Christmas is seeing, following the light of Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday in the Fourth Week of Advent, Ninth Day of the Christmas Novena, 24 December 2022
2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16     ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'> + ><]]]]'>     Luke 1:67-79
Thank you Lord Jesus Christ
for this Season of Advent,
for your words and presence
these past nine days of
Simbang Gabi.
Like King David in the first reading
and Zechariah in the gospel,
now I have seen clearly your light -
"In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness
and shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace"
(Luke 1:78-79).
Help me see your light, Jesus;
let me distinguish the true light
that shines on the face of every person
I meet and serve, especially the weak
and lowly and forgotten;
let me be wary of lights I see only on my face
like King David that no matter how noble are
my plans, it is your light, O Lord, that I must follow
for your light leads to love and kindness,
mercy and compassion, acceptance and forgiveness;
let me search and follow only your light
that makes me accept and embrace and own my past,
especially if it is painful and hurtful
so I may see also the brighter future 
you are leading me to.
Most of all, dear Jesus,
like John, fill me with your light
to lead people to you
not to me;
I do not ask your light to make me see
the distance scene but just enough to make
me step closer to you each day
especially when darkness of sin and evil abound.
Amen.

Christmas is being grateful

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday in the Fourth Week of Advent, Seventh Day of Christmas Novena, 22 December 2022
1 Samuel 1:24-28     ><000'> + ><000'> + ><000'>     Luke 1:46-56

Christmas is a call for us to be grateful. Only a grateful heart can truly be emptied and be filled with Jesus Christ. A heart that truly praises God is first of all a grateful heart. Mary’s song, the Magnificat is a both a song of thanksgiving and gratitude to God for all his wondrous blessings to her and to mankind in general.

Yesterday we heard how Mary hastily went to visit her cousin Elizabeth in Judea to share with her the Good News she had received, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. After being praised by Elizabeth, Mary responded today not by praising her cousin as we would always do; she instead praised and thanked God.

Again, we hear today wonderful stories of women – not just two like yesterday but three! – who were so blessed by God, thanking and praising God for blessing them with sons: Hannah in the first reading for her son Samuel who became one of Israel’s greatest prophet, Mary pregnant with Jesus Christ while visiting her cousin Elizabeth who was sixth month pregnant with John.

See how Hannah as a sign of her gratitude to God through the priest Eli who promised to pray for her to conceive a son gave Samuel at a very young age to serve in the Lord’s altar. The same is true with Mary in singing the Magnificat when she reaffirmed her fiat to God, of being his ever-faithful handmaid doing his will always.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.”

Luke 1:46-49
Photo by Mr. John Ryan Jacob, 20 December 2022, Paco, Obando, Bulacan.

Gratitude is a virtue that works great wonders for everyone because it makes us live in the present moment. A grateful person is one who lives in the here and now, not in the past nor in the future. Look at the structure of Mary’s Magnificat that is in the present tense.

When our heart is filled with gratitude, we have no time to complain and nurse old wounds and pains in the past but simply learn from them and move on with life. Living in the present moment means making things happen, working hard on our dreams and aspirations to become a reality, exactly what the Magnificat is telling us! How are we going to continue God’s wondrous works like Mary? By remaining faithful to Jesus Christ all the way to his Cross on Good Friday.

People who refuse to be grateful in life are busy wishful thinking of how things should be or would be, always looking at the future as a fantasy that would just pop out of nowhere instead of working for it in the present moment.

Unknown to many, gratitude is the fount of all good vibes in life, enabling us to be more positive than negative. It helps us accept the reality we are into – whether it is good or bad.

And that is when we start growing and maturing as persons when we learn to accept our present realities.

Most of all, gratitude disposes us to more blessings and grace from God because a thankful heart is always the one that seeks relationships, with God and with others. See that Mary did not sing her Magnificat while with the angel Gabriel after announcing the birth of Christ nor after he had left, right in the comforts of her home. Mary went in haste to Judea to celebrate and thank God’s gifts with her cousin Elizabeth.


People who go out of their way to say thank you, 
to express gratitude are person-oriented. 
They see more the persons 
not just the kind deeds done to them 
and beautiful gifts given them. 

Very often, people thank us priests especially for praying for them, enlightening and guiding them. That is why people lavish us with all kinds of gifts. Every time people thank me, I tell them, “kami po ang dapat magpasalamat sa inyo kasi lumalago kami kay Kristo!” In my 24 years as a priest, I have realized that the more faithful we are in serving God through his people, the more we are blessed and hence, the more we must be grateful!

People who go out of their way to say thank you, to express gratitude are person-oriented. They see more the persons not just the kind deeds done to them and beautiful gifts given them. When we say thank you, when we let others know of how grateful we are, we recognize their personhood that is why we reach out to them, trying to connect with them and befriend them. Or, to keep our ties alive and strong. As the old song says, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

Remember the ten lepers healed by Jesus Christ on his way to Jerusalem?

