God’s encompassing love

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
40 Shades of Lent, First Sunday, Year B, 21 February 2021
Genesis 9:8-15   +   1Peter 3:18-22   +   Mark 1:12-15
Photo by author, ancient fortress of Masada in Israel, 2017.

Lent may be the most sparse in outward signs and decorations like flowers in all liturgical seasons but it is the most dense in meaning and imageries. Although it is often seen as a drab with its motif of penitential violet and subdued music when both Gloria and Alleluia are omitted, Lent sparkles with profundity and depth leading to joy deep within if we truly dwell into its main message of God’s encompassing love for us.

Take our gospel this First Sunday of Lent this year taken from Mark. It is the shortest compared with Matthew and Luke who both give us details, but, Mark’s brevity is so precise and thought-provoking, too!

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him. After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Mark 1:12-15
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 2020, Infanta, Quezon.

Life is a daily Lent.

Of all the seasons in our liturgical calendar, Lent is my favorite because for me, it captures best the reality of life that is at the same time so beautiful but in some aspects ugly, nice but painful. There is always that contrasts of light and darkness that indeed, life is Lent, a daily Exodus filled with trials and difficulties that lead to joy and fulfillment in God.

See how Mark shows this so well in his brief narration that begins after the scene of the baptism of Jesus by John at Jordan. Immediately after that, Mark tells us without fanfare, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.”

Is it not this is how life really is?!

At once after praying, after celebrating the Mass that is when you get into a debate with your wife or husband, son or daughter or siblings. Sometimes it happens while you are still in the church you get into arguments about parking. Right after you have resolved to be a better person and turn away from sins and its occasions, that is when your friends would come and ask you to join their “gimmicks” or that is when your “ex” would come or text you, entice you to go out again.

Photo by author, Egypt, 2020.

The desert is the image of that place of so many battles in life, where we cried in pain, where we were rejected, where we were hurt. Our life is like the desert, so hot and humid at day, so cold and freezing at night. Worse of all, the desert is our life because that is where we fight Satan who always deceives us with his many temptations that eventually lead us to wrong decisions, hurting not only us but those dearest to us, dividing our families, separating us from one another that in the end, we feel trapped in a terrible mess.

But, it is not that all bad because Jesus joins us in our battles and struggles in this life, in this desert that we find ourselves in a similar situation, “He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”

Yes, life is difficult but it is in those situations we find its meaning and beauty. Though there are so many trials and sufferings, God never leaves our side, sending us angels like family and friends, even strangers who come and stay with us in life, believing in us, helping us, and most of all, loving us — right in the desert.

Photo by author, an oasis in the Dead Sea area of Israel, 2017.

Like an oasis where life springs abundantly, Jesus joins us in our many struggles against Satan by giving us the strength and courage to remain faithful to God, to experience fulfillment and salvation by giving us little pockets of Easter in the midst of our daily lent.

See that “After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God. Amid the bad news of John’s arrest, Jesus began his ministry and mission of love and mercy for us all, It was in the middle of such disturbing situation that Jesus came boldly proclaiming, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

The same is true with us today as we enter the first full year of the pandemic that had altered our way of life so drastically, causing us so much pains in the many losses we have suffered in life and properties, God comes closest to us in Jesus especially in the Mass (https://lordmychef.com/2021/01/23/from-fishermen-to-fishers-of-men/)!

Most of all, as we shall see in this Season of Lent, even in the midst of sins and evil, that is when God comes closest to us to experience him and his saving grace.

Beloved: Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison who had been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah… This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.

1Peter 3:18-21
From Google.

Baptism as the key to Lent.

The key to understanding the Season of Lent is to see it in the light of the Sacrament of Baptism. Originally as a preparation to the mother of all feasts in the Church we call Easter, Lent was the period when candidates (catechumens) for baptism were prepared. That explains why the Easter Vigil we celebrate is too long because it was only during that time when people were baptized especially when the Church came under persecution.

In Jesus Christ, we are washed clean of our sins, we are cleansed and purified to get by in this life in the desert as beloved children of God.

