Pray to not delay

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle, 25 January 2023
Acts 22:3-16     ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*> + ><}}}}*>     Mark 16:15-18
Praise and glory
to you, O God our Father
for this glorious day of
celebration of the Feast of
Conversion of St. Paul, 
the 13th Apostle of Jesus Christ!
He is the perfect example of
your boundless mercy in Christ,
that every sinner can always be
a saint, that every sin can be
forgiven for your love is more
immense and vast than all the evils
that men do!
While St. Luke tells us of the vision
that led St. Paul to conversion,
the great Apostle himself tells us
it was more of an illumination
when God's light "has shone in our
hearts to bring to light the knowledge
of the glory of God on the face of 
Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6); moreover, 
St. Paul claimed conversion 
was a revelation and a vocation 
in the encounter with Jesus Christ 
that began "from my mother's womb" 
when God "had set me apart and 
called me through his grace, 
was pleased to reveal his Son to me, 
so that I may proclaim him
to the gentiles" (Gal. 1:15-16).

If we could just realize this most
wonderful truth like St. Paul 
that you have called us too 
while we were in our mother's womb
because you have a beautiful plan for us
in this world, in this life;
that we all have a special mission,
an important role,
and noble purpose in being 
alive, 
in being here
in this world! 
Therefore, Lord Jesus,
let us not delay our own 
conversion in the same manner
that Ananias told St. Paul after
regaining his sight in Damascus
that "The God of our ancestors 
designated you to know his will,
to see the Righteous One,
and to hear the sound of his voice;
for you will be his witness before
all to what you have seen and heard.
Now, why delay?  Get up and have
yourself baptized and your sins
washed away, calling upon his name"
(Acts 22:14-16).
Most of all, dear Jesus,
like St. Paul, may we put you
at the center of our lives so that
our identity is marked by our
encounter with you,
by communion in your Person
and with your Word; help us reach
that wonderful stage of conversion
when like St. Paul we begin to see everything
considered as value is just a loss and refuse
(Phil. 3:7-10) because you, O Lord,
is the only essential, the most precious
one we can ever have in this life; hence,
place all our energy and being 
at your service, dear Jesus and your Gospel 
so that eventually, we may truly be
your Apostle, becoming 
"all things to all men" or 
"omnia omnibus"
(1 Cor. 9:19-23).
Amen.

Being new & renewed

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday in the Second Week of Ordinary Time, Year I, 20 January 2023
Hebrews 8:6-13   <*(((>< + ><)))*> + <*(((>< + ><)))*>   Mark 3:13-19
Photo by Dra. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 2020.
Praise and gratitude to you,
our loving Father for this day 
filled with newness,
when everything is new -
new lease on life,
new hopes,
new joys,
new opportunities,
new blessings,
new friends to meet,
new problems to solve,
new situations to deal with,
new chances to grow and mature,
new me!
Most of all,
a new day to renew
your new covenant in Jesus!

Brothers and sisters: Now our high priest (Jesus Christ) has obtained so much more excellent a ministry as he is mediator of a better covenant, enacted on better promises. When he speaks of “new” covenant, he declares the first one obsolete. and what has become obsolete and has grown old is close to disappearing.

Hebrews 8:6, 13
Thank you, dear Jesus,
for your gift of call,
in renewing your call
every new day to be
your disciple,
your apostle like 
the Twelve;
let me value and
treasure, and
nurture your call,
Jesus, by growing
closer to you;
help me overcome
my sinful past
to welcome every
graceful present
in you even at the Cross;
let me renew myself
to you today,
to focus more on you
amid our many differences.
How ironic, dear Jesus,
when we were younger
we love and welcome 
everything that is new;
as we get older, the more
we refuse to let go of the old
to give way to new
like YOU who is ever new
and radiant!
Amen.
Photo by author, Lake of Galilee(Tiberias), Israel, 2017.

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.

