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 being small and simple

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Second Sunday of Advent-C, 05 December 2021
Baruch 5:1-9 ><}}}*> Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11 ><}}}*> Luke 3:1-6
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

From “beginning with the end” last Sunday at the start of Advent, we now move into its second week when we are reminded by the readings and gospel that “everything begins small and simple” in God and with God’s kingdom.

So often in life, God’s beauty and majesty are revealed in small, little beginnings that are hidden and obscured, things and persons we take for granted without knowing it is in them and through them that God silently continues his works of wonder among us.

Such is the reality of Christ’s coming – then and now and in the end of time – as presented by Luke who began his account this Second Sunday of Advent with the introduction of John the Baptist.

“St. John the Baptist Preaching In the Wilderness” by Anton Raphael Mengs from en.wikipedia.org.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

Luke 3:1-2

Feel the solemnity of Luke’s report, so formal, evoking a sense of power and might, an air of superiority with all the trappings of those in the corridors of power in government and religion.

Then abruptly, he wrote tersely, “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert”. Boom! So simple yet elegantly emphatic.

Notice Luke’s artistry presenting a list of who’s who living in palaces and Temple with all the comfort and luxury available at that time when in a sudden shift, without losing the building up of the drama that led to the climax that is John “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths'” (Lk.3:3-4).

In introducing to us the person of John the Baptist which started in the very first chapter of his gospel, Luke is actually telling us how John was already the presence of Christ, that aside from being his precursor, he had Jesus in himself already! For Luke, John foreshadowed Christ’s work of salvation reaching its summit at Easter even while orienting us to Christmas.

The nearness of God

Every year, the second and third Sundays of Advent narrate the preaching and baptism by John the Baptist at Jordan to remind us how Jesus comes to us whenever, wherever the word of God is heard, accepted, and proclaimed that result into repentance and forgiveness of sins.

See how Luke shows us the overlapping of salvation history with our secular history, a clear indication of the presence and nearness of God with us in Christ’s coming. Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, and Lysania with the high priests Caiaphas and Ananias were true persons who have lived in a particular time and specific places when John and Jesus lived too.

Here we find so true that God works silently and subtly in Jesus in our own personal lives and in the whole world for indeed, he is the God of history.

Photo by author, Chapel at the Basic Education Department, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela City, 28 November 2021.

This Second Sunday of Advent we are assured of God’s nearness with us in Christ, especially when there are those darkness and obscurity, hiddenness and being unknown. These little and simple things in life are occasions where God reveals himself to us! Take them to heart.

Sometimes in life it is good to be down and even unknown, away from the limelight specially in this age of social media where everything even coffee breaks and new purchases or grades and medals of children are made known to everyone with much noise like blaring trumpets.

This boom in social media is so tiring and even disgusting with nothing hidden anymore, nothing is personal, and worst, nothing sacred any more! God and faith and sacraments have become commodities, persons are cheapened and used for personal advantages that even personal messages or PM’s have become “public happenings”. No more respect and dignity to others and most of all, unknown to those so immersed in the social media, they are the ones in the losing end, losing their very selves as they lose touch and grounding with reality.

Contrast it with John the Baptist in the desert with his balanced life between solitude and community and most of all, his rootedness in God and with realities of life that he can speak about the need for repentance to renew one’s self.

The gift of Advent

It can happen that when we are so filled with our selves, when we are so spread out feeling famous, “viral” and “trending” that we are also most empty and nothing like those powerful men mentioned by Luke, from the Roman emperor to the high priests; hence, the need to be hidden and unknown, little and small once in a while to allow enough room for changes and growth, and most especially to have a room within us for Jesus to work in us.

This is the gift of Advent Season: a time for us to be like John, to withdraw from the busy and toxic world so we may be alone and at home again with one’s true self, with loved ones, and with God in Jesus, through Jesus.

In the first reading we heard the end of a poem by Baruch where God consoles his people personified by Jerusalem, giving them hope of redemption someday from their Babylonian conquerors. It was the lowest point in the Jewish history when Jerusalem and their Temple were destroyed with the entire nation exiled to Babylon as slaves. No country, no Temple, so down and so small yet, God tells them:

Photo by author, Advent 2019.

Jerusalem take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the mitre that displays the glory of eternal name. For God will show all the earth your splendor; you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.

Baruch 5:1-4

See the beautiful image of God taking possession of his people exiled and enslaved, changing their lot into something so wonderful filled with splendor!

