Roadtrip, vroom, vroom with Jesus & Zacchaeus, to the Moon!

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 30 October 2022
Wisdom 11:22-12:2 ><000'> 2 Thessalonians 1:11-2:2 ><000'> Luke 19:1-10

You must have heard so many times that rap music called Moon used as background music in almost every video posted on social media. The lyrics and its beat are simply amusing, easy to follow so fitted on everything including this Sunday’s gospel!

Sa'n ka punta?  To the moon
Road trip, vroom, vroom
Skrr, skrr, zoom, zoom
So fake, no room, mga mata namumula
Asan ang trees, nadala mo ba?
Bawal ang tus at peke sa byahe
Kung isa ka d'yan, ika'y bumaba...

Written and performed by a certain Nik Makino, Moon speaks of a young man’s ambition of getting rich through rap music; he is also aware of the fact that his dream is so “high like the sky” with everyone’s eyes prying on him as he strives so hard in working while still young.

I gotta mission, pumunta sa top
Buhay mahirap, gawing masarap
Gawa ng milyon, gamit ang rap 
Iwanan kasama na puro panggap
'Di mo 'ko magets, pangarap ay highs
Singtaas ng jets, tingala sa sky...

I have been asking some young people about the rap and mostly are stunned why I listen and so interested with it especially when I rap it too, saying how they find it so baduy (crass), meaningless or “walang kuwenta” with some calling it as ugly or “pangit”.

And that is how I realized this rap music Moon is so related with this Sunday’s gospel about Zacchaeus the tax collector who climbed a tree to see Jesus while passing by the city of Jericho.

At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy.

Luke 19:1-6

Again, only Luke has this story about Zacchaeus met by Jesus in Jericho, his final stop before entering the city of Jerusalem for his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

Keep in mind that Luke’s narration of the Lord’s journey to Jerusalem is more of an inner journey into ourselves than found in maps. What happened in Jericho shows the importance of the events that would take place at Jerusalem when Jesus offered himself for our salvation and how we can participate in his pasch through the example of Zacchaeus who reformed his life.

Unlike the parable last Sunday, here we have a real tax collector named Zacchaeus described by Luke as a “wealthy man”. Notice how Luke described Zacchaeus was “short in stature” which is not only literal but most of all figurative in meaning. Like the publican in last week’s parable by Jesus, tax collectors were despised by Jews at that time who were seen along the ranks of prostitutes as the worst of all sinners because they were not only thieves but also traitors who collaborated with their Roman colonizers.

Calling Zacchaeus as “short in stature” was really something else, that he was nothing at all. That is why he had to exert so much to see Jesus by climbing a sycamore tree. And there lies the beauty of the story, of how God had come in Jesus to meet us and save us.

When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

Luke 19:7-10

This is the most startling move by Jesus in this event at Jericho that is repeated in many instances in Luke’s gospel account to show God’s loving mercy to all sinners who humbly make the efforts to come to him, to see him, and experience his healing and forgiveness.

Luke had repeatedly shown us this unexpected and even shocking gesture of Jesus to everyone – then and now – at how he would favor sinners and bad people like that sinful woman who poured oil on his feet while dining at the home of a Pharisee (Lk. 7:36-50) and Dimas, the “good thief” on the cross to whom he promised paradise (Lk.23:39-43).

Jesus always comes to meet us but are we willing to meet him too like Zacchaeus? How far are we willing to truly embrace and welcome Jesus by letting go of ourselves, of our sins and other possessions?

If we could just have that sense of sinfulness again, we would realize that in this world, we are all small in stature before God. All these titles and wealth that seem to give prestige to us are all temporary and nothing. What God looks in us is our admission of our being small in stature before him, of being powerless like the persistent widow the other Sunday and the publican last week begging his mercy for we are all sinful.

Imagine that beautiful image of Jesus passing through Jericho, coming to our daily lives, making a stop over right in our hearts to stay and dwell. Most of all, see at how Jesus looks up to find us!

I love that gesture of Jesus looking up to us so much. Normally, we are the ones who look up to God up in the sky, heavenwards when asking for his mercy and favors. But there are many times that it is Jesus our Lord and God who looks up to us mere mortals who are so small in stature before him! What happened at Jericho under that sycamore tree was a prefiguration of what would take place at the Last Supper when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, of how he bowed down before them and looked up while wiping their feet dry. So wonderful! And that happens every day when we go back to him, when we do everything to get out of our way just to go to Mass, most especially to Confessions.