Getting up to follow Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Wednesday, Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle, 21 September 2022
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13     <*{{{{><  +  ><}}}}*>     Matthew 9:9-13
Photo by author, Lake Tiberias from the side of Capernaum where Jesus called Matthew to follow him.
You never fail to amaze me,
Lord Jesus Christ with your
unique manner and ways
of finding us, calling us, 
and loving us.
Of your Twelve Apostles, 
only five were called while
working:  the brothers Simon
and Andrew, James and John
who were fishermen and 
Matthew, a tax collector;
the first four belonged 
to the most ordinary 
and lowliest job of the time, 
fishing, while Matthew did
the most despicable job of
collecting taxes unjustly for
Roman colonizers making him
both a sinner and a traitor.
But, you have your plans
that are so different from our
ways when you told the Pharisees
and scribes that "Those who are well
do not need a physician, 
but the sick do... I did not come
to call the righteous
but sinners" (Mt.9:12, 13).
Thank you, Lord Jesus
for still calling me when
I was at my lowest point in life,
when I was most sinful,
when everyone was rejecting me;
thank you, Jesus,
for believing in me,
in calling me to come,
follow you; help me to rise
from my pit of anger and
bitterness, hopelessness 
and desolation like Matthew,
leaving all evil and sins
to follow you
and share you with 
everyone.
Help me, Jesus,
to write the fifth gospel
according to my life
like Matthew
by "living in a manner
worthy of the call I have
received" (Eph. 4:1).
Amen.

St. Matthew,
pray for us!
Caravaggio’s painting, “Calling of St. Matthew” from en.wikipedia.org.

*You may also want to check our reflection on Caravaggio’s painting “Calling of St. Matthew” by clicking this link:

Following Jesus in lights and darkness by Caravaggio

Poverty in priesthood

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 01 September 2022
Photo by author, Dominus Flevit Church overlooking Old Jerusalem, 2017.

Along with the vow of celibacy, the vow of poverty has become very contentious even among us priests these days which is very sad that one wonders why they got ordained in the first place if they were not totally sold out to being celibate and poor.

For most people especially Filipinos, how their priests practice poverty weighs more than their fidelity to celibacy, claiming they could understand and forgive priests getting into relationships with women than priests becoming “mukhang pera” (money-faced). For them, a priest falling in love with a woman is natural and therefore, understandable and “forgiveable”; but, a priest who worships money to the point of making his ministry a business endeavor even stealing from the church funds and donation boxes is what people detest most. In some parts of Bulacan and Cavite, they have a saying which is so vulgar to stress this point, “hindi bale madapa and pari sa puki kesa sa piso” (better for a priest to fall on a vagina than peso).

Photo by Ka Ruben, 24 June 2022.

Of course, it is always wrong to break any of these two important vows priests have made along with the third one which is obedience to his bishop because celibacy and poverty are closely related with each other for they both lead us priests to intimacy with God, our Caller. That is why, most often, when a priest has become “mukhang pera”, falling into the trap of money and luxuries, most likely he also has problems with celibacy. Even St. Ignatius had warned in his Spiritual Exercises that money is the first temptation the devil uses against every priest.

Like celibacy, poverty is a spiritual reality that is lived and felt by everyone in the material sense. More than being poor or having less in life, poverty is a choice we make for it to be real.  It is our attitude with material things in life: there are priests with so much and yet still feel poor like in advanced countries where cars and appliances are very common and ordinary while there are those with almost nothing and yet so attached with the little they have or wish to have and possess! One priest may have a brand-new car extensively using it to reach and serve his parishioners while another may have a second-hand car or owner-type jeep he tinkers daily, possessing him in the process. 

In our previous blog, we have mentioned that people should rejoice when their priest gives away their gifts because that means Father is not selfish, acting as the vessel or conduit of God’s graces and blessings to the poor and needy (https://lordmychef.com/2022/08/08/prayerful-requests-of-a-priest-to-parishioners/). 

Photo from inquirer.net, 2021.

Poverty is not a question of how much do we have but more of the question of how much do we share. See that very often, we are preoccupied thinking what we already and must still have without ever thinking how much do we share.

It is in sharing when we truly experience poverty; a priest who hoards everything – even people like benefactors and friends – is a priest in trouble. Here we find the direct relationship of poverty and celibacy: we renounce marriage which is a wonderful kind of wealth in the spiritual sense for something higher and better which is to be solely for Jesus Christ. That is the essence of our poverty, our being poor and empty so that we are wholly for Christ alone and his Church. It is being poor, materially and spiritually do we find our true wealth as priests, Jesus Christ and his Church or “people of God” as Vatican II rightly called.

