Lent is “seeing” Jesus

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fifth Sunday in Lent-B, 21 March 2021
Jeremiah 31:31-34  +  Hebrews 5:7-9  +  John 12:20-33
Photo by author, details of the Seventh Station of the Cross at the St. Ildephonse Parish Church in Tanay, Rizal, January 2021.

In the beautiful church of the town of Tanay in Rizal is found a most unique Seventh Station of the Cross where one of those depicted when Jesus fell for the second time is a man with dark glasses looking afar. Local residents say the man with sunglasses is Caiaphas, the chief priest during the time of Jesus who led the Sanhedrin at his trial leading to his crucifixion.

Nobody can explain exactly why the artist portrayed that man wore sunglasses that was popular among people of stature and position in the country when the carving was made in 1785. Also interesting aside from the man in shades are the soldiers with him shown with Malay features of brown color and wide eyes opened, all looking somewhere except for one looking at the Lord while clutching his garment as he fell looking heavenwards.

I remembered this piece of work of art inside the Tanay Parish Church declared by the National Museum as “National Cultural Treasure” because our gospel today speaks about a request by some pagans to see Jesus. Seeing has many meanings, always leading to believing. And sometimes, it is in believing we are able to see most of all!

Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then andfrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”

John 12:20-25

Seeing to believe

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, Infanta, Quezon 2020.

As we have been mentioning three Sundays ago, the fourth gospel uses poetic expressions and symbolisms to convey deeper truths and realities about Jesus and our very selves, our having or lacking faith in God. Like the act of seeing by those Greeks who requested Philip “to see Jesus”.

If they simply wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus, they could have easily seen the Lord who was always at the temple area at that time. Jesus had always been available to everyone like last Sunday when Nicodemus went to see him at night.

But, John often used the verb to see in many senses that also mean to believe like in his appearance a week after Easter to his disciples along with doubting Thomas: Jesus said to him “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn.20:29).

Most mysterious for me in John’s use of the verb to see is in the call of the Lord’s first disciples led by Andrew: He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went where he was staying and saw where he was staying… Andrew followed Jesus. He first found his brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (Jn.1:39-41).

What did Andrew see that he later told his brother Simon that they have found the Messiah?

Of course, John’s most notable use of the verb to see is from that scene at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday when the perfect model of the believer is the “other disciple” whom Jesus loved “went in, and he saw and believed” (Jn.20:8).

Very clear in the mind of John that the request of those Greeks to see Jesus was one of faith, of meeting and speaking with Jesus to be enlightened more like Nicodemus last Sunday. Here we find our important role of being another Philip and Andrew, leading other people to see Jesus.

Those Greeks described as “God-fearing” were pagans attracted to the teachings of Judaism and came to Jerusalem to observe the Passover Feast. They already have faith in God that must have been awakened further when they heard the teachings of Jesus; hence, their request to see Jesus.

It happens so often that when by the grace of God people are illuminated with faith even in the most personal manner, they still need Philips and Andrews who would enable them “to see” Jesus to grow and be deepened in faith. There will always be a need for an apostle who could lead others to “see” Jesus because faith happens within a community, within the Church and through others’ mediation.

And here lies the bigger challenge for us disciples for us to make Jesus “seen” in our lives and in our community.

Believing to see.

Photo by Onnye on Pexels.com

Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just as a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

John 12:23-26, 32-33

In a sudden twist, John tells us nothing if those “God-fearing” pagans saw Jesus at all because the Lord immediately went on a discourse after being told by Andrew and Philip of the request, briefly interrupted by God’s voice speaking from heaven that everybody heard in the temple area.

Speaking in the parable of the grain of wheat dying first in order to produce much fruit, Jesus tells us how we can lead others to truly see him in us and through us by having the same determination and perseverance to follow him, stay with him, and be like him by dying to ones self for others. For the grain of wheat to die and spring forth to new life, it has to be detached. And so are we.