In the first reading, we are reminded how we are nothing before God but he chose to preserve us, to save us because he loves us so much:

“Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook the sins of men that they may repent. But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls.

Wisdom 11:22-23, 25

There is no doubt about the love of God for us, of his mercy and forgiveness expressed to us in his Son Jesus Christ who comes to us everyday in various events in our lives, in the people we meet and most especially in our individual and communal prayers like the Mass and Sacraments.

Jesus is always passing by and would surely come again as St. Paul assured us in the second reading.

The grace of this final Sunday of October as we go to the last stretch of the Church calendar this coming November is that God gives us freely the grace daily to make the efforts in meeting his Son Jesus. Every day.

Our desire to rise above our present state and status is an expression of that grace within us to become better although many times due to other factors, we misconstrue this in aspiring for material things like wealth and money as the rap Moon tells us. But on a deeper reflection as we continue in our journey in this life, we realize sooner or later that more than the things we can physically have, there are always more precious than these.

Like going to the moon, of being high up there in the sky, being one with God, enjoying his peace and salvation.

Like Zacchaeus and, Nik Makino, let us continue our roadtrip to the Moon in Jesus Christ by being true to ourselves – vroom, vroom, skrr, skrr, zoom, zoom – that we are beloved sinners and children of God.

Tara bumyahe pa-ulap
Sakto 'yung auto ko full tank
Pero kahit maubusan, paangat tayo tutulak
Bawal na muna ang pabigat
Lalo sa byahe na palipad
Kailangan kong makatiyak
Bago magka-edad, 'di na 'ko taghirap
Alam kong marami ang nakamasid
Dama ko marami ang naka-abang
Kung ano 'yung mga kaya kong gawin
Malamang ay 'di nila nagagawa
Kaya siguro lagi nakatingin
Kasi 'yon na lamang magagawa
Inaabangan ako na mawala
Kaso lang ang malala nadapa kakatingala.

Stay safe everyone and dry during these storms. Have a blessed week! Amen.

*Photo credits: Moon over the city by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News (2022); second and third by the author at Jericho, Israel (2019); fourth and fifth also by author in Tanay and Pililla in Rizal (2021).

God never sleeps nor forgets us

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
First Friday, Dedication of St. Mary Major in Rome, 05 August 2022
Nahum 2:1, 3; 3:1-3, 6-7   ><]]]'> + ><]]]'> + ><]]]'>   Matthew 16:24-28
Photo by author, September 2021.
Dearest God our loving Father:
You surely know how often we
wonder why you allow bad things 
to continue to happen in our lives,
in our community, even in our country;
so many times we feel you seem to
have forgotten us, of must have fallen
asleep unaware of the sufferings we are
going through.
You know these thoughts and feelings
we often have but today, you assure us
you are always with us, that you never
forget us nor abandon us; sometimes, you
allow our sufferings to happen longer 
because you believe in us, and most of all,
you want us to become stronger and better.

See, upon the mountains there advances the bearer of good news, announcing peace! Celebrate your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows! For nevermore shall you be invaded by the scoundrel; he is completely destroyed. The Lord will restore the vine of Jacob, the pride of Israel, though ravagers have ravaged them and ruined the tendrils.

Nahum 2:1, 3
Finally, you  have liberated Israel
from the clutches of the "scoundrel", Assyria;
perhaps like us today, the Israelites at that
time of the Assyrian conquest wondered
if it ever would end with all the evils
perpetrated by men and women alike;
but it did!  History teems with many
episodes of great countries and empires
falling, collapsing from their towers of
success and dominance, reduced to
nothingness because evil never lasts,
it is so bad that it has all the factors
contributing to its destruction and end.
Good always triumphs, always prevails.
Storms and dark nights end,
the sun always rises,
shining brightly to gladded our hearts,
drying our tears and giving us
all the chances in life.
Like the good news brought by Nahum,
may we be your messengers of good news,
of peace to those suffering for a long time
from illness and other problems in life,
including the many evils that seem to have
become so endemic in our country;
give us the grace to persevere
in following Jesus Christ your Son,
forgetting our very selves
for what profit would there really be
for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit one's life (Mt.16:25)?
As we celebrate the dedication of 
St. Mary Major in Rome today,
may we imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary
who not only bore your Son Jesus Christ
but continues to lead others to him
by being the messenger of your 
love and salvation. 
Amen.