Only one returned – a Samaritan – to thank Jesus. He was the only one who was “saved” when Jesus told him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you” (Lk.17:19).

Photo by Mr. John Ryan Jacob, 20 December 2022 in Paco, Obando, Bulacan.

Gratitude is a very practical virtue, “the parent of all virtues” according to the Roman scholar and statesman Cicero. It is the one virtue we need to recapture and reacquire in this time to make through the many challenges and trials this pandemic has brought us. Instead of complaining and being so sorry with the plight we are into due to COVID-19, let us start counting our many blessings in life to see the vast opportunities and lessons this crisis has given us. In fact, the more this pandemic has persisted, the more blessings we can find that we must be thankful too.

Because of the pandemic, we have learned to cherish more one another as we come to value persons and life again more than things. There are so many things we have to be grateful in life during this time of the pandemic, perhaps even more than the sufferings and trials we have gone through as it opened to us new views and perceptions about life itself.

Most of all, it had brought us back to the grounding of our being, to God who is life himself, the source of all good things we have long forgotten and now remember. And rightly praise and thank. That is why I keep on telling everyone, God willed Christmas 2022 falls on a Sunday so we may personally, face-to-face celebrate together. And thank him through the people he has given us! Let us pray:

My soul also proclaims 
your greatness, O Lord Jesus Christ
like Mary your Mother!
Thank you for the gift of life
with all of its pains and hurts
that have strengthened me,
for all the joys that have enriched me.
Most of all, for the call to serve you.
Who am I, O Lord, to be called
and visited by you?
Many times I have failed you
yet you keep on coming, still calling me,
still believing in me, still trusting me.
What else can I say except 
thank you from the bottom of my heart.
As your birthday approaches,
as my gift to you dearest Jesus,
enable me to remain faithful to you
like Mary your Mother and our Mother too
even up to your Cross.  
Here am I, Lord, send me.
Amen.
Photo by Mr. John Ryan Jacob, 19 December 2022 in Paco, Obando, Bulacan.

More than a visit, Christmas is a visitation!

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Advent, Sixth Day of Christmas Novena, 21 December 2022
Song of Song 2:8-14     ><))))*> + ><))))*> + ><))))*>     Luke 1:39-45
Photo by Mr. John Ryan Jacob, 20 December 2022.

Did you know that there is a funny story behind that lovely entrance hymn in all our Masses we have been singing since the start of the Advent Season rightly called Halina Jesus, Halina?

According to the story, when Jesus turned seven years old – that’s the seventh Christmas of the world! – the Blessed Mother decided to bake him a beautiful birthday cake. The child Jesus was busy playing with his cousins when his Mother asked him to buy some flour, eggs, butter, and sugar. Of course, the young Messiah obeyed her and went to the store to buy the ingredients for his birthday cake. But, as the Catholic Catechism of the Church attests that Jesus is truly human like us, he suddenly forgot the most important ingredient needed in his cake, the flour. He rushed back home and asked Mama Mary again what was he supposed to buy. This happened thrice that for the third time, Mary was exasperated, wrote it on a piece of paper, telling the child Jesus, “Harina, Jesus, harina!”

For our non-Filipino followers, harina is flour, very close to halina which is come as the song tells us.

Christmas is a story of people, real persons like you and me meeting, encountering God. So far since Sunday we have heard stories of encounters by Joseph, Zechariah and Mary with an angel.  Today, we hear the beautiful encounter between two women so blessed by God, two mothers whose sons would usher in a new beginning of life on earth. 

Mary set out in those days and travelled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Luke 1:39-43

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth is in itself a proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ that presents us with the beautiful personages of two women who are “beloved ones of God” as well as “lovers of God.” 

Both of them “believed” in the promised salvation from God through their mysterious maternity, Mary being a virgin while Elizabeth in her being old and barren. 

They both love God so much that they were gifted with exceptional vocations, Elizabeth bore the Precursor of the Lord Himself born by Mary. 

Most of all, both women waited patiently for the coming of the promised salvation in Christ Jesus.

Visit and visitation may seem to be one and the same in the sense that both have a common Latin root word, the verb to see or vidi, videre from which came the word video.  But, a visit is more casual and informal without intimacy because it is just “a passing by” or merely to see.  It is more concerned with the place or the location and site and not the person to be visited.   We say it clearly in Filipino as in “napadaan lang” when it just so happened you were passing by a place and even without any intentions, you tried seeing someone there. 

