Roadtrip, vroom, vroom with Jesus & Zacchaeus, to the Moon!

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 30 October 2022
Wisdom 11:22-12:2 ><000'> 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2 ><000'> Luke 19:1-10

You must have heard so many times that rap music called Moon used as background music in almost every video posted on social media. The lyrics and its beat are simply amusing, easy to follow so fitted on everything including this Sunday’s gospel!

Sa'n ka punta?  To the moon
Road trip, vroom, vroom
Skrr, skrr, zoom, zoom
So fake, no room, mga mata namumula
Asan ang trees, nadala mo ba?
Bawal ang tus at peke sa byahe
Kung isa ka d'yan, ika'y bumaba...

Written and performed by a certain Nik Makino, Moon speaks of a young man’s ambition of getting rich through rap music; he is also aware of the fact that his dream is so “high like the sky” with everyone’s eyes prying on him as he strives so hard in working while still young.

I gotta mission, pumunta sa top
Buhay mahirap, gawing masarap
Gawa ng milyon, gamit ang rap 
Iwanan kasama na puro panggap
'Di mo 'ko magets, pangarap ay highs
Singtaas ng jets, tingala sa sky...

I have been asking some young people about the rap and mostly are stunned why I listen and so interested with it especially when I rap it too, saying how they find it so baduy (crass), meaningless or “walang kuwenta” with some calling it as ugly or “pangit”.

And that is how I realized this rap music Moon is so related with this Sunday’s gospel about Zacchaeus the tax collector who climbed a tree to see Jesus while passing by the city of Jericho.

At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy.

Luke 19:1-6

Again, only Luke has this story about Zacchaeus met by Jesus in Jericho, his final stop before entering the city of Jerusalem for his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

Keep in mind that Luke’s narration of the Lord’s journey to Jerusalem is more of an inner journey into ourselves than found in maps. What happened in Jericho shows the importance of the events that would take place at Jerusalem when Jesus offered himself for our salvation and how we can participate in his pasch through the example of Zacchaeus who reformed his life.

Unlike the parable last Sunday, here we have a real tax collector named Zacchaeus described by Luke as a “wealthy man”. Notice how Luke described Zacchaeus was “short in stature” which is not only literal but most of all figurative in meaning. Like the publican in last week’s parable by Jesus, tax collectors were despised by Jews at that time who were seen along the ranks of prostitutes as the worst of all sinners because they were not only thieves but also traitors who collaborated with their Roman colonizers.

Calling Zacchaeus as “short in stature” was really something else, that he was nothing at all. That is why he had to exert so much to see Jesus by climbing a sycamore tree. And there lies the beauty of the story, of how God had come in Jesus to meet us and save us.

When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

Luke 19:7-10

This is the most startling move by Jesus in this event at Jericho that is repeated in many instances in Luke’s gospel account to show God’s loving mercy to all sinners who humbly make the efforts to come to him, to see him, and experience his healing and forgiveness.

Luke had repeatedly shown us this unexpected and even shocking gesture of Jesus to everyone – then and now – at how he would favor sinners and bad people like that sinful woman who poured oil on his feet while dining at the home of a Pharisee (Lk. 7:36-50) and Dimas, the “good thief” on the cross to whom he promised paradise (Lk.23:39-43).

Jesus always comes to meet us but are we willing to meet him too like Zacchaeus? How far are we willing to truly embrace and welcome Jesus by letting go of ourselves, of our sins and other possessions?

If we could just have that sense of sinfulness again, we would realize that in this world, we are all small in stature before God. All these titles and wealth that seem to give prestige to us are all temporary and nothing. What God looks in us is our admission of our being small in stature before him, of being powerless like the persistent widow the other Sunday and the publican last week begging his mercy for we are all sinful.

Imagine that beautiful image of Jesus passing through Jericho, coming to our daily lives, making a stop over right in our hearts to stay and dwell. Most of all, see at how Jesus looks up to find us!

I love that gesture of Jesus looking up to us so much. Normally, we are the ones who look up to God up in the sky, heavenwards when asking for his mercy and favors. But there are many times that it is Jesus our Lord and God who looks up to us mere mortals who are so small in stature before him! What happened at Jericho under that sycamore tree was a prefiguration of what would take place at the Last Supper when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, of how he bowed down before them and looked up while wiping their feet dry. So wonderful! And that happens every day when we go back to him, when we do everything to get out of our way just to go to Mass, most especially to Confessions.

In the first reading, we are reminded how we are nothing before God but he chose to preserve us, to save us because he loves us so much:

“Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent. But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls.

