Jesus our Eternal Priest, our “at-one-ment” with God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday after Pentecost, Memorial of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest
Hebrews 10:11-18     ><}}}'>  +  <'{{{><     Mark 14:22-25
Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center in Novaliches, QC, 2016.

O God our loving and merciful Father, as we move on to the Ordinary time, we celebrate on this Thursday after Pentecost Sunday the new Feast of your Son called, “Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest”.

What a beautiful reminder to us of how lovely and beautiful are your plans for us since the beginning, of how you have willed to create everything so there may always be that covenant, that special relationship with us your people as the crown of all your creations through your Son Jesus Christ.

How wonderful how Jesus Christ had brought to perfection that old temple worship in Jerusalem at the celebration of the Day of Atonement called Yom ha-Kippurim led by the high priest who employed the bloody offering of animals to cleanse everyone of their sins so that your people may be holy and be united with you again.

Gone were those bloody sacrifices, gone were those rites and rituals that have always remained external and empty because of the very weaknesses and sins of the high priests and people when Jesus Christ fulfilled the temple worship in his self-offering on the Cross, both as the Priest and the Victim he had enunciated so well during the last supper.

While they were eating, he took bread, 
said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them,
and said, "Take it; this is my body."
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, 
and gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant,
which will be shed for many."
(Mark 14:22-24)

Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh, replaced those bloody sacrifices with his very words of the last supper that consecrated us all to you as your holy people when he died on the Cross the following day on Good Friday. This perfect offering is what we celebrate, what we remember and make present daily in the Holy Eucharist with Jesus both the gift and the giver, the priest and the victim, the offering and the altar.

Every priest stands daily at his ministry,
offering frequently those same sacrifices 
that can never take away sins.
But this one offered one sacrifice for sins,
and took his seat forever at the right hand of God.
For by one offering he has made perfect forever
those who are being consecrated.
(Hebrews 10:11-12,14)

Now we have been consecrated to you as your holy people, O God, by Jesus Christ our High Priest and Victim, teach us to faithfully keep this new covenant, we ordained priests and laity alike. Especially us priests you have called to act in persona Christi!

Forgive us, O God, when it seems we have become more like priests in the old temple so concerned with our pride and positions, popularity and other perks that have come because we have demanded them. Forgive us when we look and act and speak more like managers or financiers or matinee idols than pastors of souls. Forgive us, O God, when we pursue more the limelight on the pretext of using modern social media platforms without truly spending time with you in daily prayers and meditations.

Photo by author, Dominus Flevit, the Holy Land, 2017.

Teach us your priests to be more like you, O Lord Jesus by being compassionate and trustworthy, of being one with the people in their pains and sufferings: “Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Heb.2:18).

Teach us your priests to be like you, dear Jesus, ever-living to intercede by being a bridge not a wall or a stumbling block to lead people to the Father (Heb. 7:25), not away from him!

We pray also for our lay people to keep in mind that in sharing with the Priestly ministry of Christ we have all received during our Baptism, they may have the same dispositions of Jesus of being humble in mind and in heart, offering adoration, honor, praise, praise and thanksgiving to your supreme majesty, O God while at the same time, as humanly as possible, they try to live the Gospel values of victimhood and self denial, of being one with Christ on his Cross.

Through this new Feast, may we your ordained priests and the laity who share in Christ’s universal priesthood appreciate the inner joys of our Church he had rightly established on that night of his last supper to be the visible sign of your very presence in the world, “so that from the rising of the sun to its setting, from east to west, a perfect offering may be made for you” and thus truly become our “at-one-ment” in you, our loving God and Father in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Praying for our continuous conversion

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday in the Fourth Week of Easter, 26 April 2021
Acts 11:1-18   ><)))'> ><)))'> ><)))'>   John 10:1-10
Parish of St. Joseph in Baras, Rizal, January 2021.

Thank you very much, dearest God our Almighty Father in answering our prayer last Friday for more conversions among us, especially those in power in the government and the military who kept on maligning the movement on community pantry. Some of them have finally accepted the beauty and the truth about community pantries.

Today we pray, O God, for the continuous conversion of those among us in the Church, especially our shepherds of soul, bishops and priests, religious and sisters, and most specially the lay people who comprise the majority of Christian faithful.

Vatican II had clearly called for “Ecclesia semper reformanda” or “The Church must be constantly renewed”, that we must read the signs of the times, and always be open to the leading and promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Your first reading today shows us this important turning point in our Church history when mission to the gentiles began with Peter sharing meals and then baptized the whole household of the Roman centurion named Cornelius. The “circumcised believers” or Jewish converts to Christianity criticized Peter for entering the homes and sharing meal with uncircumcised pagans who were later baptized to be added to the growing number of followers of Jesus Christ.