On the other hand, visitation is more commonly used in church language like when a bishop or priests come to see the parishioners in remote places.  This is the reason a chapel is more known as a visita in our country because that is where priests visit and check on the well-being of people living in areas very far from the parish usually at the town proper.  Aside from being the venue for the celebration of Masses, the visita serves as classroom for catechism classes and other religious even social gatherings in a particular place. 

Thus, visitation connotes a deeper sense in meaning because there is an expression of care and concern among people, a kind of love shared by the visitator/visitor and the one visited like Mary and Elizabeth. 

Visitation is more of entering into someone’s life or personhood as reported by Luke on Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth where Mary “entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth” (Lk.1:40), implying communion or the sharing of a common experience.  In this case, the two women shared the great experience of being blessed with the presence of God in their wombs! 

Visitation, therefore, is a sharing or oneness in the joys and pains of those dear to us.  The word becomes more meaningful when we try to examine its Filipino equivalent which is “pagdalaw” from the root word “dala” that can be something you bring or a verb to bring.  When we come for a visitation, we dala or bring something like food or any gift.  But most of all we bring our very selves like a gift of presence wherein we share our total selves with our time and talents, joys and sadness, and everything to those being visited.  And that is what Mary did exactly in her visitation of Elizabeth where she brought with her the Lord Jesus Christ in her womb, becoming the first monstrance of the Lord as well as His first tabernacle. 

Today we are invited to become like Mary in the visitation of others to bring Christmas and Jesus Himself to others by allowing our very selves, our body, to be the “bringer” or taga-dala of Christ.  The Lord Himself is the highest good we can bring as pasalubong in every visitation we make.  And if we can only be like Mary in our visitations and dealings with one another sharing Jesus Christ, then we also bring with us God’s tenderness and sweetness to others. 

That is why we have to rush, we have to go in haste like Mary for we have the best good of all – Jesus Christ – to share for everyone!

Come, Lord Jesus Christ!
Come in haste like your Mother Mary
so we may also have a visitation of
persons we have forgotten,
we have taken for granted
all these years!
Come into my heart, Jesus,
and let me see my connections
and links with everyone in you!
We do not need so many presents to give,
just our presence is more than enough
for others to experience your coming
especially on this Christmas.
Amen.

When nothingness is fullness: creating a space for God

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday in the Fourth Week of Advent, Day 4 of Christmas Novena, 19 December 2022
Judges 13:2-7, 24-25     ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>    Luke 1:5-25

As we get closer to Christmas Day, there is this post going around social media that I think is worth sharing this blessed season of getting together like parties and reunions especially after two years of lockdown and isolation in this pandemic.

I totally agree with this list and in fact, still thinking of adding some more to finally end our penchant for insulting others.

A very classic case of being “mema”memasabi lang without thinking and caring for the well-being of other people as well as without realizing how stupid they are whenever they say these “eight things we should stop saying at family reunions for good.”

Notice how most of these are addressed to women.

First to single ladies in the family or circle of friends with the very common query “Kailan ka mag-aasawa/magpapakasal?” to the downright insensitive, “Ang tanda mo na. Bakit single ka pa rin hanggang ngayon?”.

Here we find the wrong notion of everyone that getting married is the most important thing in this life, no matter what!

It is a very rude and senseless comment to any woman, especially a family member or relative. Most guilty of this are moms and aunts.

Can a woman just get married with any man?

Of course, she has to be choosy, she has to think very, very hard about it because marriage is a lifelong commitment.

Married life is a call from God, not a cajole from relatives and crowd. Please, shut up and stop making these comments.

Next on the list are still women which shows how some of our family members and relatives -ironically also women – would not really stop in their insulting spree.

They wrongly believe that relatives and friends have no privacy at all!

Next to single ladies, the married women are the favorite target of these insensitive relatives and colleagues with their question, “Kailan mo balak magka-anak?”

Whoa! For me this is a mortal sin. Something we should not let pass our lips because we will never know how difficult and trying it must be to some couples in working and praying for a child.

Life is a gift from God and only him can truly bless every couple with a baby. It is not magic or power given to humans.

Every couple wants to have a child, a baby, but, of course, like marriage, they have to prepare for it. They need to plan. And save and work to ensure their kids would get good education and comfortable life.

It is a struggle among many couples. Again, shut up and just pray for them to have their own “little bundle of joy”.

Now, we come to the third thing we must stop saying at all.

It is a comment directed to us who comprise more than half of the world population. Imagine if all of us fat people would unite, people would never dare speak these words….

Many times I just keep silent at people who say this.

If ever you tell them you have lost 20 or 30 kilos, the more they will insult you with “pumayat ka pa niyan?”.

See what I mean. They are the worst kind of insensitive people on earth without any knowledge at all about biology and medicine, imbeciles with little brains, asking “malakas ka bang kumain?” Of course! Would you get fat by just deep breathing?