Meeting God

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Friday in the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time, 10 June 2022
1 Kings 19:9, 11-16   ><))))*> + ><))))*> + ><))))*>   Matthew 5:27-32
Photo by author, Los Baños, Laguna, 14 May 2022.
I do not want to say
that we find you, God because
the truth is it is you who find us
always; that is why, I prefer saying
meeting you.

So often, you find us but we do 
not meet you at all because we
look for you, always expecting you
in great things and spectacular sights
and happenings, in shows where we are
the focus not you, where we are heard
and you are disregarded.

Teach us to be patient and silent
like Elijah, awaiting for your passing
in the most simple and ordinary things
like the tiny whispering sound.

O dearest Lord, forgive us in our
many inanities of trying to meet you in 
great things while we indulge in little
things we consider as harmless and 
nothing at all like a simple look at women
filled with lust that reveal great tendencies of 
corruption within us.

May we learn to take care of the little
things in our lives that truly matter most
when aggregated into a whole.  Amen.

Musings on Simeon’s Canticle

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 02 February 2022, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
“Simeon’s Moment” by American illustrator Ron DiCianni. From http://www.tapestryproductions.com

Strictly speaking, today’s Feast of the Presentation of the Lord should be the closing of the Christmas season. It is the 40th day since the birth of Jesus when Mary had completed her days of purification to leave Bethlehem and offer her child with Joseph in the temple in accordance with their law that “every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord” (Lk.2:23).

And like Christmas, we find in the Lord’s presentation his Cross looming tall, enlightening us how Jesus and his Cross, joy and suffering, life and death cannot be separated. In Simeon’s Canticle, we find that life’s many contradictions make living wonderful and meaningful, too! (See our Sunday homily, https://lordmychef.com/2022/01/29/living-loving-amid-contradictions/).


He (Simeon) came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him in his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

Luke 2:27-32
Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News, March 2020.

Coming to terms with death is coming to terms with life.”

First thing we realize in this beautiful canticle of Simeon is the true meaning of joy in finding Jesus wherein we learn to befriend death as we come to terms with life and living. It is difficult to explain but evidently, it was pure joy that led Simeon bursting into a song.

St. Paul had a similar experience while in prison which he tried to explain to the Philippians when he wrote, “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit” (Phil.1:21-24).

Those who have cared and lost a loved one to cancer or any terminal illness have experienced Simeon’s canticle. Remember when our loved ones have finally accepted their fate, when they suddenly become more emotionally stable and even joyful in their dispositions? Unlike before when they were first diagnosed with their illness, they were so afraid, always crying but as they came to embrace the reality, they cried less with a strong sense of courage while we are the ones crying more and most stressed out?

That is because the dying must have seen their direction, their final destination in life.

Like Simeon, they have seen God in the light of Jesus Christ while we who are to be left behind cry more not only due of the pain and sadness of separation but because we do not know where we are going, where we are heading to once our loved ones die. Feel the courage and confidence of Simeon boldly telling God to take him at that instance because he had found “the way, the truth and the life”, Jesus Christ!

Too often, we Filipinos take it as a joke, perhaps laughing to dismiss the topic or cope with the reality that to see God means to die like when we say “gusto nang makita si Lord”. But, that is the truth that Simeon is telling us in today’s gospel which is more “felt” in our own language, “Kunin mo na, Panginoon, ang iyong abang alipin, Ayon sa iyong pangako, Yamang nakita na ng aking mga mata ang iyong pagliligtas” (Lk.2:29-30). Imagine Simeon like the teenagers telling God to take him “now na!”?

Here we find at the presentation of the Lord in the temple how Simeon realized that coming to terms with death is coming to terms with life.

Photo by Ms. Nikki A. Vergara, 2020.

“Coming in the Spirit is living in the presence of God.”

Second thing we find in Simeon’s Canticle is the preeminence of the Holy Spirit in his life. We can never experience and find Jesus without being attuned first with the Holy Spirit who animates us and opens us to Christ’s coming.

Imagine the great crowds of people at the temple on that day, of couples trying to fulfill the law of Moses of purification and presentation of their first-born sons to God. How did Simeon know Joseph and Mary were the parents of Jesus? How was he able to accurately spot and find Jesus is the Messiah amid the many male children being offered on that day at the temple?

