return to you so we can offer ourselves for others to feel you as we await the great rejoicing of Easter, the very joy of Lent. Amen.

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.

Prayer to enter God’s rest

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Friday, Week-I, Year -I in Ordinary Time, 15 January 2021
Hebrews 4:1-5, 11  >><)))*> >><)))*> + <*(((><< <*(((><<  Mark 2:1-12
Photo by author, sunrise at the Lake of Galilee in Israel, 2017.

Let us be on guard while the promise of entering into his rest remains, that none of you seem to have failed… Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:1, 11

Thank you, dear God this Friday with Your words reminding us of “entering Your rest”, Your Sabbath!

But what is Your “rest”, God our Father?

More than a particular day of the week, it is first of all Your very presence like in paradise that our first parents have lost due to their pride and disobedience to You.

May we heed and learn from the reflections of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews of how Your chosen people, the Israelites, disobeyed you, dear God, while in the wilderness that prevented them from entering Your rest in the Promised Land of Israel, spending 40 years wandering in the desert.

Sadly, all these continue to happen in our own time when we are supposed to be disciples of Your Son Jesus Christ.

Help us O God to resist the temptations and strive hard to see you, feel you, and experience you.

Help us to be like those men carrying the paralytic who sought ways and means to see Jesus Christ, our only true hope and inspiration and consolation in times like these. It is in Jesus Christ’s coming that we are able to enter Your rest freely and truly, dear God, to experience Your love and mercy, kindness and compassion we have all taken for granted.

But, more than a place and a day, Your rest, O Lord, is heaven, Your very presence, that very moment when Jesus healed and forgave the sins of the paralytic, astounding everyone, glorifying You, saying, “We have never seen anything like this” (Mk.2:12).

Let us “rest” in You, dear God by returning to You, of being renewed in You with Your whole creation in Jesus. Amen.

Photo by author, sunset somewhere in Pampanga, 13 January 2021.

We are all brothers and sisters in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday, Week-I, Year-I in Ordinary Time, 12 January 2021
Hebrews 2:5-12   +   >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<   +   Mark 1:21-28

Praise and glory to you, O God our Father in giving us your Son Jesus Christ. Not just as Savior but as a brother by suffering and dying for us.

What a great mystery You have revealed to us when Jesus could have just come and simply be our brother through a declaration from You when He was baptized at Jordan; but, He chose to obediently go through Passion and Death.

So often, we take this so ordinarily without realizing its deeper meaning that Your glory and our salvation should be brought about by Jesus becoming one of us but that He should go through so much pain and suffering on the cross, not to mention the indescribable humiliation He went through.

You know so well, O God, how we see sufferings as punishment but in Jesus Christ you have shown and taught us that in fact it is a source of Your abounding grace.

In “subjecting” all things to him, he left nothing not “subject to him.” Yet at present we do not see “all things subject to him,” but we do see Jesus “crowned with glory and honor” because he suffered death, he who “for a little while” was made “lower than the angels,” that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering.

Hebrews 2:8-10

How sad that like in Capernaum during His time, we are amazed, wondering, asking: “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him” (Mk.1:27).

Help us, O God, to embrace this beautiful mystery and reality of Jesus Christ’s coming that through His obedience to You even in suffering and death, He is able to help us, consecrating us to You because we are His brothers and sisters in suffering and death. Amen.