He knows so well our human situation, our living in the wilderness that Jesus had to leave Paradise for a while to be with us here on earth, going through all our human experiences except sin so we may return to the Father’s home in heaven. Remember how we mentioned Lent as a journey back into the Father’s home: Ash Wednesday is the porch and every Sunday is a room we enter until we reach the Father’s inner room on Easter to be one with him in Jesus.

Photo by author, Chapel of Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center in Novaliches, QC, 2015.

In the first reading we have heard the story when God made a covenant with Noah and his children after the great flood which prefigured Baptism that cleansed the world of all the sins and evil. God had felt sad in creating the world when people turned away from him living in sins that he decided to destroy everything by sending a great flood. However, he found Noah as the only one along with his family still living uprightly. So, God asked Noah to build an ark where they stayed during the flood along with the different animals representative of every species. In effect, Noah prefigured the new Adam in Christ who came to be the new beginning of the human race, clean and without sin. After the flood, God sealed a covenant with Noah with the rainbow as its sign.

God added: “This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come, of the covenant between me and you and every living creature with you: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings.”

Genesis 9:12-15

As I was telling you at the start, Lent is so rich in meanings. When you look on the Crucifix and find those arms of Jesus outstretched when he died on Good Friday, that is the new rainbow of his covenant with us we celebrate daily in the Holy Eucharist.

Remember when you look at Jesus Christ crucified, he is the rainbow promised to Noah by God that he would never destroy all mortal beings again.

Photo by author, Chapel of Holy Family, Sacred Heart Spirituality Center in Novaliches, QC, 2015.

During the first Sunday of the COVID-19 lockdown that fell on the Fourth Sunday of Lent that was also my 55th birthday last year, we decided to carry around my previous parish the Blessed Sacrament so that the people may at least adore God after churches were ordered closed and public Masses suspended.

On the last leg of our route, it began to rain but I told our driver to go ahead with our “libot” until suddenly, as we turned to a long stretch of road in the middle of rice fields, there appeared over the horizon a rainbow! The sight made me cry as I felt God assuring me on my birthday that we can pull through this pandemic, that he is with us and would protect us, keep us safe.

And he kept his promise. Our parish had the lowest incidence of COVID-19 in the town of Santa Maria. From then on every Sunday afternoon, we would borrow the F-150 truck of our neighbor and I would carry the Blessed Sacrament around our parish, blessing the people who knelt at the side of the road. Eventually, it led us to innovations like “walk-thru” and “drive-thru” Holy Communion when I would announce the distribution of Holy Communion after our online Masses in front of our Parish Church and in some designated areas along the highway.

It was the most memorable Lent I ever had in my life when everything felt so real like Jesus in the desert being tempted. Yes, life is like in the desert where the devil and wild beasts attack us.

Have faith, be firm, and take courage in Jesus Christ for we are all covered and protected in his power and might, love and mercy. He is the Father’s best sign of his all-encompassing love for us sinners. Amen.

A blessed week to you!

Photo by author, 2019.

Email me at <lordmychef@gmail.com>.

Jesus is both the Sower and the seed – and so must we!

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XV, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 12 July 2020
Isaiah 55:10-11 >><}}}*> Romans 8:18-23 >><}}}*> Matthew 13:1-23
“The Sower” painting by Van Gogh, photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Parables constitute the heart of Jesus Christ’s preaching. From the French para bolein which means “along the path”, parables are simple stories with deep realities that must be cracked open through prayers and reflections to uncover its meaning.

In fact, every parable by Jesus is a word of God that is like a seed that must be received, planted, and nurtured so we may eventually see and experience what is within it who is God himself!

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd stood along the shore. And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. As he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

Matthew 13:1-9
Photo by Onnye on Pexels.com

Jesus, the mysterious seed

Beginning today until the last Sunday of this month of July we shall hear different parables by Jesus taken from this 13th chapter of the gospel according to St. Matthew.

