Lent is being filled with God

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday after Ash Wednesday, 04 March 2022
Isaiah 58:1-9   ><]]]]'> + <'[[[[><   Matthew 9:14-15
Photo by author, Lent 2019.
Thank you for this gift of first Friday
in March, a Friday after Ash Wednesday
as we begin our 40 day journey of Lent;
forgive us, dear God our Father, that
gone are the days when we your children
religiously observed fasting and abstinence; 
we have ceased fasting not only on the 
prescribed days of Ash Wednesday 
and Good Friday but even before receiving 
the Holy Communion in the Sunday Mass, 
making all kinds of excuses with bold claims 
of having sacrificed so much in doing "good deeds" 
that we need not fast from food anymore. 
Make us realize these are the same mistakes 
of the people in the Old Testament 
of having themselves as the focus of fasting 
than you, O God, through others:  
“Why do we fast, and you do not see it?  
Afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?”  
Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, 
and drive all your laborers.  
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, 
striking with wicked claw.  
Would that today you might fast 
so as to make your voice heard on high!” 
(Isaiah 58:3-4)
In this age of affluence even in the midst
of a pandemic, make us realize, Lord Jesus
your mystery of Incarnation through "kenosis" -
of self-emptying which is what fasting is all about.
Teach us not to be always adequate, not to be
too self-sufficient that we forget the value of 
being empty and in need of others and most 
especially of you; let us rediscover this Lent 
the beauty of denying ourselves of things 
that give us pleasures and comfort 
that we forget you and others; may we realize
that it is only in emptiness through fasting
that you can fill us with yourself, almighty God;
it is only in emptiness through fasting 
we can learn to truly trust and believe
in you, dear Lord, as our only strength
and sustenance.
Surprise us, O Lord, of the many
benefits of self-denial, primary of
which is becoming better persons
without us really knowing it and most
of all, unconsciously becoming your 
very presence among other people:
“Then your light shall break forth 
like the dawn, and your wound 
shall quickly be healed; your vindication 
shall go before you, 
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, 
you shall cry for help, 
and he will say, Here I am!”
(Isaiah 58:9).
How wonderful it is 
when eventually we become 
your presence, O God, 
speaking through us, 
saying, “Here I am”! for it is
only then your Son Jesus
is indeed the groom celebrating
with us.  Amen.

Presence of God

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Memorial of St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin, 08 February 2022
1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30   ><]]]]'> + <'[[[[><   Mark 7:1-13
Photo by Ms. Mira Mandal Sibal, 2021.
God our loving Father,
I praise and glorify you for
your might and majesty!
Like your servant King Solomon,
I wonder in great awe at how
you choose to dwell in our hearts,
in our homes, in our churches
when you cannot be contained 
in your vast universe!
You are so kind and merciful
that when you sent us your Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ, he chose to
be even smaller just to be closest to
us as close as our breath; it is a marvel
of faith at how he can be truly present 
with us in the words proclaimed and 
prayed everywhere, most specially in
those tiny tabernacles and little hosts
we receive at Holy Communion.

Solomon said, “Can it indeed be that God dwells on earth? If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this temple which I have built! Listen to the petitions of your servant and of your people Israel that they offer in this place. Listen from your heavenly dwelling and grant pardon.”

1 Kings 8:27, 30
Like my prayer yesterday,
let me be intense in seeking you,
in finding you, and having you,
Lord; while at the same time, 
teach me to learn to limit my 
imaginations and thoughts that
eventually limit your presence 
like the Pharisees and some scribes
who have questioned you, Jesus,
"Why do your disciples not follow 
the tradition of the elders but instead
eat a meal with unclean hands?"
(Mk.7:5).
Gift us with the same grace of
courage and perseverance amid
severe hardships and sufferings in
life like St. Josephine Bakhita who 
still found you and experience your
loving mercy and justice in the terrible
ordeals she had gone through since
childhood after being sold as a slave
in Sudan.
St. Josephine Bakhita had shown us
in her life and example that you, O God,
cannot be limited to any particular
place nor time, nor people nor anything;
you are more than this world and our
experiences, more than our thoughts
and ideas for you are totally free 
to fulfill your grand designs for each one
of us to find joy and peace, fulfillment and 
meaning in this life despite and in spite
of whatever circumstances we are into.
Amen.

