How do we look at each other?

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Week II, Year II in Ordinary Time, 19 January 2022
1 Samuel 17:32-33, 37, 40-51   ><)))*> + <*(((><   Mark 3:1-6
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 2020.
Your words today, O Lord, 
invite me to examine and reflect
sincerely how do I look at others, 
what do I think, what do I search
on others I meet or encounter?

With his shield bearer marching before him, the Philistine advanced closer and closer to David. When he had sized David up, and seen that he was youthful, and ruddy, and handsome in appearance, he held David in contempt.

1 Samuel 17:41-42
Forgive us, dear God our Father
when so often we "size" up everyone
we meet, when we always try competing
with everyone, examining their outward
appearances to compare them with our
very selves, with our competencies and 
abilities, or records and backgrounds.

Jesus entered the synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand. They watched Jesus closely to see if he would cure him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him.

Mark 3:1-2
But the most unkindest look we make
at others is when we condition ourselves
at finding faults and sins and slightest malice
against others for whatever they do;  what
a shame when our hearts and minds "see"
evil when what our eyes truly "see" is all good.
How difficult it must be for you, merciful Jesus,
to experience it happening even among us who 
claim to be your disciples and followers, that until
now you are "filled with anger and grieving 
for our hardness of heart" (Mk.3:5).
Cleanse our minds and our hearts to find your
image and likeness in everyone we meet,
purify our biases with others so we start
to mean what we keep on hearing
and saying to one another, 
"may the Lord be with you".
Amen.

Life directions and freedom

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

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

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

That is why life is more of a direction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loved and touched by God

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday after the Epiphany of the Lord, 07 January 2022
1 John 5:5-13   ><}}}'> + ><}}}'> + ><}}}'>   Luke 5:12-16
Photo by Mr. Howie Severino of GMA-7 News, 2018, Taal, Batangas.

It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where Jesus was; and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.” And the leprosy left him immediately.

Luke 5:12-13
Dearest Lord Jesus,
today I pray for the many other
people living "full of leprosy" 
among us - people separated from 
the rest of us because of so many 
reasons like the poor and homeless 
and others living in the margins 
of the society, people we have 
ostracized because of afflictions we
are ignorant of like those with AIDS/HIV,
the drug dependents, the ex-convicts who 
could not reintegrate in the society and 
others we simply do not want to deal with
because they are different from us in color 
and beliefs.  Worst, even in our own circles
of family and friends, there are some people
we treat like lepers - persons supposed to
be dear to us yet we always hurt, betrayed
and unkind to.  
So many people these days
are living like those people "full of leprosy"
during your time who are not welcomed at all
in the society and in their family.
Use us, Jesus, use our hands,
our arms, our limbs, our total selves
to "touch" them, to make them experience
your love not just an a concept or an
idea up in the air but a reality one could
really feel like touching.
Let us be more loving, Lord Jesus, like you
who would love sincerely so that the lepers
among us may feel your touch and embrace;
so many people are totally unaware of what
is to be touched by God because so many
of us you have blessed have become so
selfish and self-centered, many among us
are turning away from you, refusing 
to believe in you, denying your reality 
as truly divine and truly human, 
a God detached from 
humanity.
Touch us again, Jesus,
awaken our senses to
overcome all the indifferences
and cynicisms afflicting us 
so we begin touching others
too with your love and kindness.
Amen.

New year, new directions

The Lord Is My Chef Christmas Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday After January 1, Epiphany of the Lord, 02 January 2022
Isaiah 60:1-6 ><]]]'> Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6 ><]]]'> Matthew 2:1-12
From Google.com.

Metro Manila’s main thoroughfare is called EDSA for Epifanio delos Santos Avenue.  Its namesake is a famous scholar from the province of Rizal whose name means “manifestation” or “appearance” from the Greek epiphanes

EDSA today may be considered as the epiphany of everything wrong in the country, from government inefficiency to people lacking in discipline and patriotism.  Mention the word EDSA and you feel sad and gloomy all of a sudden.

But, the Epiphany we celebrate today brings joy and jubilation because it is the manifestation of the universal kingdom of Jesus Christ to the pagans symbolized by the magi from the East.