It is very interesting that as Jesus now begins to preach in parables, we also notice his usual usage of this image of the seed, especially of the mustard seed to stress to us what we have mentioned earlier about the significance of parables as simple things with deeper realities. Every seed is so small, easy to overlook and taken for granted. Yet, we all know how every seed is also the presence of what is to come in the future, of something so big and huge that we can never imagine.

That is how Jesus would always portray the Kingdom of God, which is himself, his very person who is always taken for granted but full of mysteries that later in the fourth gospel he would reveal a deeper reality of this seed akin his Cross:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

John 12:24

That is the mystery of the seed, the mystery of Christ: something so ordinary we take for granted with immense possibilities when given up, when it dies. In this parable of the sower, Jesus shows us a hint of this profound truth about himself as a mysterious seed, someone who must be broken to die in order to grow and bear fruit.

If we read the full text of today’s gospel, we find Jesus explaining the meaning of this parable and we discover that he himself is both the sower and the seed: he goes out everyday to bring us the good news of salvation, providing us with seeds we must plant so we can have food in the future.

Every seed Jesus sows in us is always good as the first reading assures us.

Thus says the Lord: Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful… so shall my word; my word shall not return to me void.”

Isaiah 55:10-11

Most of the time, we reflect on this parable on the importance of the soil on which the seed is sown.

This Sunday, let us reflect on what kind of a seed are we, of how we waste or put into good the enormous potentials packed in each of us by God.

Photo by Dids on Pexels.com

“A sower went out to sow. As he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up.

Jesus the sower does not make distinctions on different kinds of soil; he just scatters the seeds freely. His words concern everyone.

Unfortunately, there are some of us who do not care at all, as hardened as the path or pavement.

These are the people who has no plans in life, no directions, spending their lives watching days pass without knowing that they are really the ones passing by.

Sometimes, they just go wherever the winds would lead them while once in a while, they step out of themselves a little to join friends or peers wherever they may be going. Eventually they leave when the journey gets farther.

They are literally wasting their lives.

Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.

They are the “spur of the moment” type who eventually end up as what we call ningas-cogon (a kind of local grass when dried is highly combustible; quick to start fire but quick to extinguish too).

Beware of them who are at the beginning very enthusiastic in every project and endeavor but when the goings get tough and difficult, they are the first to leave.

No roots, no foundations in life. Easy to give up. Just as hard as those seeds on the pavement.

Photo by author at Petra, Jordan, May 2019.

“Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.”

These are the people who thrived a little but eventually the “thorns of the world” choked them that they eventually dried and died.

They are the kind of people we lament and sometimes grieve, wondering what have happened within them that their hearts have suddenly turned away from God and others with their noble causes we used to share with them at the beginning.

Oh, they are well represented in Congress, especially the party-list representatives of various advocacies for the marginalized and less privileged who eventually come out with their true colors and ugly features. Some of them simply stopped thinking and feeling the other persons, blinded with power and wealth selling off their souls completely to any golden calf willing to pay them.

The modern Judas Iscariots.

But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, flower farm at Atok, Benguet, 2019.

We now come to the better seeds (because all are good seeds, remember?).

They are the ones who fell on rich soil and produced fruit because they were the ones who willingly gave themselves up to the Sower. They are the ones who let go and let God, those who let themselves “die” and fell on the ground to give way to new life.

They are fruitful, not successful; the former relied on the powers of God, patiently bearing all pains and sufferings while the latter relied on their own powers, own intelligence and even connections that on the surface may seem to have the upper hand but totally empty inside.

The fruitful seeds are those willing to fall and be broken by God according to his divine plan. Many times, what is fruitful to God may be failures to us humans. Being fruitful is not about results and accumulations we have made but what have we become.

Fruitful people are focused on with the future glory to revealed by God through our pains and sufferings as St. Paul reminds us in the second reading today.

Let us not put into waste this good seed sown in us by Jesus Christ, allow it to be cracked open and broken to let the new life within us spring forth and lead us to becoming fruitful. Amen.

A blessed week ahead to everyone!

Kung ikaw…?

