Road trip in time of COVID-19: the company we keep in life’s journey

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 04 February 2021

We have started this travelogue sharing with you how the Divine — God and music as food of the soul — have guided us in this road trip. He is the Invisible Hand leading us to directions not found on maps nor recognized by GPS, leading us to new discoveries not only to places outside but deep within us.

Let me now share with you the people we have met in this road trip, our companions who enriched our journey.

The word companion is from two Latin words cum + panis that mean “someone you break bread with”, not just someone you travel with but someone you share life with. After all, every journey is not just about places we visit but more of the persons we travel with and meet along the way.

During our first stop at the Baras Church, its sacristan mayor named Alvin told us an interesting story that had allegedly happened at the Pililla Wind Farm before its closure last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Alvin, a group of bikers in 2019 allegedly posed half-naked while doing the dirty finger sign with the wind turbines as background. The people at the wind farm felt the place “desecrated” by that act especially after the photos were posted in social media, prompting them to tighten security in the area until the pandemic came that have kept it closed since then.

Though we have no way of verifying Alvin’s story about the “desecration”, it was not farfetched at all considering our penchant for anything notorious and vulgar like – sorry for the terms – kasalaulan and kababayun.

How sad that everything is desecrated and disrespected in our country like a whole environment, public places that include parks and monuments, even churches and schools as well as culture and history, not to mention the people taken for granted especially the weak and marginalized.

But it is not that bad at all. Especially in the province of Rizal where local residents remain warm and hospitable. Most of all, honest and trustworthy.

We were actually laughing because we both did not know how to take selfies…

This we have experienced first hand after Dindo had left his wallet at a convenience store two kilometers from Baras. When we returned to the store, we were so impressed because the guard and another staff member were waiting for us to give us back the wallet. We did not even leave our car as the wallet was promptly handed to us without asking us any questions at all.

Honesty is still very much alive here in our country. We just have to trust and be honest with others, too!

In fact, one thing we noticed that whole Thursday in Rizal was how everybody was so kind and nice, especially at the three churches we visited in Baras, Tanay, and Morong.

They were so kind and courteous with a ready smile to everyone, not grouchy like in some parishes. I did not have to introduce myself as a priest to be treated well that I felt like coming home while visiting those three churches!

It prompted me to commend Msgr. Rigs de Guzman of Tanay in having formed so well their church workers and volunteers whose goodwill flowed so naturally, not rehearsed nor faked because we were visitors.

St. Joseph Parish at Baras, Rizal.

Such kindness and niceties are things becoming so rare these days in many churches in our predominantly Christian nation when people complain against priests and lay people alike in being so cold and impersonal in dealing with the faithful who complain, saying “mga taong simbahan pa naman… kay susungit at sasama ng ugali.”

Sometimes, people leave the Catholic Church not because of difficult teachings and doctrines but of difficult people who failed or refused to witness Jesus Christ in their lives as his servants and disciples.

Parish of St. Jerome in Morong, Rizal.

At the beautiful Parish of St. Jerome in Morong, we arrived while a funeral Mass was ongoing. Not knowing where to park as the patio was filled with people, I drove up its old and beautiful driveway all the way to its main door.

Surprisingly, nobody blocked or prevented us from driving there; when I asked if we can park there, the people simply nodded their heads in approval!

And when we went to the parish office to ask permission to go to the side altar to pray, one of the volunteers willingly led us inside so we can comfortably have a seat.

After we have prayed, we decided to skip our usual picture taking due to the ongoing Mass, choosing to feast our eyes with the amazing sight of this church’s unique architecture built by Franciscan Missionaries in 1620 and renovated to its present structure in 1853.

As we marveled at the imposing but genteel facade of the Morong Parish Church, I somehow got a feel of the people’s vibrant faith nurtured by their pastors who must be so dedicated too to have maintained its old and original architecture. One may also notice the same thing with the modern churches in the Diocese of Antipolo that covers the ecclesiastical province of Rizal where there is that blending of faith, arts, and architecture.

They must be so rich in having “respect” as in respect to the past, respect to the culture, and respect to the people that they have kept their many old and modern churches unaltered for so many years.

Altar of the Parish of St. Ildephonse in Tanay, Rizal declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in 2001.

How sad is the “edifice complex” afflicting some priests especially in our own Diocese of Malolos in Bulacan where many churches, old and new alike, have been disfigured with never ending renovations and constructions as well as overdecorating them that many have looked like cheap cakes smothered with icings.

Many seem to have forgotten the direct correlation between “church as the people gathered in faith” and “church as a building”.

