Love without borders

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XX, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 16 August 2020
Isaiah 56:1, 6-7 >><}}}*> Romans 11:13-15, 29-32 >><}}}*> Matthew 15:21-28
Twilight at our parish by Ms. Ria De Vera, 12 August 2020.

For the third Sunday in a row, Jesus reveals a very wonderful side of him who goes out of his way to meet us and comfort us in the most difficult situations and places we are into. It is something we need so much in these days of Moderate Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) seen right away in the opening of today’s gospel.

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.

Matthew 15:21-23

Jesus goes out of his way to meet everyone

Israel is a very small country but always leaves a big impact on everyone who goes on a pilgrimage there. There is that sense of awe in every sacred site that until now continues to “speak” and evoke among pilgrims the presence and holiness of God and his saints.

Like what we have mentioned last Sunday, the proxemics or the non verbal communication of the places Jesus have visited convey to us deeper meanings than just mere sites. And that is more true during the time of Christ like the setting of this Sunday’s gospel, the region of Tyre and Sidon.

Now part of Lebanon found south of its capital city Beirut that was devastated by powerful explosions two weeks ago, Tyre and Sidon were gentile or pagan cities during the time of Jesus with a considerable Jewish population.

His going there shows us his fidelity to his mission of “searching for the lost sheep of the house of Israel” that partly explains to us why he never bothered to give the slightest hint of recognition to the Canaanite woman who had sought his help for her daughter “tormented by a demon”.

Photo by author, the Holy Land, May 2019.

And despite the lack of any explanation again by St. Matthew on the attitude by Jesus “snubbing” the pagan woman, we can safely assume that Christ surely knew that by going to Tyre and Sidon, gentiles would seek his healing as news of his fame had spread beyond Galilee at that time.

Here we find the great love and concern of Jesus for everyone, specially the rejected and marginalized in the society.

His “withdrawing to the region of Tyre and Sidon” was in itself a revelation of his universal love, a love without borders reaching out to those lost and feeling alone in life, those rejected, those discriminated for their color and beliefs, status and gender, sickness and diseases like AIDS and lately, COVID-19!

Inclusive Jesus, exclusive human

At the beginning of chapter 11 of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans from which our second reading is taken today, the great Apostle starts by asking “has God rejected his people?” St. Paul emphatically said “no”, explaining at length the plan of God in Jesus Christ to save all peoples not just the Jews, beautifully telling us,

For the gifts and the call of God are (permanent and) irrevocable.

Romans 11:29

St. Paul’s reflections on God being “inclusive” as against our being so “exclusive” in sending us Jesus Christ to bring us all together as one sheds us some light on that extraordinary incident in the region of Tyre and Sidon involving the Canaanite woman.

Again, I invite you my dear reader to reflect on the many layers of meaning found in this episode so special like the feeding of more than five thousand people the other Sunday and Jesus walking on water last week.

First, notice the silence of Jesus. Keep in mind when the Lord is silent, it does not mean he is out or does not care at all to our needs and pleas. When there is silence – specially a deafening one – the problem is never with God but with us people.

And, true enough! See how the disciples asked Jesus to “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us” (Mt.15:23) — exactly the way we deal sometimes with those begging our help and attention, seeing them as a nuisance to be sent away? What a shame!

From Google.

Now, we go to the climax of this episode with the woman coming to Jesus, “paying him homage” for the healing of her daughter tormented by a demon. It was a scene similar with St. John’s wedding at Cana where the Blessed Mother also approached Jesus with a request when wine ran out during the feast.

In both episodes we find Jesus being a snub – suplado, as we say.

Most of all, in both scenes we find the remarkable faith in Jesus by his Mother at Cana believing he can do something to spare the newly wed couple of embarrassment from running out of wine while this Canaanite woman felt so sure only Jesus can cure her daughter.

See how she addressed Jesus like his disciples with not just “Lord” but also with the title “Son of David” to indicate her faith in him as the Messiah.

And it did not stop there as she engaged Jesus into a dialogue — indicating intimacy and trust, depth and communion that we refer in Filipino as “matalik na ugnayan” or “matalik na usapan”.