Praying for “divine intensity”

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Week V, Year II in Ordinary Time, 07 February 2022
1 Kings 8: 1-7, 9-13   ><}}}}*> + <*{{{{><   Mark 6:53-56
Photo by author, Garden of Gethsemane outside the Church of All Nations, the Holy Land, 2017.
God our loving Father,
give me the gift of having
an intense attitude and disposition
to experience you in prayer
and the celebration of the
Holy Eucharist.
Let me desire you always,
make me eager to meet you
like the people at Gennesaret
who "scurried about the surrounding
country and began to bring in 
the sick on mats to wherever 
they heard Jesus was" (Mk.6:55).
How I wish, dear Father, we could
have the joy and excitement of the 
people when King Solomon led 
the opening of your Temple in
Jerusalem with the ark of the
covenant being brought there as
your cloud filled the temple.
We do not have any ark of
your covenant, Lord, but we 
have you truly present, Body
and Blood in every Eucharistic
celebration in our churches
which we often take for granted;
most often, nobody cares to visit you, 
dear Jesus truly present at the 
Blessed Sacrament!
If I could just have even half
of the eagerness of the people
of Gennesaret in meeting Jesus
or the intensity of the joy and 
excitement of the people of 
Jerusalem in the opening of their
temple, maybe your divine presence
O God would be more realistic and
more effective among us in Christ.
Amen.

Listening leads to presence

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday III-C in Ordinary Time, 23 January 2022
Nehemiah 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10 ><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27 ><}}}*> Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21
Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, January 2019.

I am still in quarantine after testing positive for COVID last Monday. One good thing I have realized these past days is how precious every moment of life as I counted each day, checking on my vital signs three times daily until I will have completed soon the required seven days.

Sometimes, we only realize the existential meaning and gravity of every “today” when we go through a difficult phase in life like getting COVID or like the Israelites finally getting home from exile, suddenly hearing the word of God proclaimed after many years of silence:

Then Ezra the priest-scribe said to all the people “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep,” for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. He said further, “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”

Nehemiah 8:9-10

There are also times in our lives when suddenly we become so open to God’s words, so focused on Jesus to experience his presence like that sabbath day in a synagogue in Nazareth:

Photo by author, January 2019.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the yes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:20-21

Thanks to COVID that now I have felt how difficult it is to be separated from everyone, considering the mild symptoms I had as a fully vaxxed with booster too. It must have been so traumatizing for those who caught the virus during the early surges of 2020 and 2021 without the benefits of the vaccines and other modern medicines. Many of them who survived COVID or have lost loved ones until now feel the pains and hurts of those experiences. Indeed, it is after a difficult situation when we truly realize the value of every present moment we have with our loved ones, when everyone becomes so real and precious, when every present is truly a gift.

Today our readings invite us to slow down, to saunter – so to speak – as we journey in Jesus with Luke as our guide who at his prologue to his gospel tells us how he had “investigated everything accurately anew” regarding the “certainty of teachings of Jesus handed down” to us since the beginning (cf. Lk.1:3-4). Like with our loved ones we miss so much these days of quarantine and surge, Jesus reminds us to always listen to make everyone and him present in us.

Our conscious coming into the Father’s house

Last Sunday at the Feast of the Sto. Niño we reflected how we exercise our child-like traits before God whenever we go into “the Father’s house” like the 12-year old Jesus who was found at the Temple. Our going into the Father’s house to pray and receive the Sacraments expresses our rootedness and oneness with God through Jesus Christ.

This Sunday in our gospel, we find Jesus going again into his Father’s house to “proclaim and claim” the word of God as his very presence among us.

Imagine his movements in “slo-mo” when “He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Lk.4:16-18).

It must have been a moving moment for everyone. So mesmerizing for here was a man so present, so strongly felt with something in him freely walking up to proclaim the word of God. And what an experience for everyone that after “Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk.4:21).