After the octave of Christmas on January 1, Epiphany reminds us on this joyous season of Christmas that while deep within each one of us is a natural search or inclination for God, it is actually God who looks for us and eventually finds us.

It is always a grace from God that we desire him and his grace is doubled even tripled when we are like the magi who search and follow God in his “epiphanies”!

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

Matthew 2:1-3
The Magi with baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Source: Henry Siddons Mowbray / Public domain

Nobody really knows for sure where and who were those magi who looked and came for the Child Jesus at Bethlehem. They are called kings as attested from our first reading, “Rise up in splendor!  Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you… Nations shall walk by your light; kings by your shining radiance.  Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord” (Is.60:1, 4, 6). 

From this part of Isaiah’s prophecy we also got that picture of the three wise men traveling as kings from the farthest parts of the world of that time riding on camels to show how everyone, from the most most powerful to the simplest of men and women of the world recognize Jesus as the King of Kings. 

At the start of this new year 2022, our third year in this COVID-19 pandemic, we are invited to be wise like the magi to search for that Bethlehem where we could find rest and comfort, solace and consolation in the newborn king Jesus Christ. It takes a wise person to search for Jesus – and a wiser person to lead others to Him! 

The Epiphany of the Lord reminds us that Christ came to the world to be the fulfillment of everyone and He had become human like us in everything except sin so we can find Him easily right within us, there in our hearts where he is born everyday, where he dwells.

Every new year, every day is a new beginning in Jesus, a day of his epiphany leading us to him. The wise men coming from the East where the sun rises show us Epiphany as a new beginning in our lives, representing our inner journey in life to find and follow Jesus Christ. 

From Google.com.

It is said life is a journey; but, as a journey, life is more of a direction than a destination. So often in life, it is really the trip that matters most, the people we journey with as companions that make our life so meanignful.

What matters most in life is we keep on following Jesus Christ our light, our star.  That is direction, where He is leading us.  It never stops.  We just keep on following Him until we reach our final destination in heaven for we are all “coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6). 

This direction we have to follow in life never stops for the discovery of God is not the end but the beginning of a journey.  And in this journey in Jesus Christ, we do not simply go as followers but are expected to eventually become believers too.  Matthew noted at the end of the gospel today how the magi “departed for their country by another way” (Mt. 2: 12) to show how they have become believers eventually of Christ.  Their lives have changed and must have never been the same as before after finding Jesus because they have believed, so unlike Herod and the experts at Jerusalem who knew everything about the Messiah being born in Bethlehem but refused to believed him. 

This is the danger with us today:  many Christians today are mere followers but not wise enough to be believers of Christ.

We all dream to be fulfilled in life.  And every lofty dream is always from above, from God as Matthew told us this Christmas the dreams of Joseph and now the dream of the magi.  It is said that those who dream with their eyes wide open are the real dreamers, the trailblazers who change the world.  That is because they did not only believe in their dreams and with themselves but most of all, they believed in God. 

On this Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, He is inviting us to dream and believe so that we may live fully in Him.  Every day is a new beginning to search and follow and believe Jesus Christ our light.  Today we are given with over 350 days to begin anew in Jesus.  Be wise.  Search Him.  Follow Him.  Believe Him.  Happy Epiphany of the Lord! Amen. 

Photo by author, Ubihan Island, Meycauyan, Bulacan, 31 December 2021.

The Cross looming at Bethlehem

The Lord Is My Chef Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
A Funeral Homily, 29 December 2021
Photo by author, Basic Education Department chapel, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City, 24 December 2021.

The Christmas liturgy offers us valuable lessons about life, of essentially the meaning of Christ’s coming into the world: He did not remove death and suffering but instead came to suffer and die with us so we may rise with him to eternal life.

Looming over the Nativity scene at Bethlehem is the Cross of the Calvary as we immediately see (except this year) the following day after Christmas on December 26 when we celebrate the feast of the first martyr of the Church, St. Stephen and again on the 28th when we wear red vestments during the Mass for the feast of the Holy Innocents massacred by Herod after being duped by the Magi.

These lessons of our Christmas liturgy become more real, even surreal for some, when there is death happening during this most joyous season of the year.

