Believing, living like Mary

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday, Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 15 August 2022
Revelation 11:19, 12:1-6, 10 ><)))*> 1 Corinthians 15:20-27 ><)))*> Luke 1:39-56
Photo by Mr. Jay Javier, Acacias at UP-Diliman, April 2022.
Glory and praise to you,
Father, for this great solemnity
of Mary being assumed body and
soul into heaven to remind us
of our glorious future too
which she now enjoys ahead of
us all because of her fidelity and 
total submission to your will
in every stage of her life;
teach us like Mary to believe (Lk.1:45)
and live your Word who became flesh
for us in Jesus Christ.

May this faith in you prompt
us to go in sharing Jesus
with his love and mercy, 
kindness and compassion
to those doubting you, O God,
because of too much pains
and sufferings, poverty and sickness;
in this age when people believe more
in the lies peddled by social media
and advertisements, may our lives
mirror like Mary your truth and 
greatness, dear Father with our
loving service to the needy;
in this time of so many tribulations
like this pandemic with the ever growing
materialism of people that has given rise
and spawned so many social evils in the
name of wealth, power and fame,
lead us to the desert of prayers and
purification (Rev. 12:6) so we may receive 
and respond properly to the graces and 
blessings you pour upon us lavishly,
primarily Jesus whom we receive
Body and Blood in the Eucharist,
thus making us like Mary herself,
the bearer of Jesus!
Loving Father,
so many people are suffering
these days, many are about
to give up, many are so lost
that their only hope is heaven,
sometimes wishing death
as a way out, not as a way
through the Cross of Christ
who is our way, truth and life;
show us the way,
lead us like Mary
 by believing your words
and putting them into practice
so that even now,
in the midst of sufferings and
darkness, we may enable
the people to experience and
see our true destiny in eternity
while here.
Right now.
Amen.
“The Assumption of the Virgin” by Italian Renaissance painter Titian completed in 1518 for the main altar of Frari church in Venice. Photo from en.wikipedia.org.

Becoming a Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 10 July 2022
Deuteronomy 30:10-14 ><}}}*> Colossians 1:15-20 ><}}}*> Luke 10:25-37
Photo by Mr. Raffy Tima of GMA7-News, May 2022.

After telling us last week to “do not rejoice because spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Lk.10:20), Jesus today answers a scholar of the law asking him what he must do to gain eternal life.

It is the very same question we often ask others because inside us we are convinced there is something else deeper than the laws and commandments of God written in the Bible. Like the scholar of the law, we have experienced that God’s commandments and statutes – his very voice, his very words – are written in our hearts.

Moses said to the people: “If only you would heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and keep his commandments and statutes that are written in this book of the law, when you return to the Lord, your God, with all your heart and all your soul. No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”

Deuteronomy 30:10, 14

God’s commandments and laws are not just mere codes of conduct like in other religions. The Law of God is no dead letter but his living Word right in the depths of our hearts no matter how hard we deny his existence. More than a code, the Law of God evokes a relationship that is a fruit of one’s conversion of heart and soul in union with God and with others.

It is here that we find the novel approach by Jesus in narrating the parable of the good Samaritan in answering the scholar of the law who wanted to test him by asking, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk.10:25) that was followed up with a second one, “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk.10:29) to justify himself. In narrating this parable, Jesus showed us how we must live as neighbors, as brothers and sisters in him who is our head.

Photo from americamagazine.org.

We are all neighbors.

We have heard so many times this beautiful parable by Jesus which only Luke had narrated while the Lord was “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk.9:51). Too often, we see this parable as a reminder of something we are all aware of, that everyone is our neighbor.

Like the scholar of the law, we are not surprised at all with Christ’s question, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” because we have always thought of the question in our own point of view! We are the ones looking at the victim of the robbers that it is always easy to assume we would be good Samaritan to him which is so presumptuous on our part. Fact is, so often we have failed being a good Samaritan to so many in need who came to us for help because we were like the priest and Levite with many excuses, with more important matters to attend to that they both passed by the robbers’ victim.