That “today” would be repeated by Jesus with the same intensity on Good Friday shortly before he died when he promised to Dimas “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk.23:43).

But, do we make that conscious approach in coming into the Father’s house to celebrate the Sacraments particularly the Sunday Eucharist where the first part itself is devoted to the liturgy of the Word?

Photo by author, April 2020.

In non-verbal communications, we have that communication of spaces called “proxemics”, of how places are designed and positioned to convey something special and profound. Houses of worship of every faith are built on this important aspect of proxemics as every space conveys something about God and his people.

One example of proxemics is the patio of the church with its tall cross at the middle to remind the faithful they are about to enter the Father’s house, of their need to dispose themselves both inside and outside by being silent and being dressed properly.

Sadly, many churches in the country has no patio at all or its patio had become a parking area and worst, a basketball court. What is most tragic is how all these dispositions of coming into the Sunday Mass are disregarded by many people, led by church volunteers who talk endlessly with one another while some priests dress and look sloppily. This is one of the positive aspects of the Tridentine or Latin Mass where the atmosphere of solemnity fills the church and the people as well – and that is why many of the faithful are asking for it! A good example of what St. Paul tells us about the unity in diversity within the Church in the Holy Spirit.

How can we experience the “today” of Jesus being present in us and among us when we do not have such kind of attitude and disposition to listen to him which begins outside the church? If we cannot do it in the proxemics or spatial level, how can we even do it right inside our hearts, whether we are laypeople or the clergy?

Listening to Christ today

One of my favorite writings by the great St. John Paul II is Ecclesia de Eucharistia published in 2003. He tells us something so beautiful about the “universal and cosmic character” of the Eucharist which for me captures the essence of the “today” mentioned by Jesus in the gospel:

Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #8).

Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #8

This is very true but we rarely experience it happening because we have refused to immerse ourselves in the very words of God. So few among our people read and pray the scriptures while many of us priests rarely speak the Lord’s words as we prefer to tell what we have seen or heard in media or from some famous theologians or thinkers.

Whatever our vocation and place in the Church and the assembly, each of us must immerse one’s self in the word of God first because it is his very presence too. In the story of creation, we learned how everything came into being simply with the words spoken by God.

Photo by author, ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum in Galilee frequented by Jesus, May 2017.

This Sunday we have heard how Jesus “read” on a sabbath at a synagogue in Nazareth, of how in his proclamation of that part of the Book of Isaiah the very words were fulfilled in their hearing.

It happens daily in the celebration of the Mass everywhere in the world whenever we – lay and clergy alike – imitate Jesus, asking us first of all to come with strong desire to be one with the Father, whether in his house of worship or in our room when we pray the scriptures.

Let us enter God with Jesus and in Jesus in the Sacred Books to find him there so we can listen to him how and what he reads, not what we want to hear and say.

We can only touch the hearts of the people and make them hear God speaking again in his words offered us daily in the Mass if we first learn and listen to what Jesus reads and tells us. It is only then when we hear the Word who became flesh that we are able to respond, “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.” Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead.

Life directions and freedom

The Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 10 January 2022
Photo by author, Ubihan Island, Meycauayan, 31 December 2021.

It is said that “life is a journey” but I have found through the years that as a journey, life is more of a direction than a destination. It is always easy to plot our life destination but upon reaching them, what do we do next?

If life is a journey that is more on destination, all we will be doing in life is keep on thinking of new places to visit and new goals to achieve until we ran out of destinations and we have nowhere else to go!

That is why life is more of a direction.

It does not mean we stop making plans or setting goals to reach; we just learn to be more open with the directions life is leading us into.

So often it can happen that while pursuing a goal or reaching a destination, we find many things and meet persons along the way who make us change directions in life for something better we never knew existed before.

Sometimes we discover while at the middle of a journey the many directions we have been seeing or noticing earlier that suddenly later make sense, opening new routes for us to take to something more fulfilling or clearer and better.

As we become open for directions in life, the more we become free to be our true selves, free to pursue what is best than be fixated and even held hostage by a previous goal or destination we have set before which we find no longer viable.

