Following Jesus in lights and darkness by Caravaggio

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 20 September 2021
Detail of Caravaggio’s painting, “Calling of St. Matthew” from en.wikipedia.org.

That beautiful painting by Caravaggio, “The Calling of St. Matthew” completed in 1600 for the French congregation of San Luigi Francesi in Rome is said to be the favorite of Pope Francis among the many other masterpieces found in the eternal city.

It was through the Holy Father that I have started to fall in love with Caravaggio’s works, promising myself to see them if given another chance to return to Rome. His paintings like the meeting of Thomas Didymus with the Risen Lord and his breaking of bread at Emmaus evoke body movements and inner motions among the characters that lead us to continue the beautiful story of his subject.

And that is what I wish to share with you on this Feast of St. Matthew, a reflection on his sitting, arising and standing to follow Jesus who had called him while at work as a tax collector.

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
From shutterstock.com.

Sitting. Many centuries from now, anthropologists and other experts will be studying our generation on how humans have evolved – or retrogressed – with our spending too much time sitting. Doctors warn of the many health risks that result in prolonged sitting like obesity and heart disease. They have recently sounded the alarm anew following a surge in zoom meetings and webinars as well as the new set ups of classes on-line and work from home that entail sitting for long hours.

When the term “couch potato” was coined in the 1980’s, potato growers in the US complained against the association of their beloved crop with those people glued on their seats watching TV, doing nothing at all.

Sitting is an important human movement especially in studying and learning lessons through reading and writing, meeting and discussions. Meals become more satisfying and fulfilling when taken while seated in a leisurely manner whether at the table or even on the ground like picnics in the park or forest. In fact, it is when we are seated at the table for meals we are most peaceful and neutral – nobody eats with weapons laid on the table or while holding a gun or clenching a fist which is the reason why we are not supposed to rest our elbows on the table!

Imagine St. Matthew when he was called by Jesus, while sitting at the customs post: here we find sitting at its worst imagery of being stuck on our seats of comfort and complacency, sins and other vices. Worst is see how in our modern time we have given so much premium on where we sit to insist on our ego trips and sense of territory as well as claims to fame and prominence not realizing that what really matters in life is not where we sit but where we stand (https://lordmychef.com/2019/02/22/it-is-where-we-stand-that-matters-most-not-where-we-sit/).

From en.wikipedia.org.

Following Jesus

Going back to Caravaggio’s painting, we notice everybody seated at the table with St. Matthew dressed in the artist’s period of the 1600’s to show that Jesus continues to come in our own particular time in history.

Most of all, the gospel tells us that St. Matthew was seated at his customs post when called by Jesus but Caravaggio’s painting portrays them to be inside a tavern to tell us that we are also St. Matthew whom Jesus visits and calls daily while we are busy or drunk sitting at our comfort zones, in our vices and sins, in our complacency and mediocrity.

And like St. Matthew, we, too, are invited to rise and follow Jesus right away!


Don't you hear how Jesus is calling you daily, 
asking you, "will the real you please rise up and stand for who you really are"?
See yourself the way Jesus sees you - forgiven and beloved,
precious and loved.  No need for us to look good before Jesus.
Just rise and stand with him!

Standing. Following Jesus demands that we must first rise from our seats to make a stand for Jesus and his teachings of love and kindness, mercy and forgiveness, service and self-sacrifice. Notice how St. Matthew, the fat man at the middle with a black hat like a beret pointing to the man bowed down to the table.

See and feel the hesitancy of St. Matthew – like us – always wondering, asking God, “is it I, Lord?” So many times we cannot believe Jesus really looking for us, wanting us, calling us, believing in us!

And in all that beautiful interplay of light and darkness by Caravaggio in his painting, we feel the eyes of Jesus looking at our beloved apostle as if telling him, “yes, you, Matthew; Follow me”.

Cast all your doubts if Jesus were really calling you, believing in you, trusting you – he does! Jesus always comes to each of us in the most personal manner like with all his apostles, telling us, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit” (Jn.15:16).

Don’t you hear how Jesus is calling you daily, asking you, “will the real you please rise up and stand for who you really are”? See yourself the way Jesus sees you – forgiven and beloved, precious and loved. No need for us to look good before Jesus. Just rise and stand with him!


Photo from Facebook of nuns delivering relief goods to people in far-flung areas during the pandemic last year.

Walking. It is not enough for us to remain standing. Making a stand for Jesus means to follow him in his path of justice and love, mercy and forgiveness, being small and the least serving the weak and the poorest of the poor.

To walk in Christ is to be like Christ because Jesus himself is “the way the truth and the life” (Jn.14:6).

Walking in Christ is following the “road less travelled” that leads to the Cross of self-offering and sacrifice, of love and acceptance.