Like everyone else, no priest can have everything in life; nobody is perfect but it is always the truth that we evade, priests and lay alike. Many people including priests often convince themselves of being self-sufficient, that we are the greatest, the most powerful so that we never ran out of construction projects in the church.  This is the mentality of the “dream-teams” or the “powerhouses” who claim to have everything and yet in reality, they rarely last long nor achieve much.  When everybody feels like a “heavyweight” – literally and figuratively speaking, always throwing their weight around, soon enough, he/she would surely sink. The Greeks call it hubris, another common ailment among us priests.

Photo by author, Capernaum, Israel, May 2017.

In my 24 years in the ministry, I have found and experienced that the key in any community and organization including family, profession and vocation like the priesthood is not in having everything, materially and non-materially speaking like talents and abilities that always end up into a mere show, a “palabas” even if it may be spectacular.  Life is not about dazzling others with our gifts and abilities but finding our limits and poverty. When we focus on what we do not have like our weaknesses and other limitations, our poverty becomes a wealth because that is when we are most creative and productive, achieving more in life.  Why is it when we do not have much on the table that there is always a leftover with everyone feeling satisfied? But when there is a plethora of food, we just feel satiated, filled up but not satisfied? 

Look at how many of our churches have become like birthday cakes that are so kitschy or baduy, tastelessly overdecorated looking like dirty old men (DOMs) and their counterparts, the matronix afflicted with hepatitis with all their gold trimmings. Many parishes are afflicted with a different virus more contagious than COVID without a vaccine where priests go “imeldific” in church decorations and renovations including liturgies that even the Blessed Virgin Mary is turned into a Miss Universe being “crowned” amid all pomp and pageantry. It is the virus of triumphalism with its ugly face of priests have too much of everything except God. The best priest, the holiest priest is often the poorest one, the one with less because that is when we have more of God. It is in poverty – and celibacy – we priests witness Christ’s lesson that “whoever saves his life loses it and whoever loses his life gains it” (Mk. 8:37-38). 

The problem of the priesthood for me is among other things a problem of poverty. I know that not all priests are necessarily committed, by their priesthood, to absolute poverty. But for my own part it seems to me that the two are connected.

To be a priest means, at least in my particular case, to have nothing, desire nothing, and be nothing but to belong to Christ. Mihi vivere Christus est et mori lucrum. In order to have everything, desire to have nothing.

Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas, page 191.
Photo by Fr. Howard Tarrayo, August 2021.

Poverty is blessedness because in our weak and fragile humanity, God chose to be one with us so that we can share in his divinity and thereby share in his life.  When we see each other’s wealth, the more we feel so poor and helpless; but when we see each other’s poverty, the more we see each one’s value. And we start enriching each one’s life.  This is the beauty of our poverty as priests when being poor is not to be destitute but be available to God and everyone. No wonder, poverty is the first of all beatitudes taught by Christ, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Mt. 5:3).

When we try to have less and become poor, that is when we discover the value of life, of every person created in the image and likeness of God. Then, we begin to share and give, to sacrifice and let go, truly loving one another by being forgiving and merciful and kind like Jesus Christ, “who, though he is God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at but rather emptied himself by being born in the likeness of men” (Phil.2:6-7).

Again, help us your priests live simple lives, to be poor so it would not be difficult for you to support us too. Thank you and God bless! 

Catching Jesus, catching for Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday Week V-C in Ordinary Time, 06 February 2022
Isaiah 6:1-2, 3-8 ><}}}}*> 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ><}}}}*> Luke 5:1-11
Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

The word catch is a very catchy one, like when we catch our breath. Or, when we catch a train or bus or catch a ball. Recently, we have been catching colds and have also started catching movies. But the most beautiful of all is catching a glimpse of someone special until we catch a person, like a bride or a groom.

To catch means “to have”. It may be something. Or someone. Wholly or partially.

There is always that sense of possession in catching. This Sunday, Jesus wants to catch us all by making us catch others for him, too!

After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

Luke 5:4-6, 8-10

From their synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus came to the nearby shore of Galilee Lake at Capernaum preaching his good news of salvation. A large crowd of people followed him, listening to his teachings as he sat on the boat of Simon he had borrowed.

Simon and company were washing their nets, on their way home after a fruitless night of fishing when Jesus came. Simon Peter must have heard – “caught” – the words of Jesus while teaching and soon enough, he was caught with fear with their miraculous catch.