Wisdom 11:22-23, 25

There is no doubt about the love of God for us, of his mercy and forgiveness expressed to us in his Son Jesus Christ who comes to us everyday in various events in our lives, in the people we meet and most especially in our individual and communal prayers like the Mass and Sacraments.

Jesus is always passing by and would surely come again as St. Paul assured us in the second reading.

The grace of this final Sunday of October as we go to the last stretch of the Church calendar this coming November is that God gives us freely the grace daily to make the efforts in meeting his Son Jesus. Every day.

Our desire to rise above our present state and status is an expression of that grace within us to become better although many times due to other factors, we misconstrue this in aspiring for material things like wealth and money as the rap Moon tells us. But on a deeper reflection as we continue in our journey in this life, we realize sooner or later that more than the things we can physically have, there are always more precious than these.

Like going to the moon, of being high up there in the sky, being one with God, enjoying his peace and salvation.

Like Zacchaeus and, Nik Makino, let us continue our roadtrip to the Moon in Jesus Christ by being true to ourselves – vroom, vroom, skrr, skrr, zoom, zoom – that we are beloved sinners and children of God.

Tara bumyahe pa-ulap
Sakto 'yung auto ko full tank
Pero kahit maubusan, paangat tayo tutulak
Bawal na muna ang pabigat
Lalo sa byahe na palipad
Kailangan kong makatiyak
Bago magka-edad, 'di na 'ko taghirap
Alam kong marami ang nakamasid
Dama ko marami ang naka-abang
Kung ano 'yung mga kaya kong gawin
Malamang ay 'di nila nagagawa
Kaya siguro lagi nakatingin
Kasi 'yon na lamang magagawa
Inaabangan ako na mawala
Kaso lang ang malala nadapa kakatingala.

Stay safe everyone and dry during these storms. Have a blessed week! Amen.

*Photo credits: Moon over the city by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News (2022); second and third by the author at Jericho, Israel (2019); fourth and fifth also by author in Tanay and Pililla in Rizal (2021).

Entering through the narrow gate

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II, 26 October 2022
Ephesians 6:1-9   ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>   Luke 13:22-30
Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, 2019.
Bless me, dear Jesus,
and forgive me for being like
that someone in the gospel
who asked you, "Lord, will only
a few people be saved?"
(Luke 13:23); many times
I am that someone in the 
crowd, so eagerly feeling inside
you would answer with a 
resounding "yes" to my 
question, feeling that I am one
of those few who would be
saved because I belong
to your chosen ones,
the ones "who ate and drank
with you, the ones you taught
in the streets" (Luke 13:26).
Forgive me Lord Jesus
for feeling so entitled;
let me realize your Kingdom
is not about affiliations nor
about the company we are with
but more of the path we take
in life, your path of the Cross.

He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.”

Luke 13:24-25
Entering heaven,
being a part of your
Kingdom, dear Jesus
is keeping our relationships
Christ-centered that begins
right in the family, to our parents,
of parents to children, of siblings
among each other, and with those
in the household.
How sad, dear Jesus,
when we all desire of heaven
when we make a mess of our
family life when couples are
unfaithful to each other,
when parents wrongly pursue 
wealth not realizing their children 
are their greatest riches, 
when siblings compete with one
another instead of loving each other,
and when children do not care at
all to their parents. 
O Lord Jesus Christ,
as we count the days 
until Christmas,
make us realize you
came to bring salvation
to the world by coming
through the husband and
wife of Joseph and Mary;
when you came to save us,
you opened the narrow gate
to salvation there on the Cross
with your Mother and beloved
disciple standing until the end.
Let us strive to enter
through your narrow gate,
Jesus, that is found first
in our own family.
Amen.

Faithful, grateful, and joyful

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 09 October 2022
2 Kings 5:14-27  ><000'>  2 Timothy 2:8-13  ><000'>  Luke 17:11-19
Photo by author, Egypt, May 2019.

Many times in life as we age and look back to our past, we find that our journeys are not geographical at all but more of spiritual ones. No matter how many places we visit or stay, our journeys actually happen within that lead us to our true selves, to others and finally, to God.

This is what St. Luke has been doing every Sunday as he guides us in following Jesus in his itinerary since he “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” last Sunday of June (Lk.9:51, 13th Sunday); the path we have been following is not really geographical but theological in nature.

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed.

Luke 17:11-14
Photo by author, Egypt, May 2019.

Again, our gospel this Sunday is so brief with many layers of meanings found only in St. Luke. Imagine Jesus going through pagan districts like Samaria where his fellow Jews never dared to go. That is how immense is God’s love for us – even if we undeserving of his love, he sent Jesus to look for us sinners signified by the ten lepers he had healed.

