Best Gifts of Christmas, II

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 28 December 2019

Italian artist Giorgione’s “Adoration of the Shepherds” (1510) showing an intimate scene set up against a distant landscape. The shepherds’ gently kneeling and bowing their heads down show their humility and fascination with the Infant Jesus while the long road behind them shows the long and tiring journey they have taken before reaching their destination.

We continue with our enumeration of the best gifts of Christmas which is above all the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And because of his coming as human like us, we have come to share in his dignity and glory, thus, making us also the best gifts to share and receive every Christmas!

We await Christmas every year because we await Jesus Christ, the most beloved person of all we can know and have as friend.

We wait only for persons, not things.

Waiting is beautiful because we never wait alone. There is always another person waiting with us, waiting for us. And when we finally come and meet with the other person also awaiting us, then we become present, a gift for one another.

In our presence with each other comes the wonderful gift of intimacy.

“God became a human being so that in one person you could both have something to see and something to believe.”

St. Augustine, Sermon 126, 5
The spot where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born now covered and protected by this hole under the main altar of the Church of the Nativity of the Lord in Bethlehem. May 2019

Christmas is a story about persons called by God to bring us his Son Jesus Christ. It is a living story that continues to our own time. Here are some of the best gifts of Christmas coming from the gift of our personhood.

  1. The gift of family. Christmas happens in a family of husband and wife and children. Very much like Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. Remove one and the Nativity scene becomes incomplete. Let us be thankful for our family, let us pray for the unity of our family. When Jesus was lost at the age of 12, Joseph and Mary decided to return to Jerusalem – symbolizing God – and eventually found him there in the temple. Let us always turn to God, ask for his guidance and protection of every family, for the healing of our family, for the mending of our broken relationships. Let us pray for all broken families whose members from the husband and wife to their children are all aching deep inside for the pains of separation.
  2. The gift of women and of motherhood. When God created man, he found “it is not good for man to be alone” that is why he created the woman as man’s “suitable partner” (Gen.2:18). What a beautiful term for woman, part-ner, a part of man who is never complete by himself alone. How sad that until now, it is right inside the home where every woman first experience physical, verbal and emotional pains. Women are the best signs of fidelity and faith: Elizabeth called Mary “blessed” because she believed the words spoken to her by the angel from God will be fulfilled. Let us pray for the women in our lives especially own own mother and sisters, lola and aunties, cousins and nieces. Remember, the way we relate with women reflect to a great extent the way we relate with God. Love and bless the women!
  3. The gift of men and fatherhood. When Jesus taught us how to pray, he taught us that God is like a “Father” whom we shall call “Our Father”. There is a crisis in fatherhood and manhood these days because many men have forgotten to be truly man enough like God our Father: a giver of life and protector of life as well. Most of all, when children lose this gift of life, it is the father who restores the life lost like the merciful father of the prodigal son in Luke’s gospel chapter 15.
Aleteia, December 2019.

This Christmas break, spend time with your family, hug your mommy and your daddy tightly and feel their presence again.

Thank your family, your mom and dad.

Pray for your departed loved ones, visit the cemetery and say a prayer for them, talk to them. Most of all, listen to them and feel them again.

Blessed are the women!

The Lord Is My Chef Simbang Gabi Recipe, 21 December 2019

Zephaniah 3:14-18 ><)))*> ><)))*> ><)))*> Luke 1:39-45

Bronze statues of Mary and Elizabeth fronting the Church of the Visitation in Judah; inscriptions on the wall are Mary’s “Magnificat” in different languages including Filipino. Photo by author May 2017.

For most Filipinos, being “blessed” (mapalad) and “lucky” (suwerte) are often used interchangeably because they both mean the same which is being fortunate. And most of the time, we mean blessedness as being endowed with wealth and material things.

Anyone with a stable job or a flourishing career or a growing business with at least a car and a house and lot is always considered as blessed. If you go big time or have made it to the top, then you are most blessed!

Parents who have put all their children through college, especially in expensive and exclusive Catholic schools and universities are also considered blessed in our culture that puts a high premium on education.

For most of us Filipinos, being blessed means to be financially stable and secured with some degrees of fame and accomplishments.