Peter began and explained it to them step by step, 
saying, "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them 
as it had upon us at the beginning... 
If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us 
when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, 
who was I to be able to hinder God?"
When they heard this, 
they stopped objecting and glorified God,
saying, "God has then granted life-giving
repentance to the Gentiles too."
(Acts 11:4, 15, 17-18)

Open our ears and our hearts, Lord, so we may hear you speaking to us.

Most of all, grant us the courage to make known to others your voice, your will even if it may be disturbing and uncomfortable to others, especially our fellow leaders and shepherds of the flock.

Forgive us, dear Jesus, when there are times when “we do not realize what you are trying to tell us” (Jn.10:6) because we are so preoccupied with our very own ideas and traditions being challenged by changing times and shifting views.

Forgive us, most of all, Lord Jesus, when we your shepherds hold on to positions and power, thinking more of prestige and wealth that we have become the biggest obstacle to new developments and growth in the Church and among Christians. Amen.

Prayer to keep fellowship in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Third Sunday in Easter, 18 April 2021
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19  ><)))*>  1 John 2:1-5  ><)))*>  Luke 24:35-48 
Easter Vigil 2021.
My dearest Lord Jesus Christ:
Today I am celebrating my ordination anniversary.
Twenty-three years of giftedness and grace and mystery, 
until now I wonder why you called and chose me. 
Thank you very much 
for your love and mercy to me.
You know very well my sins and failures,
my weaknesses and limitations
that on many occasions
I have failed you.
There were times 
I was like Cleopas 
traveling back to Emmaus
trying to forget you
feeling at a loss and defeated
when my plans do not happen.
But you would join me,
walk with me even if I go the wrong direction
just to bring me back to Jerusalem,
back to the Cross where your Resurrection is.
So many times, 
my eyes cannot recognize you appearing to me,
but surely always within me
my heart burns while you speak softly
as you tell me our stories
when you never left me. 
In those twenty-three years,
dearest Jesus, what I treasure most 
is when you appear and speak to me unknowingly,
an inner awakening happens in me
opening my mind, purifying my soul
that the more I see my sinfulness before you,
the more I see my worth in you
that is when you are so true!
One thing I ask you, my Lord and my God
keep me in your fellowship of the table
of your new covenant; even if I am not worthy
to receive you under my roof, but only
say the word and I shall be healed.
Be my guest always, dear Jesus,
appearing, speaking, and breaking bread
at your altar, sustaining and nourishing me
with the Blessed Virgin Mary 
in this journey until you come again.  Amen.
Easter Vigil, 2021.

A Lenten prayer for priests

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Feast of Chair of St. Peter, 22 February 2021
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

*This is a prayer I have written in 22 February 2018, Year of Clergy and Consecrated Persons in our preparations for the 500th year of our Christianization in the Philippines happening next month. I find the prayer still relevant specially in the light of our recent reshuffle of assignments in the diocese.

This is my 22nd Lent as a priest, Lord; but, it is only now have I realized how lovely is this season with You offering us with the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter to deepen our priesthood following our recent new assignments.

Open us to pray and reflect St. Peter’s exhortation in the first reading to “tend the flock of God” by being examples.

Help us to take into our hearts the beautiful words by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that “the primacy of Peter symbolized by his chair atop the magnificent altar at the Vatican is the primacy of faith and the primacy of love” (Images of Hope, Ignatius Press, 2006).

Help us recall, too, the reminder of Pope Francis that “we priests have a mission, not an assignment… that we must smell like the sheep.”

Forgive us, dear Jesus in making priesthood another career as we talk more about programs and offices, positions and shamefully, about perks and money. We have forgotten priesthood is a mission when You called Simon as Peter, the rock on whom You established Your Church.

May we keep in mind without forgetting the value of education that St. Peter started Your Church without any degrees in philosophy and theology, management and psychology except a deep, personal faith in You.

Teach us Your priests to nurture Your gift of faith, reminding us that no organizational or management efficiency could ever keep our unity as a Church if we are separated from You.

That is the meaning of this feast of the Chair of St. Peter: the primacy of Simon’s faith in You Lord Jesus for without You, we cannot do anything. Remind us that whenever You choose us for a mission, it is a call for more faith in You than in us or our skills and talents.

And so, I pray, Lord Jesus, for more love for us priests in You. Faith leads to love that leads us to You in heaven and to others here on earth. Help us bring back love to Your Church so people may experience You again among us and others as the Body of Christ, a community of believers. How often do we forget it is Your Church and not ours for us to lord it over them – even for shameful profit as St. Peter had warned us in the first reading!

Let us stop hurting Your Church, Jesus, in our lack of love and charity so people would see You again in us as servant-leaders. Fill us Your priests with more faith and more love to keep Your Church alive to finally stop all “hearsays” about who You really are like at Caesarea Philippi. Amen.