The same thing happens with us when we are down and lost for that is when God doubles his efforts in finding us, redeeming us, uplifting us. It had happened before in the coming of his Son Jesus Christ more than 2000 years ago which continues to happen now and would surely happen again in its fullness at his Parousia.

Nothing happens in life and in the world without God knowing even the minutest, single details we do not notice at all. Let us imitate the confidence of Paul this Season of Advent:

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6, 8
Photo by author, Advent 2020.

This Second Sunday of Advent we are told that even if we do not see Jesus like in the gospel of Luke when it is still concerned with the preaching of John the Baptist, he is already with us in those small and little sacrifices we do out of love for him.

Like John, Advent invites us to withdraw to the wilderness, to the desert to be hidden from the limelight to give God a space to come to us, to be present in us.

Like John, Advent invites us to empty ourselves of our pride and sins, to repent and be washed clean by God’s loving mercy and forgiveness to be filled with his humility, justice and love.

Like John, Advent wants us to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: to be the voice of reason and faith in this noisy world of lies and superficialities; to make straight the path so bended with many excuses and alibis that have moved the lines of morality and propriety; to fill the valleys with sense and meaning; and, to make low every mountain and hill of human pride and arrogance that have left us more empty and lost than before.

Let us all be a John the Baptist, not only a precursor but also a presence of Jesus.

A blessed second week of Advent to everyone!

Praying to voice God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, 24 June 2021
Isaiah 49:1-6 ><}}}*> Acts 13:22-26 ><}}}*> Luke 1:57-66, 80
Photo by Fr. Pop Dela Cruz, Binuangan Is., Obando, Bulacan, May 2021.
Dearest God our Father:
Grant me the grace to be silent 
so I can listen to your voice more,
of those around me and most especially
to that voice within me
that speaks freely and truly
of what is good in me like what 
the psalmist sings today:
"I praise you for I am
wonderfully made."
On this Solemnity of the Nativity
of John the Baptist
whose name means
"God is gracious",
help me to remain and be still
in my own wilderness
trusting in your providence
never to voice any protest
but simply profess 
my firm faith in you
as I silently await the Word
becoming flesh, dwelling in me
proclaiming his good news of 
salvation especially to the 
the voiceless many
as you have promised the prophet:
"He made of me a sharp-edged
sword and concealed me 
in the shadow of his arm.
He made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me."
(Isaiah 49:2)
O God, like when John was born
people are wondering these days
what will we as a people be
in this year of the pandemic?
So many loud voices are heard
but none voiced out the pains
and concerns of the voiceless
left to suffer by themselves.
Let your voice come to me
that I may courageously speak
your words of sympathy and unity
comfort and encouragement
without focusing on me
for like John the Baptist 
I am not worthy to unfasten
the sandals of my Lord, Jesus
who alone must increase
as I decrease.
Amen.
Photo by author, marker at the Church of St. John the Baptist, the Holy Land, 2019.

Voice of God, Power of God

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist, 24 June 2021
Isaiah 49:1-6 ><}}}'> Acts 13:22-26 ><}}}'> Luke 1:57-66, 80
Photo by author, site where St. John the Baptist was born beside the Church in his honor in Judea, 2019.

Today’s celebration of the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist reminds us of the very important grace and gift from God we take for granted and always abuse – our voice.

Also known as the “voice in the wilderness” who prepared the coming of Jesus Christ, St. John shows us even before his birth through his father Zechariah the proper use of this gift of voice from God.

Voice is power.

In the Book of Genesis, God created everything by simply saying “let there be…” and it comes into being. When Jesus came as the “the Word who became flesh”, he witnessed to us this immense power of the voice of God when he would simply speak to heal people, cast away evil spirits, and still the seas and quiet the storms.

Only us humans were gifted with this unique power of God to speak using the voice.

How sad that we have forgotten or have been totally unaware of the fact that we merely share in the power of God in speaking, in voicing out what is in our minds and in our hearts. Like freedom or the power to choose what is good, we have abused this power of the voice so evident in this digital age as we drown in a cacophony of voices from everybody wanting to be heard, wanting to rule.



And the tragedy is that 
those with the loudest voice and 
easy access to all kinds of media platforms 
are also the ones in power who only voice 
out their selfish interests like our politicians. 

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, Bgy. Lalakhan, Santa Maria, Bulacan, June 2021.