Notice in Caravaggio’s painting how he portrayed Jesus in his own traditional clothes along with Simon Peter – and they are both barefooted!

There seems to be a slight commotion wherein Simon is like warning the man with a sword close to him to be still, to not make any move for they are walking away soon once St. Matthew rises and stands from his seat. Look at the feet of Jesus and Simon; they are all set to walk, as if telling St. Matthew, “come on, let us go!”

But where to?

While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Matthew 9:10-13

We all first walk home with Jesus, right into our hearts to reconcile again with him and be healed of many hurts and aches in the past. Then, we walk with Jesus to our fellow sinners so that they too may experience Christ’s love and forgiveness.

Following Jesus, walking on his path of the cross means going to those forgotten by us and the society, walking to meet those who are not like us – in beliefs and way of thinking, in clothing and appearances, in disposition and backgrounds.

It can be a lonely walk filled with pains and sufferings, and yes, disappointments like the two disciples who walked back to Emmaus on Easter without realizing Jesus was the stranger who had joined them along the way. That is the beauty of walking with Jesus, in Jesus, and to Jesus: you never see him nor recognize him right away but he is always with us, walking with us by our side even if we are going the opposite direction in life!

Walking the way of Jesus is tough and rough. It is not easy but it is the only way we must follow. That is why we need to rest in Jesus, with Jesus who asks us to be seated again as he washes our feet to comfort and console us, and prepare us for longer walks in the journey.


Photo by Ms. JJ Jimeno of GMA-7News, Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, UP Diliman, 2019.

Kneeling. Of all the body movements modern man has forgotten is kneeling. Again, look at Caravaggio’s painting, take a peek below the table and notice the robust knees of St. Matthew, look at the soft throw of light on his right leg and the softer tone on his left.

Caravaggio must be telling us something about the healthy lower body of St. Matthew despite his sitting position. See Caravaggio’s genius in throwing that soft light on St. Matthew’s legs and knees that were made strong not only by long hours of standing and walking with Jesus but with longer time of kneeling and praying after the Lord’s Ascension.

Kneeling is one very important gesture and body movement we must regain to truly follow Jesus and regain order in ourselves and in our nation. It is the best praying position for it signifies surrender and humility before God. In fact, for the Hebrews, the knee is the symbol of strength that to bend one’s knees – to kneel – means to submit one’s self to God the all-powerful.

How sad when people refuse to kneel because their knees or expensive pants and clothes might get dirty. Worst of all is when we have refused to kneel and bend our knees because we feel so strong and able to accomplish a lot that we would rather be pursuing our own interests than following Jesus.

Photo by author, 07 September 2021.

Like Caravaggio’s painting of “The Calling of St. Matthew”, our lives and nation are into a great darkness due to the pandemic and the worsening decadence in every aspect of our society.

It is not a time to be a fence-sitter or a bystander; Jesus calls us to arise and make a stand against the pervading evils, asking us whom are we really following in this journey in history and life.

Amid the gloom are streaks of light bringing hope and reason, truth and goodness, inviting us to learn from the call of St. Matthew to…

Sit and learn more of Jesus
Rise and stand with Jesus
Walk and follow Jesus 
Kneeling always at the foot of his cross 
to truly follow him our Lord and Master.
Amen.

Advent is simply being good

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Tuesday, Advent Week-III, 15 December 2020
Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13     >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<     Matthew 21:28-32
Photo by Mr. Red Santiago of his youngest son, 21 November 2019.

Dearest God our Father: Lately our social media giants were having problems, one by one, had gone down for several hours with glitches that could not be accessed. And everybody is complaining that in less than a week, Messenger, GMail, and YouTube have landed on headlines in the world.

What is happening?

A new religion? A new god everybody is following?

Almost everyone is crazy risking one’s life for the sake of remaining in the web because even children declare, “wifi is life”!

It may be funny but thought-provoking at how we would always want our internet, apps and gadgets perfectly working, doing good all the time.

If we could just be like our internet, apps, and gadgets, Lord, to be simply good as persons, everything would flow smoothly especially our relationships with everybody happy and nobody complaining.

But we are more than internet, apps and gadgets, Lord!

This Season of Advent, teach us to be simply good, to stop all debates and complicated discussions on so many things in life like those people in Jerusalem both during the time of Zephaniah and Jesus Christ.

“Purify our lips” (Zeph.3:9), Lord, that we may “walk our talk” like the first son in the parable: though he said no to his father’s request, he changed his mind and obeyed him (Mt. 21:28-29).

Let us be good brothers and sisters, good neighbors, good classmates, good colleagues, good Christians who reflect more of your presence than what we know or whatever is in our minds that we always insist.