“To come in the Spirit” like Simeon is more than being faithful to God; it is having a good and pure heart that is ready to believe and act openly with courage, always looking forward at the fulfillment of what we believe. Coming in the Spirit is being at the right place at the right time when we make things happen than wait, exactly how Luke portrayed Simeon and Anna who both lived in the presence of God! Coming in the Spirit in living in the present moment in God.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Principle and foundation of life”

Thirdly, we cannot see Christ nor live in the Spirit unless we humbly submit ourselves to God, our Lord and Master. Seeing Christ and living in the Spirit presuppose humility before God – we his creatures, he our Lord and Master.

Most of all, God our origin and our end too!

It is the principle and foundation of life as St. Ignatius of Loyola stressed in his Spiritual Exercises, “El hombre es criado para alabar, hacer reverencia y servir a Dios nuestro Señor, y mediante esto, salvar su anima”, that is, “Man is created to praise and serve God his Lord and Master and by doing this save his soul”.

There is something so beautiful and lovely, so touching in the opening verse of Simeon’s canticle that underscores firmly this basic truth we have always forgotten since the fall of Adam and Eve: “Now, Master you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in sight of all the peoples” (Lk.2:29-31). Every time we sin, we act like Adam and Eve, playing gods, desiring to be like God.

Also known as Nunc Dimittis, Simeon’s canticle echoes the fiat of Mary to God during the Annunciation, expressing his fidelity and humility, his total submission to God. Most of all, it summarizes both the Magnificat of the Blessed Mother and the Benedictus of Zechariah, making Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis the finale in Luke’s Christmas “concert” on the birth of the Messiah.

This is the reason why we sing or recite Nunc dimittis at the end of our Night Prayer called Compline from the Latin completorium for “completion of the waking day”. It is the perfect prayer to close each day as we prepare for the coming brand new day to meet Jesus again, hoping we may be enlightened us in our life’s mission.

Or, if ever we do not wake up the following day, we thank God all the more in making us meet Jesus the past day, eager to finally sing to him our praises in eternity. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA-7 News, 18 January 2022.

Seeking, awaiting the Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, Disciple of Jesus, 22 July 2021
Song of Songs 3:1-4   ><]]]]'> ><]]]]'> ><]]]]'>   John 20:1-2, 11-18
 
Painting by Giotto of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ appearing to St. Mary Magdalene from commons.wikimedia.org.
I wonder, dearest Lord Jesus,
why did you appear to Mary Magdalene
on that Easter morning
but not to Peter and John
who also rushed to the scene?
Mary stayed outside 
the tomb weeping.
And as she wept,
she bent over into the tomb
and saw two angels in white
sitting there, one at the head
and one at the feet where 
the Body of Jesus had been.
(John 20:11-12)
It was the second time 
Mary Magdalene had come 
to your tomb that early morning;
when she found it empty,
she rushed to Peter;
when they found it still empty,
John believed and left with Peter
but Mary remained and stayed,
weeping, hoping to find 
your body, dearest Lord. 
And the angels said to her,
"Woman, why are you weeping?"
She said to them,
"they have taken my Lord,
and I don't know whey they laid him."
When she had said this,
she turned around
and saw Jesus there, 
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, "Woman,
why are you weeping? 
Whom are you looking for?"
She thought it was the gardener
and said to him, "Sir, if you carried him
away, tell me where you laid him,
and I will take him."  Jesus said to her,
"Mary!"  She turned and said to him
in Hebrew, "Rabbouni," which means
Teacher.  (John 20:13-16)
O sweet Jesus,
forgive us 
when we fail to see you,
when we miss you coming
as we never stay long
to await you in the empty tombs
of our sadness and failures,
broken dreams and 
disappointments and sickness;
teach us to stay longer,
to grieve in you, pour out in you
our hurts and aches,
pains and sorrows;
like that Bride in the
Song of Songs
let us be intense in seeking you
by patiently awaiting you,
remaining in you that we may also say,
"I had hardly left them when I found him
whom my heart loves." (Song of Songs 3:4)
When love among friends
and one another is real,
surely our beloved would appear
only on a higher, different level
of recognition unlike before;
this is the lesson we can glean
from St. Mary Magdalene
when Jesus called her by name,
asking her to touch him not
because at Easter
we have been raised higher
in Christ, much beloved than before.
Let us answer your call,
dear Lord, to proclaim your gospel to all
despite the troubles we have had before.
Grant us the courage
to change our ways and follow you
like St. Mary Magdalene
who had remained pristine and clean
assuring every sinner with a saintly future.  Amen.