Like the scholar of the law, we have failed to see the whole point of Jesus who was asking us to be in the victim’s point of view, to be in his shoes: would anyone be a good Samaritan to help me if I were the victim?

Jesus had reversed the point of view – instead of looking through the window from the outside, we are asked to look at the window from the inside! Would somebody stop to be kind with us?

From inquirer.net.

Many times we have felt so disappointed at some people we were expecting to be our friends, who would be on our side but when trials came, they turned their backs from us and left us alone when suddenly, somebody we least expected or even hardly knew came to help us!

How many times have you found yourself saying, “I thought they considered me as their friend but it turned out, somebody I hardly knew was the one who helped me out of my plight!” Worst, there were times we have said strangers are even better than our family and friends, saying, “Mabuti pa yung ibang tao kesa kamag-anak o kaibigan”.

Hence, to our most Frequently Asked Question (FAQ), “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”, Jesus is asking us to act and live in such a way that everybody sees us as their neighbor, not the other way around. When it is others who see us as their neighbor, it means we are living the gospel, we are like Jesus Christ, the Good Samaritan who came to save us all. It is different when it is us who claim to see everyone as our neighbor – it holds nothing at all but an idea in the mind, a plan or mere intention no matter how noble it may be.

Most of all, to see others as one’s neighbors is a sign of a malady of our faith and religion: that we are not yet evangelized though sacramentalized wherein Jesus is just in our minds but not yet in our hearts, not yet flowing through our very being.

Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images, Laoag City, 08 May 2022.

The preeminence of Jesus Christ

This oneness in Christ is the gist of Paul’s beautiful exposition about Jesus in our second reading this Sunday. Paul wrote the Colossians while in prison to prevent them from joining some preachers encouraging them to adopt ascetic practices in order to have angelic powers as well as appease higher powers. Paul insisted Jesus Christ is God and what he had accomplished on the cross is sufficient for our salvation.

Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or principalities or powers; all things were created through and for him. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.

Colossians 1:15-16, 19

In presenting the preeminence of Jesus Christ, Paul is also telling us that Jesus is the foundation of our moral life. Our lives, our actions must flow from our communion and oneness in Christ. That is when others see us as a neighbor, when they see us as one of them too!

This is the fulfillment of Moses’ teaching in the first reading, that the “voice of the Lord”, the word of God is not far from you for it is in your hearts – that is Jesus Christ who is not only the fulfillment of the laws but the Law himself. After all, as John had expressed in the fourth gospel, Jesus is “the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us”, the Emmanuel, the God-with-us.

From Facebook of Marivic Tribiana, 2021.

Today, Jesus is inviting us that in order to gain eternal life, we must do what he does, that is, to love and be kind with everyone, to be seen as a neighbor and a friend others can count on. In becoming human, God became one of us in Jesus Christ, the one who crossed the street to reach out to us victims of robbers on the way to Jerusalem. He not only healed our wounds but even lifted us to regain our dignity as beloved brothers and sisters. And neighbors.

There is a very beautiful word in English that captures this reality of our being neighbors or brothers and sisters in Christ: “kind” or “kindness” which came from the root kin or kindred. When we say “she or he is kind to me”, it means he or she treats me as a kin or a kindred, not as different like a stranger.

Artwork by Fr. Marc Ocariza based on Marivic Tribiana’s photo, 2021.

We are all kins or kindred in Christ. And every time we choose to be unkind and indifferent with others especially those in need, we are bothered by our conscience because it is an affront to our very personhood. It is unnatural like what the American writer George Saunders had realized:

“So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering and I responded … sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.”

George Saunders from “Congratulations, By the Way” (page 22)

Avoid having such regrets later in life. Whatever good deed you may do at the moment, do it for it could be Jesus Christ who is passing by, who is the one in need. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead.