On this fifth day in the octave of Christmas, we heard from the gospel of Luke the story of the Presentation of the Child Jesus at the temple met by two elderly people promised by God to see the Christ before dying, Simeon and Anna.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”

Luke 2:25-32

What a matter-of-fact story this Christmas of awaiting death, awaiting Christ’s coming!

What a beautiful scene reminding us of the realities of life and of death, coexisting side by side.

“Presentation at the Temple” painting by Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna done around 1455; Mary holding Baby Jesus while St. Joseph at the middle looks on the bearded Simeon. Photo from wikipedia.org.

Life is like our two hands, the left and the right, always with ironies and paradoxes: life and death, light and darkness, joy and sorrow, triumph and defeat, gains and losses.

That is how life is wonderfully portrayed today by Simeon who held in his arms the Child Jesus, filled with joy, basking in the sacred moment with the Savior, and the words that came from his mouth was about dying: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people.”

That is the “moment of Christmas” we mentioned last Saturday: “Christmas is therefore a blessed event, a most sacred moment of holy communion of man and God in Jesus Christ that continues to this day in the most regular yet miraculous reality of life going on amid many joys and pains, victory and defeats, prosperity and poverty, health and sickness, light and darkness and even in death” (https://lordmychef.com/2021/12/24/rejoicing-christmas-moments-all-year-through/).

Simeon shows us that it is only when we have fully appreciated this life we have in God do we fully accept and welcome death which is eternal union with God. Coming to terms with life is coming to terms with death and the same holds true vice-versa. That is why like Simeon we have to strive to live attuned to the Holy Spirit always to be aware of those sacred moments when Jesus comes to us in our daily living.

Photo by author, 18 November 2021.

I know, these are easier said than done… and, yes, it is doubly painful when our loved ones leave us during this Christmas season but when we try to reflect on it deeply, we find it more meaningful.

Ten years ago I met a family in my previous parish who have come to gather for 41 years every Christmas since their mother passed away on Christmas day. They told me how they were celebrating Mass on a bright sunny Christmas day when they have to immediately leave to rush to the hospital where their mother had died after a lingering illness. It was then I learned that their mother was born on March 24, the eve of the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus; that’s when I told them of how blessed they must be: their mother was born on the date we celebrate the Incarnation of the Son of God while she entered eternal life on the date we celebrate Jesus came to earth! They loved the imagery I have shown them and from then on until now, I have been invited to their family reunions….

That is the main blessing of Christ’s coming here on earth: he sanctified death that before was a curse. Recall how we have mentioned that Jesus Christ’s Pasch actually began at Christmas, when he passed over from heaven to earth, from eternal to temporal which reached its highest point in his Passion, Death and Resurrection that led to our salvation.

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

When the pandemic came last year, everybody laughed at the year 2020 with all kinds of memes and jokes, describing the year supposed to signify “perfect vision” as the worst and most disastrous. It was labelled so bad and almost cursed that everybody eagerly awaited 2021. Now, the jokes and memes are back, calling 2022 sounds like “2020 too”, insinuating another round of disasters as COVID surges happen in Europe and the States.

But, that is life.

As we have said at the start, it is like our two hands, the left and the right. There is always life and death, light and darkness, joy and sadness. That is why Jesus came and from then on we have reckoned time to his birth because every year is an Anno Domini, the year of the Lord.

Whenever we put our hands together at prayer, life and death becomes one along with joy and sorrow, light and darkness in Jesus Christ who gives meaning and fulfillment in everything.

Handle life with prayer. God bless you all!

Prayer for adults to find the Child Jesus again this Christmas

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday, Feast of the Holy Family, 26 December 2021
1 Samuel 1:20-22. 24-28 ><]]]*> 1 John 3:1-2. 21-24 ><]]]*> Luke 2:41-52
“The Finding of the Savior at the Temple” painting by William Holman Hunt (1860) from en.wikipedia.org.
Dearest Lord Jesus:
It is still your birthday 
and how sad that people
insist that Christmas is just
for kids, forgetting there won't be
Christmas at all without adults
like Mary and Joseph,
Elizabeth and Zechariah.

but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at is understanding and his answers.