Missing Jesus

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Week XV, Year I in Ordinary Time, 13 July 2021
Exodus 2:1-15   ><)))*> + <*(((><   Matthew 11:20-24
Photo by author, St. Agnes Church at Bethsaida, Israel, 2017.
Jesus began to reproach the towns
where most of his mighty deeds 
had been done, since they had not
repented.  "Woe to you, Chorazin!
Woe to you Bethsaida!  For if 
the mighty deeds done in your midst
had been done in Tyre and Sidon,
they would long ago have repented 
sackcloth and ashes."
(Matthew 11:20-21)
I could hear you, Lord Jesus
crying again the same words
to us in this generation
of not heeding your voice,
of refusing or failing to recognize
God's loving presence among us
in you through the Church.
If our non-Christian brothers and
sisters were given the same 
chance we have been given in
belonging to your Church, 
maybe they have been more 
generous, more kind, and 
more ardent in their faith.
Forgive us, dear Jesus,
for not listening to your words, 
for not meeting you,
for always missing your coming to us
in the Church, in the Sacraments,
and most especially, in the Scriptures.
Sometimes, Lord Jesus
we are like those two Hebrews fighting
pacified by Moses in the first reading
who missed the opportunity of meeting God,
of discovering God among our community
when the culprit dared ask Moses:
"Who has appointed you ruler
and judge over us?
Are you thinking of killing me
as you killed the Egyptian?"
Then Moses became afraid and thought, 
"The affair must certainly be known." 
(cf.Ex.2:11-14)
Teach us, dear Lord
to be like the sister of Moses
who ensured she would not miss
the important opportunity when the Pharaoh's
daughter found baby Moses in a basket among
the reeds while taking a bathe at the river
to find their own mother to nurse the child
you have destined to set free your people from Egypt.
Make us realize every moment a grace of encountering
you Lord, of making your wonderful plans happen.
Amen.

We are the right person in Christ

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
First Friday of the Month, Week XIII, Year I in Ordinary Time, 02 July 2021
Genesis 23:1-4, 19-24:1-8, 62-67   ><)))'> + <'(((><   Matthew 9:9-13
“Calling of St. Matthew” painting by Caravaggio from en.wikipedia.org.
God our loving Father in heaven,
open our eyes to see and recognize
the right persons you send us
to be our friends and colleagues,
co-workers and co-journeyers in life.
Let us not forget that first of all,
the right person we first meet from you 
is our very selves!
Thank you for believing in us.
Thank you for creating us.
Thank you in sharing with us your
truth and beauty, your image
and likeness that is very good.
As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew
sitting at the customs post.
He said to him,
"Follow me."
And he got up and followed him.
(Matthew 9:9)
Let this scene be a constant reminder to us
of your mercy and love, dear God
that no matter how bad is the perception
of others on us, you still see the best in us.
Give us the grace to be attentive
to Jesus Christ passing by, calling us
even while we are in the darkness of our sin
indulging in luxuries and comfort,
power and fame of a sick world.
Like Matthew, let Jesus our light
make us rise to follow him
leave the damp and dark world of sin
and see again the light within
of your glow and majesty.
"Never take my son back there
for any reason," Abraham told his servant.
"the Lord, the God of heaven,
will send his messenger before you,
and you will obtain a wife for my son there."
A long time later, Isaac went to live
in the region of the Negeb.
One day toward evening
he went out in the field,
and as he looked around, 
he noticed that camels were
approaching.  Rebekah, too,
was looking about, and when she
saw him, she alighted from her camel...
Then Isaac took Rebekah into his tent;
he married her, and thus she became
his wife.  In his love for her 
Isaac found solace after the death 
of his mother Sarah.
(Genesis 24:6, 7, 62-64, 67)
What a beautiful love story
that looked like in the movie, sweet Lord
where you surely send us the right persons
at the right time
for the right reason
because of love.
We pray for those waiting for their
right persons, whether in love or profession,
or for any reason you and they alone know,
grant them the faith of Abraham
and the enlightenment of Matthew.
Amen.