Photo by author of the detail of the Seventh Station at the Parish of St. Ildephonse in Tanay, Rizal; woodcarving was done in 1785 depicting the Chief Priest Caiaphas according to some accounts as the man in sunglasses during the time of Jesus. May we priests remove also our shades to see Jesus more among the people we serve.

Praying to “smell like sheep”

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, 22 February 2021
1 Peter 5:1-4     + + + + +     Matthew 16:13-19

Dearest Lord Jesus Christ:

On this feast of the Chair of St. Peter when we celebrate the sacred office of the Papacy you have bestowed upon St. Peter as your Vicar here on earth, I pray for us your priests.

Help us your priests to heed the call of Pope Francis to “smell like your sheep” which is so attuned with the call of St. Peter himself in the first reading:

Beloved: Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples of the flock.

1 Peter 5:2-3

Forgive us, dear Jesus, when we your priests demand so much from your flock that we forget to serve them faithfully and lovingly.

Forgive us, dear Jesus, when we your priests are allured by social media and all forms of glitz and glamor that unconsciously we have replaced you, making our selves as the new gods to be worshipped and adored by the people.

Forgive us, dear Jesus, when we your priests abandon your flock and go with the world that we look and smell like the rich and famous.

Chair of St. Peter in Rome. Photo from wikicommons.org.

Give us the courage and determination to first of all be centered in you, to pray daily and most of all, celebrate the Holy Eucharist with love and devotion so people may see you more, experience you more, hear you more and taste you more.

May we spend more time and energy with you, dear Jesus in prayers because it is you whom we must know first on a daily basis. Let us come to you always in Caesarea Philippi, your place of confronting us with that crucial question “But who do you say that I am?” that we never hear nor answer because we have left you. As a result, people are still confused of who you really are when we fail to live and serve in you.

May we keep in mind that the Primacy of St. Peter’s office, of our ministry and of every kind of leadership in our home and schools, offices and government is always the PRIMACY OF LOVE IN YOU. Amen.

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!

How I found my vocation in life through a simple prayer for faith

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 27 October 2020
Photo by Ms. Anne Ramos, March 2020.

Whenever people ask me about the story how I became a priest, I always begin by telling them that I am more of a “delayed vocation” than a “late vocation” because after graduating from high school seminary in 1982, I was refused admission to the major seminary to pursue the priesthood.

It was the first serious blow I have had in my life as I felt so deeply hurt because I thought God wanted me to become a priest only to be rejected. It was then I realized his saying “many are called but few are chosen” could be so bad as I had to leave the seminary.

Feeling rejected, I decided to go to the University of Sto. Tomas to pursue my “first love” – journalism to totally forget the priesthood specially when I got into the staff of the Varsitarian (1984-86). It was at the Varsitarian where I learned everything about newspaper journalism that on my senior year in college, I opted to have my training at GMA-7 News to try broadcast journalism.

And I was so amazed at how TV and radio can quickly report the news as it happened, specially whenever I would hear those alarms ringing from the telex machines of United Press International (UPI) and Philippine News Agency (PNA). (By the way, the first thing I learned in broadcast news was changing the newsprints for those telex machines.)

After graduation in college, I got hired as news writer for GMA radios DZBB-AM and 97.1 DWLS-FM. Two years later, I was assigned to cover the police beat at the graveyard shift for our television newscasts.

With former co-staffers and fellow alumni of UST’s The Varsitarian during our 2017 homecoming.

One morning before “going to bed”, I read a copy of the Columbia, the magazine of Knights of Columbus my father had insisted me joining while in college. At the last page was a vocation campaign written by a Carmelite priest who claimed something like “faith is a very important gift of God we must keep because if we lose it, we could also get lost in life”.

I cannot remember the priest’s explanations but those words got stuck in me that very morning when I just felt praying again after a very long time of being a nominal Catholic in college and GMA-7. The words simply flowed from my lips to become my only prayer in the next four years:


"Lord,
let me grow in faith 
in you."

Everything happened so fast for me at GMA-7 with all the breaks and opportunities given me which I never asked nor even dreamed of. I have never wanted to be “on camera” and have always preferred working behind the scenes (even now as a priest).

As I look back and count my blessings, I always consider it as a grace, a gift from God when Ms. Jessica Soho recommended me to take her place covering the military/defense beat when she was promoted to hosting her own morning show and doing special reports that have established her now as the best in the field.

Despite the recognition that came along with a career in broadcast news, deep inside me I started feeling empty as early as 1988. Most strange of all, I felt God calling me back to the priesthood that I vehemently dismissed, knowing personally how sinful and evil I have been!

When the emptiness and priestly call persisted, I slowly returned to our parish thinking that maybe, I was just missing my old ways of going to Mass and singing with the choir. But, the more I thirsted and yearned for God!