It is the fourth day of our Christmas novena and why do I tell you these, or entertain you with these?

Our readings today show us how two great prophets were conceived and born in miraculous manner. In the first reading we have the story of the conception of Samson in the Old Testament. His mother was barren. Perhaps, she was also a subject of many insults and jokes, of nasty talks and insensitive comments like what most women experience today.

Then we have the story of the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist to his father Zechariah, himself already old unable to make a baby while his wife Elizabeth was barren. Despite their stature in the society with a pedigree equal to many of the gentry, they never have a child who would continue their lineage.

But here we find God finally answering their prayers in the midst of their nothingness.

Here are couples who have been praying all their lives for a child when God finally answered them.

Sadly, Zechariah doubted it that he was silenced by the angel, indicating the need for us to be silent always, to be empty to let God fill us with his work and grace.

Many times in life, nothingness is actually fullness.

See when a guy texts a lady, saying “hi” just because or “wala lang” or “nothing”.

But, that is something! When we tell people “wala lang”, it is “meron.”

The same in life. In fact, we have to be empty in order to be filled up by God. Zechariah was silenced while Elizabeth on her own decided to “quarantine” herself by going into “seclusion for five months, saying, ‘So has the Lord done for me at a time when has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others'” (Lk.1:24-25).

Many times in life we get impatient. We doubt and sometimes easily give up.

Like St. Joseph yesterday, we just have to accept that we have to set aside our own plans to follow God’s better plans for us. We have to accept everyone because Christ comes in everyone. We have to accept in order to understand life better.

I know it is easier said than done, especially for all single ladies, childless couples and fat people like me praying to God, asking what is most dearest to us like the vocation in life or the right man, a baby, and a good health; God hears and answers all prayers.

Just be patient. In our emptiness and nothingness, God comes. Just be sure to have that space for God always, unlike Zechariah who doubted the power of God.

Sometimes, we hurry God to answer our prayers especially when the insults and comments from others become unbearable. That is fine. God listens and understands it so well. That is why today, we pray for those with urgent prayers before God:

God our loving Father,
we praise and thank you in sending
us Jesus Christ your Son,
our Lord and Savior,
the one whom you raised from 
the root of Jesse;
come now, do not delay any longer!
Come and deliver us, O Lord,
remember your promise to us,
and keep us open always like
Elizabeth to find you still in our
barrenness and nothingness;
help us create and preserve
that sacred space for you within
us always so that even in life's
emptiness, we are fulfilled in you.
Amen.

Christmas, our being & mission

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday in the Third Week of Advent, Day 2 of Christmas Novena, 17 December 2022
Genesis 49:2, 8-10     ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>     Matthew 1:1-17
Photo by author, 2021.

Beginning today, we shift our focus in our Christmas preparations into the second phase of Advent, of looking back to the first coming of Jesus Christ when he was born in Bethlehem more than 2000 years ago.

The birth and origin of Jesus has always been an issue to many people then and now. It was the main reason he was put to death for the case of “blasphemy” because his enemies at that time refused to accept he is the Son of God, the fulfillment of the promises in the Old Testament, of him coming from the lineage of King David.

Until now, people continue to question his origin with so many others insisting Jesus is not God, that he is only human.

That is why all four evangelists began their gospel accounts by first establishing his identity and roots with Matthew doing a very superb job by starting right away with the genealogy of Jesus Christ.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram….

Matthew 1:1-3
Photo by author, November 2022.

For the early Christians, it was very important to first establish the origin of our Lord because his roots reveal his very being and mission – that indeed, he is the Christ, the promised one of God since the beginning sent to save us from sin and bring us back into one with the Father.

The same is very true with us. Unless we know our roots, our origins, we will always have those confusions in life like identity crisis and meaning of existence. All these problems about gender identity, drug addictions, teenage pregnancies, depressions and so many others are basically due to lack of our knowing of ourselves, of our being. How can we go on with our life journey and mission if we are not even sure of ourselves, of who we are, of our grounding, of where we came from?

When I was a newly ordained priest assigned to a school in Malolos, at first I felt so mad at seeing how our young people behaved, their lack of discipline and sense of responsibilities. But after three months in school, I realized that the question we should be asking even until now is not why are the young acting that way today but, “where are their parents”?

Now that I am assigned as a university chaplain, the more I see this reality so true, even at its worst and ugly faces of the many burdens and sufferings our young people have to bear and contend with right in their homes – incest and physical abuses, absentee parents and separated parents or single parents made more difficult by poverty that many of them even go without breakfast or decent meal on many occasions every week.

Now more than ever, the school has become truly the home of every student because they have no home, no parents and no love to come home to! They prefer hanging out anywhere including school and get into drugs and other vices at a young age because nobody cares for them except their equally lost peers. Many practically live in the internet and social media because nobody is around to interact with them at home.