Let us be kind and caring, never judging others, always respecting one another, and trying to find what is good than what is wrong. Amen.

Leave the sidewalk, join Jesus on the street to see more

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Week XXXIII, Year II in Ordinary Time, 16 November 2020
Revelation 1:1-4; 2:1-5     >><)))*>  +  <*(((><<     Luke 18:35-43
From Facebook, nuns bringing relief goods during the COVID lockdown last summer.

God our Father… I cannot find the words to tell you what is in my heart as I saw the images of devastations and sufferings of your people these past days. Part of me feels thankful for my lesser worries like not having running water and other things but my heart goes out to those people still trapped in floods with little or no food and water at all.

Sufferings are all around us, dear Father. Hear our pleas, especially the cries of children, of mothers, and of elderlies.

It is true that we are partly to be blamed for these sufferings as we have refused to alter our lifestyles that destroy the environment. Worst of all, of our refusal to take an active part in choosing and electing credible leaders in government.

Like the people of Ephesus, we are good at speaking out against wickedness but have merely remained at the sides, preferring to stay in our comfort zones.

Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Revelation 2:4-5

Fill us with your Holy Spirit, Father, to courageously follow your Son Jesus Christ on the street as he passes by like that blind man sitting by the roadside begging; but, upon hearing Jesus was passing by, he left the roadside to come to Jesus on the street.

Like him, we pray, “Lord, please let me see” (Lk.18:41). Amen.

Image from pinterest.com.

Fulfilling our words

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Feast of San Lorenzo Ruiz and Companions, 28 September 2020
Job 1:6-22     >><)))*>  >><)))*>   +   <*(((><<  <*(((><<     Luke 9:46-50

How great it is, O God our loving Father that on this Feast of our first Filipino saint, San Lorenzo Ruiz, our readings today and even yesterday were all about words and how we must “walk our talk”.

San Lorenzo Ruiz remained true to his words that if given with a thousand lives, he would give them all to God when he chose martyrdom in Nagasaki, Japan in 1637 along with 15 others that included nine Dominican priests, two brothers, two laymen, and two consecrated women.

Exactly the same way Job is the best example of fidelity and complete trust in God when after losing all his children and properties in just one day, all he said was…

“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” In all this Job did not sin, nor did he say anything disrespectful of God.

Job 1:21-22

So many times, Lord, we say so many things without really meaning them well, when our words and actions do not jibe at all.

Sometimes, all we have are good intentions, lacking in actions.

And worst, there are times when we our words reveal dark intentions in our hearts that cannot escape you.

Help us to be true to our words, to be your witnesses in this world where words mean so cheap that even if we say more, we still mean nothing at all because our words are empty.

Through the intercession of San Lorenzo Ruiz, grant us the gift of martyrdom, of witnessing to your Gospel not only in words but most of all in actions. Amen.

Soften our hearts, Lord

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXVI-A in Ordinary Time, 27 September 2020
Ezekiel 18:25-28   |+|   Philippians 2:1-11   |+|   Matthew 21:28-32
Cross of San Damiano before which St. Francis of Assisi prayed and received Christ’s commission to rebuild His Church. Photo from wikipedia.org.

Brothers and sisters: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others. Have in you the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:1-8

We priests and religious pray this beautiful hymn by St. Paul every Saturday evening. It is also proclaimed on Palm Sunday to show us Jesus Christ’s self-emptying (kenosis in Greek) to offer himself for our salvation. It is the most important text of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians that has played a vital role in the discussions of Christ’s preexistence.

Seen in the light of the gospel this Sunday, it is also part of St. Paul’s moral exhortation to the Philippians and us living today to be united as one in Jesus by following his pattern of kenosis that is similar with his teachings that “the first will be last, and the last will be first, that the greatest is the servant of all.”

It is the fundamental model of Christian life, the very essence of following Jesus by denying one’s self and taking up one’s cross but also the most difficult to learn and put into practice as it is exactly the opposite of the way of the world – “upward mobility” — of being rich and famous, of being in control that had divided us with massive walls of indifference, hate, and antagonisms making peace and joy more elusive.

Christ’s kenosis is the only way up in life to be back in God that leads us to unity, peace, and joy.

In this time of the pandemic when we are supposed to be more united and kind and nice with everyone, St. Paul’s call to imitate Jesus Christ’s kenosis is very timely and relevant, calling us to soften our hearts by emptying ourselves of our pride unlike the chief priests and elders of Israel to whom the Lord addressed his parable this Sunday.

Photo by author, wailing of Jerusalem, May 2017.