Lent is trusting God’s promises

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Monday in the Fourth Week of Lent, 28 March 2022
Isaiah 65:17-21   <*[[[[>< + ><]]]]*>   John 4:43-54
Photo by author, view of Israel from Mt. Nebo in Jordan, May 2019.
How sweet are to the ears
your words today, O God our
loving Father, when you promised
to create new heavens and
a new earth, when the things of
the past shall not be remembered
or come to mind, when there shall 
always be rejoicing and happiness.

No longer shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not round out his full lifetime; he dies a mere youth who reaches but a hundred years, and he who fails of a hundred shall be thought accursed. They shall live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.

Isaiah 65:20-21
Sana now na, Lord!
Sanaol, God!
But I know you are speaking
not in literal sense though that
time would surely happen when
we experience no more pain and
sufferings nor crying and wailing
nor death of any infant nor of anyone
less before 100 years of age.
Yes, I know Father
this life will always be filled
with pains and sufferings,
trials and tribulations but these
are meant to make us stronger
and more trusting to your coming
to us in Jesus Christ; give us the
grace to be wholly committed
to you in Jesus, in your words
like that royal official from Capernaum
for it is only in our total trust in you
can we experience peace 
and healing that only you
can give in Christ while in these
troubled earth.  Amen.

Taking Jesus to the heart

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday Week VIII-C in Ordinary Time, 27 February 2022
Sirach 27:4-7 ><}}}}*> 1 Corinthians 15:54-58 ><}}}}*> Luke 6:39-45
Photo by author, 2016.

We enter the Season of Lent this week with Ash Wednesday as the Ordinary Time takes on a long break until June; hence, our gospel this Sunday is a fitting cap to the teachings of Jesus these past three weeks about discipleship.

After expounding on the need to love like God full of mercy even to enemies, Jesus now speaks in parables citing ordinary experiences in life to underscore “wholeness” in one’s self that is rooted in one’s heart where speech and being go together.

True discipleship in Christ is taking into heart his words by putting them into practice – of walking the talk – to bear fruits in our lives of holiness.

Jesus told his disciples a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Luke 6:39, 45
Photo from news.abs-cbn.com, 2020.

Our heart, our center of being

People often make various gestures of the heart to convey the message of love especially when posing for pictures. But of all these gestures, nothing beats those two hands shaped like ears and put together to look like a heart.

It is the best sign of the heart, of two ear lobes joined together because a loving heart is one that listens, never judges just like what Jesus taught us last Sunday.

Most of all, one’s heart is always known by its words and actions wherein the actions speak louder than words! In this symbolism, we find the inner dynamics of speech and being perfectly together.

See in the three parables of Jesus in today’s continuation of his sermon on the plains, we find this primacy of listening to his words and putting them into practice: guides cannot guide others unless they have clear eyesight; the hypocrisy of seeing other’s faults unmindful of one’s own faults; and, how every tree is known by its fruit.

Jesus is calling us today to an “education of the heart” so that we may have open ears, open hearts, open minds, and open arms to be truly his disciples!

It is with the heart that one must listen to the Word to produce good and plentiful fruit, it is in the heart where every disciple of the Lord must meditate and treasure his Word like his Blessed Mother Mary “who kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk.2:19).

When the heart is cleansed of its impurities, it opens to God and to others, gets filled with the Holy Spirit to become like the Father who is merciful and loving as revealed by Jesus Christ.

Recall how in Genesis God created everything by simply speaking because his speech and being are one. In the prologue of the fourth gospel, we find how the Logos – the Word who is Jesus Christ became flesh to save us and make us experience God himself which he fully expressed while proclaiming the Book of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth while launching his ministry (Third Sunday, 23 January 2022).

This Sunday we find everything coming to full circle, showing us the whole picture of Jesus and his mission, of his plans for us to be like the Father.

And here lies our problem so often when our words betray our true character, when our speech and being do not match, when what we say is far from what we live.