Many young people are lost simply because their parents are lost too. They have all kinds of issues because they do not know who they are and where they are going to. They have low self-confidence and low self-esteem, depressive and yes, almost everyone contemplates committing suicide even once because they could not find meaning in their lives anymore.


... human love is imperfect,
only God can love us perfectly.

So sad, so disheartening.

This past week, I have been hearing confessions of our students who poured out everything to the point of crying. What is so moving for me was how they still professed their love for their parents and siblings despite their pains and sufferings.

After listening to them – sometimes crying with them – I tell them that human love is imperfect, only God can love us perfectly. For sure, I tell them that their parents must have also come from so many pains and hurts in their lives, even broken homes too like theirs. Widen your perspectives, I tell them. And keep your hearts wide open to God, to welcome Jesus who comes daily in our lives especially in the most trying time.

This is the meaning of all those names in Jesus Christ’s genealogy – he is so like us with many imperfect relatives and family like quarrelsome siblings, single-parents, prostitutes, unfaithful kings and husbands, illegitimate children, and probably all those things we describe or label as “dysfunctional family”.

Deep within every name is a real person, broken and sinful, hurting and lost just like us yet, loved and saved by God in Jesus Christ. All of them remind us we all came from God like Jesus and with him, in him and through him, we shall all come home to God our true Father.

Every time I administer Baptism, I remind parents to shower their children with love especially in their formative years from infancy to early teens while singing to them a few lines from James Taylor’s “Shower the People with Love” to make my point.

Recently I found in my Facebook feeds from one of the sites I follow a beautiful story and shared it on my wall, saying, “Ito ang tunay na pag-ibig” (this is true love):

From Facebook, The Language Nerds, 13 December 2022.

Our being is from God who is love. Therefore, our mission too is love. Just like Jesus Christ. That is the meaning of all those names in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. The very same meaning we shall find when we trace our own roots, when we do our family tree to find our being and mission.

This is the grace of Christmas 2022 – after two years in the pandemic with so many restrictions, we are celebrating face-to-face to personally experience one another again. Most of all, to personally experience of being loved and loving again.

Christmas is essentially a story of our first love – God – who comes to us face-to-face. Even its preparation as we have seen in the Lord’s genealogy, of God coming to us in our imperfections and weaknesses happened face-to-face in the context and spirit of love, a love that covers a multitude of sins, welcomes everyone, ready to forgive and celebrate life.

Let us see and welcome God in our hearts by rekindling that love we have always have. And upon finding him there, may we also find him in the face of everyone we meet, especially those closest to us, our family and relatives. Let us pray:

Lord Jesus Christ,
thank you for coming to us;
thank you for showing us that
like us, you came from very 
dysfunctional family too!
Thank you for assuring us
that despite our many imperfections,
sins and weaknesses,
you still come and even more present
in our hurts and wounds.
Let us find you where we are,
right here in our brokenness 
and darkness so that in the process,
we may also show you to others
lost in their many sufferings and pains.
You have given us yourself, Jesus,
let me give you to others 
in love and kindness,
in my mere presence.
Amen.
Photo by author, November 2022.

Christmas, a return to Paradise

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday in the Third Week of Advent, Day 1 of Christmas Novena, 16 December 2022
Isaiah 56:1-3, 6-8     ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>     John 5:33-36
Photo by author, 08 December 2022.

All roads lead to the church early today for the start of our traditional Christmas novena known as Missa de Aguinaldo or simply, Simbang Gabi. And this year, we are having a truly blessed Christmas because after two years in COVID pandemic, we are celebrating Christ’s birth face-to-face while still keeping basic health protocols like the wearing of face masks inside churches.

Christmas is essentially face-to-face. The Son of God became human like us in everything except sin so we may experience and meet God personally, face-to-face in Jesus Christ.

Everything in Christmas is face-to-face, from the Annunciation to Mary of Christ’s birth to the Visitation, the Nativity itself when shepherds and magi visited Jesus face-to-face until the presentation at the temple of Jesus when Simeon and Anna saw and carried him while a child.

According to Pope emeritus Benedict VI, what Jesus really did in his coming was to bring God closest to us humans. In that sense, Christmas is then a return to Paradise, to Eden — of the Son of God fetching us back to the Father.

That is why on the first week of Advent, we claimed this season is a Sabbath when we go back to God to rest in him, to be breathed on by him and be filled with his life and spirit.

Photo by author, 2021.

Christmas is a return to paradise which we have lost after the Fall when Adam and Eve turned away from God. And that is why we find the word sabbath twice in our first reading on this first day of our Christmas novena.