But our gospel today says nothing about these things as being blessed. Fact is, nowhere do we find in the Bible, especially in the gospel accounts where Jesus tells us that financial viability is a blessing. On the contrary, his teachings teem with a lot of moral aspersions against reliance and worship of money and material wealth.

True blessedness is having faith in God, believing that his words would be fulfilled!

Church of the Visitation, the Holy Land. Photo by author May 2017.

Mary set out in those days and traveled 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? Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:39-43, 45

Conversations between women

The Bible rarely records conversations exclusively between women. And even less frequent in the Bible is a conversation between two pregnant women that makes St. Luke’s account of the Visitation unique in itself.

For St. Luke, this encounter and exchange is significant because here are two women who bore a child in the most miraculous manner. Observe that St. Luke never used the word “pregnant” to describe the two women but simply told us that it is obviously the situation of both Elizabeth and Mary.

Exegetes explain St. Luke may have never used the term “pregnant” to emphasize to his readers God’s powerful grace on the two women in bearing a child: Elizabeth in her old age and barrenness and Mary in her youth and virginity.

What is most remarkable here is the way the two women were so “absorbed” in their conversation that one can imagine the “holy ground” they were standing so filled with Divine presence with the Holy Spirit hovering above them as two great souls met to honor God!

Even now if you go on a pilgrimage to the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, you can still experience that serenity and joy both women must have experienced on that hallowed ground.

Left painting on the dome is the Visitation while the other at the right is a depiction of how the angel saved St. John the Baptizer with St. Elizabeth from the murder of Holy Innocents ordered by Herod after learning the birth of Jesus Christ. Photo by author, May 2017.

True Blessedness

St. Luke tells us a lot of stories about “blessings” in his gospel account like here at the Visitation.

The most significant of these story of blessings is found in Luke 11:27-28 when Jesus was preaching, “a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.’ He replied, ‘Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.'”

And that “blessed one who hears the word of God and observes it” is none other than his own Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the first and par excellence “Doer-of-the-Word” for St. Luke!

Here at the Visitation, Elizabeth became the first human person, a woman, to call Mary “blessed” – the first of many disciples from future generations who will address the Blessed Mother in this manner as proclaimed by Mary herself in her Magnificat, “from now on will all ages call me blessed” (Lk.1:48).

Mary blessedness is primarily due to her faith and trust in God’s word spoken to her by the angel Gabriel. Unlike Zechariah, Mary right away submitted herself to the will of God by asking “how can this be”, indicating her deep faith.

Mary’s faith makes her a model disciple whom we must all imitate in following and believing Jesus Christ our Savior.

Likewise, Elizabeth can also be considered as a model disciple to us all because she believed and recognized the coming of the Christ by calling Mary “the mother of my Lord” (Lk.1:43). And again, holds the distinction as the first person and woman in St. Luke’s gospel to call Jesus “Lord”.

Here we find again the story of the Visitation that true blessedness and holiness is to be filled with God like St. Joseph the other day.

The Immaculate Conception at the Cathedral Basilica in Malolos City. Photo by author, December 2019.

In praise of the women of the world, man’s part-ner

Another beautiful trait of St. Luke’s gospel account is it emphasis on the important roles of women not only in the spread of the Gospel but most especially in the world. He is the first champion of women’s rights, next only to Jesus Christ.

In narrating to us this brief story of the Visitation, we rediscover the beauty and blessedness of womanhood – and that is the celebration of Messianic age. Mary and Elizabeth are great women because of their faith, we now celebrate Advent and Christmas.

They both brought Jesus Christ into the world, something that women always do until now, especially mothers who faithfully teach and form their children to become good and faithful Christians.

Both women are a testament to Isaiah’s portrayal of God as a woman who is like faithful mother:

“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”

Isaiah 49:15

Christmas is a beautiful reminder to us all of the very noble and important role of women in the world that unfortunately many of us, especially men, have continually refused to accept or ignored since the Fall of Adam and Eve.

In Genesis, we find God declaring “let us make man a suitable partner.”

And he created the woman, a part-ner of man, taken from one of his ribs because she is equal in dignity with him, created in the image and likeness of God. In fact, she is the most beautiful of his creation, being the last and most perfect!