And the tragedy is that those with the loudest voice and easy access to all kinds of media platforms are also the ones in power who only voice out their selfish interests like our politicians.

Have you noticed how most of the loud voices we hear these days come from those not involved at all in any kind of suffering? They are not only loud but also so quick to voice their views empty of any concern at all. Worst, many of these loud voices we hear come from people who have little or no concern at all for those truly in pain like the poor and marginalized who have remained voiceless in our society.

When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father; but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.” So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.

Luke 1:59-60, 62-64

Silence is the voice of God.

At the eve of our celebration today, we have heard how the angel had made Zechariah deaf and mute after he doubted the good news announced to him of the coming birth of their son to be named as John.

Now after nine months of being silent, Zechariah recovered his voice and speech that he spoke blessing God.

Imagine the power and stature Zechariah must have commanded at that time: both he and his wife Elizabeth were from the priestly clans. They were like the royalty at that time, living in an affluent section of the country. Both were born into wealth and fame. And power.

Zechariah’s voice must be one of the most sought after in Judea with his wisdom and influence.

Suddenly gone when his very voice questioned the source of its power, God represented by Archangel Gabriel.

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

The experience of Zechariah teaches us of the value of silence that has become a very rare commodity these days.

Many of our misunderstandings are due to our lack of silence, of listening to what others are saying or telling us.



Contrary to what 
we also believe,
 silence is not emptiness 
but fullness:


Contrary to what we also believe, silence is not emptiness but fullness: it is different from being quiet when we do not simply speak but allow our minds to work on what we believe in or hold on to. Silence is trying to listen to every voice, especially the faintest ones that usually speak the truth. In the Bible, we find a common pattern in both the Old and New Testaments how God’s communication is preceded always with silence.

Zechariah was forced into silence to experience again its fullness, of being connected anew with God as it gave him opportunities to truly listen intently to God in prayers. That is why everyone was surprised not only when Zechariah confirmed the name of his son would be “John” but most of all when he spoke and his voice heard again by the people. According to Luke, Zechariah sang a blessing to God called the Benedictus.

Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. 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 1:65-66

Becoming the voice of God like John the Baptist

See how Luke presented the scene in pure simplicity as if we were also there, everybody asking “what will this child be?” for surely the hand of the Lord was with him. The scene is packed with the power of God. No voices were heard except the few “pakialamera” or “mahadera” neighbors who wanted the child named Zechariah like his father.

Elizabeth was so cool but emphatic by declaring her son shall be named John. No debates nor arguments among the women who approached Zechariah – surely, not to ask him to voice his decision as he was deaf and mute at that time. Everybody was amazed when he asked for a tablet and wrote “John is his name”.

There was the deafening silence of God’s voice heard loud and clear, perhaps even for several days after the circumcision and naming of John.

“St. John Preaching In the Wilderness” by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779), photo from commons.wikimedia.org

Such is the power of God, of his voice.

Always preceded by silence.

Never harsh nor imposing.

Soft but always felt, always consistent, very clear and simple.

Most of all, refreshing and blissful.

It is a voice kept in one’s heart, nurtured through time in prayer and simplicity of life until the listener becomes the speaker and carrier of the voice of God.

In our digital age where humans and machines speak with voices competing for our attention, we are reminded that the true power of the voice is not in its volume but in God himself who is also the message.

Like images, voices can also be enhanced with the help of modern technology and human ingenuity, especially by image makers and propagandists who are paid to advance one’s power and influence.

Let us be more discerning in listening to the many voices competing for our attention.

Let us begin first in that soft and feeble voice inside our hearts we disregard but consistently speaks to us daily. That voice could be God speaking to us.

Let us rediscover silence and the true power and beauty of the voice of God.

Recall how often in our lives and in human history, the most important voices ever heard, ever written come after long moments of silence, of reflections and listening to God and with others.

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Luke 1:80
Photo by Fr. Pop Dela Cruz, Binuangan Is., Obando, Bulacan, May 2021.

“Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (1975)

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Music by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 06 December 2020
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, Katmon Harbor Nature Sanctuary, Infanta, Quezon (03 December 2020).

Finally got a song so perfect for this Second Sunday of Advent that speaks so well of being awake, awaiting judgement day by leading a life of loving service to others. It peaked on top of the Hot Soul Singles chart of 1976 for two weeks that launched the careers of some of the big names in R&B during that great decade of 1970’s.