Thus says the Lord: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice, about to be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, the son of man who holds to it; who keeps the sabbath free from profanation, and his hand from any evil doing… all who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offering and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Isaiah 56:1-2, 6-7

This Christmas 2022 when God willed that we celebrate his Son’s birth on a Sunday is very special because he wants us to go back to him, to stop playing God. On this Simbang Gabi, we are invited to return to Eden to be the image of God once again – loving and kind, beautiful and free as his children doing what is right.

Christmas as a sabbath is rediscovering the rhythm of time like the time of creation, the time of birth, the time of everything centered on God. On this Simbang Gabi as we go back to God, it is hoped that we discover anew our own rhythm of time too! How sad that the more we get so centered with ourselves, pursuing everything in life with so many excuses and alibis of not being able to celebrate Masses or even pray, the more we get lost. And the more we get sick physically and most of all, emotionally drained and practically empty, no matter how much money and gadgets we may have. There is always that feeling of emptiness within. A kind of discontentment, of someone of something so great missing in our lives.

That is God who comes to us through our family and friends.

God reminds us through Isaiah to go back to him, to be rooted in him again which means simply being good and holy. Being holy is not being sinless – being holy is being filled with God. Being aware we are his children, he is our Father to whom we must always go home to, touch base with. Just like in the family, we are never complete without one another. Though we are separated by great distances, we still try to get connected once in a while not only to express our love for them but because deep inside, we miss them, we long them. We know we are not complete without our mom and dad, brothers and sisters – no matter how much pains they may have done to us. They are a part of our very selves and we can never be complete without them.

No wonder, it is during this time of the year when we have all kinds of get together and reunions as families and friends, classmates and colleagues in work. Let us not forget the lessons of 2020 when COVID first came and forced us to separate from one another physically. Now we have realized that the meaning of life can only be found in another person, not in one’s self. Let us seek and follow Jesus this Christmas in one another, especially our family and church.

From Facebook 2019.
Our dearest Lord Jesus Christ,
as we prepare for your birthday,
let us seek you in our hearts,
in the sacraments especially
the Eucharist and Confession,
let us recognize you on the face
of every person we meet,
on those we miss so much,
and on those we have hurt
or have caused us pains;
help us go back to the Father
and may his face shine on us;
most of all, dear Jesus,
let us not be stuck with all those 
glitters and lights of this season:
let us rest in you,
feel you
and experience you
in those great and little things
you have been doing for us
especially when we are lost
and empty.  Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 1:67-69

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by author, 2019.

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

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

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

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

Advent and the “hand of the Lord”

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Simbang Gabi 8, 23 December 2021
Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24   ><]]]'> + ><]]]'> + ><]]]'>   Luke 1:57-66
Photo author, chapel of Basic Education Department, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City, 19 December 2021.

One of the series of jokes I have loved following at Facebook is about that actress always fuming mad as she points her finger at a white witty cat who would always harass and insult her with all kinds of jokes and sarcasms. Last week they were at it again: the white cat laughing at the actress with the caption that says “2022 is like 2020 too”!

Maybe I am just too shallow or mababaw but it is so aliw – delightful and funny that really tickled my bones to laughter. Remember how last year at this time that experts said 2021 would just be an extension of 2020 with COVID pandemic still staying with us. Though the virus is still with us, 2021 is definitely not like 2020 because we are better off this year, more protected with the various vaccines now available. Despite the many surges that have happened this 2021, we made great progress against COVID this year that promises a better 2022 for everyone.

We can all be hopeful that 2022 will not be “2020, too!” as we are now preparing for more opening of classes and businesses next year with better vaccines and more people receiving it despite the threats of the latest variant called Omicron.

Like the people at the time of the birth and circumcision of John the Baptist, we can all feel at this time “the hand of the Lord” clearly with us. Amen!

All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

Luke 1:66-67
Photo by author, site of John’s birthplace underneath the Church of St. John the Baptist at Ein Karem, Israel, 2019.

We are now at the penultimate day of our Christmas Novena and just before Christmas comes, Luke reconnects us with the first personality of his Nativity story, Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth and father of John the Baptist.

Recall how he was punished by the angel by becoming mute for doubting the good news that his old and barren wife would conceive a child who would prepare the way of the Lord; now, Luke tells us how that child was born and named under unusual circumstances that had everyone in their town wondering what that child would be for clearly “the hand of the Lord was with him”.

The term “hand of the Lord” is a description of God’s presence and power in the Old Testament. It is a vivid way of presenting God “intervening” in the daily lives of his people, saving them from all kinds of dangers like the prophets. There was Elijah who was hunted by the soldiers of Jezebel and the “hand of the Lord was on Elijah” (1 Kgs. 18:46) that he was spared from their murderous plots. Then there was Ezekiel who saw “the hand of the Lord” (Ez. 37:1) upon him at the vision of a valley of dry bones coming back to life.