Ang tunay na nakakatakot

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-5 ng Enero 2021
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, Kapilya ng Banal na Mag-Anak, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2016
Maraming pagkakataon
mas nakakikilabot
mas nakakatakot
maniwala sa Diyos
kesa multo dahil ang Diyos
totoong totoo,
samantala ang multo
nasa guni-guni mo lang ito.
Nasubukan mo na bang manalangin
ng taimtim
habang ang lahat sa iyo
ay pagkadilim-dilim?
Para kang isang baliw
nagsusumamo sa Diyos
sa iyong mga hiling at hinaing
ngunit parang di ka naman Niya pansin?
O kaya naman
kung minsan sa iyong karanasan
tila wala nang maasahan
ang lahat ika'y iniwanan
at wala ka nang ibang patutunguhan
maliban sa Siya na lang ang panaligan
parang suntok sa buwan
kung ikaw ma'y mapagbibigyan?
Hindi ba't sa kahuli-hulihan
Diyos parating nariyan
nasa tabi mo lamang
hindi ka naman Niya iniiwan
ika'y sinusubukan lamang
habang ginagawan Niya ng paraan
iyong maselang na katayuan
hindi magluluwat, tiyak na malalampasan?
Mahirap talagang ipaliwanag
yaring hiwaga ng ating buhay
na sa Diyos lamang nakasalalay;
kahit anong sablay
minsa'y wala kang kamalay-malay
puno pa rin ito ng maraming kulay
dahil tunay na tunay
ang Diyos sa atin nakikipamuhay!
Kaya manalig ka na sa Diyos tuwina
maski hindi mo Siya nakikita
marami ka pang lalong makikita
di lamang sa iyong mga mata
kungdi pati sa kaluluwa
hiwaga at katotohanang
di maaarok kaya nakakatakot kasi...
damang-dama mo Siya dahil katabi mo na pala!
(At magulat ka pa!)
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, 28 Disyembre 2020.

*Tingnan din naunang tula, https://lordmychef.com/2020/06/18/ang-tunay-na-nakakikilabot/.

Advent is a quarantine

The Lord is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-4 for the Soul
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Advent Week III, 19 December 2020
Judges 13:2-7, 24-25     <*(((><<   +   >><)))*>     Luke 1:5-25
Photo by author of our altar after a “private Mass” at the height of the lockdown last summer when public Masses were suspended.

I just realized the other day how fast really time flies after seeing photos of some of the couples I have married early this year now happily cuddling their babies… It did hit me hard that we have been in quarantine for nine months already, enough time to conceive and deliver a baby!

It sounds funny but it is the reality showing us how the birth of every child is a milestone not only to the parents but even to everyone and to history in general. We shall wait until next year to find out if there was a big increase in babies born this 2020 due to the long imposition of lockdowns and the quarantine we are into.

It is interesting to know that “quarantine” was actually borrowed from our Catholic practice of Lent, the 40 days of preparation for Easter called Quadragesima or Quaresma, from the Spanish word for forty.

When plagues became so common in Europe with devastating effects even before the middle ages, officials in the port of Venice in Italy ordered all incoming ships to spend “quaranta giorni” or 40 days of being moored first before entry to ensure they carry no plagues. Quarantine had always meant a period of time until lately it had also referred to a place or holding area as in “quaratnine area” to cleanse and disinfect people, animals, plants and things.

Advent 2019.

Its concept of spending days for purification had always been in our Judaeo-Christian traditions dating back to the Old Testament when the prophets of God would go to mountains and desert to meet Him who were later emulated by holy people including John the Baptist, Jesus, monks and hermits.

The Church imitated that practice that led to our Seasons of Lent and Advent. In fact, Advent used to be as long as Lent in duration, starting a day after the Martin Mass, the feast of St. Martin of Tours on November 11 but was later reduced to four Sundays to distinguish it from Lent that is meant to be more serious in preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Now you see, my dear Reader, how interesting it is this year 2020 when we actually went back to our old practices of Lent, and now Advent in truly preparing for the Lord’s coming going through the quarantine.

Going back now to our gospel which is from Luke, we have heard how Zechariah doubted the good news he and Elizabeth would finally have a son after so many years of praying to God. For that, the angel Gabriel chastised Zechariah and made him speechless that people waiting outside the temple were amazed when he emerged from the Holy of holies unable to speak.

Then, when his (Zechariah) days of ministry were completed, he went home. After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.”