Incidentally, the term used by the early Christians to refer to the Holy Eucharist as they gathered together was “breaking of bread”, a direct reference to our word companion because in every religious gathering, the companionship of the people is indicative of their kind of faith in God.

How lovely it is to see our churches, especially the old ones, as companions in our faith journey in God, to God!


'The real voyage of discovery consists 
not in seeing new sights,
but in looking in new eyes."
--- Marcel Proust

As we end this series of our travelogue, we go back to the lovely Parish Church of St. Ildephonse at Tanay, Rizal where we found something so mysterious like Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic and Deacon Blues.

On the left wall near the main door is found the Seventh Station of the Cross when Jesus fell for the second time on his way to the calvary. It is a huge woodcarving done by local artisans in 1785 using local colors like the Malay features of the images depicted with their brown complexion, large and round eyes, and “squared” body features.

See the man leading the pack blowing a carabao horn for a tambuli while the soldier carried a bolo instead of a sword?

Most unique of all that makes Tanay’s Stations of the Cross as the most amazing and beautiful in Asia is that man at the middle wearing sunglasses, looking afar.

No one can truly explain why that man was portrayed as wearing shades that were already in existence at that time from China called “smoked glasses”. Some claim that man is the high priest Caiaphas who led the Sanhedrin in the trial that found Jesus guilty of blasphemy for claiming himself to be God.

Still, it does not answer the question why wear shades?

My kinakapatid Dindo claimed the woodcarving proves that rock and roll had long been in existence since the time of Jesus Christ, the real Superstar as presented in the 1970 rock opera by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber.

Rock and roll is more than a kind of music. It is a way of life, a different kind of looking at things that try to disregard conventional and traditional ways by trying to get to the very roots of the things we do and hold on to.

Again, the word roots is from the Latin radix from which comes the word radical to describe people with revolutionary thoughts who go against the usual and accepted ways of life by going back to the roots of our many ways of life.

Radicals are not necessarily violent who shake our beliefs to see things more clearly like the woodcarver of this Seventh Station of the Cross in Tanay.

He must be telling us how often we try to color the world according to the hues and shades we want to see it that we become oblivious to the plight and sufferings of those around us like Jesus falling for the second time. Sometimes the key in truly enjoying this journey called life is to take off our shades and see others in their true colors by revealing also our true selves.

That is the greatest joy of every road trip when we do not really take the trip but it is the trip that takes us, giving us new eyes to see life in new perspectives and dimensions never seen before.

Our recent road trip actually started even before we planned it three years ago. Dindo and I have been traveling together as companions – breaking bread with each other – sharing life, its joys and pains, fears and hopes long before we took this road trip.

Though we travel on different roads in life, our paths have merged in various points and intersections without us really knowing it, deepening our ties and friendship truly as kinakapatid. It was actually a trip started by our dads who were cumpadres and never did I imagine those trips to their home at Little Baguio every New Year while growing up would eventually lead us to Baras, Tanay, Pillila, and Morong in Rizal!

In between songs and stories and jokes as we got lost going to Pililla Wind Farm, we have realized that we all have the same problems and issues in life. They just come in different shapes and colors that make every journey so wonderful.

Where have you been lately? And how are the people you have met? Try to remember the people you have been traveling with as companions in this journey of life. Thank them and most of all, take a break to let any trip take you — a road trip, a food trip, or any trip except bad trip!

Thank you very much in joining me in this blog and trip. May God bless your journey as well as your companions. Amen.

A “postscript” to St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 19 October 2020
St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome from en.wikipedia.org.

It is really funny these days at how things we grew up with have changed so differently like the postscript we used with initials “P.S.” at the end of letters as an afterthought we sent relatives and friends about 40 years ago.

Today, a postscript is more of a trademark and an application in computers but for my generation, it is from the Latin “post scriptum” that means “written after”.

Consider this piece, my dear Reader, as a postscript or PS to St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians we heard proclaimed during weekdays from October 5-14, 2020 where he explained and reflected about faith in Jesus Christ whom he loved so much.


Faith is having a relationship with God, 
not to obtain things from him.

We always hear people say “have faith” in everything we pray for. Always believe that God will hear us, God will grant us what we need and ask for.

But what happens when we do not get what we are praying for like when a loved one is not healed or recovers from a sickness and eventually dies? Or, flunk an important exam or maybe fail to close a major deal in business? Does it mean we lack faith? Or, is that the main purpose of having faith in God, to obtain things and favors from him?