In fact, some exegetes claim the wording for the “ten lepers” who met Jesus should have been “ten men with leprosy” for a more accurate translation of the Greek leproi andres. According to them, St. Luke was emphasizing here that no matter what weaknesses we are afflicted with, we are still the same persons and human beings loved by God. Very often in life, we categorize and define people by their sin and weakness or crime and worst, by illness and defects as seen in our penchant for bansag (Filipino for name calling) like Kardong mandurugas or si Putol or even tabachoy!

St. Luke wants us to see everyone first as a human being, a person so loved by Jesus; whatever weaknesses we have must come later. This I insist during confessions to penitents to never call one’s self as “thief” if you have stolen something nor “liar” if you have lied because we all remain God’s beloved children even if we have sinned.

Photo by author, 2018.

There is no doubt in God’s love for us despite our being “unworthy servants” and being afflicted with leprosy, or whatever. What matters to him is the fact we are his beloved children. That is why in the first reading, God healed Naaman through his prophet Elisha despite his being a pagan and unbeliever. And worst of all, an enemy of Israel being a Syrian army general! St. Paul beautifully expressed this truth about God’s love and mercy in Christ found in our second reading today:

This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.

2 Timothy 2:11-13

What are the other diseases and ailments that make us cry “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us”? These are not literally a disease or sickness like leprosy but may have the same effects of alienation and depression with us like a vice too difficult to kick like drugs and alcohol or may be indifference and racism by others to us or our “self inflicted” ailments of arrogance, self-centeredness, and self-righteousness.

Many times, we hardly notice we are being healed slowly by Jesus of our many infirmities because our faith has never deepened and matured. The Samaritan noticed his healing because of the ten with leprosy, he was the only one truly faithful in awaiting Jesus Christ. He had faith in Jesus and though it was so small or too little, he had that faith nurtured that the moment he saw his skin cleansed, he remembered Jesus right away. As we have reflected last Sunday, faith is a relationship we keep, nurture and strengthen.

And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”

Luke 17:15-19
Photo by author, Caesarea, Israel 2017.

The scene is so lovely because the Samaritan healed of leprosy teaches us that grateful people are also faithful – and joyful ones! Faith is a relationship that is nourished by gratitude wherein we not only thank God and other people who have blessed us but also remain with them and in them; hence, we keep on coming back to thank them.

The more grateful we are to God and other people, the more we are blessed, the more we become joyful, and the more our faith is deepened! As we walk in faith in Jesus, experiencing those daily suffering and dying to self, we become more aware too of our rising to new life in him. That is when miracles happen as we return and stay in Jesus to praise and thank him like that Samaritan man healed of his leprosy. Or Naaman who asked to bring home some soil from Israel so he could worship God and nurture his relationship with him in the process.

Photo by author, 2021.

Faith, gratitude, and joy always come together. We experience them every Sunday in the celebration of the Eucharist that means “thanksgiving” in Greek.

The Eucharist is the expression of our faith in God in Jesus Christ that also expresses our gratitude to him for all the blessings he abundantly pours upon us. As the summit of our Christian life, the Eucharist defines our worship and living because it is the only way we can truly express our faith and gratitude to God who wishes only our salvation in his Son Jesus Christ.

In the Eucharist, it is not only the bread and wine that are changed into Body and Blood of Christ but even us who are made perfect in Jesus as his disciples and members of his Body, the Church.

In the Eucharist we experience the joys of being faithful, thankful and joyful because that is where we are saved as we encounter Christ in the most intimate and personal manner in his Body and Blood who slowly transforms us in him as we receive him.

Let us imitate that Samaritan healed by Jesus to always be grateful to Jesus, to finally go back to the Sunday Mass F2F, so that together we may all grow in faith and be joyful for being saved. Amen. Have a blessed week ahead!

The Cross, our door to heaven

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, 10 April 2022
Isaiah 50:4-7  +++  Philippians 2:6-11  +++  Luke 23:1-49
Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, ICS Chapel, 2016; sculpture by National Artist Ed Castrillo.

Officially we begin today the Holy Week leading to the Triduum of the Lord with Easter, the Mother of all feasts in the Church. Today we enter the “innermost room” of the house of God our Father after our 40 day journey in Lent.