Luke 1:23-25
Photo by author, Church of the Visitation at Ein Karem (2017) where Elizabeth and Zechariah had a summer residence where they stayed when Elizabeth went into seclusion after getting pregnant with John.

Opening our selves to God and others

I find our gospel today so timely: Zechariah went home while his wife Elizabeth went into seclusion. They went into an Advent preparation for their son John the Baptist. They both went into a quarantine but not for the same reason: it was imposed on Zechariah while Elizabeth went into it voluntarily.

To lose one’s voice is to lose power and ability to lead. Zechariah was forced into silence in order to meditate and reflect more on the good news he had received from the angel. He was forced to go into silence to listen more to his true self, to others and to God to find new perspectives in life. As a priest, he must have been much sought after in their town for his wisdom and intelligence. Now that he is speechless, Zechariah was confined inside his home, to his very self to listen and most of all, to renew himself in God.

On the other hand, Luke shows us how Elizabeth seem to know better than her husband in dealing with their unusual situation by going into seclusion for five months. Observe how Elizabeth right away prayed to thank God as she meditated His mystery in “taking away her disgrace before others”. Remember that during that time, the only reason why a woman marries was to bear a child; failure to have a baby was seen as an embarrassment, almost like a curse or punishment from God.

In the first reading, we have seen this reality too but unlike Zechariah, the wife of Manoah believed the angel from God who told her she would bear a child despite her old age and being a barren. She was also instructed to go through a quarantine during her pregnancy when she was instructed to “be careful to take no wine or strong drink and to eat nothing unclean” (Judges 13:4). Furthermore, she was told not to cut the hair of her son to be born and named Samson “for this boy is to be consecrated to God… who will begin the deliverance of Israel from the power of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5).

Here we find the concept of quarantine, of separation from the usual things and people because of a special mission from God. If we can just truly appreciate the rich lessons we can learn from this pandemic, how wonderful to see that we are being quarantined like Elizabeth and wife of Manoah because God is preparing us for something greater.

From these stories of two old, barren women bearing a child we find Advent as the season that reminds us God comes to us hidden in our very time and space when we need to go to quarantine to create a space within us where we can be silent and be transformed as we listen more to ourselves, to others, and to God.

How sad that in our 24/7 world where we have made nighttime like daytime earning money to have everything, we have become more empty, more alienated, more sad and incomplete. Quarantine is essentially a sabbath when we are supposed to rest and be breathed on by the Lord with His Spirit, exactly what we like Zechariah needed so much

Photo by Ms. Jonna S. De Guzman, 06 December 2020.

Christmas negativity or Nativity?

One of the blogs I have been following for the past one and a half years is by a young Catholic lady in New York who is so full of enthusiasm in sharing Jesus in her writings as well as in the tasty recipes she dishes out weekly. Last week I found her blog so interesting, titled: “Christmas — negativity or Nativity?” (https://beautybeyondbones.com/2020/12/10/christmas-negativity-or-nativity/).

How sad that we are missing a very rare opportunity today during this pandemic not only to spiritually prepare for Christmas but to truly understand the things going on around us and in our very lives amid this pandemic. I have always believed COVID-19 has a spiritual dimension that we must face and address lest it happens all over again despite the discovery of a vaccine.

And what is that spiritual ailment? Too much negativities like Zechariah!

Imagine the very rare opportunity to incense the Holy of holies of the Jerusalem temple once a year with many other priests present and Zechariah was “chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense” (Lk.1:9)? That in itself could have been a great sign for him that something good may be happening.

Then, while inside the sanctuary of the Lord, an angel appeared to him with the good news, his news of a lifetime, something he and Elizabeth must have been praying all their lives: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall name him John (Lk.1:13).”

And we really wonder why did he doubt the angel’s good news? Did he not see it coming or at least, was it not the only thing he was always wishing for?

It is really so unthinkable. “Wow, ang labo naman” as teenagers would say.