My dear readers and followers, welcome Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes doing the original version of Wake Up Everybody.

Wake up everybody no more sleepin' in bed
No more backward thinkin' time for thinkin' ahead
The world has changed so very much
From what it used to be
There is so much hatred war an' poverty
Wake up all the teachers time to teach a new way
Maybe then they'll listen to whatcha have to say
'Cause they're the ones who's coming up and the world is in their hands
When you teach the children teach em the very best you can

The world won't get no better if we just let it be
The world won't get no better we gotta change it yeah, just you and me

Since its release in 1975, Wake Up Everybody has been covered by other artists not only in the US but also in Great Britain and France. During the 2004 US elections, it was covered by various prominent R&B artists with some rappers to urge young people to go out and vote. John Legend also did a cover of the song in 2010 with The Roots featuring Common and Melania Fiona.

Perhaps because of its theme and lyrics, the song has always been considered as political but, hey! even Jesus and John the Baptist were also accused of political leanings in their preachings about truth, dignity of every person, and value of life!

It is said that music is the food of the soul that when a song is so true and really good, it will always present the gospel values of Jesus Christ which is the case in most protest songs of the 60’s and 70’s like Wake Up Everybody.

See how the composers of this classic – John Whitehead, Gene McFadden, and Victor Carstarphen -have consciously or unconsciously incorporated Advent thoughts and theology in Wake Up Everybody that is still so true today:

Wake up all the doctors make the ol' people well
They're the ones who suffer an' who catch all the hell
But they don't have so very long before the Judgment Day
So won'tcha make them happy before they pass away
Wake up all the builders time to build a new land
I know we can do it if we all lend a hand
The only thing we have to do is put it in our mind
Surely things will work out they do it every time

The world won't get no better if we just let it be
The world won't get no better we gotta change it yeah, just you and me

Next to the lyrics, what makes this song so Advent-ish is its slow and cool instrumentations at the beginning of the song that bursts under control with the soothing voice of the late Teddy Pendergrass taking over, sounding so calming yet hits hard through one’s inner core without being preachy either.

That is how Advent happens: Jesus comes to us whenever we proclaim and embrace his gospel of repentance, doing what is right and good to everybody, when we wake up from our life of sins and evil, and indifference with others.

Listen, and wake up to this classic piece and have a blessed Second Sunday of Advent!

Posted on Youtube by yxyoic in 24 September 2011; licensed to YouTube by SME (on behalf of Epic); ARESA, BMG Rights Management (US), LLC, CMRRA, BMI – Broadcast Music Inc., Warner Chappell, PEDL, LatinAutorPerf, LatinAutor – Warner Chappell, UNIAO BRASILEIRA DE EDITORAS DE MUSICA – UBEM, LatinAutor – SonyATV, LatinAutor – UMPG, and 7 Music Rights Societies.

Every birthday is a small Christmas

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist, 24 June 2020
Isaiah 49:1-6 ><)))*> Acts of the Apostle 13:22-26 ><)))*> Luke 1:57-66, 80
Photo by author, chapel beneath the Church of St. John the Baptist in Eim Karen, birthplace of our saint.

Every birthday is a small Christmas because with the birth of every person comes Jesus Christ.

St. John Paul II, “Evangelium Vitae” (1995)

Thank you very much, O God our loving Father for the gift of sharing in your life, for the grace of being alive. As we celebrate today the birth of the your Son’s precursor, St. John the Baptist, we remember with joy our own birthdays, our giftedness, your graciousness.

Birthday is always special because of the gift of life, and the gift of direction and purpose that everybody looks forward into the future, of what is in store for us here on earth like in the birth of St. John the Baptist.

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

With the coming of St. John the Baptist, you have taught us Lord that in life, what we must look forward to is to be one with your Son Jesus Christ.

May our lives be like of John, a precursor of Jesus, always pointing people to Jesus, leading people to him who is the Christ who takes away the sins of the world.

Photo by author, marker at Eim Karen, 2019.

Teach us to be strong in spirit, always creating a space for silence and hiddenness where we can meet you often, Lord, so that at the end of our life journey, you remain our reward like the prophets of old.

Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God.

Isaiah 49:4

That is the meaning of John – grace of God and graciousness of God.

It is a grace for us all to be alive, to share Jesus with others, to be a glimpse of himself and of his truth and kindness.