It is like using those travel apps Waze and Google Maps that give us the pertinent information like traffic conditions that help us choose the best routes to reach a specific destination.

However, as we travel, we find the apps taking us to longer routes or may even be misleading us because the data available are obsolete or the internet signal is unreliable. And so, we disregard the apps and try to find our way to our destination through directions provided by actual people and signages we check on the streets. Recall how the apps would continue to “speak” and even insist us to turn left or right as it is bent on reaching the destination. Travel apps are concerned merely with the place to reach, totally “unaware” of the person traveling.

That’s the problem with journeying more on destination when we forget persons that we miss the fun and adventures along the way.

When we journey more on directions, we are more concerned with persons and people that we experience fun and adventures, learning new things about peoples we meet or travel with as well as places we pass through on the way to our destination.

Sometimes, we have to scrap everything as the new directions lead us to more interesting places to visit.

In that way, we grow and mature as persons because we have become more free to be ourselves, more free to follow our inner voices within our hearts that lead us to far and exciting new places. In the process, we also discover our true friends and companions in life!

Ultimately, when we are free to follow directions than simply reach destinations, the more we also discover God – the most wonderful journey in life because ultimately he is our only destination and end.

God as a direction demands us a deepening of our faith, hope and love in him whose “invisible hands” guide us to persons and places and situations that seem to be unrelated at first but as we journey, we discover their many linkages, like tiny pieces of a mosaic creating a wonderful picture bigger than us.

God as a direction leads us to more freedom to discover life itself. That is the beauty of every new year: those twelve months of the calendar have no specific destinations but give us directions to follow by being sensitive to where God is leading us. It is totally senseless and useless to consult fortune-tellers for their fearless forecasts of what is going to happen for that will only make you “unfree” to seek and follow new directions in life. Besides, only God knows what will happen and that is why we follow his directions.

Above all, remember that the discovery of God is not the end of a journey but the beginning of a new one in him, with him, and through him. The journey never stops in Christ Jesus to God our Father in heaven. So, have life and be free to follow new directions from God this new year!

Keep traveling in Christ this 2022. Who knows, we might meet once or twice along the way. Amen.

Rejoicing Christmas moments all year through!

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, 25 December 2021
Photo by author, National Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, 2019.

Maligayang Pasko sa inyo at inyong mga mahal sa buhay! Of all the Christmas greetings from around the world, perhaps our Maligayang Pasko in Filipino is one that truly captures the spirit and essence of Christmas.

Pasko is from the Hebrew word Pesach that means to “pass over” or simply what we refer to as the Passover or Pasch. It is the same greeting we have during Easter, Maligayang Pasko ng Pagkabuhay that literally means “Merry Passover/Pasch of the Resurrection”.

Yes, it is reminiscent of the exodus of the Chosen People from Egypt into the Promised Land during the time of Moses, the very center and point reference of our salvation history.

Normally, we use the word Pasch more prominently during the Triduum of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection from Holy Thursday to Easter because that is the Lord’s Passover from death to life. However, if we reflect more deeply as the Church teaches us, the Lord’s Pasch actually began at Christmas when the Son of God passed over from heaven into earth when Jesus Christ became human born today more than 2000 years ago in Bethlehem.

Photo by author, Basic Education Department Chapel, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City, 24 December 2021.

Like Easter, Christmas is a sacred moment that happens daily, not just a date once a year, when God entered in his immense spiritual reality the world to affect and change to better our material world. It is a passing over by Jesus from eternal to temporal time so that heaven and earth, man and God are again united into one.

Christmas is therefore a blessed event, a most sacred moment of holy communion of man and God in Jesus Christ that continues to this day in the most regular yet miraculous reality of life going on amid many joys and pains, victory and defeats, prosperity and poverty, health and sickness, light and darkness and even in death.

Christmas is a sacred moment where the all-powerful and all-loving God gets intimately involved with the weak and sinful people and the whole limited creation with all the humor and irony in life.