What happened to Zechariah could also be going on to many among us these days that even if we have been praying and celebrating the Mass weekly or even daily with all of our professed faith, hope and love in God, we have also grown accustomed to the darkness of this pandemic with all its fears that unconsciously, we sully ourselves with many negativities, even cynicism and pessimism as if we would never make into better days.

Photo by Ms. Jonna S. De Guzman, 06 December 2020.

Sometimes it happens in our lives that our prayers have become mechanical and worst, our hearts have grown apart from God that we have become so resigned to our plight or predicament that we just pray and believe in God because we have to.

Here we need the creative courage of St. Joseph we reflected yesterday by keeping our love alive.

In telling us the story of the coming of John first before Jesus Christ, Luke is telling us to be ready for greater things about to happen with us if we become silent, take a few steps backwards and rest in the Lord to experience his presence in us and among us.

Whenever I feel low with my life, I just think of my other brother priests striving in the Lord’s vineyard or think of the cops and soldiers and simple folks who work so hard because they believe there is meaning in this life.

Let us drive away all negativities and focus more on the Nativity! Believe always in God and most of all, remain in love with Him, that He has plans for us and mission to make Him known into the world that has forgotten Him.

The fact that after almost a year of pandemic there are still so many women anywhere in the world delivering a baby every second, every minute means this planet is filled with life, is suffused in life that comes only from Life Himself, Jesus Christ.

Each one of us is a “John” – a grace of God, a reminder that Jesus Christ had come, will come again, most of all, is come! Cheer up, energize the sagging spirits of our many brothers and sisters who have become so negative this Christmas. Let them see the Nativity in our enthusiasm to live and to celebrate Christmas meaningfully despite the pandemic.

A blessed Saturday to everyone! Amen.

“I’ll Be Around” cover by Hall and Oates (2004)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 13 December 2020
Photo by author, Tabernacle, Gaudete Sunday, 2020.

Today is Gaudete Sunday, the third week of Advent known as “Rejoice Sunday” when our readings and pink motifs invite us all to rejoice because Jesus is coming.

And so, here we rejoice with some hard hitting old-school music with Daryl Hall and John Oates’ cover of the Spinners’ 1972 hit I’ll Be Around.

Yes, we have always preferred the original and the Spinners really did a good one that made I’ll Be Around now a classic but Hall and Oates really “kicked ass” on this one along with other hit classics from their 2004 album Our Kind of Soul.

I was watching Live from Daryl’s House the other day when their featured guest sang this and right away felt its energy but I still preferred this 2004 cover that featured the the dynamic duo’s kind of old-school music especially the signature guitar riff wrapped up in Daryl’s superb voice and performance.

I’ll Be Around was written by Phil Hurtt who clarified he was not “hurting” (pun intended) or into any emotional transition in composing the lyrics of this song that speak of the undying devotion of a brokenhearted man to his ex-girlfriend, that despite their parting of ways, he assured her that

Whenever you call me, I'll be there
Whenever you want me, I'll be there
Whenever you need me, I'll be there
I'll be around

In our gospel reflection, we have said that life is a perpetual Advent of Jesus – he had come, he will come again at the end of time, and he continues to come to us in our lives, among peoples and events.

And in this perpetual coming of Jesus, he needs us as new John the Baptist who shall guide others because “there is one among you whom you do not recognize” who could be Christ after all!

We find this song joyful, upbeat, and very much like the role of John the Baptist, the Lord’s Precursor and Awakener preparing the way of Jesus Christ even in our own time when this Season of Advent has become a parable of our life (https://lordmychef.com/2020/12/12/advent-a-parable-of-our-life/).

So, let us rejoice amid the pandemic, Jesus continues to come to bless us, to save us!

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Priesthood is loving Jesus first

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II on the occasion of 
the First Year Anniversary of Ordination 
to the Priesthood of Rev. Fr. Howard Tarrayo
Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
Malolos City, 10 December 2020
Photo by author of Lake Tiberias (Galilee) at sunrise, May 2019.