It was so funny and even ridiculous for me at that time seeing myself praying more often, choosing to be alone inside the church like when we were in the minor seminary. I even did not know if I were praying at all except that I felt complete in silence until one day, I found myself begging God:


"Lord, 
let me know
my vocation 
in life."

I thought of leaving broadcast journalism in 1989 to teach English language to Vietnamese refugees in Morong, Bataan after reading its ads in the Manila Bulletin. It seemed to me that was what I was searching for, something I can enjoy with a deeper purpose and meaning like serving others.

For several weeks I would read the ads in the newspaper until my interest died down as I got into a lot of action doing police stories in the dead of the night. It was also the time when I got so busy covering the 1989 December coup attempt and the destructive Luzon earthquake of July 1990.

Though I felt good reporting the news from the fields, one thing I noticed every time I went home was how I still felt empty inside when alone. Life had no meaning that I tried seeking it in bottles of beer, then in shots of brandy and whiskey until I thought I have found it in glasses of Tanqueray gin tonic. Mr. Marlboro in blue seal bought along Timog Ave. became my constant companion too.

Finally I sought spiritual direction from some priests I have known in the seminary like our former rector Fr. Memeng Salonga and our Sunday Mass presider in our barrio chapel, Fr. Boie Agustin. They have greatly helped me in discerning my vocation that I decided to take the entrance exams to the seminary in February 1991.

With my former colleagues at GMA-7 News as we rest on the steps near the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem during our Holy Land pilgrimage in 2017; from top is Ms. Marissa Flores, SVP of GMA-News with her nurse, Ms. Jessica Soho of “State of the Nation” and KMJS, and Ms. Kelly Vergel de Dios, the former VP for Personnel of GMA News.

It was the last exam date for the coming academic year and frankly, I was still hesitant to give my vocation a second try because I felt unworthy of the call and most of all, afraid of failing again like in high school seminary.

For a while I felt a strong basis for my doubts with my vocation: just when I was about to take the entrance exam, our boss, Ms. Tina Monzon-Palma asked me to cancel my day off that Saturday to search for the lone survivor of the 1911 Taal eruption in Talisay town when that “small but terrible” volcano showed signs of activity.

In my mind, God must be using Ms. Palma to inform me I got it all wrong, that he wasn’t calling me at all to the priesthood that is why I was given a job that Saturday, the last exam date to the seminary.

Of course I was so glad missing the entrance exam with a valid reason that I immediately went back to “happy hours” after coverages until late March when I had a severe attack of gout one weekend. It was so painful that I could not go to work the following Monday and Tuesday.

While in total bed rest for my gout, I felt my vocation coming back again, more persistent than before that I had the stupid idea of asking God for one last sign that would clearly convince me he wanted me to become a priest.

And God heard my prayer!

By Thursday I was back to work covering the newly-assigned AFP Chief Gen. Lisandro Abadia inspecting the troops in Abra and Kalinga. Everything went well until we flew to Laoag City for the final leg of Gen. Abadia’s troop inspection when one of our plane’s tires blew on landing!

Boom! Everything was so fast as I remembered the loud explosion of the tire on my side of the plane, followed by thick smoke seen from my window and tilting of plane as I ducked my head down on my lap, repeatedly praying in silence, over and over again, “Yes, Lord! Magpapari na po ako!”

It was the big news that evening: a tire of the plane with the new AFP Chief blew upon landing at Laoag City airport.

And the bigger news among newsmen was me —- everybody was teasing I was the next Jessica Soho who used to figure out in accidents while covering soldiers and military officials.

More teasings and laughters welcomed us when we got back to Manila but all throughout our trip until I got home that night, I felt deep inside like the prophet Jonas so relieved and convinced of God’s call after being spitted out from the belly of a giant whale like that PAF’s Fokker plane. From that day also, I have never dared to ask God for signs anymore.


Faith is a relationship with God;
we pray with faith not to obtain favors 
but to grow deeper 
in love and unity
in Him. 
 

It was not very easy for me when I finally returned to the seminary in 1991 until our ordination to the priesthood in 1998. There were more trials and hardships, more tests that required from me more prayers, more faith…. to which I got in return from God more love, more mercy, more calls.

From that simple prayer to grow in faith, God has blessed me more abundantly not materially but spiritually and emotionally, of being fulfilled in him. Since becoming a priest in 1998, I have stopped asking God for any specific things in prayers. All I ask him is to give me with more firm faith, fervent hope and unceasing charity and love so that in every here and now, I may say yes to his calls.

My first months in the seminary in 1991.

In his book reflecting his 50 years of being a priest published in 1999, St. John Paul II described the priesthood as both a gift and a mystery. Indeed, every vocation from God – priesthood, religious life, married life, and single-blessedness – is always a gift and a mystery, something so personal and so deep between me and God, or you and God.

This I realized more when public Masses were suspended during the lockdown in March. It was in that being alone and sad when I existentially experienced the Mass as truly a union, an intimacy of the priest with the Eternal Priest, Jesus Christ. With or without the people.