Sometimes, the “hand the Lord” referred to God’s judgment like when King David had sinned against God in not trusting him that he ordered a census of soldiers; it angered God and he was given the choice which punishment he preferred: natural disaster or victory by his enemies or God’s judgment. David chose the third option, saying, “Let me fall into the hand of the Lord for his mercy is great…” (1 Chr. 21:13).

Again, we find here the artistry of Luke in using the phrase “hand of the Lord” in his account of the birth and circumcision of John: he merged together the two meanings of the expression for after all, every moment of judgment is also a moment of grace, especially when seen in the life of John the Baptist who “grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Lk.1:80).

If we go back to Luke’s account of the annunciation of John’s birth, we also find the hand of God clearly at him with Elizabeth feeling vindicated with her pregnancy specially when visited by Mary.

Now, we have the building up of the drama just before the birth of Jesus with the circumcision and naming of John in the most unique manner not only because no one among their relatives have such name (Lk.1:61) but most of all when Zechariah his father wrote “John is his name” and “Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God” (Lk.1:63).

Photo by author, the Church of St. John the Baptist at Ein Karem, Israel, 2019.

What a beautiful scene of Zechariah and Elizabeth wrapped in the arms of God, basking in his tremendous blessings with the people so amazed for evidently God was present among them, working in the most special ways albeit in silence that after looking back to the past and the present moment, they wondered what more good things God has in store for the three.

The same scene happens daily in our lives as individuals, as families and communities and as a nation – of how the hand of God saving us in so many occasions like during this pandemic and recent disasters through generous people coming to our side. There lies the greatness of Zechariah and Elizabeth – through them despite their weaknesses, the hand of the Lord worked wonders not only for them but for everyone including us in this time.

In this Season of Advent about to close soon on Friday, we are invited by the family of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John along with their neighbors to pause and remember those moments the hand of the Lord was with us so we may start meditating too where God is leading us not only this Christmas but in the coming new year 2022. Have a blessed week ahead.

Advent is when “great things” happen from God

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Simbang Gabi 7, 22 December 2021
1 Samuel 1:24-28   ><]]]]'> + <`[[[[><   Luke 1:46-56
Photo by Rev. Fr. Gerry Pascual at Santuario di Greccio, Rieti, Italy in 2019.

Every evening in our Vespers or Evening Prayer, we priests along with monks and sisters and other devout men and women around the world recite or sing Mary’s Magnificat as a fitting tribute to God’s many great blessings showered upon us at the end of each day.

It is the first song or canticle Luke had placed on the lips of his three major characters in the story of Christmas: Mary, then Zechariah singing the Benedictus upon recovery of his speech after naming his child John according to the angel’s instruction, and thirdly by Simeon singing the Nunc Dimittis at the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.

These are all praises to God who gives us his biggest blessing in his Son Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate this Christmas. As I have told you, we sing or recite it in the evening to cap the day as a praise and thanksgiving for the wondrous things God has given us each passing day.

Mary said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed; the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Luke 1:46-49

In normal circumstances specially among us peoples, whenever we are praised by somebody else, it is customary – even obligatory – that we return their praises.

But not with Mary during her Visitation of her cousin Elizabeth.

After being praised and called as “blessed among women for she believed the words spoken to her would be fulfilled”, Mary in turn praised God instead of Elizabeth because her Magnificat was not only her song but also of Elizabeth and every believer of Jesus Christ as the Son of God who became human to redeem us.

Reminiscent of the canticle by Hannah after the birth of her son Samuel whom we heard offering him to Eli in the first reading, Mary’s Magnificat was borne out of her own experience of God doing great things to her and Elizabeth as individuals which she later widened to include the many “great things” done by God to the Israel as a nation like their Exodus from Egypt and later liberation from Babylonian exile.

“He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.”

Luke 1:50-52

Now in the advent of Jesus Christ, Mary proclaims the good news of salvation in her Magnificat by singing how God has continued doing great things to her and to everyone with something unheard of, so unique and completely different from those great things he had done in the past to give Israel – and us – a future and much to hope for:

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.”

Luke 1:53-55

Here we find again the artistry of Luke working so beautifully, so similar with that event at the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus inaugurated his ministry by proclaiming the passage from Isaiah that said “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor…” (Lk.4:18ff).

In Christ’s coming through Mary, God begins a totally new beginning for everyone for all time!

Photo by author, 20 December 2021.

This Advent, we are reminded of God’s many “great things” done to us individually and as a family, as a nation and as a community, and as a Church.

We are now celebrating the 500th year of our Christianization but does it really matter to us? Are we really thankful to God in making us not only Christians but the only Christian nation in this part of the globe? While we are still in our 500th year of Christianization, let us reflect deeply on this giftedness by God to us as a nation and the great tasks and responsibilities he had given us in spreading the good news like Mary.