This preaching should have been last year.

Fr. Howard was the very first person to have invited me to be his predicador at his Primera Missa Solemne while still a seminarian — and that is why I think he was delayed for almost two years before getting ordained exactly a year ago today!

That gospel scene you have chosen for this occasion at the shores of Lake Tiberias is something that happens everyday in our lives as priests, from day one of ordination way into our old age in with Jesus asking us, like, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” (Jn.21:17)

Priesthood is essentially loving Jesus Christ first of all. That is why Jesus had to ask Simon Peter thrice with the same question, “Do you love me?” because we have to love him first before we can truly follow him.

When the priesthood or the Call becomes the very core and center of our lives and not Jesus our Caller, sooner or later, we replace Christ that we become the Lord and Master in our parish, in our ministry.

Today, we are celebrating Fr. Howard your remaining in love with Jesus, of loving Him first, a year after your ordination and we pray that every year, it will always be the very reason you celebrate your ordination anniversary.


When they had finished breakfast,
Jesus said to Simon Peter, 
"Simon, son of John, do you love me
more than these?"
He said to him, "Yes, Lord, you know 
that I love you." 
He said to him, "Feed my lambs."
(John 21:15)

Loving Jesus first is growing deeper in our prayer life in him. People who love are always together; they have a ritual or a schedule that like the fox telling the Little Prince, an hour before their appointed meeting, his heart is already beating for him, excited with his presence that he is coming.

Photo by author, parish sacristy, 05 December 2020.

It is my hope that during this pandemic we priests have rediscovered the value and beauty of having that seminary schedule during our formation years that must have ingrained in us discipline. Like schedules, prayer is a discipline. Love goes through a process, it matures, becomes more disciplined. That is why a disciple is not only a follower but also a disciplined one, a true lover!

It is good to bond with brother priests and friends and family once in a while but not every night or every other night that we have practically made every Starbucks outlet a parish or even a diocese where 1/3 of the clergy get together religiously (pun intended)! Any loving husband would always be home at night to be with his wife. The same is true with every priest — be home at night in your parish to be with Jesus at prayer. He awaits you, He misses you!

Whenever people ask me what is the most difficult part of priesthood, I always tell them it is praying every day. And I mean real prayer when we have to strip ourselves naked before God in our truest selves. Kaya sabihin man nila walanghiya o salvahe ang sino mang pari, pero kung araw-araw lalo na sa gabi siya ay nananalangin, mabuting pari pa rin siya kasi maski minsan, nagiging totoo siya sa sarili at sa Diyos. And masama kapag hindi na siya nagdarasal nang tunay, iyon ang simula ng pagkaligaw ng sino mang pari.

Whatever is the fruit of our prayer, that is our homily and that is when all tests happen: the moment we deliver a homily, people measure us if we “walk our talk”. The priest is the homily himself. When a priest stops celebrating Mass, most especially refuses to give homilies, maybe Father is no longer praying. Baka may iba na siyang mahal kesa kay Jesus.

Remaining in love with Jesus is being a man of prayer.


He then said to him a second time,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
He said to him, 
"Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
He said to him, "Tend my sheep."
(John 21:16)

Loving Jesus first means keeping in mind that everything is a gift from Jesus, that whatever we have, whatever we share, whether material or spiritual things, is always from Christ. We have nothing except Him. Even if sometimes we feel bad in our ministry like going on a sick call when we are so tired or blessing a dead cat or hearing confessions of a parishioner who have maligned you, just do it! Whatever you give them, it is not yours but Jesus’!

Photo by author, parish sacristy, 05 December 2020.

Huwag maging maramot, Father. Maging mapagmahal, matulunging, maunawain, mapagpasensiya, mapagbigay, mapagpatawad — kasi ano mang pagmamahal, tulong, pang-unawa, pagpapasensiya, kapatawaran o ano mang ating maibibigay kanino man ay hindi naman talagang atin kungdi kay Kristo at Kristo pa rin!