Take me out of the dark, O Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Monday, Memorial of St. Josephine Bakhita, Virgin, 08 February 2021
Genesis 1:1-19     >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>  +  >><)))*>     Mark 6:53-56
Photo by author, Petra, Jordan, May 2019.

I know dearest, Lord, my prayer sounds like a song but on this first day of work, I wish to pray for all those living in darkness, for those whose lives are in disarray due to so many reasons like being misled by others or left out on their own weaknesses.

So many people today are living in the darkness of sin, darkness of addiction, darkness of failures, darkness of diseases and sickness, and darkness of social evils that continue to denigrate every person’s dignity and honor.

Despite all of these darkness and evil in the world, you never stop, O God, to bring light and grace through Jesus your Son like in the story of creation.

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”
Thus evening came, and morning followed — the first day.

Genesis 1:1-5

This you have proven so many times in everyone’s life, most especially in St. Josephine Bakhita of Sudan whose memorial we celebrate today.

Kidnapped and sold to slavery when she was only seven years old in Darfur, Sudan around 1876, St. Josephine went through so much physical and emotional sufferings that she had forgotten her true name after being resold to many different masters until finally to the Italian consul in Khartoum, Callino Legasti.

Legasti brought her to Venice and gave her to his friend as her new master, Augusto Michielli who made her a babysitter to his daughter Mimmina who was then receiving catechetical instructions for baptism. While babysitting the young Michielli, she felt drawn to the Catholic faith, eventually getting baptized and confirmed in 1880, adopting the name Josephine. Her ordeals did not end with her becoming a Catholic until all conflicts in her were resolved by the Italian court in 1885, declaring her free from slavery. In 1893 she entered the Canossian Sisters excelling in service and charity not only among the poor and suffering they served but even among her fellow religious. She was canonized by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in 2000.

Sometimes in life, we have to cross as in today’s gospel great seas of challenges and sufferings, go through many darkness so we may arrive at the light of brand new days in Jesus Christ.

Help us to trust in you always, Lord Jesus, so we may get out of the many darkness of our lives. Amen.

Photo by author at the chapel of the Graduate School of Theology, Immaculate Conception Major Seminary, November 2020.

Prayer to be devout like Simeon

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Tuesday, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, 02 February 2021
Malachi 3:1-4  >><)))*>  Hebrews 2:14-18  >><)))*>  Luke 2:22-40
“Presentation at the Temple” painting by Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna done around 1455; Mary holding Baby Jesus while St. Joseph at the middle looks on the bearded Simeon. The man at the right is said to be a self-portrait of the artist while the woman at the back of Mary could be his wife. Photo from wikipedia.org.

Dearest God our Father:

It has been 40 days since Christmas when you sent us your Son our Lord Jesus Christ! Thank you very much for this wonderful gift but, have we had him? Have we truly met him?

Fill us with your Holy Spirit like Simeon, dear God: make us devout like him who finally “met” Jesus Christ on his presentation at the temple by Joseph and Mary.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God…

Luke 2:25-28
“Simeon’s Moment” by American illustrator Ron DiCianni. From http://www.tapestryproductions.com

Only St. Luke used the word “devout” in the scriptures. First in describing Simeon, and thrice at the Book of the Acts of the Apostles to describe the Jews who attended the pentecost at Jerusalem (2:5); “the devout men who buried” our first martyr Stephen (8:2), and called Ananias a “devout observer of the law” when you told him to pray over and heal Saul who got blinded on the way to Damascus (22:12).

Teach us to be devout like Simeon, give us a “good heart, ready to believe, and then to act openly and with courage” (Timothy Clayton, Exploring Advent with Luke; page 125).

More than being faithful to you, a devout person O Lord is one who does not only wait patiently for your coming but most of all, looks forward to its fulfillment by making it happen. Exactly what Simeon and Anna did on that day when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple.

So many times in our lives, Jesus comes, enlightening our minds and our hearts but we are so busy with so many other things that do not truly fulfill us, that in the end, would be more of an excess baggage on our way to you and others. And eventually, making death difficult and devastating instead of becoming a blessing like with Simeon and Anna.

Let us spend more time meeting Jesus in prayers to be more attuned with his coming so that we may be ready to follow his promptings and leads.

May we also learn to respect and care for others in order to meet Jesus like Simeon who recognized his parents for their roles in bringing the child into this world; likewise, the attitudes of Mary and Joseph in giving Simeon and Anna the child Jesus. What a beautiful scene of loving and caring for one another, especially of respect for the elderly! So many times we forget that truth, that we meet Jesus coming in others.