Luke 2:45-47
Teach us, dear Jesus, 
to go back to Jerusalem -
to go back to prayer and
simplicity and humility,
to go back to God as adults
to find you again this Christmas;
so many of us have been so
busy with so many other things
in life like career and earning a 
living, or this season when we were
so caught up with the rush and 
madness that we have forgotten 
about you found first in the family.
Yes, Lord Jesus, 
you willed in your becoming
human to dwell among us
that you be born in a family,
in the husband and wife of 
Joseph and Mary;  we pray for
couples going through crises
in their relationships or have 
separated already by choice or
circumstances; we pray for families
where everyone is forgetting one's
role, losing respect for one another
that they can no longer find you
in the love they must have for
each other; we pray for children
who refuse to honor their mother
and father in words and in deeds.
Let us find you again, dear Jesus
like a child in our sense of wonder 
and awe among our family members'
daily and simple acts of kindness
and love; let us find you again, dear
Jesus in our being our true selves
as children of the Father belonging
to one family; and most of all, let us
be grateful again for our families
for their gifts of life and presence
despite our many imperfections for
it is only with a grateful heart that we 
truly remain like children at heart,
always believing and trusting in God
who is our life and meaning.  Amen.

Advent is when God comes to free and raise us up to him

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Simbang Gabi 9, 24 December 2021
1 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16   ><]]]*> + <*[[[><   Luke 1:67-79 
Photo by author, sunrise at the Lake of Galilee, the Holy Land, 2017.

As we complete today our nine-day novena to Christmas, Zechariah comes to full circle in the gospel when he sings the Benedictus (Latin for “Blessed”) to praise and thank God not only for restoring his speech but for the gift of a son John the Baptist and of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Last Wednesday we have mentioned to you how we priests, monks and the religious along with other dedicated lay people would sing or recite Mary’s Magnificat at the end of our Evening Prayer called Vespers, Zechariah’s Benedictus is what we pray at the end of our Morning Prayer called Lauds (Latin for praises).

It is a wonderful prayer welcoming the new day filled with God’s blessings of life and fulfillment, joy and peace, love and mercy. What a way to start each day already assured of being a blessed one for everyone.

As we prepare for Christmas tonight and tomorrow, it is worth praying the Benedictus today to pause at three important verbs we find at its beginning:

Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.

Luke 1:67-69

For Zechariah, God is blessed because “he has come (or visited) to his people, set them free (or worked redemption), and has raised up for us a mighty Savior from the house of David”. Like Mary’s Magnificat, we notice in Zechariah’s Benedictus the verbs are in the past tense when everything seems to be just starting with John’s birth who would herald the coming of Jesus still be born six months later.

But, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit when he sang this that he must have perceived that early – like Mary – the many great things God had done to him personally and to them as a nation. Most of all, he had sensed- finally, after months of forced silence – the most unique wonderful things God is doing for him and everyone including us today.

This is the reason why we pray the Benedictus every morning for it affirms and not just awaits the tremendous blessings God has for us each new day.

Photo by author, altar of the Church of St. John the Baptist, the Holy Land, 2019.

Everyday, God comes to us, visiting us with his gift of life. A few months ago, former US Secretary of State and decorated soldier Colin Powell died of complications from COVID-19. An accomplished military officer and manager, one of his leadership lessons is that “It ain’t as bad as you think.”

Powell explains that after every disaster, there is always a solution and a way out of every mess in life. There is no need for us to worsen the situation with overthinking because in the coming of each new day, things get better.

So true! Zechariah had the worst days of his life of not having a child for the longest time then made mute by an angel for challenging the wisdom of God. After being forced into silence for nine months, he realized how each day is filled with blessings with God himself coming to us.

Rejoice every morning you wake up by first praying and connecting to God who comes to us daily before checking on your gadgets for messages and news that often dampen your mood. Like Zechariah, the first thing to come from his mouth and lips when his tongue was loosened was praise and thanksgiving to God.