But, ultimately, your greatest grace for us all is to share in the Cross of Christ like John the Baptist for that is only when people realize you have come indeed in us. Amen.

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.

Continuing the Christmas story

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul

Baptism of the Lord, 12 January 2020

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 ><}}}*> Acts 10:34-38 ><}}}*> Matthew 3:13-17

From Google.

Today is our “holy birthday” as children of God, the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus. That explains the sprinkling of Holy Water at the start of our Mass to remind us of continuing the Christmas story the whole year through as sons and daughters of God.

With this feast, we close the Christmas Season by celebrating the great mystery of Christ’s Nativity when he became human like us so that we can become divine like him as children of the Father in heaven.

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed him. After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:13-17

We are the children of God

Sunrise at Atok, Benguet. Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, September 2019.

Every morning when we wake up, the same thing happens with us with Jesus at Jordan: as we arise whether filled with joy or saddled with so many pains and worries from the previous day or night, Christ joins us in every brand new day as his brother and sister in the Father.

Despite all our anxieties and fears with every new day of work and school, the heavens open and the Holy Spirit comes down to us with our Father in heaven declaring to all his creation, “This is my beloved child, with whom I am well pleased.”

That is the mystery of Christmas we must celebrate daily when Jesus became human like us in everything except sin. In Baptism, we have become sons and daughters of the Father in his Son Jesus Christ our Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit.

That coming down of Jesus to John to be baptized in Jordan is the message of Christmas, of how God became human like us to be one with us in our dirt and stain so he may cleanse us in his Passion and Death in order to share in the glory of his Resurrection .

That is why Christmas is a continuing story we have to keep on telling and sharing with our life of holiness with others.

As children of God, we are called to holiness

Please don’t be scared with the call to “holiness”, my dear reader and follower.

Holiness is not being sinless.

Holiness is being filled with God.

Holiness is following Jesus who calls us to be holy like the Father in heaven with all of our imperfections and sinfulness.

Morning in our Parish. Photo by author, 2019.

So many times in our lives, as we strive to lead holy lives by being good individuals, we also feel so tired and exhausted that we question or wonder if we are still doing the right things in life especially when we try to be faithful to God and with others.

There are times we just cry and suffer in silence in order not to hurt with our words and actions those people dearest to us who are oblivious or even do not care at all to the pains and difficulties they cause us.

Like a slave driver boss, demanding and exacting parents, a perfectionist husband or wife or partner, a naive sibling.

It is very difficult to be holy, to be like Jesus who is so loving and merciful, kind and understanding.

And that is why he chose to come to us, to be with us, to help us, to assure us that “the Father is so well pleased with us”!

Flowers at our Altar, Epiphany Sunday 2020. Photo by author.

God is well pleased with us

Three things I wish to share with you this lovely Sunday, especially for some of us feeling tired and exhausted this early with our many tasks and responsibilities at home, the school, the office, and even the church and community.

First is get it done. We all have roles to play in life. Remain faithful and stay focused with the mission not with the person. Yes, it is easier said than done but like Jesus instructing John for his baptism, he said, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt.3:15). It must have been so difficult for John to baptize Jesus the Son of God but the Lord told him anyway, get it done! And just as John did his role, everything happened according to God’s plan.

Second is give others the chance to do the will of God. Sometimes many of us have that “messianic complex” as if we are the saviour of the world. No! That is Jesus alone and he has tasked all us with specific roles in doing his mission. Let others do their part. Stop monopolizing all good deeds because when there is a monopoly of holiness, certainly there is already a pervading evil. Jesus as the Christ is the definitely the holy one but he told John to baptize him and he in turn “allowed” the baptism to take place.

Third is do whatever is good. Always. That’s what Jesus told John, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt.3:15). Doing what is righteous is doing what is good, what is holy, what is just. But, it is not that easy. I know.

“Minsan nakakapikon na magpakabuti lalo na kapag tila walang pakialam yung mga ginagawan mo ng kabutihan.”

We have felt so many times that being good, doing what is right can take its toll. We always wonder “when is enough really enough” with people who have made it their way of life of hurting us, of stressing us, of being pain in the ass.

We want to scream, to spill the beans, to unmask them to reveal them as fakes and hypocrites!

But, don’t!

Do not be like them.

Be good like Jesus, the one prophesied by Isaiah in the first reading.

Thus says the Lord: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench…

Isaiah 42:1-3
Baby Jesus on a bed of white roses in our Sanctuary area, Epiphany 2020. Photo by author.