Let me close this with another prayer I have made during our annual retreat in the seminary in 1994 facilitated by a Cenacle sister. It is one of my core prayers next to that about growing in faith:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you have given me with so much
and I have given you with so little;
teach me to give more of myself,
and most of all, 
more of your love,
more of your kindness,
more of your mercy and forgiveness
and most of all,
more of YOU to others.
Amen.

Enjoy and grow in your faith journey in the Lord until you find your vocation in life in him!

Photo by author, 22 September 2020.

Mary in the hiddenness of God

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 10 September 2020
Chapel of the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem where the Holy Family hid before fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s murder of innocent babies. According to tradition, a drop of milk from the Virgin Mary fell on the floor of the cave that turned color of the stones to white.

We have just celebrated the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the most perfect example of one who had experienced God’s hiddenness in her life, teaching us with some important lessons in rediscovering and keeping God’s hiddenness specially in this age of social media when everything is shown and has to be seen.

We have mentioned in our previous blog that hiddenness is different from being invisible that simply means “not visible”; hiddenness is more than not being seen per se but that feeling with certainty that God is present though hiding because he wants to surprise us. If God were not hidden, we would have not found him at all. And the more God is hidden, the more we are able to see him and experience him too as seen in the life of Mary (https://lordmychef.com/2020/09/04/the-hiddenness-of-god/).

The hiddenness of Mary.

Simplicity and humility of Mary as venue for the perfect setting of God’s coming in Jesus Christ. Consider her origins: her town of Nazareth in the province of Galilee was definitely outside the more popular city of Jerusalem that was the place to be at that time. Most of all, it is the only town in the New Testament never mentioned in the Old Testament nor by the prophets for lack of any significance in the coming of the Messiah.

Nazareth was largely unknown with some hint of notoriety as expressed by Nathanael (aka, Apostle Bartholomew) when he expressed disbelief to Philip who told him they have found the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, by saying “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46)

Photo by author of chapel at the grotto believed where Mary received the good news of bearing Jesus Christ in her womb underneath the Basilica of the Annunciation at Nazareth, Israel (2019).

But that is how God works in his hiddenness, coming to us in the most ordinary places and circumstances, even least expected like Mary who was definitely not “in” if we go by today’s popular standard of “who’s in and who’s out?”

In fact, she was so “outside” the circle of influence of their time with her being promdi as we say these days, without any illustrious lineage to be proud of like her spouse Joseph who was from the royal Davidic line or her cousin Elizabeth from the priestly branch of Aaron, the brother of Moses whose husband, Zechariah belonged to another priestly clan in Israel.

Yet, God chose Mary to be the Mother of Jesus Christ because of her hiddenness expressed in her simplicity and humility. It is a far cry from our extreme “Marianism” when we almost worship Mary forgetting Jesus Christ her Son and our Savior! Worst still is the growing trend of “triumphalism” in many parishes racing for the so-called “episcopal” and “canonical” coronation of their various images of the Virgin Mary that come in all kinds of names and titles that has come to look more of a fad than authentic Marian devotion.

Without any intentions of denigrating the role and stature of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our faith as well as her proper place in the life of the Church defined by Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, I dare ask the following questions:

Photo by author, a replica of Our Lady of the Poor of Banneux, Belgium at Girlstown, Cavite (2009).

Is her coronation in heaven as Queen of heaven and earth not enough?

Why the need for these lavish spectacles for the coronation of the most simplest and humblest woman to have lived on earth?

It is a clear case of triumphalism – that exaggeration or overdoing our worship and rituals – especially if the Marian image is less than 200 years old without widespread devotions like the ones at Sto. Domingo (Quezon City) and Manaoag (Pangasinan).

I do not think the Blessed Mother would favor this considering her simplicity and solidarity with the poor and marginalized peoples seen in her many apparitions.

See the quaint and charming simplicity of Mary at Fatima in Portugal (1917) and lately at Banneux in Liege, Belgium (1933) where she identified herself as “Lady of the Poor”.

Note how the Virgin Mary reads “the signs of the times” in her apparitions and appearances when during the 1500’s at the height of European royalties and expeditions, she was always portrayed as victorious in regal clothes; but since Fatima in the 20th century as the world sank into the excesses of Industrial Revolution and affluence, Mary appeared simple, always in solidarity with the poor and suffering.

It is a cue we are sorely missing and sad to say, instead of renewing the world as St. Paul had asked us, we have allowed ourselves with the Mother of God to be transformed into the ways of the world by immersing in its showbiz frenzies, focusing on the material aspects like expensive clothes and jewelries.

Second example of Mary’s hiddenness is her oneness with Jesus Christ. She was never on her own, always seen in Jesus, with Jesus her Son and Lord. She believed in him so much, making him the focus at the wedding feast at Cana as well as at the foot of the Cross where she expressed in the most strongest terms her solidarity with the Savior of the world.