Our sense of entitlement

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did his father’s will?” They answered, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”

Matthew 21:28-31

Beginning today in three successive Sundays, Jesus teaches us again in parables to soften our hearts and let go of our pride that we are better than others, that we deserve more than what is due us like those early workers to the vineyard in last week’s gospel.

In a sense, today’s gospel tells us that there are too many works to be done in God’s kingdom that we have to keep going, imitating Jesus and be careful of falling into the same trap of those workers in last Sunday’s parable who felt entitled to more pay because they worked longer than others.

Notice how Jesus directly addresses his parables in these three Sundays to the same crowd of “chief priests and elders of the people” who have always felt favored by God for being of his “chosen people” since Abraham’s time. They always looked down at others specially the “tax collectors and prostitutes” considered as sinners.

They are not just people from the past who have lived during Christ’s time more than 2000 years ago. Even among us today, there are still chief priests and elders who continue to live and exist!

And here is the rub — among these people who may really be good in faithfully keeping the commandments of the Lord, praying and doing all kinds of devotions and charities are also the worst. Their religiosity are tied only to themselves and never to God, without any love at all.

Keep in mind that every time we feel entitled like the chief priests and elders of the people, it means our hearts have gone hard and cold like the elder son of the merciful father of the parable of the prodigal son or the early workers hired to the vineyard last week.

Photo by author, Mt. St. Paul Spirituality Center, La Trinidad, Benguet, March 2020.

So many times it happens that those who are supposed to be on higher moral grounds turn out to be without any roots and grounding in God at all, becoming harsh and judgmental of others, more sinful than the ones they condemn.

Like the chief priests and elders of the people in the crowd listening to Jesus, they start as the vida only to end up as the contravida like when there is a “black sheep” in the family or a “rotten tomato” in class, that instead of helping them rise from their sinfulness, they who are the ones who condemn and sink others deeper into their holes!

That is why God questions, stirs their hearts through the prophet in the first reading,

Thus says the Lord: You say, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?

Ezekiel 18:25

Always examine our hearts for we must all be converted again and again.

We must keep on praising and thanking God for his mercies like in our responsorial psalm this Sunday because he gives us all the chances in life to change and become better persons. Here we find a semblance with the gospel the other Sunday why we must forgive without limits because God’s love for us is infinite.

Actions, not intentions, judge us

Last Monday we celebrated the feast of St. Matthew, the tax collector called by Jesus to become one of his Twelve Apostles who also wrote one of the four gospels. It is very interesting to know that in all gospel accounts, tax collectors and prostitutes are always grouped together because they are the worst sinners at that time.

Tax collectors not only enriched themselves with excessive collections from the people but were seen as traitors who worked for the Roman colonizers of Israel at that time. Prostitutes, on the other hand, have always been considered very low because as women supposed to give birth for the awaited Messiah, they have “dirtied” their womb. Together, tax collectors and prostitutes were seen as the worst sinners in Israel because they have sold their souls to the devil; hence, they were considered beyond redemption, beyond hope, a scourge to their families and to the community that nobody would want to deal with them.

And so, it was very radical, out-of-this-world and totally unimaginable for everybody then when they heard Jesus telling them how “tax collectors and prostitutes” were entering the kingdom of God before the chief priests and elders of the people who were considered very holy at that time!

It was a serious warning to them and us today from the Lord who reminds us that our actions judge us. The parable is an echo of his warning that “not everyone who calls him ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter heaven” (Mt.7:21). St. Matthew is very particular in his gospel account of the complete jibing together of what we say and what we do, of “walking the talk”.

We have so many sayings expressing this important lesson of today’s parable by the Lord like “A single act of good deed is always better than the grandest and best intention” and “Actions always speak louder than words.”

Photo by author, sunset in the parish, August 2020.

In this time of the pandemic when church attendance is limited and we are advised not to sing and reply aloud in the Mass, it is best that we examine how we have become mechanical in our celebrations without realizing the gravity of things we say like when we acclaim after the gospel proclamation “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!”: do we really work hard in his vineyard or are we like the other son who said yes but did not go? When at the end of the Mass we are told “Go in the peace of Jesus Christ” and we say, “Thanks be to God”, do we really go home at peace or still having that festering anger or dislike to someone?

Make your joy complete. Ask Jesus to soften your heart. Take a step backwards like the first son though at first he seemed so bad to disobey his father in refusing to follow his command, do not be ashamed to take back your words and do what is right.

Be careful not with your words but with your actions for which the Lord would judge us in the end.

Find solace in St. Paul’s beautiful hymn this Sunday: the lower we go down, the higher we are lifted up like Jesus. Nobody had ever gone wrong and lost in life going down, of being humble. Many men and women have gone to oblivion, lost and forgotten when their ivory towers collapsed, burying them in the rubble.

Have a blessed Sunday and week ahead!