God sets us apart to bring us together

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Easter, 28 April 2021
Acts 12:24-13:5   ><)))"> ><)))"> ><)))">   John 12:44-50
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, Katmon Harbor Nature Sanctuary, Infanta, Quezon, 2019.

Your words again, O God our Father today speak of separation – but this time not because of persecution or by any human design whether good or bad. Today you are teaching us a different kind of being separated for you and your mission in order to be one with you and your people.

How amazing, indeed, are your works, Lord, because when you set us apart from family and friends to be with you, to fulfill your mission, you actually bring us together with our loved ones in you!

Just like what you did with Barnabas and Saul.

After Barnabas and Saul completed their relief mission,
they returned to Jerusalem, taking with them John, who is called Mark.
While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting,
the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul
for the work to which I have called them."
Then, completing their fasting and prayer, 
they laid hands on them and sent them off.
(Acts 12:25, 13:2-4)

Come to us, Lord Jesus!

Be our light in the many darkness of our lives, in the many “separations” we have had in our lives not as you have planned for us.

Enlighten our minds and our hearts to see distinctly when we have to be set apart as you plan, not according to our own ideas and agenda.

Sometimes it happens too that we refuse to be set apart from others and from situations simply because we cannot let go.

Be the one to set us apart from others and from work and routines to do your work and mission.

Make us realize your words, dear Jesus that though you and the Father who sent you are apart and distinct from each other, you are both one in perfect unity.

And that is the beauty when it is you who set us apart in order to be one with you and with others. Amen.

Praying for those living in isolation

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Monday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, 01 February 2021
Hebrews 11:32-40     >><)))*> + >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>     Mark 5:1-20
Photo of Mang Dodong who was detained at a Navotas quarantine area for almost 30 days last summer for not having a quarantine pass while buying fish there that he would resell in Caloocan to earn much needed income during the lockdown. It was also during that time of his detention when a senator and a police general were caught violating more serious health protocols but were neither punished nor even reprimanded.

As we all go back to work and studies this Monday, so many of our brothers and sisters are staying home, some are remaining in the hospitals while many others are in some form of living in the territory of Gerasenes like in today’s gospel living in isolation, cut off from our human community.

I pray for them, dear God our Father.

I pray for those living in isolation due to various reasons like severe sickness and disability including old age, poverty and other social illnesses that have left them with marks and stigma that cut them off from the rest of our human community.

The man had been dwelling among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain. In fact, he had frequently been bound with shackles and chains, but the chains had been pulled apart by him and the shackles smashed, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.

Mark 5:3-5

So many people today are suffering loneliness and isolation, Lord, the plague of our modern age when we are supposed to be more mobile and connected with everyone due to modern means of communications and transportation.

Worst, the pandemic had cut them off so painfully from others as life gets more difficult for everyone these days.

Increase their faith, remind them like the author of Hebrews, of how men and women in the Old Testament trusted in you and overcame all obstacles in life.

Help us discern concrete steps we may take to reach out to those living in isolation so we may welcome them back to our community to experience again the joy of companionship especially in critical moments of sickness and difficulties.

Come, Lord Jesus Christ, come and set us free from the chains and shackles that bound us away from each other; heal us of our illnesses that separate us so that we may be cleansed anew to proclaim your glory of living together as a community. Amen.

Photo by author at Shambala, Silang, Cavite, September 2020.

Praying for the lepers among us

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Thursday,Week-I, Year-I in Ordinary Time, 14 January 2021
Hebrews 3:7-14   >><)))*> + >><)))*> + >><)))*>   Mark 1:40-45
Photo by Mr. Jay Javier in Cubao, QC last May 2020.

How timely and relevant are your words today, Lord Jesus Christ, especially when this the second time in less than a week we have heard your story of the healing of a leper who came to you, asking that if you will it, he could be cured of his disease (Mk.1:40-45).

Last week we heard St. Luke’s version of the same event St. Mark is almost exactly telling us today. Are you trying to tell us something very significant about this beautiful healing that assures us of your will and desire to heal us, to grant us what is best for us?

Definitely, you have a lot of things to tell us, to remind us in this part of our history as a nation and as a church when we live like being afflicted with a contagious disease we have to isolate ourselves from one another.

Aren’t we all like lepers today, with all the masks we wear and most especially the social distancing we have to keep from one another due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

And that is why, dear Jesus, we pray for one another especially those ostracized due to the stigma of contagious diseases like COVID-19 and AIDS as well as situations like homosexuality and substance abuse.

Help us realize, dear Jesus, how this corona virus pandemic is a symptom of a deeper malady afflicting us today, including us priests your servants tasked in taking care of the sick. Even before the pandemic began, we have been separated from one another and from you due to the “evil and unfaithful heart we have, forsaking the living God” (Heb.3:12).

May we experience your presence among us in every “today” so that we may all heed the call of the psalmist: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Help us remain in you in faith, trusting you more while the corona virus continues to wreak havoc to our economy, to our well-being as persons.

Send us Your Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds and our hearts to examine and change our attitudes towards “modern lepers” among us while at the same time, may we spend more time “communing” with You in prayer as a way of life, filled with enthusiasm like the leper You have healed who could not stop himself proclaiming Your powers and Your mercy and love to him. Amen.