We are actually celebrating today two distinct rites merged into one, the procession and blessing of palms to commemorate Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem that led to his arrest and crucifixion on Good Friday which we heard in the gospel proclaimed earlier. As early in the fourth century, Christians in Jerusalem have been commemorating the Lord’s entry to Jerusalem from the city gate while a hundred years later, the Pope ushered in the Holy Week in Rome by proclaiming the long gospel we have heard of the Lord’s crucifixion and death. With the reforms of the liturgy in 1963 at Vatican II, these two celebrations were merged as one with the designation as “Palm Sunday in the Passion of the Lord”.

More than a going back to the past, our celebration today reminds us of the ever-newness of Christ’s saving work and love for us while at the same time assuring us of the future that would bring us into the fullness of life in him with the Father in heaven. This we find in the last three words recorded to us by Luke while Jesus was on the Cross.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

The mercy and forgiveness of God

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Luke 23:34

Very consistent with his theme of the mercy and forgiveness of God to us as shown the other Sunday in the parable of the merciful father, a.k.a. the parable of the prodigal son, Luke presents to us again this most wondrous and touching trait of God in Christ even while crucified.

Again, only Luke has this detail of Jesus praying forgiveness for his enemies while being reviled and mocked by them on the cross.

It is another example of Luke’s artistry in presenting to us God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ in a sort of play of words, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” as we confront our selves with the question, “what do we really know?”

What do we really know at all that we continue to crucify Jesus today, nailing him on the cross with our many sins as we pretend and assume to know so many things in life?

Until now, we still have wars raging in various parts of the world, and more than half of these conflicts according to studies are ironically due to our different religious beliefs! Until now debates continue as everyone would want to have the power to decide for themselves who shall live and who shall die, from abortions to artificial contraceptives to capital punishment. Until now we pretend to know the truth and yet the more we have shown our ignorance as our problems become more complex than ever leading to more deaths, more disillusions, more anxieties and more emptiness in life.

And right there on the cross, Jesus continues to pray to the Father to forgive us for we do not know what we are doing to pave the way for the conversion of more others like Paul who realized he “acted out of ignorance in my unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13). In his other book the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us how Peter said in a speech to the people how they “acted out of ignorance in putting Jesus to death” (3:17). Here we find Luke driving at the basic truth how so often it is in our sinfulness and “ignorance” that eventually we come to “know” and realize God who is always ready with his unfailing mercy and forgiveness. The key is to emulate Dimas, the good thief crucified at the other side of Jesus on that Good Friday.

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

The promise of Paradise

He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Luke 23:43

Imagine the evil that men do portrayed by Luke in Christ’s crucifixion, of the relentless insults and mockery by the people on the ground and even up there on the cross when one of those hanging reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us”(Lk.23:39).

See how we are not contented and satisfied in putting others to shame but would even bury them deeply with insults as we say in Filipino, “baon na baon”. But, all is not lost as there is always a glimmer of hope. especially among the sinners and the ignorant who open themselves to god’s grace like Dimas who rebuked his fellow criminal, reminding him how they deserved the punishment but not Jesus “who has done nothing criminal” (Lk.23:41). It was at that instance when he snatched heaven by telling the Lord, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk.23:42).

And we all know the response of Jesus, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

What a great God do we really have in Jesus Christ! Despite the pains and sufferings of being nailed on the cross, he not only begged the Father for our forgiveness because we do not know what we are doing but most of all, readily handed our salvation, promising Paradise to anyone who would humbly surrender one’s self to him like Dimas.

See that Jesus was very precise in assuring Dimas and us with Paradise – right at the very moment we are in him, with him on the Cross of pain and suffering, of truth and righteousness – not later when they die nor on Sunday when he rises from the dead but TODAY, right now!

The very moment we open ourselves to accept Jesus Christ our Savior, that is also precisely the very moment he is very present in us and among us. The other moment Luke used the word TODAY to indicate the very moment of here and now was at the birth of Jesus when the angels told the shepherds “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Lk.2:11).

What a beautiful reminder to us all of God present among us in every here and now, not yesterday nor tomorrow, but today for indeed our God is “I AM WHO AM”!

Anyone who is always one in Jesus, one with Jesus is assured of Paradise, in fact already entering Paradise, our end and ultimate destination in life. This leads us to the third important words of Jesus on the Cross according to Luke…

Photo by author, Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center, Novaliches, QC, 2016.

Coming home to the Father

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last.

Luke 23:46

All four evangelists attest in their respective gospel account that Jesus died on the cross at the ninth hour or about 3:00 PM. Most of all, they tell us that Jesus died while praying.