Sometimes in life, Jesus seems to have that longing for some “lambing” from us that he tries to be “pakipot” or hard to get in order to be intimate with us. Please take these Filipino traits positively to get what I mean from this unique scene of Jesus and the Canaanite woman in Tyre and Sidon.

Jesus said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.

Matthew 15:26-28
Photo by author, Church of All Nations beside the Garden of Gethsemane in the Holy Land, May 2019.

Brothers and sisters all in one God as Father

St. Matthew recorded this episode not to scandalize and shock us with those words coming from the Lord, referring to the Canaanite woman as one of the “dogs” that was the term used to designate pagans at that time.

For St. Matthew who was writing for Christians of Jewish origins, the episode was a reminder that the people of Israel were indeed the “children” of God to whom the coming Messiah and salvation – like bread or food – were first promised. St. Paul spent a great deal of explaining of this in his letter specially to the Romans .

Rigthly then, theirs was the “food” not right to be thrown to the “dogs” but, that fact does not exclude the “dogs” from partaking later from the leftover food of the children, as if telling Jesus, today we satisfy ourselves with crumbs, tomorrow we shall have bread!

The Canaanite woman clearly knew where to place herself before the Lord, proving to him her deep faith and amazing knowledge of God’s goodness and plans for everyone. For that, she was highly praised by Jesus for her faith. The only other person also praised by Jesus in having a tremendous faith in him was the centurion – another pagan – who begged the Lord for the remote healing of his servant.

Last Sunday afternoon I read the story of how a nurse was driven out of her boarding house after she tested positive for COVID-19 virus. The poor lady had nowhere to go to spend the night after being denied of any assistance by barangay officials, even by her own family in Batangas! Good enough, somebody reported her to the Philippine National Red Cross that sent an ambulance to take care of the nurse who was found crying by herself at the gutter of a street in Pasay City.

What a very sad and tragic reality happening among us these days of the pandemic.

Where is our love and concern for everyone, especially the weak and the sick, those in our own versions of Tyre and Sidon where no one would dare to go except Jesus, perhaps like the dorms and residences of our medical frontliners who are so tired and sick physically, emotionally, and spiritually during this pandemic?

In these past three weeks we have reflected how Jesus lovingly joined us, staying with us in the wilderness, in the storms of the dark sea, even at the pagan territories where nobody would ever want to go.

This Sunday, Jesus is inviting us to break all barriers and borders between us that separate us from each other. Let us animate our community with Christ’s love and mercy for us all amid our many differences so that slowly we fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy in the first reading that someday the house of the Lord shall be called “a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is.56:7). Amen.

A blessed and safe new week to you! And please do not forget to pray ten Hail Mary’s every 12-noon for national healing and end of the pandemic until September 15, 2020.

Value of hiddenness

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Week XVIII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 03 August 2020
Jeremiah 28:1-17 >>><)))*> >><)))*> ><)))*> Matthew 14:22-36
Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News before a storm in Batanes, 2018.

God our Father, we come to you again fervently asking for your guidance and protection as the threats of COVID-19 infections are getting closer to home. More and more are getting sick and we could feel them so strongly for they are no longer statistics we read and see in news but persons we know very well in our home and community.

Thank you very much that finally, our government leaders have listened to the calls of medical experts to go on at least two weeks of quarantine to reassess our response to the pandemic.

In this quarantine period, we pray that we learn to value again silence and hiddenness that we have taken for granted in our 24-hour world of media and noise.

So many times, we have taken for granted things that are not seen, that are invisible and hidden, that we ourselves also hide in evil and sin, convincing ourselves nobody would know or “see” it.

And so, we try deceiving others with our false claims of knowledge and competencies like Hananiah and other false prophets among us who give false hopes to people who are eventually misled from you and from one another.

To the prophet Hananiah the prophet Jeremiah said: Hear this, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, and you have raised false confidence in this people. For this, says the Lord, I will dispatch you from the face of the earth; this very year you shall die, because you have preached rebellion against the Lord.