See how St. Paul called the Galatians “stupid” for being misled by false teachings on the gospel of Jesus Christ: some preachers had come to Galatia at that time telling them of the need to be circumcised like the Jews who converted to Christianity in order to be saved. He wrote the Galatians primarily to rectify those errors they have seemed to believed, where he introduced the doctrine of “justification (salvation) by faith in Christ”, not by rituals and other practices men do. It is not to dismiss our traditions but to stress the primary role of faith in Jesus Christ who died for our sins to save us.

O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. I want to learn only this from you: did you receive the Spirit from works of the law, or from faith in what you heard? Are you stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, are now ending with the flesh?

Galatians 3:1-3

Sometimes like the Galatians, we end up with the flesh, believing more in things we do like rituals and other things than truly believing Jesus because we use faith to obtain things from God.

No! We believe because we relate: every relationship like marriage always presupposes faith in the other person. Even Jesus in teaching us how to pray, he taught us the “Our Father” which is an expression of a relationship.

Wedding of my former student, Micah and Lery Magsaysay, February 2020.

Being faithful means being realistic.

Jesus himself assured us that faith can move mountains and do other great things for us if we truly believe. This is perhaps the reason we always equate faith in asking for so many things from God.

Not at all. We also have to be realistic with things we ask from God. He is not a magician who has to please and entertain us with his miracles and powers. When we were in high school seminary, the late Fr. Nick Cruz, SJ gave us a recollection and told us we cannot simply ask anything from God like a rose blooming from your toothpaste to prove he calls you to the priesthood!

Being realistic in our faith by praying first of all to have Jesus, only Jesus and always Jesus!

When Jesus told us to seek and you shall find, to ask and it shall be given to you, and to know and the door shall be opened to you (Lk.11:9-10), he was not telling us to ask for money and gadgets. If we are going to be realistic in our faith, Jesus is telling us to seek God and you shall find him, to ask God and you shall have him, and most of all, God is the only door when we knock would surely open us to new beginnings.

In explaining the unique call we have received from God in Christ, St. Paul gives us the whole reality of our being Christians, of having a faith that is realistic.

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:27-29
Photo by author, August 2020.
Faith demands conviction and consistency.

God’s gift of faith in us is not everything; we have to cultivate and deepen our faith to experience its wondrous fruits and grace. See the kind of conviction of St. Paul in proclaiming and explaining his faith in Jesus Christ.

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the Gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:11-12

Like the Galatians, many of us are easily swayed by so many other beliefs and teachings that are misleading, claiming to be a part of the faith we have received. Without firmness and conviction in our faith, some among us have gone to accommodating modern thoughts and lifestyles that run contrary to our faith in Christ like abortion, same sex marriage, and in-vitro fertilizations or test tube babies.

A believer without conviction and consistency in faith and actions is not faithful at all. What happens with our “faith is a relationship” when the chips are down, when we are confronted of either being for God or against God?

Sometimes we try “moving the lines”, convincing ourselves that we are not crossing the line of morals and morality like when we are bent on accommodating others and ourselves in some occasions to justify personal preferences.

Sad to say, it happens even among us clergymen like when we tinker with the liturgy and the sacraments in the name of modernism and of arts and worst, with some issues pertaining to acts intrinsically sinful and immoral.

Maybe if we would have the conviction and consistency of faith, we would all be like the good Samaritan in the Lord’s parable – a neighbor to everyone especially those in need, willing to cross the street to faithfully reach out to others in Jesus Christ (Lk. 10:25-37).

Try examining our faith today. Has it bloomed into a relationship we keep with God our Father in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit or has it remained as it is, a given, a safety net just in case we need?

Have faith, have God and we’ll journey far, together! Amen.

From americamagazine.org.

On Wednesday, we reflect on being faithful and free, and how faith works through love. Have blessed Monday and see you again!

You may also check our prayers from October 05-14, 2020 based on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians at the archives of http://lordmychef.com.

Let Christ possess us

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
XIIIth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, 28 June 2020
2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16 >><)))*> Romans 6:3-4, 8-11 >><)))*> Matthew 10:37-42
Photo by author, Dome of the Chapel of Nativity at Shepherd’s Field, Bethlehem, the Holy Land, May 2019.

Jesus continues his lessons to us his disciples being sent to look for the “lost sheep of Israel”, to be not afraid for he is with us in this journey and mission. But, it is not enough that we have Jesus on our side and be present among us: we have to allow Jesus to take possession of us completely!

From having no fear because Jesus is here, Christ now deepens his presence by inviting us to be possessed by him, to be in communion with him.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 10:37-39
Photo by author, processional Cross at the altar, 2019.

The Mystery of the Cross

Discipleship in Jesus Christ is more than a total allegiance to him who is neither a demanding nor exacting Lord and Master for he does not arbitrarily impose himself upon us.