In Luke’s account, Jesus’ final prayer was from Psalm 31:6, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” As we have mentioned in our previous reflections, Luke presents Jesus always at prayer like during the second Sunday of Lent during his transfiguration; only Luke tells us why Jesus went up that high mountain with his three Apostles in order to pray. Inasmuch as the transfiguration was a prayer moment, the crucifixion is the Lord’s prayer moment par excellence. Recall how we truly learn to “pray” when in deep pain and trials like before a surgery, when we no longer know how to pray or even have forgotten what is prayer all about except that we give ourselves entirely to God and to our doctors.

There on the Cross at his final moments, Jesus never ceased from doing good, always praying, always united and one in his Father in heaven. In commending his spirit into the Father’s hands, Jesus shows us exactly what discipleship is all about: everything we have, all we are are God’s. We have nothing to lay claim as ours in this life and that is the challenge to us daily: to live for God in Jesus through our loving service to others.

In this long passion narrative we heard today is the gospel, the very good news of our salvation as proclaimed by Paul in the second reading of how Jesus gave his total self in love to the Father for us all.

May we keep our eyes and our hearts open to Jesus, relying only in him like the Suffering Servant for he shall never put us to shame. We cannot experience the joy of his Resurrection unless we imitate Simon Cyrene, Dimas, John and the Blessed Virgin Mary in welcoming and following him in our daily life whether in the comforts of Jerusalem or the sorrows of Calvary for that is where we truly enter Paradise with Jesus, in Jesus. On the Cross. Amen.

Sharing the “vision of God”

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XXVIII, Year I in Ordinary Time, 14 October 2021
Romans 3:21-30   ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*>   Luke 11:47-54
Just a few minutes before the start of our Mass at a remote parish I helped last Sunday, these double rainbows greeted me as if God were smiling at me.
Your words today, O Lord
are difficult to comprehend;
words like "righteousness" and 
"justification" are words we rarely use,
terms our generation have forgotten;
but, we are still deeply grateful
to you in sending us these gems
through the insightful writings 
of your great apostle Paul.

Brothers and sisters: Now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, though testified to by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faih in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:21-24
Though the language may be strange,
its underlying realities of your grace
which is your righteousness and 
love for us, O God our Father,
remain so true as expressed by your
Son Jesus Christ's self-sacrifice
on the Cross for our salvation (justification).
Let the teachings of St. Paul sink into
our hearts and minds that we are
utterly dependent on you, O God, 
for our salvation; that nothing can we
accomplish apart from your grace.
In a society where the self-made
person is so idolized and economic
status is the benchmark for success, 
help us to echo anew the teachings
of St. Paul on grace and salvation
in Jesus Christ; do not let us become
like the Pharisees and scribes and scholars
of the law who kept people away
from your "vision" of grace and salvation 
for everyone.

“Woe to you, scholars of the law! You have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not enter and you stopped those trying to enter.”

Luke 11:52
Lord Jesus, bless us your
priests and ministers to truly
serve the people in leading them
closer to you in our celebrations
and prayers and most especially
in our witnessing to your Gospel;
may we cast away mediocrity and
sloth, always seeking ways like St. Paul
in making known your wonderful plans
and vision for everyone, especially the
weak and the poor among us.
Amen.

We are all in a struggle

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XXX, Year II in Ordinary Time, 29 October 2020
Ephesians 6:10-20     >><)))*> + + + >><)))*>     Luke 13:31-35
Photo by author, 09 October 2020.

There is no doubt, O God, we are in a war with evil as St. Paul tells us in today’s first reading; but, as I prayed more, I dwelled on that one word he had said — “struggle”.

For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground.

Ephesians 6:12-13

Almighty and loving Father in heaven, today I pray for each one of us struggling in life — struggling to survive, struggling to be afloat amid the economic crisis, struggling to keep our family and friends together, struggling against an addiction, struggling against sins, struggling in almost everything or anything, maybe even struggling to believe and have faith in you, dear God.

To struggle is an effort to get out of something not meant to be like an imprisonment. To struggle is to exert efforts to resist attacks or be free from any constraints. Like when a fish is out in the sand, it struggles to get onto water which is its natural habitat.

There are many conditions in our lives today we are into but not really meant to be for us like the effects of evil and sin sometimes perpetrated by some among us. We are sure you never wanted us to be put into this situation. And that is why, you have sent us your Son Jesus to help us in our struggles.

Sometimes, life for others has simply been entirely a struggle since childhood.

Have mercy on us, please help us, Lord, in our struggles. Be our armor of truth and righteousness, our shield of faith, our helmet of salvation, and our sword of the Holy Spirit to slay the evil and sins enslaving us.

Thank you, dear Jesus, for standing by our side in our many struggles despite efforts of some like the Pharisees in the gospel today who told you to leave Jerusalem because “Herod wanted to kill you” (Lk.13:31).