Jeremiah 28:15-16

In this time of modified enhanced community quarantine again, teach us O Lord Jesus to deepen our faith in you so that we may remain focused on you alone in moments of storms when it is so difficult to recognize you, when it is easier to “see” and “believe” the powers of the unseen winds like Simon Peter in today’s gospel.

Let us befriend your holy silence and stillness again, sweet Jesus, because in you, the most significant are always the most hidden too. Amen.

Let Christ possess us

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

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

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

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

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

The Mystery of the Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possessed by Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the more we give, the more we receive!

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by author, Marcos Highway, 2019.

Dead to sin, alive to God

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

Romans 6:9-11

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

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

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

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

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

A blessed week and a more abundant July to everyone!

When words are not enough

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XIX in Ordinary Time, Year II, 04 June 2020
2 Timothy 2:8-15 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> Mark 12:28-34
Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News, 02 June 2020

Remind people of these things and charge them before God to stop disputing about words. This serves no useful purpose since it harms those who listen.

2 Timothy 2:14

Dear God:

For today I just wanted to be silent before you in prayer.

But, you spoke a lot in that silence. Or, did I?

You know very well, Lord, how we have been silent since the start of this quarantine period due to COVID-19 pandemic. We bore everything in silence as much as possible, giving our government officials and lawmakers a chance to redeem themselves.

After all, we are in this mess because of their refusal to listen what others have been saying for the safety of the country, speaking of diplomacy and friendships among the originators of COVID-19, not knowing two of them have been infected with corona while here visiting. One eventually became the first fatality of COVID-19 outside China.

Photo by author, our altar decor with a snake on first week of Lent, 2020.

Those in government have always been doing all the talking that has always been non-sense and rubbish. They thought that the more words they used, the more things get clearer.

That is the problem, Lord: those in government like many of us your people are not aware that your silence always precedes your speaking; that your words are full of power, full of life, the fullness of meaning because every word comes from silence.

We humans, especially our elected officials, are all speaking out of noise and void, not from silence which is fullness.

We keep on talking in the hope and belief that the more we talk, the more our words become meaningful.

Lately, it is the opposite that is happening: the more our government officials speak, the more their words become empty while their tongues get sharper like swords, inflicting more pain and causing more shame.

They speak of lies after lies after lies hoping they become true if repeatedly said but the more they are lost.

They speak so tough, complete with warning against violators of quarantine rules but they are the ones who fall into their own pit, becoming like dogs eating what they have spit.

They speak of opening shops and offices, but they are closed to the plight of the commuters.

Worst and most unkind of all, they speak shamelessly of blaming the people for all their woes in this time of pandemic quarantine while they were busy silencing us the people, closing ABS-CBN and just this week, surreptitiously passing the anti-terror bill that silences all critics of this administration mired in profanities, lies, and insincerity.

They make so many laws, using so many words, and yet not a single word proved to be good like the scribe who asked Jesus:

“Which is the first of all the commandments?”

Mark 12:28
Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News, commuters at start of lockdown, March 2020.

Lord God of power and might, you are the only we have always count on for our protection and salvation.

You know what is in our hearts and you know very well what we are willing to do if you just say so.

For the sake of peace in our country, let our leaders eat their words or at least, keep their mouths shut to stop all their shows and start to listen, accept and love.

Thank you, Lord.

Will be more silent next time as you speak more.

Amen.

Hosanna in the time of corona

The Lord Is My Chef Recipe for the Solemnity of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, 05 April 2020

Isaiah 50:4-7 >>+<< Philippians 2:6-11 >>+<< Matthew 26:14-27:66

Photo by author, altar of Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan, Palm Sunday 2020.

“Hosanna!” is the song of the day and despite the ongoing lockdown now entering its penultimate week, we have every reason to praise God this Solemnity of Palm Sunday in the Lord’s Passion.

Let us continue to sing “hosanna” even if our churches are closed due to threats of COVID-19 because even with all the difficulties arising from this enhanced community quarantine, it also gives us much needed time and space to reflect on the meaning of our Holy Week celebrations.