During his recent concert in the country, U2’s Bono praised the women and human rights activists in the country, dedicating to them their song “Beautiful Day”.

“Human rights drown out human wrongs, that’s a beautiful day. When sisters around the world go to school with their brothers, that’s a beautiful day. When journalists don’t have to worry about what they write, that’s a beautiful day. When women of the world unite to rewrite history as herstory, that is a beautiful day.”

Bono from news reports

Because of Mary and Elizabeth, we now have that beautiful day of the year, Christmas that led to the most beautiful day of all, Easter.

In a fitting rejoinder to our gospel today, another woman the other day gave us a beautiful day to celebrate justice and democracy in the country when Quezon City RTC Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes convicted Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. and other members of his influential clan for the murder of 57 people in the Maguindanao massacre that happened ten years ago.

Throughout history, we have seen that it has always been the women who make it happen for us all to have a beautiful day because they are the ones who bring life, who nurture life, who deepen life.

Let us make each day more beautiful by loving and caring always especially for those special women in our lives who have shown us the beauty and meaning of life, beginning with our own mother. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

Kalaswaan at katatawanan

Lawiswis ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog, ika-27 ng Mayo 2019
Larawan mula sa Google.
Ipagpaumanhin kahit ako'y hindi naman mahinhin
Bakit tila baga tayo ay nahuhumaling sa mga usapin
At paksang karimarimarim kung saa'y
Kalaswaan nagiging isang katatawanan?
Hindi lamang minsan kungdi kadalasan
Ito na nga yata katauhan ng mama sa Malakanyang
Na kung hindi kasinungalingan o kalokohan
Kasalahulaan at kalaswaan laging binibitiwan.
Kailanman ay hindi katatawanan
Gawing biro lamang o paksa sa usapan
Na wala namang katuturan
Panghahalay sa kababaihan.
Larawan mula sa Google.
Simula't sapul palagi na lamang
Kababaihan tampulan ng mga panlalait at sisihan
Na tila baga walang kasalanan
Mga kalalakihan sakdal sa kalinisan at kahusayan.
Madalas hindi nalalaman ng kalalakihan
Hinugot ang babae sa kanyang tadyang
Hindi lamang upang siya ay ingatan at pangalagaan
Kungdi dahil kapantay sa dangal at katauhan.
Sa lahat ng paglapastangan sa kababaihan
Panghahalay ang kasukdulan
Dahil niyuyurakan sinapupunan
Na siyang pinanggalingan ng sangkatauhan.
Larawan mula sa Google.
Napakinggan mo na ba
Daing na hindi maisigaw o maibulalas
Ng isang hinalay, lalo na yaong nag-alay ng buhay
Upang mamasukan sa ibang bansa?
Nakita mo na ba mga mata na hindi makatingin
Ulo ay nakatungo dahil sa bangungot na hindi magising
Luha hindi mapahirin sa bigat at sakit ng damdamin
Ng isang babaeng hinalay o puri'y nadungisan?
Aynakupo...! Nag-aalimpuyong galit kasabay
Ang pait at sakit sa tiyan at dibdib
Na halos ika'y mabuwal at maduwal
Sa gayong sinapit na dama pa rin ang sakit.
Ang pinakamalupit kapag babae ay hinalay
Ay iyong mapagtanto na isa itong impakto
Nagkukubli sa inapi na maaring babaeng iyong itinatangi:
Sariling ina o asawa, kapatid o anak.
Kapag kalaswaan ay nagiging isang katatawanan
Dangal ng katauhan di lamang ng kababaihan
Ang hindi na pinahahalagahan hanggang maubos ang halakhakan
Dahil mga tao'y magsasakmalan na parang mga hayop na lamang.
Estatwa ni Maria nang dalawin niya si Elizabeth sa kaburulan ng Judea; mula sa kanilang sinapupunan sumilang ating kaligtasang hatid ni Hesus na inihanda ni Juan Bautista. Dalawang kababaihan kumakatawan sa kadakilaan at karangalan ng mga babae sa ating buhay: ina, asawa, kapatid, anak, at kaibigan. Larawan ng may-akda, Abril 2017.