Make us realize that in the midst of life’s many struggles, “you are our Rock, O Lord, who trains our hands for battle, our fingers for war” (Ps.144:1) and someday, as you have promised, we shall win in all our struggles to experience your glory and majesty, love and mercy. Amen.

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, September 2019 in Atok, Benguet.

Sealed with the Holy Spirit

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday, Week XXVIII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 16 October 2020
Ephesians 1:11-14     >><)))*> + >><)))*> + >><)))*>     Luke 12:1-7
Photo by the author, September 2020.

What a great apostle you have, O Lord God, in St. Paul indeed! Today he tells us something so unique, so understandable and relatable with us regarding our being blessed in Jesus Christ: being sealed in the Holy Spirit.

In him (Christ) you also, who have heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:13-14

I love those two catchphrases by St. Paul: “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” and “first installment of your inheritance”. It is both a stroke of his genius and mastery of language while at the same time, his openness to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

In him we find that blessedness in Christ through the Holy Spirit like having peace, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, understanding and things that bind us together in working together for the Lord’s mission.

But at the same time in speaking of the Holy Spirit as the first installment of our redemption, St. Paul had a foretaste of what we shall all experience in its fullness in eternity, an assurance of the fulfillment of Christ’s promise of salvation.

Like St. Teresa of Avila whose memorial we celebrated yesterday, St. Paul restored all things in you, Jesus Christ. And so, we pray for the grace of enthusiasm and perseverance of working for the coming of God’s Kingdom like him.

Give us the wisdom to proclaim loud and clear not only in words but also in deeds the Gospel so the world may know Jesus is here to restore everything and everyone back to you, God our Father.

We are not going to say anything new, Lord; we merely have to echo in this modern time your Good News of salvation, of love and mercy and forgiveness for everyone specially in this difficult time of the pandemic.

Likewise, give us the courage to witness the power of the Holy Spirit in this world living in front of all kinds of cameras without solid grounding on the realities of life, living in a make-believe world filled with hypocrisy. Seal us with your Holy Spirit, Lord! Amen.

Photo by author, September 2020.

To be known and still be loved

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, 22 July 2020
2 Corinthians 5:14-17 >><}}}*> >><}}}*> >><}}}*> John 20:1-2, 11-18
Painting by Giotto of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ appearing to St. Mary Magdalene from commons.wikimedia.org.

Dearest Lord Jesus Christ:

Today as I prayed on the feast of your beloved Saint Mary Magdalene, my sights were focused on your beautiful exchange of names on that Easter morning at your tomb.

It is so lovely and so deep, and very personal for all of us whom you love so much despite our many sins like St. Mary Magdalene.

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.

John 20:14-16

You called her by her name, “Mary” and she called you by your title “Rabbouni” – what a beautiful scene of two people loving each other so deeply, so truly! You – humbly and lovingly accepting the sinner, and she – submitting herself to you as disciple.

You have expelled seven demons from her, you have known her so well even her darkest secrets and sins, and despite all these knowledge, Lord Jesus, the more you have loved her that you called her by the sweetest word she could ever hear in her life, “Mary”.

The same with us, sweet Jesus: every day you call us by our names, each one of us as a person, an individual, a somebody not just a someone. You love us so much in spite and despite of everything. We are not just a number or a statistic to you but a person with whom you relate personally.

From Google.

Help us to realize this specially when darkness surrounds us, when self-doubts and mistrust abound in us without realizing your deep trust in us, in our ability to rise again in you and follow you.

Teach me to trust you more and love you more like St. Mary Magdalene, to give and offer my self to you totally as yours, calling you “Rabbouni” or Teacher and Master.

Let me give up whatever I still keep to myself, whatever I refuse to surrender so that I may enjoy the intimacy you offer me as a friend, a beloved, and a family in the Father.

What a joy indeed to be like St. Mary Magdalene, fully known and fully loved by you, dear Jesus.

May I learn to know and love others too like you so I may proclaim you to them. Amen.

Sharing the light of Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe for the Soul, Sunday Week V-A, 09 February 2020

Isaiah 58:7-10 ><)))*> 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ><)))*> Matthew 5:13-16

Our parish cross at night, taken with my camera phone, 02 February 2020.

For most of us, 2020 is a very tough year with all the dark clouds that have come to hover above us in January remain in this month of February.

Threats from the corona virus are growing especially in our country. And while the alert level at Taal Volcano had gone down, dangers of its major eruption remain while volcanologists observed last week a “crater glow” on Mayon Volcano, indicating a possible rising of magma in the world’s most perfect cone.