When God comes, his first blessing is always our liberation from sins and baggages that have overburdened us, enslaving us for so long that we have practically stopped living. To experience God in Jesus Christ is always to experience freedom to do what is true and good. To be free in Jesus means to be free from sins and anxieties and fears brought about by our bondage to evil and darkness.

Zechariah felt so free that he was able to praise and thank God for his gifts of life and a child. And Savior, Jesus Christ who had come to his home when Mary visited Elizabeth earlier.

Everyday is blessed primarily because God raised up for us a mighty Savior in Jesus Christ. This is the most wonderful part of Zechariah’s Benedictus, “God has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David”. It was very clear with him the role of his son John, a herald of the coming of the Savior who is the fulfillment of God’s promise of old.

Photo by author, 2019.

Each day in Jesus promises us to make it better than yesterday. If we were sick yesterday, today we can recover our health. If yesterday we have failed, today we shall triumph. If yesterday we have lost, today we shall gain for Jesus has conquered everything even death for his love for us.

Likewise, we are invited to become a John the Baptist everyday not only to prepare the way of the Lord but most of all be the sign of the Lord’s presence.

As John the Baptist, we are challenged first to examine our very lives, our inner selves. So many times we get carried away with the many parties and activities of Christmas like gifts to give or receive as we focus on the wrong aspects of this most joyous feast of the year.

Like his father Zechariah, let us rejoice in the presence of God who became human like us so we may also rejoice in the presence of every person especially our loved ones who make Jesus present among us. Let us make this Christmas a true celebration of the presence of Jesus in us not only today but throughout the coming 2022 as God continues to bless us with lower COVID infections. Amen. May God bless you always, heal you of your sickness, and fulfill your prayers this Simbang Gabi!

Advent is “sacred moment” with God visiting us

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fourth Sunday of Advent-C, Day 4 of Simbang Gabi, 19 December 2021
MIcah 5:1-4  ><}}}*>  Hebrews 10:5-10  ><}}}*>  Luke 1:39-45
Photo by author, bronze statues of Mary and Elizabeth at the patio of the Church of the Visitation at Ein Karem, Israel, 2017.

We are now in the fourth Sunday of Advent, the final stretch leading to Christmas. Part of that shift in focus of readings and prayers since December 17, we hear today the lovely story of Mary’s Visitation of Elizabeth.

It is very rare in the bible to find a story of two women meeting and conversing, especially women of faith sharing God’s joy and blessings like Mary’s visitation of her cousin Elizabeth six months pregnant with John the Baptist, the Precursor of Jesus Christ.

It is a very wonderful occasion in this Season of Advent when God visits his people before finally coming to dwell with us at the birth of Jesus Christ.

This early through Mary, Elizabeth felt strongly God’s coming and visitation – a sacred moment, a blessed period of encountering God in our selves and through others.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:41-45
Photo by author, facade of the Church of the Visitation at Ein Karem, Israel, 2017.

Christmas is a story of love, about the meeting of lovers with God as the Great Lover who gave us His only Son because of His immense love for us. That is why it is also a sacred moment, a blessed and holy moment!

Recall that time you fell for and truly loved someone so special: every moment is so sacred and divine, so special because you know something extraordinary had happened, is happening and would soon be unfolding when this love grows and matures!

You feel humbled by the occasion why would somebody so wonderful choose to love you, recognize you, and find you special among many others. It is very touching, bringing kilig moments.

How unfortunate these days this love of Christmas so sacred has been cheapened and degraded into superficial and romantic love about mere feelings and emotions that are physical and sexual in nature as we hear in “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, “Last Christmas” and “Pasko na Sinta Ko”.

The word “lovers” may be too serious as a term for us to relate this with today’s gospel but, the truth is, both Mary and Elizabeth were so in love with God who clearly loved them so much with children in their womb bound to change the course of human history forever. They in turn, were also filled with love for each other as expressions of their love for God. And when there is love, there is holiness or sacredness that is always manifested in God’s tenderness which is the most endearing description of God’s love and mercy.

At the Visitation, both Mary and Elizabeth felt God working in them, doing great things in them despite their being women at that time and unfortunately until now when women are always looked down upon by our patriarchal and chauvinistic culture and society.