This has always been insisted by the Church since Vatican II regarding our devotions to Mary that must always be in relation with Jesus and his mission — never on her own.

Photo by author, 2019.

In all her apparitions, the Blessed Mother has always been consistent with her messages of conversion and return to God through her Son Jesus Christ, the frequent reception of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession or Reconciliation.

Mary’s Christocentricity is best seen in her oneness with him in pains and sufferings like in the Pieta and the Mater Dolorosa where Jesus is the one standing out, not her. Nor anybody else.

When Mary, or anybody else for that matter goes on one’s own, Jesus is no longer hidden but removed from the scene. Then his Cross disappears and all that is seen is Mary in all her “beauty and glory” that are empty, very secular because these attributes come precisely from her communion in Jesus!

Perhaps, this pandemic is teaching us today to review our Marian devotions and processions that have become more of a show and a spectacle for Instagram than for deepening of our faith.

I pray that the Cofradia that holds the annual December 8 processions at Intramuros would take a rest this year until 2022 to discern their noble efforts before that have degenerated to pomp and pageantry among “devotees” specially camareros and camareras trying to outshine and outclass each other with some participation at the sidelights of their pastors and sacristans.

Keeping the hiddenness of God while we remain hidden in contemplation.

Of all the qualities of Mary we all must imitate to help people rediscover God’s hiddenness is her being hidden in prayer and contemplation.

St. John Paul II noted in Rosarium Virginis Mariae when he launched the Luminous Mysteries in 2002 that although the scriptures are silent about where was Mary during the other significant moments of the life of Jesus, especially at the institution of the Holy Eucharist, it was most likely that Mary was also present deep in prayer.

This we find clearly at the Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary while they were praying at the Upper Room in Jerusalem (Acts 1:13-14).

Modern rendition of the Pentecost with Mary among the other disciples of Jesus. From Google.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI shares with us his profound insight in his second Jesus of Nazareth book series (Birth of Jesus) how after the annunciation of the the birth of Christ to Mary, the angel left her totally without ever coming back to warn or instruct her unlike with Joseph. After saying “Yes” to the plan of God to be the Mother of Jesus, Mary immersed herself deep in prayers and contemplation, becoming hidden herself in God.

Since then, she never doubted Jesus her Son as the Christ, nurturing her faith with prayers beautifully expressed by St. Luke in saying how “Mary treasured things in her heart” when facing difficult situations like during his birth and his finding at the temple. It is not surprising that in the contemplation by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Risen Lord must have first appeared to his Mother upon rising from the dead because she was the first to believe totally in him (which became the basis of our tradition of the Salubong).

Mary has always been present in the hiddenness of Christ from his coming in the darkness of the night on a manger in Bethlehem, to his hidden years in Nazareth, to his ministry when he would always retreat to a deserted place to pray, to his Crucifixion and death and burial on Good Friday and finally, in the darkness of Easter.

In this age of social media where everyone and everything has to be seen and shown with nothing hidden anymore even without qualms and shame at all, part of our mission and ministry as priests and religious is to lead people back to God’s hiddenness like the Virgin Mary so they may realize anew that the best things in this life are not always seen.

To fulfill this is for us first of all to imitate God like Mary — be hidden!

How unfortunate that instead of leading the people back to God’s hiddenness, we priests and religious have in fact joined the secular world, imitating the “influencers” like bloggers and vloggers that instead of focusing on God who is hidden, we are concerned with our selves and all the “porma” for the sake of number of “likes” and “followers” we have in our posts.

The more we try so hard to make God visible in our ministry by imitating the styles and gimicks of some media personalities that make our liturgy look like a variety show complete with song and dance numbers with our altars heavily decorated like a studio set with giant tarpaulins like in EDSA, that is when we remove God totally – not only his hiddenness – from the scene and inverse proportionately, the more we priests and pastors become more popular than the Lord himself.

“The Assumption of the Virgin” by Italian Renaissance painter Titian completed in 1518 for the main altar of Frari church in Venice. Photo from wikidata.org.

And that is how cults begin, with or without Jesus. It is very sad, even tragic and ironic because we have removed God himself – even Mary! – by unconsciously making ourselves the center of attention like pop icons and idols.

Mary had shown us the most perfect example of discipleship which is more of Jesus, less of self.

Can we not post without using our own pictures – no matter how profound our thoughts are – so the people may see the hiddenness of God in a photo of a lovely flower or a magnificent sunset? Unless you are a bishop or the Pope himself, having your photo published specially in the news is part of the information process about the person in focus. It is totally different in Church communications which is all about God and his message of love, not us.