Notice Jesus repeating that sign of his being lifted up on the cross he mentioned last Sunday to Nicodemus. John mentions it again in this part of his gospel adding an explanation at the end because for him, the Crucifixion is Christ’s greatest sign and revelation of his glory, opening a path for us back to God in his Cross, through his Cross.

In teaching us about the parable of the grain of wheat dying and linking it with his being “lifted up”, Jesus now tells us and every “God-fearing” person that we can only “see” him in the scandal of the Cross.

Did those God-fearing Greeks remained in Jerusalem and saw Jesus on the Cross?

We do not know but we are sure that anyone who requests to see Jesus always sees him if we believe first in his crucifixion which is when everyone is drawn to him as he had said. We must first believe Christ died so we may see him risen to life.

It was on Christ’s dying on the cross when God established a “new covenant” among us as prophesied by Jeremiah in our first reading today, giving us all an access to him in Jesus, through Jesus, with Jesus which we celebrate daily in the Holy Eucharist.

Photo by author, 2020.

Grappling with death to see life

We have never seen the crucifixion of Jesus except in its portrayals in the many movies we used to watch in Holy Week; but, its realities are etched and impressed in our hearts through the many trials and difficulties we have gone through in life that we believe Jesus truly died. And because of that, we have also seen him alive!

Such is the reality of seeing Jesus that every time we describe something so difficult, so trying, we equate it with death like when we say “we felt like dying” taking the exam. And the good news is when we overcome the tests that we use again the word or concept of death to describe something so good as it leads us to glory like when we say a pizza or a steak or a cake to die for.

Such is the paradox and scandal of the Cross of Jesus: we can never see him risen in glory if we avoid and refuse seeing his Passion and Death right in our own selves, in our painful experiences.

Going back to that unique Seventh Station of the Cross at the Tanay Parish Church, I realized how the unbelievers and others among us could not see Jesus as the Christ because they have refused to believe in him first especially when they are down with all kinds of problems and trials, looking somewhere else instead of seeing Jesus fallen in front of them.

Let us believe in Jesus so we may see him in this final week of Lent as we prepare for Palm Sunday next. Amen.

A blessed week to everyone!

Photo by author, January 2021.

What are you looking for?

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul, Tuesday, Easter Week-IV, 05 May 2020

Acts of the Apostles 11:19-26 +++0+++ John 10:22-30

Photo from Reddit

Our loving God and Father, as countless men and women are now searching for the cure and vaccine against this corona virus that have hit us, you have also given us opportunities to look inside ourselves to examine the things and persons we are searching for in this life.

Today’s first reading reminds us how Barnabas went to Antioch to see for himself the power and grace of the gospel of your Son Jesus Christ being preached there among the gentiles.

When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people were added to the Lord.

Acts of the Apostles 11:23-24

Not only that: Barnabas also “went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch” (Acts 11:25).

What a remarkable attitude by Barnabas to search for the truth, to find the realities going on in Antioch!

Most of all, his efforts to look for Saul – a person feared and perhaps hated at that time – to bring him into the church in Antioch that eventually led to his baptism and adoption of the new name of Paul.

Give us, O Lord, the same desire for you! That we may always look for you in every situation we are into especially in this time of the corona. May we also look for those people we can bring closer to you through our communities, especially those suspected of so many things like St. Paul before.

How sad that sometimes, we are more like those in the gospel who kept on looking for you, Jesus, not because of a desire to really know you and follow you but to test you.

Give us a heart and the eyes of faith that truly search for what is true and good, that look for you in people and events because, like the deer that yearns for streams of water, our soul thirsts for you. Amen.

From FB/Be Like Francis.