Both women felt so loved by God, especially Elizabeth who was filled with the Holy Spirit to say, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Photo by author, ceiling of the Church of the Visitation at Ein Karem, Israel, 2017.

Elizabeth had perhaps been accustomed to seeing herself as the one who was barren and therefore also shamed. All her adult life as wife of Zechariah the priest, she had carried a burden or “excess baggage” in her mind and identity that she could never forget that is why Luke tells us how she went into seclusion after conceiving John:

After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying, “So has the Lord done for me at a time whe he has seen fit to take away the disgrace before others.”

Luke 1:24-25

Her life had a complete reversal and turn around when she conceived John and that is why at the Visitation, she was so amazed with God, recognizing the honor and privilege given to her to be in the story of the coming of Christ.

Elizabeth had no idea she could mean so much in the plan of God, asking “who am I?” that all these great things could happen to her, having a child at so late an age and now visited by the Mother of the Lord, wondering what is going on? Something so big, so great is happening and she just could not grasp it!

We all have such “sacred moments” with God when we felt so loved, so blessed that we feel so humbled, wondering deeply in all honesty why me, Lord? And yes, we always know so well why God should not choose us: because somebody is more smart, more patient with lesser wrong decisions in life, and simply better than us.

But that is the mystery of God explained by the angel to Mary at the Annunciation, nothing is impossible with God. He can make the barren and old like Elizabeth bear a child and so does a virgin like Mary.

God could always choose anyone like you and me because he wants us, he believes in us.

This fourth Sunday of Advent, God is visiting you with all the tenderness or “lambing” of a great lover, telling you, convincing you to value your self, value your life, value others because he has great plans for each one of us

Photo by author, 16 December 2021.

Tenderness is one God-like quality we all have but have buried deep into our innermost selves due to our refusal to love for fears of getting hurt and left behind or, even lost. When Mary heard about Elizabeth’s condition, she simply followed her human and motherly instincts that are in fact so Godly – she went in haste to visit her.  Elizabeth, in turn, welcomed her.

The question is, do we have a room to welcome God’s coming visit to us like Elizabeth?

Also on this Sunday as we listened to the beautiful story of Mary’s visitation of Elizabeth, let us remember or if we can, let us visit the important women in our lives God had chosen to share with us his Son Jesus Christ. Let us express to our mother or wife, sisters or aunties and grandmothers, female friends and colleagues our gratitude and joy for the sacred moments we have had with God in their gifts of love and presence, kindness and patience, mercy and forgiveness and a lot of inspiration to be better. Amen.

Have a blessed week preparing for Christmas!

Each of us an “Emmanuel” too!

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Day 3, 18 December 2021
Jeremiah 23:5-8   ><}}}*> + <*{{{><   Matthew 1:18-25
Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, January 2018.

We have just concluded the “Year of St. Joseph” last December 8 but it seems due to the pandemic, we have not celebrated truly enough to realize the virtues and person of the most silent character in the New Testament, St. Joseph.

We find no story in the gospels with St. Joseph either speaking or conversing with anyone at all. At least the Blessed Virgin Mary conversed with the angel during the Annunciation and spoke to Jesus her Son upon finding him at the Temple and at the wedding feast at Cana. St. Joseph was totally silent and most of all, could sleep soundly despite the tremendous stress he must have gone through! Truly a man of great faith and trust in God!

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”

Matthew 1:18-20
Photo from vaticannews.va, December 2020.

Notice how Matthew presented the climax of his genealogy not only with the coming of Jesus Christ at the end but also in his lineage to St. Joseph he described as “a righteous man” and addressed by the angel in a dream as “son of David”.

In him we find that expression “silent water runs deep” so very true. Imagine the maturity and deep spirituality of St. Joseph being called as a righteous man or a holy man which for the Jews is one who obeys the Laws of Israel.

But in this scene of the Annunciation of Christ’s birth to him in a dream, Matthew goes deeper into what is to be holy as more than obeying the the Laws but most of all, abiding by the will of God always as described in many instances in the Old Testament like the Book of Psalms. If holiness were simply an adherence to the Laws, St. Joseph would have not decided to silently leave Mary found pregnant with a child not his; in their laws, she would have been shamed in public which St. Joseph avoided in trying to leave her silently. For him, higher than the letters of the law was the welfare and well-being of Mary and her Child that until then he did not know was the Christ.