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-04 ng Marso 2020

Ang panunukso ng diyablo kay Hesus sa ilang, isang mosaic sa loob ng Basilika ni San Markos sa Venice, Italy. Larawan mula sa psephizo.com.
Palagi na lang kung 
ating titingnan
iisa lang napapakinggan
nang tuksuhin ng diyablo si Kristo: 
"Kung ika'y anak ng Diyos... 
gawin mong tinapay mga batong ito!"
"Kung ika'y anak ng Diyos...
magpatihulog ka mula taluktok ng templo!"
Puro "kung ika'y anak ng Diyos"
ang tukso ng diyablo kay Kristo
pati ng mga tao nang ipako siya sa Krus
patuyang hiniyawan, "Kung ikaw ang anak ng Diyos...!"
Larawan kuha ng may akda, gayak ng altar sa unang Linggo ng Kuwaresma, 01 Marso 2020, Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista.
Ano kahulugan nito
sa ating mga tao?
Hindi ba ganito rin ang takbo
ng panunukso ng diyablo?
Sinisira ating pagkatao
tulad ni Kristo
upang tumalikod tayo
sa Diyos na tanging Absoluto sa mundo?
Ginugulo, nililito tayo ng diyablo
tanong niya ay "kung ikaw ang anak ng Diyos"
gayong ang totoo at sigurado tayo
taguri sa Diyos nati'y ,"Ako'y si Ako nga"!
Kuha ng may-akda, 01 Marso 2020.
Alalahanin huling tukso pa
ng diyablo kay Kristo
garapal at tahasang binigay 
buong mundo kung siya ay sasambahin nito.
Ganyan din tayo
kung hindi malilito ng diyablo
bibilhin niya tayo
sa presyo na nakagugulo.
Kung ating tutuusin
maliwanag naman lahat sa atin:
iisa lang ang Diyos na sasambahin
na tunay nagmamahal sa atin.
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, 01 Marso 2020.
Ito ang diwa ng pag-aayuno at sakripisyo
sa panahon ng Kuwaresma
sarili'y dinadalisay, ang ilang ay tinutunguhan
upang Diyos muling matagpuan at maranasan.
Sarili'y huwag nang pag-alinlanganan
tayo ay sinasamahan ni Hesus 
na dumaan din at nagtagumpay sa lahat ng
pagsubok at paghihirap (Hebreo 2:18).
Sa gitna ng kawalan ay ating katiyakan
at kaseguruhan sa Diyos Anak na sa sariling dugo 
ating kasalanan ay hinugasan
upang tayo ay mapabanal at malampasan mga kasamaan.

Who we are vs. who we are not

40 Shades of Lent, Sunday Week I-A, 01 March 2020

Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7 +++ Romans 5:12-19 +++ Matthew 4:1-11

From Google.

Lent has always been associated with the Sacrament of Baptism since the beginning of the Church. In fact our Sunday readings this 2020 (Cycle A) are among the oldest in our liturgy used in the preparation of candidates or catechumens to Baptism on Easter Vigil.

This intimate link between Lent and Baptism is very evident in our synoptic gospels as Matthew, Mark, and Luke present to us how after Jesus was baptized by John in Jordan River, his temptations by the devil in the desert immediately comes next.

At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.”

Matthew 4:1-3

The Season of Lent and the Sacrament of Baptism

From Google.

Let us go back a little to that Baptism scene of Jesus at Jordan so we can understand this link between Lent and Baptism as well as to appreciate the meaning of our celebration this first Sunday of Lent.

It was during his Baptism at Jordan when the Father formally launched and made known the mission of Jesus as the Christ or the “Anointed One” of God, that is, the Messiah in Hebrew or Christo in Greek from which we derived the word Christ in English.

As a prefiguration of his coming Pasch – Passion, Death, and Resurrection – Jesus Christ’s Baptism became his “investiture” or “commissioning” when the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3:17).