One mind, one heart, one mission in Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe, Tuesday, Easter Week-II, 21 April 2020

Acts of the Apostles 4:32-37 ><)))*> +++ 0 +++ <*(((>< John 3:7-15

Posted by Marivic Tribiana on her Facebook 18 April 2020 when a huge fire hit “Happyland” in Tondo district, Manila, leaving 450 families homeless with one fatality.
Artwork by Fr. Marc Ocariza using Digital Art Timelapse after seeing photo at left, claiming it was like seeing Jesus Christ carrying the old man as he contemplated the Divine Mercy that Saturday.

Glory and praise to you, O Lord Jesus Christ for coming to us, and continuing to come to us most especially amid this COVID-19 pandemic.

Increase our faith in you, awaken our being “born from above” in you in the Holy Spirit so that we may continue to find you and follow you in the ordinary things that happen to us.

It is not enough that we as a “community of believers be of one heart and mind, having everything in common” (Acts 4:32).

As a community united in you, Lord Jesus, keep us strong in fulfilling our mission from you.

Remind us always that we merely represent you in this mission.

We are not the ones who will change the world but you, O Lord.

Give us the grace to forget ourselves and carry our cross daily so we can follow you more closely every day.

Most of all, give us the courage to seek your ways and follow wherever your Holy Spirit leads us to so we can best serve you without ever thinking of our very selves or anything in return except that we are doing your most holy will. Amen.

The Facebook post by Marivic Tribiana that inspired Fr. Marc to make a digital representation of the scene amid the huge fire with thick, black smokes billowing above visible kilometers ahead in a city under an extended lockdown due to Covid-19.

He dubbed his artwork “Nag-aalab na Pag-Ibig” (Burning Love), an interplay between the raging fire in the area and the burning love of Jesus to the old man being carried.

That is why we need to be “born from above” to be able to understand teachings of Jesus about heavenly things on earth (Jn.3:12), remaining open to leading of the Holy Spirit to follow the Lord closely, not our selves, nor our plans, nor our personal agenda.

Advent is seeking, seeing Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

Friday, Advent Week-II, Memorial of St. Lucy, 13 December 2019

Isaiah 48:17-19 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> Matthew 11:16-19

The eagle symbolizing our Parish Patron St. John Evangelist, Advent 2018.

Thank you very much Lord Jesus Christ for never giving up on us. You sound so exasperated in our gospel today at how so “slow” we have become in recognizing and believing you but you never lost your cool.

Please continue to open our minds and our hearts to realize you have come, you are coming and you are always with us.

Forgive us Lord when we are so concerned with the mundane things, the shallow concerns we are so preoccupied with forgetting the more crucial of recognizing your presence and your works among us.

Jesus said to the crowds: “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works.

Matthew 11:16-19

Grant us Lord Jesus Christ the gifts of silence and wisdom, of “masticating” always your words so we can be properly guided in answering your call and mission.

Give us the grace to see things as they are, to set aside our many biases and visions of things to come so we can be contented with what we are having, of what God has provided us with.

Let us heed your words and work faithfully for their fulfillment in us and through us.

Thus says the Lord, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go. If you hearken my to my commandments, your prosperity will be like a river, and your vindication like waves of the sea; your descendants would be like the sand, and those born of your stock like its grains, their name never cut off or blotted out from my presence.

Isaiah 48:17-19

Give us O Lord, the courage to be different, to make a difference for Jesus Christ by opening our eyes of faith so we may always seek you, see you, and follow you.

Saint Lucy, patroness of diseases of the eyes, heal our many blindness to be focused in Jesus alone. Amen.

Photo by Noelle Otto on Pexels.com

Seeing With The Eyes of Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Week XVII-B, 29 July 2018
2Kings 4:42-44///Ephesians 4:1-6///John 6:1-15

             Beginning today for five weeks of Sunday we shall hear from the sixth chapter of John to discover and experience the mystery of the person of Jesus Christ.  Taking off from where Mark left us last week when Jesus and His apostles crossed the lake to rest at a deserted place, John now introduces us to the long but beautiful bread of life discourse of Jesus Christ:  Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee.  A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.(Jn.6:1-2)