Lastly, fill us with joy no matter how difficult life may be has for us; we can never meet your Son Jesus if all we have are bitterness and resentments. Like Simeon and Anna, they were overflowing with joy, so excited to meet Christ and upon encountering him that day, they embraced him in their arms, expressing their readiness to die and rest in peace.

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, an d glory for your people Israel.”

Luke 2:29-32

Dearest Father in heaven, make us devout like Simeon and Anna with hearts overflowing with joy, striving to realize its fullness only in Jesus Christ, in this life and hereafter. Amen.

Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

Advent is a quarantine

The Lord is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe-4 for the Soul
by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Saturday, Advent Week III, 19 December 2020
Judges 13:2-7, 24-25     <*(((><<   +   >><)))*>     Luke 1:5-25
Photo by author of our altar after a “private Mass” at the height of the lockdown last summer when public Masses were suspended.

I just realized the other day how fast really time flies after seeing photos of some of the couples I have married early this year now happily cuddling their babies… It did hit me hard that we have been in quarantine for nine months already, enough time to conceive and deliver a baby!

It sounds funny but it is the reality showing us how the birth of every child is a milestone not only to the parents but even to everyone and to history in general. We shall wait until next year to find out if there was a big increase in babies born this 2020 due to the long imposition of lockdowns and the quarantine we are into.

It is interesting to know that “quarantine” was actually borrowed from our Catholic practice of Lent, the 40 days of preparation for Easter called Quadragesima or Quaresma, from the Spanish word for forty.

When plagues became so common in Europe with devastating effects even before the middle ages, officials in the port of Venice in Italy ordered all incoming ships to spend “quaranta giorni” or 40 days of being moored first before entry to ensure they carry no plagues. Quarantine had always meant a period of time until lately it had also referred to a place or holding area as in “quaratnine area” to cleanse and disinfect people, animals, plants and things.

Advent 2019.

Its concept of spending days for purification had always been in our Judaeo-Christian traditions dating back to the Old Testament when the prophets of God would go to mountains and desert to meet Him who were later emulated by holy people including John the Baptist, Jesus, monks and hermits.

The Church imitated that practice that led to our Seasons of Lent and Advent. In fact, Advent used to be as long as Lent in duration, starting a day after the Martin Mass, the feast of St. Martin of Tours on November 11 but was later reduced to four Sundays to distinguish it from Lent that is meant to be more serious in preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Now you see, my dear Reader, how interesting it is this year 2020 when we actually went back to our old practices of Lent, and now Advent in truly preparing for the Lord’s coming going through the quarantine.

Going back now to our gospel which is from Luke, we have heard how Zechariah doubted the good news he and Elizabeth would finally have a son after so many years of praying to God. For that, the angel Gabriel chastised Zechariah and made him speechless that people waiting outside the temple were amazed when he emerged from the Holy of holies unable to speak.

Then, when his (Zechariah) days of ministry were completed, he went home. After this time his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.”

Luke 1:23-25
Photo by author, Church of the Visitation at Ein Karem (2017) where Elizabeth and Zechariah had a summer residence where they stayed when Elizabeth went into seclusion after getting pregnant with John.

Opening our selves to God and others

I find our gospel today so timely: Zechariah went home while his wife Elizabeth went into seclusion. They went into an Advent preparation for their son John the Baptist. They both went into a quarantine but not for the same reason: it was imposed on Zechariah while Elizabeth went into it voluntarily.

To lose one’s voice is to lose power and ability to lead. Zechariah was forced into silence in order to meditate and reflect more on the good news he had received from the angel. He was forced to go into silence to listen more to his true self, to others and to God to find new perspectives in life. As a priest, he must have been much sought after in their town for his wisdom and intelligence. Now that he is speechless, Zechariah was confined inside his home, to his very self to listen and most of all, to renew himself in God.

On the other hand, Luke shows us how Elizabeth seem to know better than her husband in dealing with their unusual situation by going into seclusion for five months. Observe how Elizabeth right away prayed to thank God as she meditated His mystery in “taking away her disgrace before others”. Remember that during that time, the only reason why a woman marries was to bear a child; failure to have a baby was seen as an embarrassment, almost like a curse or punishment from God.