But at the same time, Advent invites us to look forward to the future in every present moment when Christ comes to fulfill God’s plans of great things for us.

Are we willing to take the challenge and invitation of God to accept his Son Jesus Christ and bring him forth like Mary into this world so lost in darkness? Do we have a room or a space in our hearts where Jesus may come and grow to fulfill God’s many great things being planned for us and others?

Mary sang the Magnificat not only her lips but with her very life as a witness to God doing great things for her and for others.

May we be like her in giving praise and thanks to God with our very lives of witnessing to Christ’s presence. Amen.

Have a blessed Wednesday!

Dream. Believe. And live.

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Simbang Gabi 6, 21 December 2021
Zephaniah 3:14-18   ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*>  Luke 1:39-45
Photo by Mr. Chester Ocampo, Pico de Loro, Batangas, 19 December 2021.

You must be wondering why we have the story again of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth on this sixth day of our Simbang Gabi after listening to it twice over the weekend. As I have told you, beginning December 17 our liturgy shifts focus on the days leading to the first Christmas with each date having its fixed readings and prayers; yesterday, we heard the story of the Annunciation to Mary that is immediately followed by her Visitation of Elizabeth.

Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste t a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

Luke 1:39-40

Let us rewind to yesterday’s scene: after Mary had given her “fiat” or “faithful yes” to God to become the mother of Jesus, Luke simply said “Then the angel departed from her”  and then “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth (Lk.1:38, 39-40).”      

See the remarkable maturity in faith of Mary who must have been 16 years old at that time that she immediately went to visit Elizabeth without anyone guiding or accompanying her to share in the joy of her cousin’s pregnancy. Without any intentions of putting down the most blessed Joseph her husband who had a more difficult manner of receiving the Annunciation in a dream, an angel continued to appear to him to guide him at least four times. But with Mary, she was left alone by the angel. She literally had to walk the path with eyes of faith in God and in Jesus Christ all her life here on earth.        

Photo by author, September 2021.

When I was about to receive my First Holy Communion in 1973 while at Grade 2, my parents drilled into me the great responsibility I shall have in receiving the Body of Christ. They told me that since I will be having Christ in me in the Holy Communion, I have to be always good because my guardian angel would be leave me to decide on my own.

Of course, I never questioned them especially my mom even if she would remind me to call on my “angel dela guardia” when all the while they were telling me he was gone. 

Now that I am a priest and supposed to know more than them about angels who never actually leave us, it is still very interesting to reflect Luke’s report how the “angel departed Mary” after the Annunciation and left her on her own throughout her life.

Here we find anew the artistry of Luke and let us “photoshop” it with GMA-7’s talent search a few years ago called “Starstruck”:  the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus in her womb visiting her old and barren cousin Elizabeth on the sixth month of pregnancy with John the Baptizer. 

Two women of matured faith who were “starstruck” with God’s wondrous works because they both “dreamed, believed, and lived”— not “survived” as they did not merely overcome the trials and difficulties of child-bearing but lived in fulfillment and holiness.  We are told again today how Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit at Mary’s visitation and tomorrow we shall hear the Blessed Virgin singing her praises to God with her Magnificat.

After giving birth to Jesus Christ, Luke would continue to tell us how Mary always believed in “what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled,” presenting her as the original listener and doer of the Word of God.  No wonder in John’s Gospel, she would remain standing under her Son’s Cross because she had always believed.  And no wonder too that in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, Jesus appeared first to Mary because she had always believed in His words He would rise again which became the basis of our Easter “salubong.”  

Photo by author, December 2020.

In one of his homilies during the Year of Faith, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI said that to have faith in God is the starting point of everything in life.  According to him, one of the tragedies of modern society is the lack or even denial of the supremacy of God.  Benedict explained that belief in God is the source of all truths about man because it is only God Who truly gives meaning and direction to our lives.            

How sad that despite the affluence and too much material things in the world today, man seems to be never contented; in fact, we have become empty and lost more than ever as we look at the countless problems and miseries we are into like this COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, plus those found in our family and home, office and community, country and the world. 

Worst is how we also “pervert” our religious beliefs because of too much faith in our selves than in God, making religion an excuse to amass wealth and power by sowing hatred to others.

Imagine the many darkness in Mary’s life “without the angel by her side” and had to ponder and rely, believe always in the words she had received in the Annunciation.            

To truly receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, we must first believe in His words, that He is the Bread from heaven, our Bread of life.  For all the darkness in our lives, in our family, in our society, we need to go back to God Whom we have always left behind, ignored and even rejected or ridiculed.  For all our dreams, let us believe in God like Mary and Elizabeth to start living in fulfillment despite the many difficulties we are into.  A blessed Tuesday to you!