Nothing like that of subservience but something more lofty because it is wrapped in a mystery — a mystery of love freely given and shared to us by God even if we do not deserve it all. Remember the mystery of the Blessed Trinity four Sundays ago (June 07)?

Ever since, God has never imposed himself upon us, that we should love him back in return for he does not really need our love. He gave us the gift of freedom so that we may love him freely for he never imposes on us.

And here lies the beauty of discipleship, of this relationship we have with God that is based solely on love expressed to us in the most personal manner by giving us his Son Jesus Christ who suffered and died on the Cross but rose again on Easter. This we were reminded by the Solemnities of the Body and Blood of Jesus and of his Sacred Heart last June 14 and 19 respectively.

Now you see my dear readers the clearer picture of our liturgical celebrations expressing our concrete experiences of being loved by God in Jesus Christ most especially during times of trials and sufferings like in this COVID-19 pandemic.

It is Christ who made the initiative to be one with us in our pains and sufferings; God did not remove our crosses in life but made them holy in his Son Jesus Christ so that every time we go through life’s many difficulties, we share in the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

That is why, we are invited to take and carry our cross every day for it is through the Cross we are saved. It is not enough to simply believe in the person of Jesus but we need to accept and embrace his Cross because it is through which he had won our salvation by dying on it and rising again.

This is easier said than done. It is so difficult to love Jesus more than our loved ones like family and friends. And it is most difficult to love the Lord more than our selves, when we have to let go of our plans and agenda.

Letting go and letting God in itself is already crucifying — but that is when this mystery of Christ’s love and of his Cross deepens further when we lose ourselves in him!

Celebrating Mass without te congregation during the ECQ, March-April 2020.

Possessed by Christ

To be possessed by Jesus is to receive God and his gift of salvation through the mystery of Christ and his Cross. Like our Christian life, proclaiming the gospel carries with it the sign of the Cross of Christ.

We are not asked to reenact or reproduce his Crucifixion nor is Jesus asking us to be suicidal or go against our natural aspirations and dreams.

To be possessed by Jesus means we continue to take care of ourselves without neglecting the needs of others.

To be possessed by Jesus means being generous to others in the same manner Jesus has always been generous to us.

To be possessed by Jesus means to realize that every act of self-giving is really an act of receiving!

Photo by author, Malagos Park, Davao City, 2018.

That is the paradox of the Cross, of discipleship in Christ: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt.10:40).

And that is also where the mystery of Christ’s love deepens because whatever we give is not really ours but Christ’s.

Every time we give love, it is the love of Jesus.

When we are kind and generous with others, it is the kindness and generosity of Jesus we give and share.

When we are patient and understanding to others, it is still the patience and understanding of Jesus in us.

Even if we give and share material things like money, food, clothing… whatever good we share and give are all from Jesus not from us.

And the more we give, the more we receive!

Have you noticed especially during this pandemic how the generous among us are now more blessed?

Wonder no more because you have allowed yourself to be possessed by Jesus Christ!

This is what the woman at Shumen had realized after welcoming the Prophet Elisha into her home in our first reading. She even gave him a room to stay every time he comes for his mission while the Lord provided all her needs, even rewarded her with a son as promised by Elisha.

When we allow Jesus to take over us, when we enter into communion in him and with him in his very life, we become more free to love, we strengthen our relationships with others, we wander less and worry less in life; most of all, we feel lightened in our burdens with the presence of Jesus giving us fullness of life in him.

This is the grace I hope we have seen from this quarantine period, especially those two months of lockdown when were freed from our usual grind and busyness with more time to be silent and still, to pray and reflect on our relationships with God and with others. It was a difficult and very trying period that had given in return a lot of opportunities to others.

Photo by author, Marcos Highway, 2019.

Dead to sin, alive to God

Brothers and sisters: We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:9-11

It has been four months since houses of worship were ordered closed to help stop the spread of the corona virus. Somehow, the lockdown had made us realize the importance of receiving the Sacraments especially the Holy Eucharist.

But, sacraments are not everything for we have the bigger roles of putting into practice its reality of being the saving presence of Jesus Christ.

Now that lowly life is beginning to go back to its usual grind especially the traffic, soon we might forget again the more important things in life like God and our relationships in our family and friends that it is hoped we have rediscovered during the quarantine period.

That is why I strongly feel the government must now allow Churches to open so the people may experience again God in the sacraments and in our rites and rituals lest they get busy again with so many things only to miss finding anew the meaning of our lives found in silence and stillness before the Cross of Christ.

It is my hope that in this quarantine period, may we find through the Cross of Jesus that when we learn to submit and surrender to him, that is when we truly become free; and, when we lose and give away our lives to him, that is when we gain fullness of life in him. Amen.