Photo by author at Silang, Cavite last September 2020.

On leaving and living

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 09 November 2020
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 30 October 2020.
I have always believed
life is more on coming
than on leaving 
because 
whenever we leave,
we also come.
But, 
there is something
about leaving 
that makes 
it strongly felt 
than coming:
from the pain of leaving
follows emptiness -
the angst of still living
when someone is missing.
Most painful part of leaving
is when you are the one left behind;
it is the one who leaves
who actually comes
to somewhere else
while the one left
bears the scars
of leaving,
like grappling
with the unseen
presence
of nothing
but memories
gone 
with the one who had left
who might never come again.
But, I think
it is when leaving 
is truly hurting
that it turns into a coming -
an arrival 
of blessing
of opening 
to a new lease on life 
and living when we discover 
somebody anew
filling what's missing within 
not necessarily seen
that together we spin
a new thread in life again.
The other person
gone is never replaced
by a newfound one;
that's the beauty
of every leaving
and coming
when we leave
in order to come
creating a space
for a new one
until it leaves again
to come another one
until finally
we become one in the Only One.

Friendships should depend on nothing like TIME and SPACE. Remove TIME and what we have is NOW; remove SPACE and what we have is HERE. Don’t you think we could meet once or twice between NOW and HERE?

Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970)
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 07 November 2020.

Healing the divisions within and among us

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXIX-A in Ordinary Time, 18 October 2020
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6  ><)))*> + <*(((><  1 Thessalonians 1:1-5 ><)))*> + <*(((><  Matthew 22:15-21
Photo by author, the Walls of Jerusalem, May 2019.

People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.

“I Like You Just Because” by Albert J. Nimeth, OFM

We live in a world with so many divisions of our own making. Most of the time we are divided on the things we possess not only of things like properties and borders, inheritance, and toys but also of persons like in child custody and “trading” players in sports! So many times these divisions have caused harm and destruction among us as nations and as individuals.

Sad to say, these divisions come from within us in our hearts where we always try to divide our lives between God and our very selves, especially in the realm of religion and civic life.

The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, “Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”

Matthew 22:15-16, 17

When our possessions possess us.

Today and next Sunday, Jesus is confronted by his enemies who have increased their efforts in finding faults against him in his speech to charge him with serious cases and get rid of him; but, more than dispatching his enemies with his brilliant answers to their question, Jesus brought to the fore the real score of the great divide within us.

In our gospel scene today, we can see clearly how divided within were the enemies of Jesus like the Pharisees and Herodians who joined forces to put Jesus down despite their being poles apart in their beliefs: the former who were against the Romans taking control in Israel while the latter were members of a faction supportive of the occupying forces.

As they sought the Lord’s opinion on the perceived deep divisions many still believe to exist up to this day between “Caesar” and God, Jesus brought to the open how divided inside were his enemies after all —- just like us today when we have been possessed by our very own possessions!

Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Matthew 22:18-21

Jesus is not proposing a compromise in his answer but rather trying to heal the false divisions we have created inside us.

Aside from the silly alliance of the Pharisees and Herodians, Jesus bared how divided within they have always been when they gave him a coin used to pay taxes to the Caesar that has an image of the emperor and the inscription that says “son of god” – something that was clearly against the First Commandment of God that in fact, they should have not been carrying at all when in the temple area!

They have been divided inside because they have been possessed by their possessions like money. In telling them, and us today, to “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”, Jesus reminds us that what belongs to Caesar are inanimate objects that are external to the heart of things. When a young man asked Jesus one day to tell his brother to give him his share of inheritance, the Lord stressed that he had not come to settle our disputes about money and properties (Lk.12:13). Today, Jesus is telling us that it is our responsibility and not for him to decide for us how to settle our political and other problems.

Our undivided hearts are God’s alone.

Photo by d0n mil0 on Pexels.com

Jesus clearly points out that what belongs to God is our whole selves, our whole hearts undivided by pride, hypocrisy, and selfishness. While we must give back to Caesar what is due them as further taught by St. Paul and St. Peter in their letters to the early Christians, Jesus directly tells us that our duties to God bind all, everywhere and all the time.

Unlike the image of the Caesar found on coins, we are stamped with the image and likeness of God who created us out of his immense love. It is our duty and moral obligation to always ensure that this image of God in us is never destroyed and always upheld.

Here falls the sensitive – and false issue of “separation of Church and state” in our time like the payment of Roman tax raised by the Pharisees and Herodians. Nowhere does the concept forbid us priests nor the Church as an institution not to speak out when the very image of God is destroyed among men and women with injustice, violence and abject poverty.

What the separation of Church and state forbids is the support and endorsement of a state religion; in a sense, it promotes more harmony and unity among government and religions in their exercise of their true freedom among peoples.

Even God himself works within our own settings in this world to fulfill his plans for us. Trust him because everything works best for those who have believe wholly in God.

In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah we find the most amusing bit of history of how God had used a pagan ruler, Cyrus the king of Persia or Iran today to become his anointed savior or messiah of Israel then in their Babylonian exile. Imagine how God used an outsider, an unbeliever to free his chosen people from one of their darkest moments in history to show us that God is the master of history because everything is his.