This we immediately find in the mystery of Incarnation of Jesus Christ eloquently expressed to us by John the Beloved:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. all things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. /what came to be through him was life, and tis life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5, 14

See and feel the formality yet the simplicity and profundity by John expressing in every line a sacred moment with God who is love and has always loved us immensely. Feel the drama of the Incarnation when the Word became flesh which we take for granted specially in praying daily the Angelus with that beautiful expression, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” which is Christmas!

What a sacred moment we are reminded daily by our prayers and sacraments that only those willing to pass over from material world to spiritual world – even for a moment – would surely realize and experience God present and coming to us in Jesus every moment of our lives.

How ironic that people today find it so easy to accept Hollywood’s stories of the virgin births of Anakin Skywalker or Darth Vader of Star Wars and John Connor of Terminator but find it so difficult to believe or even accept the virgin birth of Jesus by Mary.

Photo by author, site where Christ was born, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem 2019.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI explains to us that there are two moments in history when God intervened directly in the material world: at Christmas with the virgin birth of Jesus by Mary and at Easter when Jesus rose from the tomb in which he did not experience corruption. According to the Holy Father, these two moments are a scandal to the modern man who had kept God merely in the spiritual domain but not in the material world (Jesus of Nazareth, the Infancy Narratives, pp.56-57).

If God does not have power over the material world and would simply be confined in the spiritual world, then he is not God at all. But, as we heard from the gospel accounts, God never acted irrationally nor against nature; in fact, in the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus, God had enhanced our human nature and the natural world!

See Luke’s wonderful descriptions of the birth of Jesus:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled , each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.

Luke 2:1-5
Author with pilgrims outside the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, 2019.

Luke is actually the evangelist par excellence of Christmas (and Easter too!). The most artistic and master storyteller of the four evangelists, Luke has the ability to see every moment in Christ’s life from the big picture like the geopolitics of that time down to the most personal. See how he situated us into the setting of the world at that time, from the wide-angle shot of the Roman emperor trying to establish more control in the world ordering a census that zoomed into the birth of Jesus Christ in a manger “because there was no room for them in the inn”.

What a great moment if we try to enter the scene which happens daily: the more we try to control our lives and others, the more God works in silence in the background without us realizing his coming until that day we realize our mistakes and sins.

In telling us the story of the birth of Jesus, we are reminded how so often in life that what is happening in the world is not the whole story, everything seems to be unrelated at all that we feel so detached when in reality, everything is a result of the Divine Plan, of God working silently for our own good. It is at the end when things finally fall into their right places and we discover how God has always been present with us in every moment of our lives without us noticing him at all!

But there lies the key to Christmas: in the scattered events and fragments of daily living, we try to see the whole picture in the eyes of God, in Jesus Christ who became human like us to link us with the Divine and find meaning and fulfillment in life.

Another things we find with Luke: he is the only one who tells us the story of the shepherds coming to Jesus. On the surface, it seemed like those scenes in true to life movies where some “dramatizations” are staged to add color to the story. Why? Because after this scene, there would be no more shepherd in Luke’s gospel except the parable of the lost sheep. It is in John’s gospel where we find Jesus claiming himself to be the Good Shepherd.

Photo by author, Basic Education Department Chapel, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City, 24 December 2021.

Again, another sacred moment being offered us by Luke: shepherds were the lowliest people at that time, among those considered as the poorest of the poor. They were considered as troublemakers and thieves that is why they worked in the most hostile environment and situation. They were looked down upon at that time because they would not even give contributions to the temple or synagogue. They were outcasts.

But, are we not like them most often? We have our own world to take care that we do not mind at all whatever is happening in the political and economic spheres and much less the religious aspects of life. And Jesus precisely came for us to get us involved with the world and be more engaged with life and living.

This Christmas day, everybody is resting, chillin’ and relaxing, enjoying the cool, crisp weather and wonderful ambience. As we enjoy Christmas, let us savor some moments with Jesus in the silence of our hearts. Let us set aside all our worries and fears, regrets and anxieties to simply join the angels and the shepherds in being caught in the moment of Christ’s birth as we put everything on hold, trusting that something good and better is coming to us. Let us learn to lose ourselves in this moment with Jesus, to join in his passing over. Amen.

Maligayang Pasko!