A blessed week and a more abundant July to everyone!

Coming to terms with death is coming to terms with life

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 13 February 2020

Photo by author, Mt. St. Paul, Trinidad, Benguet, 04 February 2020.

At the Ascension of the Lord, St. Luke tells us something very unique and unusual: the disciples returned to Jerusalem filled with joy.

Unusual and unique because when someone leaves us, either permanently like death or temporarily due to change of residence or jobs, we always feel sad.

But not the Apostles of Jesus along with the other disciples including Mary who were filled joy!

And so are we today because when someone dies, the person or our beloved does not leave us entirely. Though we do not see and feel them physically anymore, we continue to experience them personally.

Sometimes, we even grow more personal that there are people we feel getting closer with them after they have died.

Photo by author, Mt. St. Paul, Trinidad, Benguet, 05 February 2020

As I have been telling you, 2020 for me is tough with so many deaths in our Parish, in my family, and among my friends. Since last week of Christmas until the other week, I have been praying and celebrating funeral Masses almost everywhere.

This week, funeral Masses continue while at the same time, I have started celebrating the 40th days of those relatives and friends who have died last month.

In 1995, my father’s younger sister was stricken with pancreatic cancer. Being the eldest at that time among his nine surviving siblings, another aunt called me to ask my dad’s decision regarding their sick sister, if she would still go through surgery and just go home to Los Banos and wait for the inevitable.

He simply told me, “tell your Tita to just bring home Tita Rose; she had suffered enough and had lived a full life.”

Photo by author, Los Banos, Laguna, 13 February 2020.

That is when I realized that coming to terms with death iscoming toterms with life, and vice versa.

I know it is easier to say but that is how life is: we are often afraid to die because we know we have not fulfilled something yet, a mission or a promise made.

People who enjoy life, people with a sense of contentment are always the ones without regrets, always fulfilled, and ready to go.

And always, they are the ones who truly love that is why they live fullest, Valentine’s day or not.

God bless you and keep loving!

Photo by author, Collegeville Subd., Los Banos, Laguna, 13 February 2020.

Our “Bestest” Gift of Christmas

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 30 December 2019

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, Carigara, September 2019.

Today we conclude our series on the best Christmas gifts we have received following Christ’s coming more than 2000 years ago: the gift of childhood, of being child-like.

What a joy to keep in mind how God the Almighty chose to become human like us to show us that the path to true greatness and power is in becoming small like an infant, being like a child.

How foolish that we always “play” God to be great and powerful!

The central mystery of Christianity is our transformation from world-wise, self-sufficient “adults” into abiding children of the Father of Jesus by the grace of the Holy Spirit. All else in the Gospel, from the Incarnation of the Lord to his hidden and public lives, his miracles and preaching, his Passion, Death and Resurrection has been for this, of becoming like a child.

The late Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Unless You Become Like this Child” (1991, Ignatius Press)

The child-like attitude of Jesus Christ

The best gift we can have this Christmas is to be child-like, to regain and reclaim our sense of childhood, of attending to that “inner child” within us when we trust more, believe more!

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, Carigara, September 2019.

See how Jesus Christ entrusts himself not only to his Father but most of all to us!

That is the touching message of the Nativity scene, of how our Lord and God, the King of kings through whom everything was created giving himself to us like a baby, asking us to love him, to take care of him, to be gentle with him, to protect and keep him safe from all harm.

And the key to claiming this great gift of being like a child is for us to learn again how to trust more and fear less like Jesus who showed us by example, not only with words his being child-like.

His constant acknowledgement of God his Father always speaking and doing his will tells us how Jesus from childhood into is adulthood remained like a child by entrusting his total self to God, reaching its highest point on the Cross when he cried out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk.23:46).

Trust more, fear less

To be like a child according to the example of Jesus Christ is to always trust God and others, and fear less.

Like us, Jesus experienced fears, getting afraid of death but unlike us, he courageously faced death by trusting the Father by “resolutely” going to Jerusalem to be crucified!

When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, Jesus resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.

Luke 9:51

It is normal to have fears, to be afraid.

Fear is not totally negative; it has its good effects that have actually led mankind to every great progress in life like the discovery of new lands and territories, new medicines, new inventions and other things. 

Fear becomes a liability when it prevents us to trust more like little children. 

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

Kids and young people are often “positively” fearless because they trust so much nobody would hurt them or no one would forsake them. 

As we age, our fears increase because our trust decreases:  we fear so many things because we are afraid of losing the little we have, we are afraid of getting hurt, we are afraid of starting all over again.