May we heed St. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians and to us today to never doubt it was God in Jesus Christ who called us out of darkness and sin to be his new chosen people. Everything in our lives specially in our ministries and apostolate are the initiatives of God – may our hearts be undivided in giving him back everything through Jesus Christ, our life and meaning. Amen.

A blessed new week to you!

Photo by the author, view of the hills from Jerusalem temple, May 2019.

Rebellious people, merciful God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of Sts. Pontian and Hippolytus, Martyrs, 13 August 2020
Ezekiel 12:1-12 >><)))*> |+| >><)))*> |+| >><)))*> Matthew 18:21-19:1
Photo by author, Mt. St. Paul Spirituality Center, La Trinidad, Benguet, 2018.

Praise and glory to you, our merciful Father always waiting for us to come home to you. Thank you for being patient with us who always rebel against you, turning away from you to be on our own.

Sadly, whenever we rebel, it is not you whom we hurt and inflict pain with but those dearest to us like our family and friends who truly love us. We are like the people of Jerusalem who have become callous and indifferent, cold and distant from you, O God, who truly cared for them.

The word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, you live in the midst of a rebellious house; they have eyes to see but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious house.

Ezekiel 12:1-12

So many times, loving Father, we have become like that debtor in Christ’s parable whose debts were written off by his master and yet could not do the same to a fellow debtor who owed him with a lesser amount.

Both that debtor in the gospel and the rebellious house of Israel in the first reading share the same sin and evil attitude of refusing to recognize your goodness and mercy you have given them that we are equally guilty of today.

So many times in our lives, Lord, this same attitude of being rebellious and unmerciful are the main reasons that destroy our many relationships because we have separated ourselves from others.

Teach us through Jesus Christ to always live grateful to your abounding love and kindness, mercy and forgiveness to us, Father, so we may always share these same blessings with others.

Touch our hearts like you have moved the first anti-pope, St. Hippolytus who sought forgiveness from the Pope he had earlier rebelled against, St. Pontian after they were both sent to hard labor on the island of Sardinia during the persecution by Maximus Thrax.

What a beautiful twist of fate that you still brought them together, Lord to share in witnessing to your truth and mercy.

We pray today for those who have rebelled against you, O God, uttering all kinds of blasphemies against your most Holy Name not realizing that the more they rebel against you, the more they have become distant from us the people they are supposed to serve.

Open their eyes and their ears so they may see and hear the sufferings of the people in this time of pandemic. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News, May 2020.

Separations, good and bad…

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Memorial of St. Maria Goretti, Virgin and Martyr, 06 July 2020
Hosea 2:16, 17-18, 21-22 >><)))*> >><)))*> >><)))*> Matthew 9:18-26
Photo by author, procession cross, 2019.

Today, O God our loving Father, your words have invited me to reflect about “separations” — something we are always afraid of, sometimes beyond our control, but one thing for sure, many times needed in life.

Usually, we dread separations because it means being detached, being away from people we love or, situations we are familiar with.

Like with death, the ultimate separation in this life.

While Jesus was speaking, an official came forward, knelt down before him, and said, “My daughter has just died. But come, lay your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus rose and followed him, and so did his disciples.

Matthew 9:18-19

Death as a separation is most painful when committed in cold blood, like the martyrdom of the young St. Maria Goretti who was only 12 years old when an older neighbor stabbed her to death in their home near Ancona, Italy after she had refused to give in to his sexual advances in 1902.

Death as a separation is painful and sad because it is “the end” in our running story, when we lose somebody so special, so close to us with whom we have special plans and dreams to be together but suddenly gone.

Sickness and diseases also separate us from others.

Often, people regard sickness as a kind of slow death. And here lies its agonizing pain when due to some medical conditions we are separated from others, unable to fully interact and relate with them even if they are near us. Its worst part is how we can only look from afar at the activities and things going on among our brothers and sisters because we are bedridden, stuck on a wheelchair, disabled, or sometimes deep inside us cannot fully integrate because of the sickness within like bleeding or some form of cancer or deafness.

A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.”

Matthew 9:20-21

Thank you for sending us your Son Jesus Christ who have not only come to lead us to life eternal but also to heal our sickness and mediate in bridging the gaps among us and within us.

By giving himself on the Cross, Jesus has made us whole again, brought us together in unity both in time and eternity for nothing can now separate us from you and from others through his immense love poured upon his death.

Photo by author, Petra in Jordan, 2019.

Give us the grace, O Lord of heaven and earth, to seek and follow your voice always, that sometimes, we on our own separate from our daily routines, from others to be one with you in the desert so we may know you more, love you more and follow you more.

Thus says the Lord: I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart. She shall respond there as in the days of her youth, when she came up from the land of Egypt. I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord.

Hosea 2:16, 17, 22

There are still other forms of separations we experience in life, both good and bad.

Grant us the grace of courage, dear God our Father, to face every separation in life we experience, whether good or bad, permanent or temporary, our choice or imposed upon us — always trusting in the uniting power of your Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Amen.