Let us make this Holy Week holy indeed so we may discover God anew in our sacred celebrations and right in our very hearts in this time of the corona pandemic.

The “ascent” to Jerusalem

Photo by author, ancient city of Jerusalem from the Church of Dominus Flevit (The Lord Wept) where Jesus came from towards the holy city via the eastern gate as prophesied in the Old Testament, May 2019.

Geographically speaking, to go to Jerusalem is to go up, to ascend to higher level as it rises to 754 meters above sea level (2,474 feet) compared with Galilee from where Jesus spent his three years of ministry which is just 209 meters (686 feet) above sea level.

Jesus Christ’s “trip to Jerusalem” was both literally and figuratively speaking an “ascent” in all aspects: he went up to Jerusalem to offer himself on the Cross to replace temple worship so people can finally worship in “truth and spirit” as he had told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well three Sundays ago.

More than the outward sign of ascending Jerusalem is the inner sign of Christ’s ascent in his outpouring of love for the Father and us.

That is the beautiful imagery of his triumphant entrance to Jerusalem which will reach its climax on Good Friday capped by the glorious Easter.

Every day, Jesus invites us to welcome him and most of all to join him in his ascent to Jerusalem, to the Father by forgetting one’s self, taking our crosses, and following the Lord in giving of self in love.

Now is the perfect time to sing “hosanna” – to welcome and follow Jesus in our inner ascent when everything and everyone is “down” due to COVID-19. The only way to rise again from this misery of the corona pandemic is to ascent in Jesus, with Jesus, and through Jesus.

For so long, we have been following the upward path of “social mobility” measured in income and material things without considering the emotional and spiritual imbalances that result in these worldly pursuits. In our rat race for higher productivity, more money and less costs, we have become distant from persons especially family. Now, we have to practice social distance not only to stop spread of virus but most of all, to realize anew that above all is always the human person.

And the best route to encounter each person is in Jesus Christ who leads us from Jerusalem to the Cross and into Easter; hence, the liturgies this Holy Week are the oldest and simplest we have in the Church so that we can truly sing “hosanna” and focus only to Jesus ever present to us.

Death and Love

Photo by author, parish altar, Lent 2019.

Now playing at Netflix is the fourth part of its hit series “Money Heist”. I had the chance to watch its first episode that opened with a scene of the professor escaping police in the forest with a narration by “Tokyo” trying to control the situation in the bank they have taken over. She said, “His (the professor) heart held two words that should not be together: love and death.”

Perfect sound bite for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – “two words that should not be together: love and death” when in fact, its opposite is the exact reality! For love to be very true, it must be willing to suffer and die as the Lord Jesus Christ had shown us more than 2000 years ago.

Love and death are always together! That is why we have a Holy Week leading to Easter!

It is a basic reality we have always tried to negate and escape that have only left us more empty and lost within. The undeniable sign of love is when we are able to love somebody more than our very self – and that includes willing to die for the beloved!

We can never ascend, never arise for as long as we have too much of self, like the characters opposite our Lord Jesus Christ this Holy Week.

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests, and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

Matthew 26:14-16

Selflessness and silence of Jesus, Selfishness of man

Palm Sunday in our parish 2020.

One distinct characteristic of Jesus throughout his life that is most especially clear from Palm Sunday to Good Friday is his selflessness and silence in the face of too much pressure and suffering.

Rather than being a sign of weakness, it is Jesus Christ’s shining moment of mastery and control as we have noted last Sunday when he cried in meeting Martha and Mary at the tomb of Lazarus who had been dead for four days.

This becomes more evident starting this Sunday reaching its highest point on Good Friday to be capped by his glorious Resurrection on Easter.

See how during his entrance and ascent into Jerusalem, Jesus was silent. Because he knew what was going to happen! He was even looking forward into it.

His entrance into Jerusalem to assert his being the Christ by offering himself on the Cross is the culmination of what St. Luke had noted in his account early on at Caesarea Philippi that “when the days of his going up to heaven was nearing completion, Jesus resolutely journeyed to Jerusalem.”

Despite the dangers and the certainty of death, Jesus did not balk nor even thought of backing out. He resolutely went into his death because of his immense love for us and the Father. He never cracked under pressure!