Advent and the “hand of the Lord”

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Simbang Gabi 8, 23 December 2021
Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24   ><]]]'> + ><]]]'> + ><]]]'>   Luke 1:57-66
Photo author, chapel of Basic Education Department, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City, 19 December 2021.

One of the series of jokes I have loved following at Facebook is about that actress always fuming mad as she points her finger at a white witty cat who would always harass and insult her with all kinds of jokes and sarcasms. Last week they were at it again: the white cat laughing at the actress with the caption that says “2022 is like 2020 too”!

Maybe I am just too shallow or mababaw but it is so aliw – delightful and funny that really tickled my bones to laughter. Remember how last year at this time that experts said 2021 would just be an extension of 2020 with COVID pandemic still staying with us. Though the virus is still with us, 2021 is definitely not like 2020 because we are better off this year, more protected with the various vaccines now available. Despite the many surges that have happened this 2021, we made great progress against COVID this year that promises a better 2022 for everyone.

We can all be hopeful that 2022 will not be “2020, too!” as we are now preparing for more opening of classes and businesses next year with better vaccines and more people receiving it despite the threats of the latest variant called Omicron.

Like the people at the time of the birth and circumcision of John the Baptist, we can all feel at this time “the hand of the Lord” clearly with us. Amen!

All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

Luke 1:66-67
Photo by author, site of John’s birthplace underneath the Church of St. John the Baptist at Ein Karem, Israel, 2019.

We are now at the penultimate day of our Christmas Novena and just before Christmas comes, Luke reconnects us with the first personality of his Nativity story, Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth and father of John the Baptist.

Recall how he was punished by the angel by becoming mute for doubting the good news that his old and barren wife would conceive a child who would prepare the way of the Lord; now, Luke tells us how that child was born and named under unusual circumstances that had everyone in their town wondering what that child would be for clearly “the hand of the Lord was with him”.

The term “hand of the Lord” is a description of God’s presence and power in the Old Testament. It is a vivid way of presenting God “intervening” in the daily lives of his people, saving them from all kinds of dangers like the prophets. There was Elijah who was hunted by the soldiers of Jezebel and the “hand of the Lord was on Elijah” (1 Kgs. 18:46) that he was spared from their murderous plots. Then there was Ezekiel who saw “the hand of the Lord” (Ez. 37:1) upon him at the vision of a valley of dry bones coming back to life.

Sometimes, the “hand the Lord” referred to God’s judgment like when King David had sinned against God in not trusting him that he ordered a census of soldiers; it angered God and he was given the choice which punishment he preferred: natural disaster or victory by his enemies or God’s judgment. David chose the third option, saying, “Let me fall into the hand of the Lord for his mercy is great…” (1 Chr. 21:13).

Again, we find here the artistry of Luke in using the phrase “hand of the Lord” in his account of the birth and circumcision of John: he merged together the two meanings of the expression for after all, every moment of judgment is also a moment of grace, especially when seen in the life of John the Baptist who “grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Lk.1:80).

If we go back to Luke’s account of the annunciation of John’s birth, we also find the hand of God clearly at him with Elizabeth feeling vindicated with her pregnancy specially when visited by Mary.

Now, we have the building up of the drama just before the birth of Jesus with the circumcision and naming of John in the most unique manner not only because no one among their relatives have such name (Lk.1:61) but most of all when Zechariah his father wrote “John is his name” and “Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God” (Lk.1:63).

Photo by author, the Church of St. John the Baptist at Ein Karem, Israel, 2019.

What a beautiful scene of Zechariah and Elizabeth wrapped in the arms of God, basking in his tremendous blessings with the people so amazed for evidently God was present among them, working in the most special ways albeit in silence that after looking back to the past and the present moment, they wondered what more good things God has in store for the three.

The same scene happens daily in our lives as individuals, as families and communities and as a nation – of how the hand of God saving us in so many occasions like during this pandemic and recent disasters through generous people coming to our side. There lies the greatness of Zechariah and Elizabeth – through them despite their weaknesses, the hand of the Lord worked wonders not only for them but for everyone including us in this time.