At the same time, here we find the deep spirituality of St. Joseph: compared with Mary to whom the angel appeared and spoke in person while with St. Joseph, the angel appeared only in a dream. He had a more difficult situation discerning whether his dream was real or not, which we all experience upon waking up from a dream so real!

Only a man with deep spirituality, so attuned with God like St. Joseph could perceive the divine in fact while at the same time discern it as very true the will of God that “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus” (Mt.1:24-25).

Photo by Arch. Philip Santiago, mosaic of the Annunciation to Joseph at the Shrine of St. Padre Pio in San Giovanni di Rotondo, Italy, 2017.

In a very concise manner – like our very silent saint and foster father of Jesus – Matthew presents to us in this short story of the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus to St. Joseph all the critical and essential elements about the mystery of the Incarnation.

As we have reflected yesterday at the genealogy, Matthew now goes deeper into the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of God. This he beautifully presented also through the person of St. Joseph, a reminder of the need for us to be vessels of God’s graces and instruments of God’s works.

St. Joseph showed in this brief scene the true meaning of holiness, of being whole by seeking to find ways to bring into unity their laws and love and persons, something which Jesus Christ would keep on elaborating in his entire ministry, like his favorite expression “Sabbath was created for man, not man for sabbath.”

See how he tried to give more importance to Mary whom he loved so much that he was intent in not putting her to shame and harm. And upon listening and discerning the angel’s message to him in a dream, he obeyed everything, showing us the unity of the laws in love long before Jesus came to show it on the Cross himself. In accepting God and Jesus, St. Joseph had to take Mary; and in taking Mary, Jesus came into the world.

Here we are challenged by the example of St. Joseph that we too become an Emmanuel in the sense that in our lives, we become the sign that God-is-with-us specially in this time of the pandemic and with coming elections next year. We need to pray more deeply and be attuned with God for his divine will that always takes unexpected turns, so different from our own ways and methods.

Photo by author, 15 December 2021.

To be an Emmanuel like Jesus and St. Joseph, one has to be definitely pro-life, one who values life and every person, regardless of his/her status in life.

Like St. Joseph, let us learn to be silent for God and be louder with our actions, always choosing and standing for life and for every person’s dignity.

Like St. Joseph, he chose from the very start the value of Mary as a person which is the hallmark of Jesus as Emmanuel, the God who became human to be with us because it is good to be human. Amen.

Man is a mystery

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Day 2, 17 December 2021
Genesis 49: 2, 8-10   ><]]]]'>  +  <'[[[[><   Matthew 1:1-17
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 2019.

Today we officially start our countdown to Christmas as we enter the second phase of Advent when all readings and prayers beginning this December 17 to 24 will focus on the first coming of Jesus Christ more than 2000 years ago.

And what a way to start this every year with Matthew’s gospel that begins with the genealogy of Jesus Christ!

All four evangelists have their own style in addressing the two most important questions about Jesus, then and now: Who is Jesus? Where is he from? Both questions are inseparably linked that in the final analysis, they also apply very much with each one of us too!

Every person is a continuum – a work-in-progress who cannot be chopped or sliced like a sausage. Every person is a one whole made up of every minute and second and years from the very start of his existence in his/her mother’s womb. In fact, even before that when we see life in its entirety in the plan of God.

That is the meaning of the genealogy of Jesus Christ that speaks so well of our origins too, of who we are. Matthew uniquely started his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus not only to present the roots of Jesus in the past but also to tell us about him in the present and in the future.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nashon, Nashon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse, Jesse the father of David the king. David became the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah.

Matthew 1:1-6
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 2019.

The genealogy of Jesus by Matthew tells us the beauty of every person, of each one a mystery, a gift of God wrapped in so many stories involving people and events who have shaped us, for better or for worse, always precious and valuable, never to be taken in parts but always as a whole.

Ever noticed that the more we get to know another person – whether as family member or friend – the more we realize we do not really know that much about him/her?