Even during his trials first before the Sanhedrin and before Pontius Pilate, there was the mastery and surety of Jesus very evident in his silence. He was totally composed, wholly entrusting himself in total obedience to the Father in heaven.

How about us these days of lockdown in the face of the growing threats of COVID-19?

What a shame that our officials and their families finally revealed their true colors as the modern Judas Iscariots seeking VIP treatment for COVID-19 testing! So afraid of dying because love they have none whatsoever for the country and the people but for themselves alone.

From a Facebook post of my friend .

Like Judas, they think only of themselves, keeping their loot of more than 30 pieces of silver, looking for the opportune time to betray us again, totally quiet in the comfort of their homes when thousands are facing hunger and uncertainties.

They are the modern Pontius Pilates who mumble in public, who could not make a definitive stand on anything at all, more at home in accusing and blaming others for the confusions and lack of order, always washing their hands, without guts to humbly accept lack of foresight despite the grave dangers that did not happen overnight.

Most of all, look inside ourselves too for those moments we think more of “what we can have” than “what we can give or do” in these trying times? Do we hoard and panic buy? Do we cower in fear by hiding it with our anger and demands for assistance and relief goods?

Above is a nice guide I found on my friend’s Facebook, indicating three zones to show where are in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. It can be very useful too in indicating where we can meet Jesus in ascending and entering Jerusalem to fulfill his mission and our mission too.

Entering Jerusalem, entering Jesus

My daily Mass attendees since the lockdown.

When the Luzon lockdown started last March 18, I cried on my first Mass: it was simply unbelievable – until now – for me celebrating Mass without people because a Mass always presupposes people and community to celebrate Christ’s presence!

But now, everybody is gone.

Except me. And the birds who keep constant company for me.

Every morning after pealing our bell as I celebrate Mass alone, I bow before the giant crucifix looming above our altar and look on the metal engraving of the Lamb of God on the cover of our Tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament of Jesus is kept.

This week as I looked more often onto the lamb during prayer periods, I felt it to be looking at me too. That’s when I realized how the lamb perfectly signifies Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem, the “Suffering Servant” of God prophesied by Isaiah in the first reading today. But what struck me most is the song’s latter part not included in our first reading, referring to Jesus Christ:

Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.

Isaiah 53:7

That lamb is indeed Jesus Christ, coming to us day in, day out in the Holy Eucharist we priests continue to celebrate even if our churches are closed. Every day especially in the Mass, Jesus invites us to ascend with him to the Father, little by little with our selfless acts of charity and kindness to others.

Looking into that lamb of our Tabernacle, I see the eyes of Jesu telling me how much he loves me, how much he has forgiven me from my sins despite his knowing me through and through.

And that is Jesus Christ: always silent, gazing with his eyes full of love, full of knowledge about us and what’s going to happen next, inviting us to join him, to come with him to ascend to our higher selves especially in this time of crisis. All despite his knowing our sins because he sees us too with eyes full of mercy!

These my dear readers are more enough reasons to sing “hosanna” today despite the many difficulties and uncertainties around us because Jesus is with us and will never leave us especially when we reach the cross. Amen.

A blessed holy week to you!

Our tabernacle, Palm Sunday 2020.

Our prophetic mission in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

First Friday, Week IV, Year II, 07 February 2020

Sirach 47:2-11 ><)))*> 0 <*(((>< Mark 6:14-29

Photo from catholicworldreport.com, “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist” (1869) by Pierre Puvis de Chevannes.

Your gospel today, O Lord, is so appropriate and timely: while we were busy, albeit foolishly discussing the novel coronavirus in every fora, a technical committee in the House of Representatives has approved three measures seeking to legalize divorce in the country.

We do not know what have really happened but it is so sad that no one among the Catholic and Christian lawmakers there made a solid stand against these measures like St. John the Baptist who was imprisoned on account of his objection to Herod’s taking of his brother’s wife Herodias.

So many times, Lord, we are so afraid and worried of what others might say against us when we make a stand for what is right and just, for what is proper and decent, for what is right and good, for what is your will.