In this Season of Advent about to close soon on Friday, we are invited by the family of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John along with their neighbors to pause and remember those moments the hand of the Lord was with us so we may start meditating too where God is leading us not only this Christmas but in the coming new year 2022. Have a blessed week ahead.

Advent is God’s transforming presence

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Simbang Gabi 5, 20 December 2021
Isaiah 7:10-14   ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*>   Luke 1:26-38
Photo by author, an altar near the Chapel at the site of the Annunciation below the Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel, 2019.

We are now at the final stretch of the week leading to Christmas as cash registers ring following the renewed economic activities with the lowering of COVID cases this month after a long lull since this pandemic began early last year.

Though the commercial hubbub is all around us, let us not forget that unlike the commercial green and red shades of Christmas, our Advent color is violet like Lent to signify the spirit of penance though in a more subdued manner. Amid our busy schedules, let us not forget that Advent is a preparation of our inner selves, of our interior disposition for a deeper meaning and nature of Christmas. With still a week to go, we are invited to empty our selves of sins, of pride and of other excess baggages so we can create a space for Christ’s coming right in our hearts, like our Blessed Virgin Mary.

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” She was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Luke 1:26-29
Photo by author, site of the Annunciation beneath the Basilica of the Annunciation at Nazareth, Israel, 2019.

One of the most beautiful characteristic of Mary as a disciple is her openness to God. She always had that empty space in her solely for God, an inner disposition nurtured by her deep prayer life.

See the very solemn narration by Luke of the Annunciation, specifically mentioning to us the time, place, persons and circumstance involved in this “sacred moment” we have reflected yesterday. Mary must have been deeply in prayer when the angel came, a sign she was always attuned with God.

Notice that next to her surprise with the coming of the angel with the good news was her “pondering” what sort of greeting that might be. What an image of the Blessed Mother disposed to God’s calling and plans that immediately during her conversations with the angel, she was already reflecting on the meaning of the message. No hesitations or whatsoever. Just clarifications but willing to obey.

Luke tells us in other instances how Mary would “ponder” on words and events in her life like when the shepherds came to visit her newly-born child Jesus and after finding Jesus at the temple. Mary would always ponder the words and events that came her way, an indication of open acceptance, of a welcoming attitude to God’s works and wonder.

Photo by author outside Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, 2019.

Her pondering on the words of the angel Gabriel was very significant; we can’t help compare her attitude to Zechariah who was made mute after questioning the angel’s announcement his wife Elizabeth would bear a child six months earlier.

There’s nothing wrong asking God and seeking clarifications with his plans for us but, never challenge and dare him like Zechariah who doubted the good news brought to him by the same angel Gabriel whose name means “the presence of God.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God… for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Luke 1:34-35, 37

In asking the angel “How can this be”, we find in Mary an honest and sincere, an innocent question already inclined to accept and cooperate with the plan. In fact, Mary indicated no resistance at all to the plan to be the Mother of Jesus – she just wanted to know the “script” or her role in the Divine plan of the Incarnation.

It is here where we find the transforming presence of God coming upon her at that moment when the angel told her “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”.

What a picturesque description that only an artist like Luke could express so vividly well.

The Holy Spirit will come upon you – God coming down to her, becoming present in her. And the power of the Most High will overshadow you – that is the clincher!

Look at the wonderful flow and unfolding of the Incarnation: a coming down, a descent of the Holy Spirit and an overshadowing of the power as some sort of being “possessed” by the Divine! Observe how Luke would repeat in his second book, the Acts of the Apostles the same sequence of coming down of the Holy Spirit and overshadowing of the Apostles with Mary!- at the Pentecost in Jerusalem. Their striking similarities remind us of the tremendous grace and power coming upon us when like Mary and later the Apostles we entrust our total self, including our future to God. It is only then when God’s transforming presence begins to work wondrously among us.

Photo by Ezra Acayan of Getty Images, February 2020 in Baclaran Church.

Too often, we feel uncomfortable and even not amenable to being overwhelmed by another. Our sense of independence is so strong, deeply ingrained in us even in childhood when we would always assert our very selves, insist on what we want that along the way, we also feel very suspicious of anyone trying to get too close, too soon with us.