We are afraid of getting old, of getting sick, and of dying. 

What an irony how we started in life fearing almost nothing as babies and kids that we grew up so fast but as we aged and matured, we fear so many things that we have stopped growing and stopped living even long before we actually die.

The other day, December 28, we celebrated “Niños Innocentes” or “Holy Innocents” to remember those male children below two years old ordered killed by King Herod for fears of the “newborn king of Israel.” 

Herod lived in constant fears of being deposed in power that he ordered the killing of his three sons and ten wives after suspecting them of trying to overthrow him.

We may not be like Herod with the way we react with our many fears but like him, we end up with same effects like death of friendships, death of love, death of everything, the end of life and adventure.

Maybe that explains why somehow as we get older, we “mellow” and become like children again, realizing we cannot control everything in life, that it is always best to act than to react in every situation.

Do not miss out this great gift of Christmas of becoming like a child.

Trust Jesus Christ who called on us not to be afraid for he is with us always!

Best gifts of Christmas

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 27 December 2019

Dome of the chapel at Shepherd’s Field near Bethlehem where the angels appeared to some shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus Christ more than 2000 years ago.

By this time, many of you must have opened the gifts you have received this Christmas. Some are happy, some are not – even disappointed – while there are others who simply do not care at all with the gifts they have received.

But gifts are not everything. What really matters most are the persons and the love and thoughts that come with every gift we have received this blessed season.

Below are some spiritual gifts I feel we need to be thankful too!

The “little door” that leads into the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem that has come to mean the need to bow low and be humble in order to meet Jesus Christ not only inside but also in our daily life. Photo by author, May 2019.
  1. The gift of hope. Hope is not thinking positively that things can get better like the weather. Hope is having a firm belief that even if things get worst, there is God who always loves us, who takes care of us. People with hope always look forward in the future whether here or in eternal life. They are also the most loving people around, the most understanding and most forgiving. They always strive, work hard to make things better for them and for others. Those without hope are the most evil: they will kill and destroy everything and everyone because they have nothing to look forward to in this life or hereafter. The kind of life we live always indicates the kind of hope we have. Or do not have.
  2. The gift of desert. Sometimes, life becomes a desert for us, when we are desolate and so barren with everything dry and even lifeless. But it is during our desert moments in life when we not only meet our true selves but most of all, that is when we meet God. It is in this meeting with God in our desert we experience healing from all our hurts and disappointments in life. We need to withdraw once in a while to our desert to silently pray in order to hear God’s voice anew in our inner selves. In our mass mediated world today when we are bombarded with wants and needs to be rich and famous, the more we end up empty and lost. But when we dare stay in our desert and try to listen in silence, the more we are attuned with life’s realities, the more we are enriched and deepened in our lives.
  3. The gift of intimacy. From our desert experiences of barrenness and desolation, of silence and prayer, and a lot of reflections and introspections come the great gift of intimacy with God and with others. We come to realize who our true friends are when our chips are down, when we are alone and badly bruised and beaten in life. How ironic that when we are so filled with material things, that is when life for us becomes superficial and shallow. But whenever we go through many desert storms, that is when we come to realize the most important in life – the persons who have touched us for better or for worse, the persons who make us experience to be loved and to love.
An oasis at the Dead Sea desert. Photo by author, May 2017.

We shall continue with our other lists of spiritual gifts this Christmas tomorrow.

How about you, what are the spiritual gifts you wish to share with us that may also help us deepen our Christmas celebrations this 2019?

We’ll be glad to hear from you also.

A blessed Christmas weekend to you.

Why old friends are the best

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 16 November 2019

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A friend from the mid-80’s recently invited me for lunch when in the midst of our conversation she asked me how I unwind and take breaks as a priest considering my toxic schedules.

Suddenly, I just felt so light inside being filled with joy when I answered, “good old friends like you”!

We had a hearty laugh together as we remembered those good old days and nights with our other friends, wondering together how far we have all come in life, hurdling all those many struggles of our younger years.

When I was ordained priest in 1998, I promised to “leave behind” my family and relatives as well as friends to give myself totally in serving Jesus Christ among those people entrusted to my care.

I am so glad when I recently found out that I have not really turned away from them when I embraced a lifetime service to God because they have continued to keep me too as friend!

Old friends are always special because they have stood the test of time, standing by our side, believing in us during those many dark nights we have gone through even without us knowing it!

True friends are indeed a treasure especially those we have known and kept over the years because even if we no longer see each other so often or even communicate with them despite the suffocating social media around us, we have remained good friends deep in our hearts.