Elsewhere, more bad news are happening like the sudden deaths this week of healing priest Fr. Fernando Suarez and of our very own and beloved Fr. Danny Bermudo, just 24 hours apart due to heart attacks.

In our own circles of family and relatives, friends and colleagues are also dark clouds covering us while we go through our many trials and tests in life that seem to eclipse this early the many gains we have achieved in the whole of 2019.

Indeed, year 2020 shows us in “perfect vision” the sad realities of dark spots in life that behoove us more to heed Christ’s call to be the light of the world.

Jesus said to his disciples: “You are the light of the world. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father.”

Matthew 5:14, 16
Photo by author, frost on petals, Baguio City, 04 February 2020.

Jesus is the light of the world, not us

Our gospel this Sunday follows immediately the inaugural preaching of Jesus called “the Sermon on the Mount” with the Beatitudes at its centerpiece. We have skipped that part of the gospel last Sunday due to the celebration of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

For us to better appreciate this Sunday’s gospel, let us keep in mind that for Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount is the great discourse of Jesus Christ that depicts his image not only as the new Moses but as the Law himself, being both our Teacher and Savior as well.

Jesus shows us a picture of his person in the Beatitudes as someone we must imitate in being “poor in spirit, meek, and merciful” so we can follow his path to the Father. After all, as the Son of God, Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6).

Hence, after enumerating the nine Beatitudes, Jesus followed up his Sermon on Mount with a call for us to be the salt and the light of the world: as salt, we merely bring out the Christ or the taste in every person and as light, it is the light of Christ that we share.

Focus remains in being like Jesus, not in replacing him who is our Savior. That is why he tells us clearly before shifting to another lesson in his Sermon that “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father” (Mt.5:16).

Sharing Christ’s light with our good deeds as a community

So, how do we share the light of Jesus Christ in this age when so many others are claiming to be the light that will dispel all darkness in our lives?

As early as during the darkest period in the history of Israel in the Old Testament called the “Babylonian Captivity (or Exile)”, God had taught his people how to become light for one another during trials and sufferings.

Christ Light of the World, Red Wednesday, 27 November 2019. Photo by author.

Thus says the Lord: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn… if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.

Isaiah 58:7-8, 10

To share one’s bread with the hungry, to welcome the homeless, to clothe the hungry are some of the most concrete demands placed by God to his people since he had freed them from slavery in Egypt and later in Babylonia (Iraq today) when the third part of the Book of Isaiah was written.

Eventually, this prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus Christ who also preached exactly the same things shortly before fulfilling his mission in Jerusalem when he stressed the need to do good to one another because “whatsoever we do to one another, especially to the least among us, we also do unto him” (Mt.25:31-40).

We shall hear this part of Matthew’s gospel at the end of our current liturgical year on November 22, 2020 in the celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King.

These instructions became the basis of our catechism’s “spiritual and corporal works of mercy” that Pope Francis stressed in 2016 during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

From fathersofmercy.com

By saying “you are the light of the world”, Jesus is telling us that to fulfill this mission, we have to do it together as a community, as his Body, the Church!

No matter how good and holy we are, none of us is the “light of the world” on our own.

One candle or lamp, or even a light bulb today cannot produce enough light to brighten a whole town or community. But, if one Christian will be lighting just one little candle in the dark, he or she can encourage others especially those who are timid, hesitant, and indifferent until they finally set the world ablaze with Christ’s light.

Christ’s call to be the light of the world is also a call for us to be united as one community, one family, one faithful couple with all our imperfections and sinfulness. What matters is our striving to be good disciples, always charitable to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Here we find the direct relationship of mission and community: every mission given by Jesus is also a call to become a community because without it, it soon becomes a cult centered on the disciple than the Lord.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

The example of St. Paul in sharing Christ’s light

St. Paul shows us the best example of being a light of Jesus is to always have it done and fulfilled in the context of a community, of the Church as the Body of Christ, avoiding chances of grabbing the light from him for personal gains.

“I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

1 Corinthians 2:3-5

It has always happened especially for us serving in the Church that in sharing the light of Christ, we get carried by our ministry and apostolate that we forget him until we claim being the light ourselves.

Sometimes, we consciously or unconsciously create clouts and personality cults for ourselves for being the best, the brightest, even the holiest and most humble of all!

We foolishly brag the great buildings and edifices we have built or the countless malnourished kids we have fed or sent to school for free through college, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera without being bothered at all where is Jesus Christ in all our efforts and projects!

How sad when we forget that what matters most in life is not what we have done or what we have achieved but what have we become as bearers of the light of Christ like St. Paul.