Photo by author, Lake of Galilee, 2017.

Again, we have Jesus with his powerful words making such impact on the people, being fulfilled in their hearing most especially to Simon: After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.”

The fish has always been there in the lake but what made the big difference that morning was Jesus – he was not only with them but most of all, Simon believed in the words of the Lord!

Here we find again the words of Jesus being fulfilled because somebody listened and believed.

Last week we heard how Jesus was driven out of the synagogue by his own folks who doubted him and his words despite their amazement at the start; today, here at the shore of Capernaum, the people came to Jesus to listen to his words again.

But, the most beautiful part of our story this Sunday is how Jesus came at the most ordinary time and circumstances of the lives of the people. Too often, many people think Jesus comes only in dramatic and miraculous ways to invite us to come and follow him.

Not really. In fact, he comes when we least expect him like in this scene when Simon must have been feeling so down, coming home empty with nothing to feed his family after a fruitless night of fishing.

The good news of our Gospel this Sunday is how Jesus makes us all his worthy followers when we allow him to catch us. That is how the Gospel works – let yourself be caught by the Lord first and soon you shall find yourself being caught up in so many wonderful surprises: When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him.

Photo by author, statue of Simon Peter after the miraculous catch of fish,asking the Lord to depart from him at the shore of Galilee in Capernaum, 2017.

Jesus does not ask us for great things and deeds; he knows us very well and loves us so much, believing in us that he simply invites us to respond to his calls, to his words in the little everyday things of our lives like being faithful to your husband or wife, being obedient to our parents, being true to our friends, being honest in our work and studies, being kind and open to others. When bad things happen to us, all Jesus asks us is to go deeper in him in faith by being more patient or even uncomplaining to our pains and difficulties.

Of course, these are all easier said than done but this is what we always tell Jesus just before receiving him in the Holy Communion like that Roman official who said, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed”.

Nobody is truly worthy before the Lord but that is why Jesus came to invite us personally to let ourselves be caught by him like Simon and his brother Andrew along with their fishing partners, the sons of Zebedee, James and John, who left everything to follow him.

Every encounter with Jesus and his words always result in a self-discovery of our unworthiness and sinfulness like Simon Peter and Isaiah in the first reading. But, the good news is that every time God comes to call us, he also gives us the strength and gifts necessary to accomplish his mission for us. What is important is our willingness to follow, like Isaiah who said, “Here I am, send me” (Is.6:8) and be ready to leave everything behind like the first four disciples.

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, 2020.

At the center of every call and mission is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Master, the Word who became flesh and dwelled among us by being one with us in our pains and sufferings, even in death, so that we may become like him, holy and blessed.

To be holy like God is to share in his work of gathering his people into the Body of Christ which St. Paul had reflected these past three Sundays to remind us of the preeminence of love in fulfilling our mission from Jesus.

Every day, Jesus comes, trying to catch us, asking us to cast our nets, inviting us to catch others for him so we may all be one in him in his love.

Let us all be caught by Jesus, be totally his and experience his amazing love and mercy. Amen.

Have a blessed and COVID-free week ahead!

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

Called without exception

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Feast of Sts. Jude and Simon, Apostles, 28 October 2021
Ephesians 2:19-22   ><}}}*> + ><}}}*> + ><}}}*>   Luke 6:12-16
Photo by Dr. Mai B. Dela Peña, the 12 Apostles at the facade of the Basilica Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey in Barcelona, Spain, 2019.
Glory and praise to you,
O God our Father in sending
us your Son Jesus Christ who 
calls us to be his disciples and 
collaborators without exception, 
regardless of our backgrounds;
how wonderful it is to ponder on 
this feast of his two Apostles, 
St. Simon and St. Jude that it has 
always been people who interested
him, not social classes or labels!

Jesus went up the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles.