I always tell couples during their wedding how they must continue to get to know each other after marriage, to be always surprised by new things about each other as they mature in their love.

We cannot have a full grasp of every person in just one scoop or one flash. Every person is made up of years and years even before his existence with great probabilities and possibilities of what he/she can be in the future!

See how the Son of God is so much like every one of us with a not so perfect background. Though he is from the lineage of Abraham and David, the two most prominent figures in Israel’s history, we find so many kinks and quirks behind each name mentioned in his genealogy. It was on Abraham God fulfilled his promise to make him the “father of all nations” while it was on David’s line came the King of kings, Jesus Christ.

But, as we go into details of the genealogy, we find bizarre things like how Jacob stole the birthright of his elder brother Esau from their father Isaac to become the ancestor of Jesus. Jacob in turn had 12 sons but instead of passing on the “scepter” we heard in the first reading to Joseph who was most qualified of his sons, Judah was chosen to be the leader of his sons from whom the Christ would later come from.

Judah was not that good at all being a part of the sinister plot of his brothers in selling their youngest brother at that time, Joseph, to Egypt; then, he got his daughter-in-law Tamar pregnant after she pretended to be a prostitute when her husband died without leaving her a son. Judah was already old and could not give her a son to her husband to have a child; hence, Tamar devised a plan of pretending as a prostitute to lure Judah into her. And it worked – much to the shame of Judah and family!

If Tamar pretended to be a prostitute, one of the five women mentioned in the genealogy was actually a whore, Rahab. When Joshua sent spies into Jericho led by Salmon, they hid inside a “red house” ran by Rahab. She offered them help in exchange for the safety of her entire family should they succeed in conquering Jericho and they did by just going around the city and blew their trumpets! Jericho fell and so did the heart of Salmon for Rahab and they had a child named Boaz.

A further twist into the genealogy of Jesus came with Boaz who married a pagan foreigner named Ruth, the daughter-in-law of Naomi who went back to Israel when her husband and two sons died. Ruth insisted in coming with her and while picking grains at the field of Boaz, the two were introduced to each other and love blossomed between them who were blessed with a son they named Obed who became the father of Jesse who was the father of the future King David.

Now, David was not that totally faithful to God at all: he sinned big time against the Lord!

First, in having an illicit relationship with the wife of his army officer Uriah named Bathsheba. When their forbidden love led to Bathsheba having a “love child”, David tried all means to avoid fatherhood but failed. So, he ordered Uriah positioned in a battle where he would surely get killed and it worked so well, giving David the free hand to take Bathsheba as his wife and their love child became his successor, King Solomon. King David suffered greatly from the grave consequences of his sins agains the Lord who forgave him and never took back the promise that from him would come the Christ.

Photo by author, San Fernando, Pampanga, 18 November 2021.

As we read on further in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ, the plot thickens as the drama unfolds further revealing to us the many colorful as well as controversial relatives and ancestors of the Lord who did not just appear as an isolated human being.

His genealogy shows us the important aspect of his Incarnation of not only coming from God but also intimately and crucially linked with the history of his own people, just like each one of us.

Notice how Matthew did not attempt to sanitize or “photoshop” the genealogy of Jesus to paint his better picture or that of his relatives. There was no shortage of “skeletons in the Lord’s closet” and yet, it was to Jesus Christ that the “scepter” of power ultimately belongs, the fulfillment of God’s promised salvation who also comes to us everyday among persons we meet, in our family, in the most unusual instances and peoples too.

Photo by author, San Fernando, Pampanga, 18 November 2021.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem, today’s gospel reminds us how we too was the natural development of the long process of God’s relationships with people. In becoming truly human like us who had come from God, Christ’s birth reminds us that it is good to be human.

Most of all, for us to go back to God, to be closer to God, we have to be first truly a human person with no ifs nor buts because God loves us so much as he sees us. God believes in us that no matter how dark or painful or sinful our past may be, we can still have a brighter future in his Son Jesus Christ in whom we have our rootedness in the Father in faith.

This Christmas, let us remember our being a mystery in God and share this joy, this wonder with others. Like Jesus who became human to show us our blessedness in God, let us share with others too. Have a blessed Friday!