Worst, O Lord, many of us are like Herodias who have prostituted our very selves in the service of the worldly allures of sex, fame, and wealth, choosing to be silent with all the many immoralities going on in government, in the society, and even in the church!

Give us the same courage, Lord, you have given your precursor St. John the Baptist to be prophets in this modern age, to be a voice in the wilderness, making a stand for what is holy, true, and just.

Like David, may we always seek your ways, ask for your grace to do your will against the giants and monsters of this world who ram into us every modern thought and idea that disregard the sanctity of life, the value of every person, as well as the sanctity of marriage.

Let us not be silent anymore with the growing impunity of many in their arrogant display of authority, throwing their weight around us with their cuss words and fallacious arguments that dignify their truncated egos and pride for the sake of progress and modernity. Amen.

Thinking kindly of others

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul

Tuesday, Week 1, Year 2, 14 January 2020

1 Samuel 1:9-20 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> Mark 1:21-28

Inside our church from the altar table. Photo by author, November 2019.

Hanna replied to Eli, “Think kindly of your maidservant,” and she left..

1 Samuel 1:18

While praying over your words, O Lord, of that scene at the temple when Eli mistook Hannah to being drunk while praying intensely to you for a child, it reminded me of Taal Volcano’s restive behavior, of her spewing ashes and causing tremors.

But despite all these, Taal remains lovely and magnificent.

Sometimes, Lord, that is what exactly we need in life: to think kindly of others always.

The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”

Mark 1:22, 27

Purify our thoughts, Lord, to always think kindly of others.

To always have that disposition for silence and being non-judgmental with others to always listen to them and be open to their thoughts and feelings as well.

Like you, Lord Jesus Christ, enable us to share in the power of your words, to speak with authority by entering into that daily union with you in silence and prayers.

May we learn also from the gentle Taal: to be still and silent, to speak only when necessary so that everyone listens intently to her inner rumblings when she finally “speaks”.

We continue to pray for those severely affected by Taal’s eruptions, most especially that they may remain kind with people and nature alike in this trying moments of a major calamity.

We pray for businessmen to have a heart, to think kindly of those affected by Taal’s eruptions and stop jacking up prices of much needed goods. Amen.

From inqirer.net

Best gifts of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll be glad to hear from you also.

A blessed Christmas weekend to you.

Holy presence in hiddenness

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe, 19 December 2019

Judges 13:2-7, 24-25 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> Luke 1:15-25

The Walls of Jerusalem, May 2019. Photo by the author.

From St. Matthew, we now move to the Christmas story by St. Luke that starts in the temple of Jerusalem. And surprisingly, not precisely with Jesus or his parents.

In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah; his wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years. Once when he was serving as priest in his division’s turn before God, according to the practice of the priestly service, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense. Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of the incense offering, the angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right of the altar of incense.

Luke 1:5-11

We know what happened, of how Zechariah doubted the good news announced to him about the birth of his son John the Baptizer.

Many times in our lives, especially in this age of too much communications in the social media where everything is exposed, we hardly notice the best and nicest things in life happening in silence, mostly in hiddenness.

And the saddest part of this present reality is that it is God whom we miss in this “overexposures” we have in social media because he always comes to us hidden in the most ordinary and simple things in life.

Yesterday St. Joseph taught us the need to value silence and stillness in the Lord as an important lesson in facing life’s many adversarial situations.

Today we hear Zechariah forcibly silenced to experience the Lord’s power and grace, his very presence in fact.

An inside section of the remaining Walls of Jerusalem. Photo by author, May 2019.

God’s presence hidden in our time and space

Advent is the season that reminds us that God comes to us always hidden in our very time and space. Unless we know how to be silent and simple, we shall never experience the Divine presence that has covered the whole world ever since.

Of the four evangelists, St. Luke is the only one who claims to have “investigated everything accurately” about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ (Lk.1:3). That is why he has the most stories and details about Christmas.