In his Baptism, Jesus entered into solidarity with us sinners when he plunged into Jordan River to be one with us in everything except sin. It is here we find very clear the intimate link of Baptism with Lent when we are called to be faithful children of God like Jesus Christ

An anatomy of temptation and sin

Detail of the mosaic of the “Temptations of Christ” at the St. Mark Basilica in Venice. Photo from psephizo.com.

Every temptation by the devil, every sin is always a turning away from God, a deviation from our identity as children of the Father in Jesus Christ.

Whenever we would wake up, the Father reminds us like at the Baptism of Jesus at Jordan that we are his beloved son or daughter with whom he is well pleased despite our many sins, failures, and weaknesses.

And like Jesus Christ right after his Baptism at Jordan, the devil also comes every day to tempt us to turn away from the Father, echoing to us his same words in the desert with the Lord, “If you are the Son of God” to lure us into becoming someone we are not.

The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written…”

Matthew 4:3-6

See this pattern of the devil in his first two temptations, “If you are the Son of God” – very enticing to be somebody else, to prove one’s worth and being.

This pattern will significantly change at the third temptation when the devil took Jesus to a high mountain to show him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence. No more “If you are the Son of God” but a more direct temptation that is affront and “garapal” as we say in Filipino:

“All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”

Matthew 4:9

Observe how cunning was the devil in his temptations of Jesus until finally, he brings out his sinister plot: worship him, turn away from God!

The same is true with us: the devil will lure and deceive us in so many ways with just one objective which is for us to turn away from God. In every temptation, in every sin, the issue has always been the primacy of God which Jesus Christ firmly affirmed in his triumph over the devil’s temptations at the desert.

And this issue on the primacy of God is always attacked by the devil in every temptation when he confuses us on who we really are like the woman in the first reading after the serpent had told her that she would be like God:

The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its frit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Genesis 3:6-7

Do we not feel the same way after every sin? We feel naked – ugly, dirty, and alienated from our very selves precisely because we have not become our true selves!

These temptations of Jesus by the devil would persist up to his crucifixion where some people jeered and taunted him, telling him “if you are the Son of God” or “if you are the Messiah” so that he would turn away from the Father and forget all about his mission and Divine plan of salvation.

Notice that the last temptation of Jesus is exactly our last temptation too: abandon God the Father and simply be like the devil, with no dignity, with nothing at all because he is separated from God, our only grounding of being.

Hubris, our greatest temptation and sin

Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News, Batanes, 2018.

Last Sunday we have mentioned how the Greeks have always held that man’s first and greatest temptation and sin is hubris – that is, the arrogant presumption of man that he is god, or that he can defy the divine to do everything and have anything.

We call it pride which is at the very core of every temptation and sin. The director of the classic film “Ten Commandments”, Mr. Cecil de Mille was once asked which of the Lord’s commandments is most often violated by man?

According to Mr. De Mille, it is the first commandment of God that we always violate because whenever we sin, that is when we also have another false god or idol aside from the true God.

Very true!

Our problem in the world is not really hunger or war or poverty but our refusal to be faithful to God, to be who we really are as his blessed sons and daughters. In some instances, there are some who have totally rejected and denied God, believing more in themselves, in the sciences and technologies.

Jesus is not indifferent to hunger or wars still going on in many parts of the world today; he had come to show us the path to our problems is to reclaim our being children of the Father, listening and living his words, worshiping and trusting him alone.

In going through his Pasch, in fighting all temptations, Jesus shows us the path to see and experience the God we can meet when we come to our desert where we rely only in him alone. It involves hard work, without any shortcut and quick fixes or instants that have become our norm these days.

It is not a simplistic approach to the many problems we are facing, but if you read the newspapers or watch the news, we see how humanity is still in solidarity with Adam, with sin, with the material world as St. Paul explained in the second reading.

On this first Sunday of Lent, we are reminded anew of our identity as beloved children of the Father in Jesus Christ who showers us with every grace and blessing that we need. Let us live in him, trust in him, hold on to him to experience life anew.

Let us give Jesus a chance to work in us, rise with him to our being beloved children of the Father! Amen.

Photo by author at the ancient city of Jericho, Israel, May 2019.