It is something we mutually feel deep inside for each other because despite our separation from college and from work or residence, we have never grown apart from each other as if there is an invisible thread that links us together.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

I used to tell young people in my recollections that friends are always a gift from God. Each friend is unique, each with his/her own strengths and limitations. There are no perfect friends but if we can allow our friendships to have spaces for love and kindness, respect and understanding, mercy and forgiveness, friends can truly be the best gifts we can have in life.

Friends are a gift because they are always wrapped in mystery: the moment we receive them, we really do not know what is in store for us. In a similar manner like the lyrics of a song we loved singing in our daily Masses in the Minor Seminary (high school), friends are “gifts of God to me, who come all wrapped so differently: others so tightly, others so loosely, but wrappings are not the gift.”

Our task in every friendship is to uncover a friend’s “giftedness” to us, something which we cannot change. We can nurture and cultivate our friendships but we cannot force our friends into becoming someone they are not meant to be.

Every friend’s giftedness is from God because every friend is a signpost for us to be closer with God: some eventually become partners in life as husband and wife while others become the bestest of friends as “emotional shock absorbers” or a inspirations to another.

That, my friend, is something we cannot and must not dare alter because as the saying goes, people come to our lives for a reason, for a season, and for love.

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Pexels.com

Lately I have been seeing – “catching up” – some good old friends. What I like best when we are together is the ability and gift to laugh our hearts out like never before. There is something so deep with old friends laughing together not only with old jokes and anecdotes we cannot forget but also with some new realizations that come with our age.

And we laugh together, we realize we are not alone after all. There is still somebody very much like us, somebody we continue to grow up with, somebody who understands our fears and anxieties because he/she is also going through the same phase in life or have just gone through something similar.

That is why good old friends are the best because despite our long separation, we still find each other traveling, walking through the same path albeit for sometime in parallel manner.

They are the best because good old friends eventually teach us to be more appreciative and grateful with life and with friends who continue to journey with us no matter how slow and cranky we have become.

Cheers to all our old friends! Make time to reach out to them. Your message or text or call could mean so much to them!

Prelude to leaving into living

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 31 October 2019

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As the penultimate month of the year, November for me is something like Thursday – so relaxed when people seem to slow down in anticipation of the coming end of the year or week. It acts like a cushion to prepare us for the “stress” of December or Friday. Or, a prelude to leaving, then living.

Cold winds from Siberia we call amihan intensify during this month while autumn is about to end in the western hemisphere. The climate contributes greatly to this laid-back feeling in November almost everywhere, maybe except Down Under where I haven’t been to.

Photo by hiwa talaei on Pexels.com

Like autumn’s falling leaves, November is marked with three festivals associated with the dead to signal life and eternity.

On its first day, we celebrate All Saints’ Day in recognition of all the departed souls – including our beloved, of course! -now in heaven considered as “saints” aside from those canonized by the Church.

Day after tomorrow, November 2, we celebrate All Souls’ Day to pray for all those departed, especially our loved ones who are still awaiting entrance into heaven in Purgatory.

Then, on November 11, we celebrate St. Martin of Tours’ feast with a “Martinmas” in the old calendar of the Church after which Advent began for the Christmas countdown. Winter also starts in Europe and North America after the Martinmas immortalised in some poems and literature of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Incidentally, St. Martin of Tours (France) used to be a major saint in Europe because he is one of those first saints recognised by the Church as holy people who have died not as martyrs when persecution finally stopped and Christendom started to rise and “flex” her influence.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Today, November 11 is celebrated as “Remembrance Day” in Europe along with the Commonwealth nations of Britain and “Veterans Day” in the United States in honor of those who have died in the line of duty during the First World War that ended at the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year” in 1918. Red poppies take the centerstage on this day to signify the blood offered by the fallen soldiers in that first world war, something very similar to the Christian thinker Tertullian’s assertion that “the blood of the martyrs are the seeds of the Church.”

So many deaths, but so many lives too!

And that is why we celebrate these feasts, whether in the Church or in our civil society.

This is the tragedy of our time when despite all the technological advances and affluence we now have, the more we have been saddled with fear and pains of death and dying.

Focus is more on death as a solution, as an end.

Or, as an entertainment like the pagans in ancient Rome’s Colesseum and of many benighted Christians today celebrating spooky Halloween that underscores the debunked dark side of death.

Photo by Lorenzo Atienza, Malolos Cathedral, 12 June 2019.

In the Old Testament, death was a curse to man’s sins but with Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection, death has become a blessing because he has made it our passing too into eternal life.

No, there is no gap between this life and life-after. It is a continuum where death is just a prelude to eternity.

November is a wonderful reminder to us all of this truth we seem to have forgotten these days when all we see and even seek is darkness and death.