For St. Luke, Christmas begins with the coming of St. John the Baptizer, Jesus Christ’s precursor. In a very unique manner, he tells us how God’s presence came through a husband and wife yearning so much to have a child of their own, Zechariah and Elizabeth, both belonging to the upper crust of the Jewish society having descended from the priestly families.

In fact, Zechariah was a priest who was so blessed that Day of Atonement known as the Yom Kippur of the Jews that happens around September 18-24. (That is how we come to celebrate Christmas on December 25: Elizabeth conceived John in September, giving birth to him in June 24; tomorrow, we shall hear in the Annunciation to Mary that Elizabeth was six months pregnant which falls on March 24. Simple math, we arrive at December 25 as Christ’s birthdate.)

Praying at the Wall, May 2019.

During the Yom Kippur, priests drew lots on who would incense the Holy of Holies where the “Ark of the Covenant” was kept containing the stone tablets of God’s commandments given to Moses. It was the closest thing they have as signs of God’s presence among them. Hence, until now they venerate and pray at the “wailing Wall” of Jerusalem because that is supposed to be the only remaining structure of their temple destroyed in 70 AD closest to that part of the Holy of Holies.

It was so rare at that time to be assigned to incense the Holy of Holies because there were so many priests drawing lots and only one would be chosen for the rite that happens about twice daily for the whole week. It was a tremendous blessing indeed to be chosen to incense the Holy of Holies.

Here we find St. Luke setting the stage of his Christmas story to remind us all that God comes right into our time and space, in our history, in our here and now.

See his descriptions:

  1. It happened in a specific time during during “the days of Herod, King of Judea”, when Zechariah was “chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense” while people were outside praying and waiting.
  2. It happened in a specific place, the temple of Jerusalem.
  3. Most of all, it happened to real people, “Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was from the daughters of Aaron.”
A view from the Walls of Jerusalem of the Jewish section; dome is the Moslem section, Mount of Olives at the background. Photo by author, May 2017.

The Presence of God, the Absence of Man

When we are deeply hurt and disappointed, we are usually less rational. Worst, although we try to keep our faith alive, that is also when we doubt God, refusing to recognize his presence among us, and even right in us.

In this story of the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptizer, we find God giving Zechariah the tremendous grace to approach his Divine presence by having the rare opportunity to incense the Holy of Holies.

Most of all, at their most important feast when priests gather in the temple to pray for the people and for their personal intentions, God sent Zechariah the angel Gabriel to personally tell him his and Elizabeth’s prayers have been heard and granted!

But what happened? Zechariah doubted, even questioned God!

“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

Luke 1:18

That’s the problem with us: God is always present but we are always absent that we never meet him. And every time he comes to visit us, we are so busy with so many other things.

If we cannot see and experience God in the most ordinary things and events in our lives, nothing would be enough to convince us of his love and mercy, of his presence and power.

That is why Zechariah was silenced by the angel, who, by the way, is already the presence of God yet Zechariah doubted.

This remaining week before Christmas, let us try to have some silence, or better, let us create a space for silence and solitude to experience God’s loving presence among us, in us.

It is only in silence where we can truly learn how to trust and be intimate with God and with our loved ones because it is only in silence where we can dare to open our selves to God and to others.

Let “the spirit of the Lord stir” you like Samson in the first reading (Jgs.13:25) this Christmas by creating silent moments with Jesus. Amen.

Let nothing disturb you…

Quiet Storm by Nick F. Lalog II, 15 October 2019

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa at Panglao, Bohol, September 2019.

Which is more difficult to confront, the fact of dying or that of suffering through a serious sickness? I have been thinking these for the past couple of days following my recent visitations of sick parishioners.

Today I visited a parishioner sick for the past three months with a lung disease. She’s 76 years old.

Right upon seeing me, Lola Milagros cried, telling me to ask God to take her because she’s so tired of suffering and waiting for death.

I just let her cry, holding her hands, as I listened to her pouring out of her aches and pains.

After that, I whispered to her the words of St. Teresa de Avila whose feast we are also celebrating today:

Nada te turbe… Solo Dios basta! (Let nothing disturb you… only God suffices!)