My dear friend, if you are going through many darkness in life today, simply be good, think only of Jesus Christ in everybody you meet and deal with. That is actually when you shine brightest as the light of Christ because people will be surprised at how calmly and gracefully you carry your cross.

In that way, you encourage others living in darkness to let their little sparks of light come out too without realizing how in their own darkness and limitations they have made Christ’s light seen. Amen.

Have a bright and blessed Sunday with your loved ones!

Meeting Jesus our Saviour

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Week XXXI-C, 03 November 2019

Wisdom 11:22-12:2 ><}}}*> 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2 ><}}}*> Luke 19:1-10

A giant sycamore tree at the center of Jericho, the world’s oldest city. Photo by author, May 2019.

Jesus is now on the final leg of his “resolute journey to Jerusalem” as he passed by the world’s oldest city of Jericho. Next week, he would be teaching at the Temple area in Jerusalem where his enemies would gang up against him, eventually sending him to death as we shall hear on the 24th of this month, the Solemnity of Christ the King.

Today we find a very interesting story that is in stark contrast with last Sunday’s parable of the Pharisee and tax collector praying at the Temple.

And this time, our story is not a fiction but an event found only in St. Luke’s gospel about a real tax collector named Zacchaeus, a very wealthy man indeed.

The fictional Pharisee Jesus narrated in his parable last week was a very proud one, of high stature literally and figuratively speaking that he would always stand and pray inside the Temple to be seen by everyone.

He was a self-righteous man who despised everyone else, especially tax collectors.

But, according to Jesus, the Pharisee’s prayer was not heard by God because he was not really seeking God but seeking adulation for himself!

Treetop of a sycamore tree in Jericho today.

Contrast that Pharisee with the chief tax collector in Jericho named Zacchaeus: he was of small stature, literally and figuratively speaking, that he had to climb a sycamore tree in order to see “who Jesus was” (Lk.19:3).

We can safely surmise that from St. Luke’s narration, nobody loved Zacchaeus in Jericho: he must be really so small in their eyes that he is hardly noticed maybe except when people paid taxes.

And that is why when he learned Jesus of Nazareth was passing by their city, he went to climb a sycamore tree to have a glimpse of the man he must have heard so often performing miracles and doing all good things for sinners like him.

Then, a strange thing happened…

When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

Luke 19:5-10

Was it serendipity or divine destiny?

Jesus was just passing through Jericho while Zacchaeus was merely interested in seeing the Lord. Never in his wildest dream, so to speak, did he intend to meet him personally.

From Google.

But, as we all believe and have realised, there are no coincidences or accidents in life.

Everything that happens in our lives has a purpose, a meaning that may either make us or unmake us.

It all depends on us whether we make the right decision in making the most out of whatever life offers us, of what comes to us. Either we become better or bitter – so choose wisely.

More so with salvation from God who never stops coming to us everywhere, anytime like with Zacchaeus when Jesus suddenly came to meet him.

The Catholic Parish Church in Jericho run by the Franciscans, May 2019.

Here we find again a story about faith that leads to conversion and salvation or justification.

It does not really matter how little faith we have like when the Apostles asked Jesus on the first Sunday of October, “Lord, increase our faith in God” (Lk. 17:5,Wk. 27). What matters is that we always have that option for God, a desire for God.

This is specially true as St. Paul assures us in the second reading that Christ will come again at the end of time. Nobody knows when or how he will come again but like Zacchaeus, we must have that desire for Jesus who first comes into our hearts before entering into our homes or churches, no matter how grandiose they may be.

Every desire for God in itself is an expression of faith in him. And God comes to those who truly seek him because that is how great God is: not in his power to do everything but to be small and forgiving!

Before the Lord, the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent. But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls.

Wisdom 11:22-23, 26
Inside the Catholic Parish of the Good Shepherd in Jericho, May 2019.

Like in the parable of the persevering widow and judge as well as that of the Pharisee and tax collector praying at the temple last Sunday, today’s story of Zacchaeus meeting Jesus shows us how God never abandons us his children, always ready to grant our desires and wishes even beyond what we are asking for — if we have faith in him.

Our salvation depends solely in our faith to God in Christ Jesus, like Abraham in the Old Testament that we can now rightly be called as his children like Zacchaeus.

No one is excluded from this tremendous grace of God brought to us through Jesus Christ who had come to seek those who are lost.

Like Zacchaeus upon receiving salvation from the Lord on that simple day, may we joyfully turn away from sins and most of all, cheerfully rid ourselves of so many other things that hamper us from following Jesus resolutely to Jerusalem. Amen.