The quarantine period invites us in the Church to appreciate and share this wonderful hiddenness of God by first becoming incognito, unknown and hidden from others, preferring to be at the background or “behind the camera” as we follow God in his hiddenness until we go to that great beyond of totally hidden from everybody except God.

Do not worry. We have Mary in every step along the way. Amen.

Priest as reminder of life’s temporary pains and of God’s permanent love and mercy

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Feast of St. John Baptiste Marie Vianney, Priest, 04 August 2020
Jeremiah 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22 >><)))*> || + || <*(((><< Matthew 15:1-2, 10-14
Photo by author, pandemic lockdown, March 2020.

Dearest Lord Jesus Christ:

Praise and glory to you, O Lord, and thank you very much for the gift of vocation to the priesthood.

Thank you very much for a wonderful patron Saint for us all whose feast we are celebrating today, St. John Baptiste Marie Vianney, the Curé of Ars in France.

How wonderful that we celebrate his feast this year on the first day of our return to Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) when public Masses are suspended in our province and other places due to the alarming spread of COVID-19 virus.

Yes, it is wonderful. Beautiful.

At first during last summer’s lockdown when we celebrated Mass without people, I felt sad; but today, I feel happy because I am totally yours, Lord Jesus. Somehow, this pandemic is teaching us priests most specially that life is a constant return to quarantine, to be alone with you always, dear Jesus!

Most specially, to remind us priests that the Holy Mass is never a show, never about us but always YOU, Jesus.

Like the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading, every priest like St. John Vianney is a reminder to the people that in life, there are always pains and sufferings. And most of the time, it is because of our sins and wrong choices in life, of turning away from God.

However, these sufferings like our pandemic and St. John’s French Revolution are all temporary.

Like Jeremiah, we priests are most of all reminders of God’s permanent love and mercy to everyone as exemplified by St. John in his life and ministry of hearing confessions for long hours each day!

Thus says the Lord: See! I will restore the tents of Jacob, his dwellings I will pity; city shall be rebuilt upon the hill, and palace restored as it was. From them will resound songs of praise, the laughter of happy men. I will make them not few, but many; they will not be tiny, for I will glorify them.

Jeremiah 30:18-19

As I reviewed anew the life of your humble and holy pastor St. John Vianney, I realized how our present situation is similar with his time: a period of sufferings after the French Revolution when priests were looked down upon, even maligned and hunted.

Yet, St. John persevered in his vocation, reminding us “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.”

May we your priests be reminders of your love and mercy, courage and faith in the face of adversaries like when you boldly spoke against the Pharisees and scribes, reminding your disciples…

Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into the pit.

Matthew 15:14

St. John Baptiste Marie Vianney, pray for us your brother priests! Amen.

Photo from Primera Missa Solemne by Fr. RA Valmadrid, December 2019.

St. Paul in time of Covid-19: fighting with the sword of Christ

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 08 June 2020
Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, Rome, Italy. Photo from Google.

My earliest memory of St. Paul was not really so good; it was even scary.

It was summer of 1972 when we settled in our new house in my mother’s hometown of Bocaue in Bulacan. I was so skinny then (believe me, I can prove this with my pictures) and shy when my mother brought me to apply for Grade 1 at the only Catholic school there known as “SPCB” or St. Paul College Bocaue.

A male, dark teacher wearing those dark glasses like Leopoldo Salcedo clad in a barong interviewed me (the late Mr. Martin De Guzman, aka, Bagyo for typhoon). I cannot recall what he had asked me which I could not answer that made him say I cannot enroll in their school; but my mother angrily told me not to listen to him and, angrier told me to always speak louder.

That’s when I saw the statue of St. Paul at the window of the registrar’s office, eyes so intense while resting his right hand on a sword in front of him with the other hand clutching a bible with the Latin words, “Caritas Christi urget nos” – the love of Christ impels us (2 Cor. 5:14).

I stayed at SPCB for seven years and formed me into who I am today, making me so proud of being a Paulinian. Until now, that image of St. Paul with a sword is etched in my mind reminding me of how he fought so hard for Jesus Christ and his Body, the Church.

The Apostle Paul

Sometimes called the “Thirteenth Apostle”, St. Paul always stressed in his writings and teachings that he was personally called by the Risen Lord to be his Apostle sent to preach the gospel to everyone. That is why Jesus is so central in his life, declaring “whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ” (Phil.3:7), desiring only “omnia omnibus” — that is, to “become all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22) without any reserve.

As we have mentioned in our earlier reflection, St. Paul’s sole focus in his ministry and very life was the person of Jesus Christ: everything in our lives, especially us priests, is marked essentially by our encounter and communion with the Lord and his Word.

It is only in the light of Christ that we measure every other value in our lives and ministry.

Red Wednesday Mass and prayers in our parish for the Church persecuted last November 2019.