             John’s gospel is also known as “the book of signs” wherein he arranged the major miracles of Jesus as revelations of His being the awaited Messiah or Christ.  But unlike the other evangelists, John preferred to call these miracles as “signs”, from the Greek “semeion”that denotes the existence and character of unseen, deeper reality.  The word miracle is from Latin “mirum oculis” or something that causes wonder when seen or beheld.  But a sign is deeper in meaning that John preferred to use it to show that the healings and other acts performed by Jesus are proofs and evidence that indeed He is the Christ.  In doing so, John is inviting us to see more beyond the healings and other acts by Jesus the deeper realities He wishes to reveal and share with us to be experienced too.  He wants us to shift our perceptions of persons and things to higher levels.  Like Jesus Christ, John wants us to see beyond material things for every detail can be a bearer of meaning, a sign of deeper reality and of Christ Himself.  Let us try:

             Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.  The Jewish Passover was near.  When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”  He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do.  Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.”  One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?”(Jn.6:3-9) 

             Imagine standing there with Jesus, looking at the great crowd of people coming.  It was getting dark, the feast of Passover was approaching and you were at a deserted place.  Then suddenly Jesus asks you like Philip where can we buy enough food for them to eat?

             Notice that if we examine the Lord at how He looked at the situation, it could lead to a shift in our perception from scarcity to plenty by first seeing the people coming as persons who need to be fed and cared for.  Jesus felt their hunger and thirst, seeing them as brothers and sisters.  It was an opportunity for Him to teach them some lessons about God.  Unfortunately, the disciples saw the opposite – it was a big problem.  Philip even viewed it as a nightmare when he told Jesus that even “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.”  The same thing with Andrew who found a boy with five loaves of bread and two fish not good enough for everyone.  They saw it as a hopeless situation.

             This is perhaps one of the main tragedies of our time when we begin to see and look at people as problems and mere statistics.  We have failed and even refused to see each one as a person to be loved and cherished!  Andrew did not even bother to ask the name of the boy and just brought him to Jesus with his bread and fish.  Exactly how in media these days people are objectified and made into things, referring to persons with demonstrative pronouns this and that or ito at iyan in Filipino.  On the other hand, objects are subjectified like food as “he/she’s delicious” or “masarap siya”.  Sometimes I fear that one day PAGASA might even ask us priests to baptize typhoons as forecasters keep on referring to them like a human being:  ang bagyon si Josie ay kumikilos pakanluran at may lakas siya ng hanging na…  The most glaring sign of how low we have come to regard persons came from Congress during the SONA when Duterte reiterated the relentless continuation of his anti-drug campaign based on his erroneous view that human rights and human lives are two distinct realities.  The list of instances continues when we take people for granted especially women and children when we give more emphases on things like money and clothes than persons.  There is always more than enough bread for everyone when we learn to stop looking at everyone as a commodity to be bought and used.  In the first reading, the prophet Elisha highly regarded those around him as persons who need to be fed with food that he had to remind his servant there was enough for everyone.  With God, there are always plenty of bread for everyone but to the devil, there is never enough that is why its first temptation to Jesus was to turn stones into bread, the temptation to always take people for granted.

             There is no doubt in the powers of Jesus Christ and most of all of His knowing what to do when in such difficult situations.  Inasmuch as we trust in His powers, we also need to see others as brothers and sisters who are beloved by the Father.  John mentioned in our gospel today the setting of this feeding of 5000 when the Jewish feast of Passover was near to show us the Eucharistic nature of the sign.  How wonderful to remember that during His supper, Jesus took the same gestures at the wilderness and gave the bread to His disciples, saying “This is my body which will be given up for you.”  Notice how there in the wilderness that the Son of God who had become man like us took on a body to remind everybody is a somebody and no one is a nobody.  We are all bread meant to be shared and broken with one another for we are all one Body in Christ as Paul reminds us today in his letter to the Ephesians.  Amen.Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan 3022

*Photo from Google.