Image from Google.

Our sharing in the power of God to love

Of all that God has created, only humans were gifted with the ability to communicate intelligibly. Unlike the animals and other creatures, only us humans can speak to express what we feel, what we know, what we want.

Our ability to communicate is in fact a sharing in the power of God, a power to serve in love like Jesus, not power to dominate or lord it over upon others as the world sees and uses it.

This is why Ben Sirach reminds us in the first reading to hold our praises of any person, especially the eloquent speakers because words are empty unless supported by actions. One’s real worth is found in times of trials and tests like “what the potter molds in the furnace” (Sir. 27:5).

It is Jesus Christ himself, his very words who purify us his disciples to be able to preach his good news of salvation to others in words and in deeds without any duplicity and hypocrisy.

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, 21 February 2022.

The Lord is not asking us to stop criticizing nor be silent in the midst of so many injustices and evil around us. That remains an integral part of preaching the good news, of standing for what is true and just; however, Jesus is demanding us his disciples to always examine our very selves to see the kind of deeds that arise from our hearts.

Our actions, our very lives reveal the purity of our hearts, of our intentions and of our sentiments.

This is the reason why we priests and bishops are always doubted and even questioned by so many faithful whenever we denounce the many ills in the society, when we speak against social injustices, against corruption in government because our lives do not match our words. The worst and most painful part of it is when people see our “double-standard” with priests who lead lives so far from the Good Shepherd, that instead of taking care of the flock, there are some of us who take advantage of the poor sheep entrusted to us!

Today’s gospel challenges us, especially us your priests, if we lead a truly Christian life with preferential options for the poor?

Let us not be contented with outside appearances only, especially this coming Lenten Season. Take Jesus and his words into our hearts.

Discipleship is not about frequenting the church, reciting all the prayers, observing all the rites and rituals and devotions nor just denouncing the wrongs in the society nor fund-raising for so many projects for the benefit of the poor.

Discipleship is bringing to fruition all our prayers and faith expressions to loving service for one another. If not, we might just stay home so as to minimize the damages and hurts to the Body of Christ.

Let us continue to strive in purifying our hearts with the Word so that we may bear much fruits of good works in our lives, to “be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, 21 February 2022.

Huli ka!

Lawiswis Ng Salita ni P. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Ika-8 ng Pebrero 2022
Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com
Huli ka!
Mga salitang 
kinatatakutan,
hangga't maari ay
iniiwasan, 
tinatakasan,
tinatakbuhan dahil sa
tiyak na kapahamakan.
Ngunit mayroong 
bukod tanging pagkakataon 
ang salitang "huli ka" ay
katuwa-tuwa, 
dala ay galak
hindi takot at pangamba
bagkus kaluwagan
at kasaganaan.
Larawan kuha ni G. Jim Marpa, 2018.

Pagkatapos ni Jesus magsalita ay sinabi niya kay Simon, “Pumalaot kayo at ihulog ang mga lambat upang manghuli.” Sumagot si Simon, “Guro, magdamag po kaming nagpagod at wala kaming nahuli! Ngunit dahil sa sinabi ninyo, ihuhulog ko ang mga lambat.” Gayon nga ang ginawa nila at sa dami ng kanilang huli ay halos magkansisira kanilang mga lambat.

Lucas 5:4-6
Ano nga ba nangyari
magdamag wala silang huli
nagkubli ba mga isda
sa dilim ng gabi?
Paano ang nangyari nang
si Jesus ay nagsabi,
mga isda ay dumaiti
mga bangka napuno ng huli?
Araw-araw
dumarating si Jesus
sa buhay natin
upang tayo ay hulihin:
hindi upang pagdusahin
sa mga pagkakasala natin
bagkus upang lubusin
mga pagpapala niya sa atin.
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, 2018.
Kasabihan ng matatanda
sa bibig nahuhuli ang isda,
ngunit sinabi ni Jesus
sa bibig ng Diyos nagmumula
tunay na pagkain sa atin nagpapala
lahat ng pagpapagal at pagsisikap natin
 makabuluhan mayroon mang kabiguan
hindi mahuhuli ang Diyos sa kanyang kabutihan!
Parating abangan pagdaraan ni Jesus
pakinggan kanyang panawagan
at kung siya ay ating matagpuan
sana'y ating iwanan ang lahat
upang siya ay masundan
pamamalakaya sa sanlibutan
hindi mo pagsisihan, buhay na walang hanggan 
tiyak makakamtan ngayon pa lamang!
Larawan kuha ng may-akda, 31 Disyembre 2021.