In the second reading, we heard St. Peter preaching after the Pentecost of how “Jesus went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

Whatever difficulty you are going through at this very moment, you are still God’s beloved child with whom he is well pleased. God is always with you. Continue the beautiful Christmas story with your life of loving service, even to people who hurt you.

A blessed Sunday to you!

Advent is for healing

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul

Second Sunday of Advent-A, 08 December 2019

Isaiah 11:1-10 ><}}}*> Romans 15:4-9 ><}}}*> Matthew 3:1-12

Cathedral Basilica Minore of the Immaculate Conception, Malolos City, Advent 2019.

Advent is a season we are invited to look forward, to dream of the ideal, of the best things we wish we all have in this destructive world we live in.

It is the time for healing our wounds and brokenness as we look forward to the fulfillment of God’s promise of lasting peace brought by Jesus Christ’s coming more than 2000 years ago.

On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him… Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted… Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.

Isaiah 11:1-2, 3, 4, 5-9
“Peaceable Kingdom”, a painting based on Is.11:1-10 by American Edward Hicks, a Quaker pastor (1780-1849).

Jesus is coming again to heal our destructive world

Last November 28 we celebrated Red Wednesday to remember the more than 300 million Christians worldwide persecuted in various forms because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Many of them were tortured and/or murdered while others were denied of work, housing and liberty for carrying the cross and confessing their faith and love for Jesus Christ.

According to some reports, about 80% of wars and conflicts in the world today are due to religion. How tragic – and scandalous – that religion is tearing us apart than bringing us together as peoples believing in a God who is loving and merciful!

But despite all these destructions going on, Isaiah’s prophecy challenges us to keep our hopes alive for a better future, to look forward for the coming again of Jesus Christ, “the shoot that shall sprout from the stump of Jesse” to heal our destructive world.

Advent assures us that it is never too late for the Lord to make peace and justice spring forth in our dying world like a stump of tree.

Isaiah’s vision is an imagery of God’s test of faith to us all to make it Jesus Christ’s peace a reality in this fragmented world, calling us into conversion so that we shall be “filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.”

It is a call made louder and clearer by St. John the Baptist at the wilderness that still echoes to our own time today.

Healing our destructive world starts within me

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, September 2019.

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance… Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 3:7-8,10

The season of Advent is not only inviting us to look forward for a new world order where there would be lasting peace and justice, when all our tears would be wiped out, with perfect joy replacing our pains and sufferings. Advent is calling on us to look forward in renewing our relationships with God and with one another by beginning within our own hearts.

And make no mistake that St. John’s preaching and call were not only meant for the Pharisees and Sadducees of his time but also to us all Christians of today to “produce good fruit of our repentance” because being sorry for our sins is just the first step to conversion.

Whenever there is true repentance in our hearts, there must also be a change in our very selves, in our living. And only then can we expect of a better and more beautiful world coming like Isaiah’s vision because from true repentance comes justice and mercy.

St. John was very clear: it is Jesus Christ who is coming whom we shall await and prepare to meet right in our hearts. He is coming not to destroy the world – and us – but to restore everything into life anew.

Skies over the desert of Sinai in Egypt, May 2019.

Meeting Christ in the desert

Sometimes we get discouraged by some people and many situations that throw us off-balanced, tempting us to abandon all our efforts to be healed of our wounds and brokenness, in striving to become better persons.

Like St. John the Baptist, we have our own desert of desolation and bareness that purifies us further in preparing the way of the Lord, in meeting the Lord to be healed.

It is in our own desert of desolation and bareness where we are healed as we learn to be empty of ourselves like St. John in order to conquer first our selfish desires with silence and prayer, not with activities as we are all bent in doing these days.

In our world saturated in media with cacophony of voices telling us to do everything to be rich and popular and famous, the more we become empty and lost, broken and wounded.

“St. John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness” by German painter Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779). From Google.

Like St. John the Baptist, we have to break free from the trappings of the world by retreating into our own desert right inside our hearts in order to listen more to the voice of the coming Christ we must proclaim fearlessly in words and in deeds.

St. Paul assures us that all that scripture foretold in the past has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ who is coming again at the end of time. Despite the many destructions in this world, despite the many setbacks we have in life, may we imitate St. John the Baptist in awaiting Christ in our own desert for he is most faithful in his promise and presence. Amen.