Even in this highly diversified and pluralistic society, while we join hands in promoting and working for a more humane and inclusive society, the more we must stand up for Jesus Christ like St. Paul as quoted by St. Luke while addressing the presbyters of the Church at Ephesus with these words:

“I served the Lord with all humility and with the tears and trials that came to me because of the plots of the Jews, and I did not at all shrink from telling you what was for your benefit, or from teaching you in public or in your homes. I earnestly bore for both Jews and Greeks to repentance before God and to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ… for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God.”

Acts of the Apostles 20:19-21,27

I am so struck with that word “shrink” that St. Paul used twice to stress his dedication, fervor, and conviction in being centered in Jesus Christ alone. In what aspect did he not “shrink”? Did he raise arms and fought back against his detractors? Did he align with other forces to pursue his mission?

No! St. Paul did not shrink in proclaiming Jesus Christ by fighting back with force or with harsh words but by being more like our Lord and Master — more loving and understanding, more patient and more persevering, yet more intense in insisting the Gospel.

He did not shrink by running away from his detractors or diluting the gospel message by pleasing some powerful people or accommodating prevailing thoughts and culture. As we have mentioned in our previous reflection, St. Paul saw opportunities for the gospel in the midst of the hostile environment he lived during his time.

Despite all the pains and scars he had gone through, one can still find the light of Christ shining in this great apostle who bore everything filled with joy and pride without any complaint.

We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that in the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

2 Corinthians 4:8-11

Standing for Christ and his Church

From 2006 to 2018, I was so blessed to have worked at our Church-run Radio Veritas as a co-host in a morning program once a week and as a host of another show on Saturdays. Aside from bishops and priests, we interviewed experts and advocates in a lot of various topics affecting our faithful in particular and our society in general.

So many times I felt something so wrong when we have to interview whom we considered as “allies” or “kakampi” in some of our advocacies because I have found no single person fully believing in our Church teachings even if some of the issues they fight for jibe with ours.

Can we really ally ourselves with lawmakers and cause-oriented groups fighting capital punishment which we strongly support and yet support artificial means of contraception for population control? Can we align with those fighting repressive laws like this anti-terror bill and yet support same-sex marriage and divorce?

And please, spare us with those labels on these people that they insist on putting on with us priests and bishops: let us keep in mind we are only for Christ, no progressives or liberals, conservatives or whatever.

We are neither lobbyists nor cause-oriented advocates pushing for something because we only stand for Jesus Christ and his Word at the Cross. There can be no any instance of partisan politics or traces of strange bedfellows whatsoever because we are either for or against Jesus Christ:

Jesus said: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

Matthew 12:30

Here lies one of the greatness of St. Paul who never shrunk to other forces except Christ.

St. Paul statue at Malolos Cathedral by renowned ecclesiastical artist Mr. Willy Layug. Photo by Mr. Lorenzo Atienza, June 2019.

What a tragedy especially in our country that no amount of explanations can remove from the thoughts of ordinary people that priests and bishops do not even dabble their hands in partisan politics when it is so glaring they are beholden to these modern charlatans.

What moral ascendancy is left of our being pastors when after speaking against corruption and ineptitude in the government we turn to solicit from the same politicians and bureaucrats not only for parish projects and charities but even for our personal needs like vacations and trips abroad?

How can we reconcile all these immediate reactions by bishops and priests against the anti-terror bill urgently passed by Congress last week when not even a whimper was ever heard from them for the longest time to open our churches to serve the spiritual needs of the people?

Let me clarify like in my previous reflection that I am not saying we must be quiet about social issues; my point is, it must always be primary the Church as the Body of Christ that is primary in all our concerns.

This was very clear with St. Paul because it is the first reality he faced when he was called by Christ:

On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Acts of the Apostles 9:3-5

Next to our Lord, it is the Church that St. Paul had considered so much in his activities as subject of his thoughts and reflections. For him, adherence to the Church was directly caused by Jesus Christ himself, not by any chance or moments of realization and conversion.

And see the words of the Lord to him: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

He was the first to speak of the Church as the Body of Christ, illustrating for us in his many Letters our being “one in Christ” (Gal.3:28) deeply rooted in the Holy Eucharist, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body” (1 Cor.10:17).

Pope Francis blessing the world at an empty St. Peter’s Square last March 27 when COVID-19 was ravaging the whole of Italy and many parts of the world. Photo from Vatican News.

Until now our churches remain closed in many parts of the only Christian nation in this part of the world. It behooves us priests and bishops to first fight and insist, without shrinking, the opening of our houses of worship to allow the people to experience Jesus Christ anew in this pandemic.

Most of all, may the people feel and realize at the resumption of our public Masses that God is truly in us and with us because of our deep communion in our Lord Jesus Christ and with one another when we celebrate the Sacrament of our unity, the Holy Eucharist.

Our final installment of the series this Thursday, “St. Paul in time of COVID-19: Communicating Jesus Christ”.