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”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gospel thrives most in hostile environment

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

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

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

2 Timothy 3:12-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philemon 1, 15-16

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

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

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

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

Romans 12:2

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

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

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

Acts of the Apostles 20:31, 33-35

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

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

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

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

On staying home in the parish

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 08 May 2020
Photo by author, dome of the Malolos Cathedral, December 2019.

I hope our bishop and my brother priests forgive me with this piece.

Or at least, understand my points and feelings about our clergy reshuffle due on June 30, 2020.

It is a long overdue reshuffle, twice postponed in 2018 and 2019.

We have all been looking forward to it.

In fact, I have packed all my things, so ready to go that since December, I have been saying good bye to my parishioners.

I have explained to them that I am so eager to transfer – not “leave” – because we have been programmed for it since 2018.

Besides, I strongly felt I have fulfilled my mission here in my current assignment which is my first parish to shepherd since 2011.

But came this COVID-19 pandemic.

Listening to Jesus in this quarantine

Admittedly, at the beginning of this quarantine I was still hoping that somehow our reshuffle in June will push through. But, everything changed slowly with me as the quarantine days moved on.

On the first Sunday of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), we borrowed a truck to bring around our parish the Blessed Sacrament.

I was so moved by the sight of the people waiting for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, kneeling on the street, some holding candles. There were people raising their hands praising God while others were in tears that made me think that despite our live streaming of the Mass, people were still longing for Jesus in reality through our ministry as priests.

Towards the end of our “libot”, we saw a rainbow.

Photo by Ms. Anne Ramos of our Social Communication Ministry.

I held the monstrance tightly and prayed hard, thanking Jesus for the grace to serve him, to bring him around my parish.

Most especially, I felt the rainbow as God’s reminder of his promise to Noah that he would never destroy earth, that he would take care of us in this pandemic.

As I prayed for my parishioners and loved ones to be delivered from the deadly COVID-19, I felt the Lord telling me to stay in my parish, to forget all about our reshuffle in June, and to take care of his flock entrusted to him.

I dismissed it, though I have always knew, the faintest voice within is always Jesus Christ.

Sharing Jesus in this quarantine

We kept that Sunday “libot” (going around) of the Blessed Sacrament, except on Palm Sunday when we blessed palms and on Easter when we brought around the parish the statue of the Risen Lord at dawn and afternoon to make the people feel Jesus is with us.

Last Sunday, against the advise of friends and relatives, I went to distribute Holy Communion to some parishioners after our 7AM Mass. Many came out to the streets to receive Jesus.

Again, there was a drizzle and soon after the last faithful received the Holy Communion, there was a heavy downpour.

“Pinagbigyan lang po tayo ng ulan, Father,” my tricycle driver told me.

I just nodded my head in agreement but deep inside, I felt Jesus crying with me, crying with us for all these sufferings and uncertainties we are going through.

In all these experiences nurtured in prayers, I felt Jesus asking me to stay, to remain in my current assignment.

Moreover, I am now more convinced we must forget all about this clergy reshuffle altogether while we are in a pandemic.

Photo from Reddit.com

Remaining in Jesus in quarantine, in suffering with his sheep

We are living in a very historic moment of humanity, a suffering so widespread the world over, perhaps eclipsed only by the two world wars of the past century.

We in the country, especially in our province of Bulacan, are so blessed we have never gone through wars and other major calamities except for the perennial floods of the rainy season.

This is the only time we are truly one in suffering with our people.

And to think, we are not yet suffering that much as priests unlike in Italy and Spain where many priests have died due to corona virus!

I am not asking nor praying for more sufferings, of getting infected with COVID-19.

Simply be with our people for a longer period of time not until we get a semblance of some “normalcy” from this pandemic.

Yes, that could take until 2021 or November the soonest because for us to be thinking or be preoccupied with our new assignments at this time must be the least of our concerns, even something we should not be thinking at all considering the plight of our sheep these days.

The quarantine must be heaven sent for us priests to finally go down on our knees to pray more often than before, to be silent and be one with the Lord again whom we have banished from our altars and ministry especially at this time when many of us have already fallen into the trappings of television and social media to become instant celebrities.

For those having problems in their parish, transferring to another assignment will not solve our many issues. We just have to accept the truth the problem is not among the people but in us, priests. This quarantine is a silver-lining to show the goodness within us, the Christ in us who have been muddled by past mistakes and misinterpretations by people and brother priests.

Photo by Lorenzo Atienza, carving of the Good Shepherd on the cathedra at our Malolos Cathedral.