Luke 6:12-13
Simon who was called the Zealot 
came in tenth place according to
Luke's narration of their order of
calling followed by Judas the son
of James also known as Jude to
distinguish him from Judas Iscariot
the betrayer.  How wonderful it is 
to meditate on the call of Simon
the Zealot - if he was really a member
of those nationalist Jews against
Roman rule in Israel, that puts him
directly opposite, a world apart from
Matthew the tax collector who was
a collaborator of the Romans!
It is so amazing, Lord Jesus that you
have united these men together despite
their varied backgrounds and marked
differences!
And so, we pray, too,
that we may transcend our
differences with our other co-
workers in your vineyard, 
that despite our individualities,
we come into unity in your name,
in your mission, in your call,
Lord Jesus Christ.
Transform the "zeal" burning in us
in our previous preoccupations and
advocacies to become a "burning zeal"
for you and your gospel of salvation;
may we see more of you, Jesus, our Caller
than your call to unite us in the mission
you have entrusted us.  Amen.

Prayer to respond faithfully to calls by Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Friday, Memorial of St. Vincent, Deacon and Martyr, 22 January 2021
Hebrews 8:6-13     >><)))*>  = + =  <*(((><<     Mark 3:13-19
Photo by author, Dominus Flevit Church, the Holy Land, 2017.

Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted and they came to him. He appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and have authority to drive out demons. He appointed the Twelve: Simon, whom he named Peter; and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.

Mark 3:13-16, 19

How great indeed is your love for us, O Lord Jesus Christ! I just wonder how or what are your criteria in calling those you wanted to follow you? You do not seem to reject anyone at all! You want all because you love us all!

Thank you very much, dear Jesus! Despite our many flaws and weaknesses, you still want us, you still call us, and most of all, even send us despite our imperfections.

And amid your great love for us is your “poor memory”, of always forgetting or disregarding our sins against you. Like when you called Simon and named him Peter to lead the Twelve as attested in all accounts as being the first among the list of the Apostles; but, at the same time, always mentioned last in every list of your inner circle is Judas Iscariot who betrayed you. Why called him at all?

So often, I find that so strange with you who knows everything and reads our hearts; but, the more I pray over your calls and our response, the more I find it more strange on our part when despite your mediating a new and perfect covenant in God (first reading from Hebrews), we still choose to turn away from you in sin.

Forgive me, Lord Jesus, when I cannot resist the temptation to slide back to the past, to seek something already obsolete and imperfect simply because they are easier.

Teach me to have the inner strength like of St. Peter, your prince of the Apostles and of St. Vincent, your Martyr and Deacon whose feast we celebrate today. May we remain faithful and vigilant in our commitment in responding to your call, Lord Jesus so we may always be one in the Father. Amen.

Photo by author, St. Joseph Parish in Baras, Rizal (07 January 2021).

How I found my vocation in life through a simple prayer for faith

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 27 October 2020
Photo by Ms. Anne Ramos, March 2020.

Whenever people ask me about the story how I became a priest, I always begin by telling them that I am more of a “delayed vocation” than a “late vocation” because after graduating from high school seminary in 1982, I was refused admission to the major seminary to pursue the priesthood.

It was the first serious blow I have had in my life as I felt so deeply hurt because I thought God wanted me to become a priest only to be rejected. It was then I realized his saying “many are called but few are chosen” could be so bad as I had to leave the seminary.

Feeling rejected, I decided to go to the University of Sto. Tomas to pursue my “first love” – journalism to totally forget the priesthood specially when I got into the staff of the Varsitarian (1984-86). It was at the Varsitarian where I learned everything about newspaper journalism that on my senior year in college, I opted to have my training at GMA-7 News to try broadcast journalism.

And I was so amazed at how TV and radio can quickly report the news as it happened, specially whenever I would hear those alarms ringing from the telex machines of United Press International (UPI) and Philippine News Agency (PNA). (By the way, the first thing I learned in broadcast news was changing the newsprints for those telex machines.)

After graduation in college, I got hired as news writer for GMA radios DZBB-AM and 97.1 DWLS-FM. Two years later, I was assigned to cover the police beat at the graveyard shift for our television newscasts.

With former co-staffers and fellow alumni of UST’s The Varsitarian during our 2017 homecoming.

One morning before “going to bed”, I read a copy of the Columbia, the magazine of Knights of Columbus my father had insisted me joining while in college. At the last page was a vocation campaign written by a Carmelite priest who claimed something like “faith is a very important gift of God we must keep because if we lose it, we could also get lost in life”.

I cannot remember the priest’s explanations but those words got stuck in me that very morning when I just felt praying again after a very long time of being a nominal Catholic in college and GMA-7. The words simply flowed from my lips to become my only prayer in the next four years:


"Lord,
let me grow in faith 
in you."