In the first reading, we have seen this reality too but unlike Zechariah, the wife of Manoah believed the angel from God who told her she would bear a child despite her old age and being a barren. She was also instructed to go through a quarantine during her pregnancy when she was instructed to “be careful to take no wine or strong drink and to eat nothing unclean” (Judges 13:4). Furthermore, she was told not to cut the hair of her son to be born and named Samson “for this boy is to be consecrated to God… who will begin the deliverance of Israel from the power of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5).

Here we find the concept of quarantine, of separation from the usual things and people because of a special mission from God. If we can just truly appreciate the rich lessons we can learn from this pandemic, how wonderful to see that we are being quarantined like Elizabeth and wife of Manoah because God is preparing us for something greater.

From these stories of two old, barren women bearing a child we find Advent as the season that reminds us God comes to us hidden in our very time and space when we need to go to quarantine to create a space within us where we can be silent and be transformed as we listen more to ourselves, to others, and to God.

How sad that in our 24/7 world where we have made nighttime like daytime earning money to have everything, we have become more empty, more alienated, more sad and incomplete. Quarantine is essentially a sabbath when we are supposed to rest and be breathed on by the Lord with His Spirit, exactly what we like Zechariah needed so much

Photo by Ms. Jonna S. De Guzman, 06 December 2020.

Christmas negativity or Nativity?

One of the blogs I have been following for the past one and a half years is by a young Catholic lady in New York who is so full of enthusiasm in sharing Jesus in her writings as well as in the tasty recipes she dishes out weekly. Last week I found her blog so interesting, titled: “Christmas — negativity or Nativity?” (https://beautybeyondbones.com/2020/12/10/christmas-negativity-or-nativity/).

How sad that we are missing a very rare opportunity today during this pandemic not only to spiritually prepare for Christmas but to truly understand the things going on around us and in our very lives amid this pandemic. I have always believed COVID-19 has a spiritual dimension that we must face and address lest it happens all over again despite the discovery of a vaccine.

And what is that spiritual ailment? Too much negativities like Zechariah!

Imagine the very rare opportunity to incense the Holy of holies of the Jerusalem temple once a year with many other priests present and Zechariah was “chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense” (Lk.1:9)? That in itself could have been a great sign for him that something good may be happening.

Then, while inside the sanctuary of the Lord, an angel appeared to him with the good news, his news of a lifetime, something he and Elizabeth must have been praying all their lives: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall name him John (Lk.1:13).”

And we really wonder why did he doubt the angel’s good news? Did he not see it coming or at least, was it not the only thing he was always wishing for?

It is really so unthinkable. “Wow, ang labo naman” as teenagers would say.

What happened to Zechariah could also be going on to many among us these days that even if we have been praying and celebrating the Mass weekly or even daily with all of our professed faith, hope and love in God, we have also grown accustomed to the darkness of this pandemic with all its fears that unconsciously, we sully ourselves with many negativities, even cynicism and pessimism as if we would never make into better days.

Photo by Ms. Jonna S. De Guzman, 06 December 2020.

Sometimes it happens in our lives that our prayers have become mechanical and worst, our hearts have grown apart from God that we have become so resigned to our plight or predicament that we just pray and believe in God because we have to.

Here we need the creative courage of St. Joseph we reflected yesterday by keeping our love alive.

In telling us the story of the coming of John first before Jesus Christ, Luke is telling us to be ready for greater things about to happen with us if we become silent, take a few steps backwards and rest in the Lord to experience his presence in us and among us.

Whenever I feel low with my life, I just think of my other brother priests striving in the Lord’s vineyard or think of the cops and soldiers and simple folks who work so hard because they believe there is meaning in this life.

Let us drive away all negativities and focus more on the Nativity! Believe always in God and most of all, remain in love with Him, that He has plans for us and mission to make Him known into the world that has forgotten Him.

The fact that after almost a year of pandemic there are still so many women anywhere in the world delivering a baby every second, every minute means this planet is filled with life, is suffused in life that comes only from Life Himself, Jesus Christ.

Each one of us is a “John” – a grace of God, a reminder that Jesus Christ had come, will come again, most of all, is come! Cheer up, energize the sagging spirits of our many brothers and sisters who have become so negative this Christmas. Let them see the Nativity in our enthusiasm to live and to celebrate Christmas meaningfully despite the pandemic.

A blessed Saturday to everyone! Amen.