Again, my apologies to our bishop and brother priests.

I have no intentions of knowing more nor claims to have received a message from God or his angels, not even in my dreams.

We may all be ready to transfer but, how about our people?

On May 11, we shall be commemorating the second year of the passing of Bishop Jose Oliveros.

I do not have fond memories with him.

But one thing I have learned from him is this: in 2006 I asked him permission for me to serve in Canada. He allowed me to go there to see for my self. He asked me to return after one year before making any decision because he told me, whatever is the will of God for me, God will surely let him know it too.

Glad I have obeyed him.

In the same way I am sure the Lord is speaking to us about his plans for our reshuffle.

Mine is just one.

Salamuch for listening.

The road to Emmaus from clarusonline.it

Some lessons from Emmaus

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 26 April 2020

This is for my brother priests and fellow communicators in the church who might be failing to recognize Jesus Christ along the way and sadly, stuck at Emmaus.

That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the tings that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.

Luke 24:13-16

We live our faith today in a mass-mediated culture.

Media is all around us.

Vatican II tells us that these modern means of communications are gifts from God that are “necessary for the formation of Christians and for pastoral activity” (Inter Mirifica, 3).

Communication is a sharing in the power of God who created everything by just saying “Let there be…”. When this power to communicate is mishandled and eventually abused, sooner or later, it can blind us and prevent us from recognizing Jesus in our midst.

And sadly, it is already happening.

Even before the start of the enhanced community quarantine, many of us were already using the various platforms of social media proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

But, are our hearts still burning deep inside in him and for him?

Is Jesus still the One we are proclaiming, or are we now trying to be like the so-called “influencers” of the secular world that we are more preoccupied and focused with gimmicks and antics, shows and bravaduras for the sake of followers and likes?

Are our hearts still burning with the Sacred Scriptures or the words of the world that we have made our ambos and altars like studios and stage complete with all the props to tickle the bones of people than build up their faith and experience Jesus?

On the road to Emmaus, after Cleopas had expressed their feelings and thoughts to Jesus, he and his companion fell silent and simply listened to Jesus explaining the Sacred Scriptures. No need to shout or mimic voices.

No need to keep on clapping hands like in a circus or even dance like Salome who later asked for the head of St. John the Baptist.

It is sad that on the road to Emmaus, it has become our monologue, our show that Jesus can no longer speak.

Remember that “in the beginning was the word, and the word became flesh”: God’s communication is always preceded by silence.

Even in the road to Emmaus, there was total silence when Jesus spoke that the two disciples were silent that they felt their hearts burning.

As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them…

Luke 24:28-33

The Mass and our Priesthood are both a mystery so unique especially for us. It is something beyond explanation without much physical descriptions but more of inner recognition.

Exactly like Easter: the moment we recognize Jesus in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, he vanishes because he is more than enough than anybody or anything else in the Mass and in our ministry in general.

Even in our very own lives!

St. Mother Teresa asked us priests long ago to “always give (them) Jesus, only Jesus”. And that will always be valid until the end of time when Jesus comes again.

And here lies the great lesson for us from Emmaus: the more we try harder, insisting on giving “physical appearances” of Jesus in our celebrations with our showbiz kind of preaching complete with a song and dance number to the excessive use of modern means of communications like slide presentations during homilies to our “creative liturgies” that are very distracting to other trappings of overdoing everything called “triumphalism” — that is when we BANISH Jesus from the scene.

In Emmaus, Jesus vanished when the disciples’ eyes were opened.

In some Masses today, unfortunately, Jesus is banished and many eyes are not only left closed but sadly, even blinded.

“Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio.

We are priests called to preside the celebration of the Eucharist in persona Christi.

We priests do not own the Mass and we cannot insist on whatever we want to do, even if it is very pleasing and delighting to the senses of the people.

Do away wit all those “styles” and gimmicks.

Jesus saved us not with activities; Jesus saved us by dying on the Cross.

If all we are concerned with is to “feel good”, to tickle our bones and senses, our eyes – and those of the people we serve and bring closer to God would never be opened to recognize Jesus Christ.

Our Masses and other celebrations need only Jesus, always Jesus.

There is no need to put our pictures in every tarpaulin or announcement. Rest assured that every disciple of Jesus is always good-looking and handsome. Believe. And stop bragging it.

Let us have him always and let others recognize him from within. If there is no inner recognition of Jesus, maybe we have never met him at all. Neither in Emmaus nor in Jerusalem nor in our selves.

A blessed week ahead of you, my brother priests and fellow communicators of Christ, in Christ.