Here lies the danger when we are so focused with our call or vocation when we feel the one who must be understood and cared for — we turn the ones being served instead of the one serving! Kasi feeling natin magaling tayo kaya tayo naging pari! Para tayong artista at politiko na “FGLG”: feeling guapo, looking gago. Parang lahat may utang na loob sa atin. Kaya kung magmayabang tayo: ako nagpagawa niyan, ako nakaisip niyan, ako, ako, ako…. Nasaan si Jesus? Nandun sa tabernakulo, nabuburo.

I wish to share with you a prayer I have written during our retreat with a Cenacle sister at the Theologate when we were in third year: “Lord Jesus Christ, you have given me with so much and I have given so little; teach me to give more of my self and more of You to others. Amen.”


He said to him a third time, 
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was distressed that he had said to him
a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him,
"Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep."
And when he had said this, he said to him,
"Follow me."
(John 21:17, 19)

Father Howard, we have learned in Holy Matrimony that a man and a woman marries not only each other but also their families; the same is very true in priesthood. Loving Jesus first means the priest’s family must love Jesus more than their priest son and Kuya Pari or Tito Pari.

Profession of faith by Rev. Fr. Howard with his mother and sister before Bishop Dennis, 10 December 2019.

Nanay Nelia and Mary Grace… kung mahal ninyo si Father Howard, mas mahalin ninyo si Jesus. Ang pagmamahal ng pamilya sa kanilang anak o kapatid na pari ay naroon din sa kanilang higit na pagmamahal kay Jesus. Kapag si Jesus ang minahal ninyo una at higit sa lahat katulad naming mga pari, manalig kayo lalong mamahalin ni Jesus si Father. Hindi siya pababayaan.

We are told that after this third question by Jesus “Do you love me?”, Simon Peter was distressed because he remembered how he had denied the Lord three times after His arrest on Holy Thursday evening.

What can be more distressing especially at this time of the pandemic for us priests than be caught between our family and ministry?

You were still preparing for your Diaconal ordination last year, Father Howard when your mother had a stroke, then followed by the death of your father. It must have been so difficult, so painful. But looking back, did God ever forget you, Father?

Ate Nelia and Mary Grace, give Father Howard to Jesus. Huwag ninyo siyang hahanapan. Magkusa na kayo sa inyong sarili kasi iba piniling buhay ni Father. And I address this to every parent, brother and sister, relatives and friends of Fr. Howard and every priest. Huwag ninyo siyang hanapan. Kung mayroon man kayong hahanapin palagi kay Father Howard, iyon si Jesus. Always Jesus, only Jesus.

There is still something more “distressing” for us priests with our family that I wish to share with you, Father Howard. When Jesus told us to leave our father and mother, brothers and sisters behind to follow Him, he never meant to turn our backs from them. We still have to love them but more on a different level as silent witnesses of Christ.

The most difficult part of our ministry is ministering to our own family with all our biases and past histories before us. We are so familiar with each other that inevitably, these would surely show on many occasions when least expected. Be on guard, for the pendulum swings to extremes when we sometimes become so lax or so harsh with them.

Most “distressing” is when Jesus asks us “Do you love me?” while we continue to hold on to the pains and hurts, frustrations and disappointments our families have inflicted on us.

It is in our own families when we are asked to be more like St. Francis of Assisi, of preaching the gospel, speaking only when necessary.

Father Howard, be the first to understand and to embrace the strains and the past in your family; Jesus called you despite your imperfect family to make you perfect and eventually, through your life of total love for Him, perfect your family too.

It is very difficult to love, most especially our Lord Jesus, Father Howard. How I wished you have never asked me to do this because so many times I have failed Jesus. And continues to fail Him, not loving him that much.