Everything happened so fast for me at GMA-7 with all the breaks and opportunities given me which I never asked nor even dreamed of. I have never wanted to be “on camera” and have always preferred working behind the scenes (even now as a priest).

As I look back and count my blessings, I always consider it as a grace, a gift from God when Ms. Jessica Soho recommended me to take her place covering the military/defense beat when she was promoted to hosting her own morning show and doing special reports that have established her now as the best in the field.

Despite the recognition that came along with a career in broadcast news, deep inside me I started feeling empty as early as 1988. Most strange of all, I felt God calling me back to the priesthood that I vehemently dismissed, knowing personally how sinful and evil I have been!

When the emptiness and priestly call persisted, I slowly returned to our parish thinking that maybe, I was just missing my old ways of going to Mass and singing with the choir. But, the more I thirsted and yearned for God!

It was so funny and even ridiculous for me at that time seeing myself praying more often, choosing to be alone inside the church like when we were in the minor seminary. I even did not know if I were praying at all except that I felt complete in silence until one day, I found myself begging God:


"Lord, 
let me know
my vocation 
in life."

I thought of leaving broadcast journalism in 1989 to teach English language to Vietnamese refugees in Morong, Bataan after reading its ads in the Manila Bulletin. It seemed to me that was what I was searching for, something I can enjoy with a deeper purpose and meaning like serving others.

For several weeks I would read the ads in the newspaper until my interest died down as I got into a lot of action doing police stories in the dead of the night. It was also the time when I got so busy covering the 1989 December coup attempt and the destructive Luzon earthquake of July 1990.

Though I felt good reporting the news from the fields, one thing I noticed every time I went home was how I still felt empty inside when alone. Life had no meaning that I tried seeking it in bottles of beer, then in shots of brandy and whiskey until I thought I have found it in glasses of Tanqueray gin tonic. Mr. Marlboro in blue seal bought along Timog Ave. became my constant companion too.

Finally I sought spiritual direction from some priests I have known in the seminary like our former rector Fr. Memeng Salonga and our Sunday Mass presider in our barrio chapel, Fr. Boie Agustin. They have greatly helped me in discerning my vocation that I decided to take the entrance exams to the seminary in February 1991.

With my former colleagues at GMA-7 News as we rest on the steps near the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem during our Holy Land pilgrimage in 2017; from top is Ms. Marissa Flores, SVP of GMA-News with her nurse, Ms. Jessica Soho of “State of the Nation” and KMJS, and Ms. Kelly Vergel de Dios, the former VP for Personnel of GMA News.

It was the last exam date for the coming academic year and frankly, I was still hesitant to give my vocation a second try because I felt unworthy of the call and most of all, afraid of failing again like in high school seminary.

For a while I felt a strong basis for my doubts with my vocation: just when I was about to take the entrance exam, our boss, Ms. Tina Monzon-Palma asked me to cancel my day off that Saturday to search for the lone survivor of the 1911 Taal eruption in Talisay town when that “small but terrible” volcano showed signs of activity.

In my mind, God must be using Ms. Palma to inform me I got it all wrong, that he wasn’t calling me at all to the priesthood that is why I was given a job that Saturday, the last exam date to the seminary.

Of course I was so glad missing the entrance exam with a valid reason that I immediately went back to “happy hours” after coverages until late March when I had a severe attack of gout one weekend. It was so painful that I could not go to work the following Monday and Tuesday.

While in total bed rest for my gout, I felt my vocation coming back again, more persistent than before that I had the stupid idea of asking God for one last sign that would clearly convince me he wanted me to become a priest.

And God heard my prayer!

By Thursday I was back to work covering the newly-assigned AFP Chief Gen. Lisandro Abadia inspecting the troops in Abra and Kalinga. Everything went well until we flew to Laoag City for the final leg of Gen. Abadia’s troop inspection when one of our plane’s tires blew on landing!

Boom! Everything was so fast as I remembered the loud explosion of the tire on my side of the plane, followed by thick smoke seen from my window and tilting of plane as I ducked my head down on my lap, repeatedly praying in silence, over and over again, “Yes, Lord! Magpapari na po ako!”