Living, loving amid contradictions

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday IV-C in Ordinary Time, 30 January 2022
Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19 ><}}}}*> 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 ><}}}}*> Luke 4:21-30
Photo by Dr. Mai B. Dela Peña, Santorini, Greece, 2017.

Life and love are full of contradictions that make both so wonderful, so appealing, and so engaging. The more contradictions we encounter in life and love, the more we become better persons, more like Jesus Christ who is himself “the sign of contradiction”.

We are still inside the synagogue at Nazareth where Jesus had come one sabbath, proclaiming – and claiming himself as the fulfillment of that part from the Book of Isaiah he had read. And here we find him already a sign of contradiction at the inauguration of his ministry!

People were amazed with him at the beginning but, soon enough, their true colors appeared: first, they doubted him for being the “son of Joseph”; then, they became hostile to him after hearing him say how God sent Elijah and Elisha to help pagans after being rejected too by their ancestors.

He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was none to these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

Luke 4:23-30
Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, a Black Winged Stilt (Himantropus himantopus), Quezon Province, 27 January 2022.

Making a choice, taking a stand with Jesus

It is true that there are always two or even many sides to a story; that is why, it is imperative that we make a choice for what is true which we must accept and believe and hold on. That was the challenge posed by Jesus Christ to the people at the synagogue and to us today: which part of the scriptures do we fulfill today, his coming or his rejection?

While the gospel is good news, it is not always comfortable because it dares us to be like Jesus Christ, freely living in love and in truth. His gospel challenges us always to change our ways and be witnesses of his justice and mercy.

Last Sunday, we are told that every time we listen and take to heart the words of God found in the scriptures, Jesus becomes present among us, “fulfilled in our hearing”; today, we are challenged to affirm and live the word of God daily in words and in deeds.

And that is where the ironies, the contradictions begin when we make a stand for Jesus and his gospel: his words and teachings are all about love and mercy, kindness and care for one another but, the more we preach and practice them, the more life becomes difficult for us. The more we love, the more we are hurt.

Photo by author, 2019.

Like Jesus, every time we come out in the open to make a stand on what is true and just, good and proper, there will always be rejections. When we speak the truth, there will always be some or many who would be hurt and disturbed from the illusions (even delusions) they have been holding on.

It is the most unkindest cut of all, so to speak: the ones who reject us, the ones who feel “hurt” with our stance are the ones closest to us, the ones we are serving, the ones whose lives we are trying to uplift by liberating them from darkness and ignorance, sins and evil.

We have a Filipino saying that goes, “mahirap gisingin ang nagtutulug-tulugan” (it is difficult to wake up one pretending to be asleep).

That was the problem with the people of Nazareth at that time and even with some of us today: we can be easily astonished with one’s proclamations and words but it can happen that such rave can also mean doubts and skepticism. Some people are not really surprised and even if they ask for more proofs and arguments, no amount of explanations can ever enlighten them because they trust more in themselves and in their illusions of having the truth. They have already made up their minds and would keep on holding on their beliefs.

Worst of all, any appealing discourse is rendered useless and immaterial when people take on the person proclaiming or speaking like Jesus Christ: “Is this not Joseph’s son?”