It is funny that even with too much presence in social media like Facebook, we get that feeling of being violated or at least slighted by someone too close for comfort in posting and commenting on our walls.

At the Annunciation, we find Mary personally giving her yes to God, calling herself the handmaid of the Lord to let his will be done upon her. And the rest is history. That is why we have this joyous season of Christmas today when Mary allowed herself to be overwhelmed, transformed by Christ’s presence in her womb.

While we were so busy with our Simbang Gabi and Christmas preparations last week, another powerful typhoon battered the southern part of our country resulting in many losses of lives and properties. So typical of the stronger than usual typhoons hitting our country this past decade in this part of the year, it makes us wonder where is God amid all these things happening while we are in a pandemic.

Where is the transforming presence of God in this time of pandemic and calamities and inanities of so many gunning for the top positions of the land?

Photo by author, 2019.

We need not look far and beyond us. Like Mary, let us look into our hearts to see if there is room in my life for God. Recall in the Book of Genesis how out of chaos God’s transforming presence created everything good and, how in the darkness of Israel’s and mankind’s history came the Christ.

In this time of darkness and calamities, God is very much present among us, so raring to transform the world and our lives to something better. But, is there anyone among us willing to be like Mary telling God, “I am the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word”?

To transform this world into a better one, let us first be transformed in Jesus Christ. With Mary. Amen.

Have a blessed Monday!

God is present

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XXXIV, Year I in Ordinary Time, 25 November 2021
Daniel 6:12-28   ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*>   Luke 21:20-28
“Daniel in the Lions’ Den” by Briton Riviere (1872) from reddit.com.
God our loving Father,
save us from severe tests 
and trials in life; make us
steadfast in our faith and 
trust in you like your prophet
Daniel who escaped death
without any harm at all when 
thrown into the lions' den.
As I prayed over that wonderful
scene I have known since a child,
it was only now have I realized
our biggest problem in being 
faithful to you in the face of death
and grave danger; of course, it is
pure grace from you to have such
great courage and serenity but 
always, we back out, we balk at the 
mere thought of suffering because
we are busy thinking of what will
happen next, we are busy focused
with the future than with the present
moment where you are with us.
That beautiful imagery of Daniel
spared by the ferocious lions evokes of 
a man so faithful to you, O Lord, living
in your presence, unmindful and undisturbed
of the past and the future because he was
present in you and with you!

Daniel answered the king: “O king, live forever! My God has sent his angel and closed the lions’ mouths so that they have not hurt me. For I have been found innocent before him; neither to you have I done any harm, O king!”

Daniel 6:22-23
Cleanse and empty us,
dear Father, of our many excess
baggage in life, our past sins
and worries of the future
so we may experience and live in
your presence in every here and now,
unmindful of whatever may happen
for we are safely secured in you
always.  Amen. 

Living in the presence of God

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Memorial of St. Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr, 12 November 2021
Wisdom 13:1-9   ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*>   Luke 17:26-37
Photo by author, Taiwan, 2019.
God our Father,
help us distinguish the
difference between finding
you in everything and making
anything as you, an object
of worship, an idolatry.
Fill us with your wisdom 
to see you among the beauty 
of nature, on each every person
we meet but at the same time
be wise to never stop at them
that we forget you totally.

For they search busily among his works, but are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair. But again, not even these are pardonable. For if they so far succeeded in knowledge that they could speculate about the world, how did they not more quickly find its Lord?

Wisdom 13:7-9
It happens often with us,
Lord, when we get so caught up
with nature or people or with
our very selves that we miss
You as the very source and
subject of our wonder! Open
our eyes and minds and hearts
to see you more.
Do not let it happen again
like what the people did with
St. Josaphat that they were so 
blinded by their culture and faith,
by their convictions and failed to see
you speaking and working through
him, leading to his murder just like
Jesus Christ your Son; while it is true
the we live in a world where everything
is touched by you, let us not miss YOU
like in those days of Noah when the flood
came and destroyed the people who 
have become so complacent with your
presence.  Amen.