It was the big news that evening: a tire of the plane with the new AFP Chief blew upon landing at Laoag City airport.

And the bigger news among newsmen was me —- everybody was teasing I was the next Jessica Soho who used to figure out in accidents while covering soldiers and military officials.

More teasings and laughters welcomed us when we got back to Manila but all throughout our trip until I got home that night, I felt deep inside like the prophet Jonas so relieved and convinced of God’s call after being spitted out from the belly of a giant whale like that PAF’s Fokker plane. From that day also, I have never dared to ask God for signs anymore.


Faith is a relationship with God;
we pray with faith not to obtain favors 
but to grow deeper 
in love and unity
in Him. 
 

It was not very easy for me when I finally returned to the seminary in 1991 until our ordination to the priesthood in 1998. There were more trials and hardships, more tests that required from me more prayers, more faith…. to which I got in return from God more love, more mercy, more calls.

From that simple prayer to grow in faith, God has blessed me more abundantly not materially but spiritually and emotionally, of being fulfilled in him. Since becoming a priest in 1998, I have stopped asking God for any specific things in prayers. All I ask him is to give me with more firm faith, fervent hope and unceasing charity and love so that in every here and now, I may say yes to his calls.

My first months in the seminary in 1991.

In his book reflecting his 50 years of being a priest published in 1999, St. John Paul II described the priesthood as both a gift and a mystery. Indeed, every vocation from God – priesthood, religious life, married life, and single-blessedness – is always a gift and a mystery, something so personal and so deep between me and God, or you and God.

This I realized more when public Masses were suspended during the lockdown in March. It was in that being alone and sad when I existentially experienced the Mass as truly a union, an intimacy of the priest with the Eternal Priest, Jesus Christ. With or without the people.


Let me close this with another prayer I have made during our annual retreat in the seminary in 1994 facilitated by a Cenacle sister. It is one of my core prayers next to that about growing in faith:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you have given me with so much
and I have given you with so little;
teach me to give more of myself,
and most of all, 
more of your love,
more of your kindness,
more of your mercy and forgiveness
and most of all,
more of YOU to others.
Amen.

Enjoy and grow in your faith journey in the Lord until you find your vocation in life in him!

Photo by author, 22 September 2020.

Sitting beside at the feet of Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Memorial of St. Bruno, Priest and Founder of Carthusians, 06 October 2020
Galatians 1:13-24     >><)))*>   |+|   <*(((><<     Luke 10:38-42
Photo by author, antique door of a resthouse in Silang, Cavite, 22 September 2020.

What a wonderful story from St. Paul today of his conversion, Lord Jesus Christ! How lovely to read his story without any airs or pride but full of humility, focused on the mystery of your call for him to be your Apostle to the Gentiles.

Clearly, the fruit of long years of prayers, of sitting beside you at your feet.

Brothers and sisters: You heard of my former way of life Judaism, how I persecuted the Church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it… And I was unknown personally to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only kept hearing that “the one who once was persecuting us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” So they glorified God because of me.

Galatians 1:13, 22-24

Lord Jesus, keep me simple and humble like St. Paul in telling my story of your call that is always both a mystery and a gift, something so special known only to you. Purify me and my story of vocation in spending silent moments at your feet contemplating, meditating on your words.

Sometimes, some people complain how their lives are not as colorful as somebody else’s life like St. Paul with a lot of dramatic twists and turns.

We do not need those things, Lord. You call each of us in the most unique and personal way. Every encounter with you Jesus is always personal, always special.

What we really need is a listening heart: no matter how colorful and dramatic our lives may be but if we do not spend time with you listening and praying like Mary in the gospel, everything will always be bland and dry.

Let us reflect more, to treasure every encounter with you by being silent and still, less distracted with the ways of the world that make us forget you to turn our very selves as the center of attention even unconsciously demanding you to focus on us like Martha!

Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him (Jesus) and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Luke 10:40-42

Teach us to follow the examples of St. Paul and Mary, of St. Bruno whose memorial we celebrate today so we may we strive “to seek God assiduously, to find God promptly, and to possess God fully.” After all, as his Carthusian monks motto profess, “while the world changes, the cross stands firm.”

Yes, dear Jesus, nothing is most worthy in this life than to be always at your side, doing your work, speaking your words, living your life. Amen.