St. Teresa De Avila

So beautiful to hear and yes, easier said than done.

Can anybody with a serious ailment be not disturbed?

Been asking myself the same questions too. It is difficult not to be disturbed when one is sick. Aside from the costs of treatment are the enormous pains and sufferings one has to go through with the medical procedures and its many effects to the patient, who eventually would die.

It is a reality getting closer to home with me and I must confess, I am disturbed. Worried. And afraid.

Photo by Essow Kedelina on Pexels.com

The other week I visited another sick parishioner named Charlie, a former cook paralysed waist down due to a spine injury. He is only in his early 50’s.

What struck me when I saw him were the ropes tied to his both feet. I could not figure out how he could be restless when he is paralysed that his feet have to be tied?

He explained, “Father, I pity my wife when I have to wake her up every night just to move my legs. So, I improvised these ropes tied to my feet so I can just pull them with my hands in case I have to change positions even at night.”

Oh God! What a great love of a man to his wife!

Charlie loves his wife so much that he does not want her to be disturbed with his ailment and condition.

When there is love, we are not disturbed. And the only true love that can make us undisturbed is the love of Jesus Christ, the only perfect love we can have and find.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Whenever we think of Christ we should recall the love that led him to bestow on us so many graces and favors, and also the great love God showed in giving us in Christ a pledge of his love; for love calls for love in return. Let us strive to keep this always before our eyes and to rouse ourselves to love him. For if at some time the Lord should grant us the grace of impressing his love on our hearts, all will become easy for us and we shall accomplish great things quickly and without effort.

St. Teresa de Avila

“Love calls for love in return.”

So beautiful words by St. Teresa de Avila.

We can only truly feel that personal love of Jesus if we are also personally in love with him.

We are disturbed with so many things in life when there is not enough love in our hearts, when we have not felt loved enough by others too.

Without love, we would always be disturbed.

I told Lola Milagros this morning to thank God for the gift of tears because they are prayers coming straight from her heart. That God knows very well all her pains and sufferings. Most of all, I told her tears are clear signs of love in her heart.

Later on my way home, Lola Milagros’ daughter was also teary-eyed as she told me she was so glad to see her mother cried. According to her, Lola Milagros is a very tough woman of the “old school” who tried to bear everything and even hide what’s inside her so as not to disturb them. She always wanted them to be assured all’s fine.

Lola Milagros and Charlie do not want to disturb their respective family because they love them. It is love that moves the sick not to disturb others and it is also love that enables us to assure them not to be disturbed.

The challenge therefore is not to reflect on whether to die instantly or slowly but to always love truly!

Sacred Heart Novitiate (Novaliches), 2017.

Human love is always imperfect. Only God can love us perfectly. This he did exactly to us when he sent us Jesus Christ who died on the Cross for us.

To love truly is be personally one in Jesus Christ. When we were still seminarians, Fr. Memeng used to tell us in our class “Priestly Spirituality” that “if we can really cultivate a deep prayer life, we can also experience Jesus Christ in the most personal way.” It is the experience of St. Teresa de Avila and all the other saints.

Nothing can disturb us in this life when our love is borne out of a personal relationship with Jesus in prayer.

Prayer life is more than reciting prayers by following a schedule. Prayer life is a relationship, a communing with God, of being our true selves before him, seeing ourselves as he sees us. And because of this assurance of his love despite our many sins and flaws, that is when we are not disturbed because God loves us no matter what.

When we are not disturbed, then we become silent. Presence is more than enough to share and experience God’s love. St. Paul said “love is not pompous” because true love is always silent, more on deeds than on words.

One thing amusing with death is that it always comes in silence, when we least expect it. Whether we die instantly or slowly, it always happens in silence. And that is also why many are disturbed of dying.

But, if we love patiently our self, others and God, nothing can ever disturb us because when we love, we are already in God. That is when we realize too the wisdom and truth of St. Teresa’s contemporary who claimed that

A soul that walks in love is neither tired nor gets tired.

San Juan dela Cruz
From Google.

Let us love, love, and love until the end onto eternity.

Only God suffices because God is love. Amen.