But that is exactly what happened at the shores of Tiberias that morning after breakfast when Jesus asked Simon Peter three times, “Do you love me?”

Don’t worry, Father. Jesus knows everything how much we love Him. You are never alone with Jesus and us. Let us keep saying “yes, Jesus, I love you” with our brother priests every day, specially during anniversaries like this. Amen.

God bless you more, Father Howard!

God in the signs of the times

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Week XXXIV, Year II in Ordinary Time, 27 November 2020
Revelations 20:1-4, 11-21:2     >>>  +  <<<     Luke 21:29-33
Photo by author, October 2020.

O God our loving Father, today I echo the song of the psalmist, yearning to be with you, hoping to dwell with you: “My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest in which she puts her young — Your altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God!” (Ps.84:3, 4).

As we come closer to the end of the current liturgical calendar, looking forward to Advent and Christmas, make us more sensitive in finding you Lord in the signs you always give us by cleansing our hearts so that there is always a sacred space for you there within us.

May we always abide in you, O Lord, living in your precepts, finding you among us in the many signs you send us so that when your promised “new heaven and new earth” is realized in Jesus Christ, may we find favor in his judgement as we strived to live his gospel.

You have created us, fashioned us in your hands, breathing in us your life-giving spirit, Father; we are yours and meant to dwell in you in all eternity. Amen.

What is so fearful with winds?

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Dedication of the Basilicas of Sts. Peter and Paul, 18 November 2020
Acts of the Apostles 28:11-16, 30-31     >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<     Matthew 14:22-33
Photo from wp-media.patheos.com

Today, O Lord, we celebrate anew the Dedication of your two other Major Basilicas in Rome, St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s. Last week, we celebrated the dedication of the Cathedral of Rome, the St. John Lateran and in August, the St. Mary Major.

All these major basilicas remind us of the spiritual nature of the Church signified by these beautiful buildings of stones as community of believers following you, dear Jesus.

Since the beginning, we have always been sailing in rough, stormy seas as you have seen your apostles that night in their boat “being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it” (Mt. 14:24).

As I prayed today on that scene with the recent fierce winds of typhoon Ulysses still so vivid to me, I felt like Peter – so fearful with winds like in the gospel today when you bid him come to you by walking on water too. “But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened” and began to sink in water, crying out to you, “Lord, save me!”(Mt. 14:30).

When the strong winds and heavy rains by typhoon Ulysses ravaged our region last week, it was also nighttime, so dark, so cold, and we felt so fearful like Peter. Some people took shelter in our church and hopefully have given them some sense of security in you, Lord.

As I reflected on the many things that have frightened me from the winds, I have realized some beautiful things too about you that reassure me of your perfect love that casts out all fears.

Photo by author, Sea of Galilee, May 2019.

Two things I have found so fearful with the winds, Lord.

First was the howling sound of the winds.

It was scary especially when you are very silent, Lord, because I felt so alone.

No wonder the Apostles thought you were a ghost when they saw you walking on water!

Inside and outside the Church today are so many voices like harsh winds that add to our many confusions that isolate us from you and from one another, making us so afraid that sometimes lead us to doubt your presence and love.

Please give us the courage to grow deeper in your silence, befriending it more when you are most silent so we may heighten our sensitivity of your presence and overcome our fears.

Second thing so frightening with the winds, O Lord, is its relentless force that refuses to stop that it seems to pummel everything on its path.

Sometimes in life, forces around us can be felt so strongly that frighten us but without really hitting us at all!

Yes, it is so scary but unfounded! Sometimes, it is more in our minds than in the winds actually because we are afraid of being bruised and hurt, of being knocked down especially when we do not know where the blows are coming from.

Remind us, Lord, how often our fears are imaginary.

Teach us not to resist the strong winds, to be calm, to hold on, and if ever we are swept away, to await you for you are definitely coming even if you have to walk on water to save us! Amen.