November is like a door opening us towards the end of the year that leads us to new year. The weather is so lovely, not so cold and not so hot, perfectly reminding of the beauty of life and reality of death that invites us to live fully and authentically.

This long weekend, I strongly recommend you read Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s second encyclical, Spe Salvi that speaks a lot about the beauty of this life and life-after. His reflections are simple yet so profound and so touching like the following.

“Man’s great, true hope which he holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God… Life in its true sense is not something we have exclusively in or from ourselves: it is a relationship. And life in its totality is a relationship with him who is the source of life. If we are in relation with him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself, then we are in life. Then we “live”.

Spe Salvi, number 27.

One of the beautiful movies I have seen while on vacation in November-December 2005 at the US East Coast was “The Last Samurai” starring Tom Cruise who was asked by the boy Emperor of Japan at the end, “Tell me, how did my samurai die?” Tom Cruise replied, “I shall not tell you how your samurai died but how he lived!”

Live life, share life, enjoy life in God and with others!

“Someday We’ll Know” by the New Radicals (1999)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music, 06 October 2019

Photo by Essow Kedelina on Pexels.com

I was a newly ordained priest assigned to an all-boys’ high school in 1998.

People were looking up to me as a priest or a “man of the cloth” but my students and the younger generation counted me in as “one of them” when they learned my favorite bands at that time were the Eraserheads, Sugar Ray, and New Radicals. And like this blog, I would spice up my homilies in the Mass and reflections in class and recollections with modern music so our students could make “sakay” (ride) with God’s words and lessons from the Bible.

Just like our featured song on this lovely Sunday by the New Radicals released in 1999 from the only album they have released a year earlier called “Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too”, “Someday We’ll Know” is a song about love at the beginning was thought to be so perfect that later ended up in separation.

Two years after their split, the man was still wondering what happened to their seemingly perfect love, at why he was dumped for another guy by his beloved.

And the bittersweet part is the that the man in the song is wondering not out of desperation but because he still loved the woman, believing and hoping that…

Someday we’ll know
Why Sampson loved Delilah
One day I’ll go
Dancing on the moon
Someday you’ll know
That I was the one for you
I bought a ticket to the end of the rainbow
I watched the stars crash into the sea
If I could ask God just one question
Why aren’t you here with me

Faith and love always go together. People who truly love are the most faithful!

In the gospel today, the Apostles asked Jesus Chris to increase their faith upon learning from him the many trials they have to go through in fulfilling their mission from him.

Sometimes in life when things do not go according to our plans, when bad things happen to us despite our efforts to become better persons, we cry out to God in pain, even complain at all the destruction and disorder we go through in life.

And every time we pray to cry out to God in pain or complain, it is a sign of grace that he is within us. Prayer is an ability we can only do with grace from God; that is why, when we pray, our prayers are already half answered because prayer is definite sign of God being with us.

When things are not going well with you now, have faith in God.

Keep praying, keep believing, keep trusting God because someday we’ll know….

When God writes straight with crooked lines

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Thursday, Wk. XIV, Yr. I, 11 July 2019, Feast of St. Benedict
Genesis 44:18-21, 23-29; 45:1-5 >< )))*> Matthew 10:7-15
CICM Retreat House in Taytay, Rizal. Photo by author September 2009.

Praise and glory to you, O God, our kind and merciful Father! You never fail to amaze us with your immense love and goodness to us, most especially whenever you write in straight crooked lines in our lives.

Nothing bad ever comes from you. But, if ever something that is not good happens to us, you always ensure it could lead to something beautiful and wonderful. Like with what happened to Joseph, the son of Jacob, who was sold by his brothers but later became an Egyptian official of the Pharaoh.

Our first reading today when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers in Egypt is one of the most moving drama scenes in the whole bible for me. It shows also the tremendous faith and love Joseph has for you and his brothers.

“Come closer to me,” he told his brothers. When they had done so, he said: “I am your brother Joseph, whom you once sold into Egypt. But now do not be distressed, and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.”

Genesis 45:4-5

Increase our faith in you, God, especially when things do not turn out according to our plans and wishes. Let us trust in you that despite our many failures and sins, you will never abandon us to be devoured by the beasts of the forests.

On this feast of St. Benedict, we borrow his prayer for seekers of faith that we may be worthy of our call as Apostles of Jesus sent to “proclaim the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt.10:7).

Gracious and Holy Father,

give us the wisdom to discover You,

the intelligence to understand You,

the diligence to seek after You,

the patience to wait for You,

eyes to behold You,

a heart to meditate upon You,

and a life to proclaim You,

through the power of the Spirit of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

From Google.