Now we see the contradictions becoming more pronounced than ever when it involves the person. It always happens everywhere wherein it is the messenger, not the message, who becomes the focus and issue at hand. And here we have the perfect communicator of all, Jesus Christ who is both the medium and the message rejected by his own folks and by us today when we insist on the truths we believe in!

It has always been like that since the beginning of the Church until our present day when those who should have been the first to accept the good news and its preachers have reacted exactly like the folks of Jesus at Nazareth! More than 50 years after Vatican II, until now there are still those who continue to reject the reforms and changes we have in the Church, insisting on maintaining the past that was also borne out of developments in the course of history.

Sometimes I find it amusing whenever we put distinctions between “practicing” and “non-practicing” Catholics. Why be called a Catholic or a Christian at all if you do not practice or believe the teachings of our faith and of the Church?

Photo by author, April 2020.

The power of love that surpasses all others

Luke noted at the end of our story today how Jesus “passed through the people and went away” when they tried to hurl him down headlong at the brow of the hill on which their town was built. See their murderous intents against Jesus, their kin?!

But Jesus simply walked away from them, unharmed.

Like the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading, God assures his prophets and each one of us today how he would protect us every time we make a stand for the Gospel, when we live by the values of the Gospel.

We may not concretely experience God’s protection and deliverance in the given moment but we know from the life of Jesus that God is always present with us, especially at the nick of time, leading us to life eternal.

But, there is still something more to that image of Jesus “passing through” the people; it is very evocative of his own passover that would happen on Good Friday at the cross. For now, there would be so many oppositions and contradictions to him but nothing and no one can deter him from proclaiming his good news of salvation to all.

Like Jesus in this scene, we are invited to follow him in his path, to continue listening and internalizing his words, put it into practice in our daily lives which is a daily passing over, of passing through many contradictions and doubts sometimes from people supposed to love and understand us, accept us.

And that is why Paul encourages us in the second reading to choose a “more excellent way” that surpasses all other gifts, the way of love.

As I have told you earlier, life becomes more appealing and wonderful, so enriching when there are many contradictions coming our way because that is when we truly experience the power and meaning of love in Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters: “Love is patient, love is kind… It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

1 Corinthians 12: 4, 7, 8

When doubts are cast upon us by others, especially those closest to us whenever we persevere in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in words and in deeds, that is also when our love for him and for others is purified and made perfect.

It is very difficult and would always be painful but it is during these contradictions when our lives become more meaningful because of the love that we have and share. Remember the beautiful reminder about loving from St. John of the Cross, “The soul that walks in love never gets tired nor tires others.” Just love, love, love.

Jesus gives us the grace today of meaningful life lived in love if we listen and internalize his words, choosing to make a stand for him by fulfilling his words in deeds despite the many doubts and contradictions around us, especially from people we love and trust.

Have a blessed week ahead!

Photo by Dr. Mylene A. Santos, MD, a Black Winged Stilt (Himantropus himantopus), Quezon Province, 27 January 2022.

Listening leads to presence

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday III-C in Ordinary Time, 23 January 2022
Nehemiah 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10 ><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27 ><}}}*> Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21
Photo by author, Baguio Cathedral, January 2019.

I am still in quarantine after testing positive for COVID last Monday. One good thing I have realized these past days is how precious every moment of life as I counted each day, checking on my vital signs three times daily until I will have completed soon the required seven days.

Sometimes, we only realize the existential meaning and gravity of every “today” when we go through a difficult phase in life like getting COVID or like the Israelites finally getting home from exile, suddenly hearing the word of God proclaimed after many years of silence:

Then Ezra the priest-scribe said to all the people “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep,” for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. He said further, “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”

Nehemiah 8:9-10

There are also times in our lives when suddenly we become so open to God’s words, so focused on Jesus to experience his presence like that sabbath day in a synagogue in Nazareth:

Photo by author, January 2019.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the yes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:20-21

Thanks to COVID that now I have felt how difficult it is to be separated from everyone, considering the mild symptoms I had as a fully vaxxed with booster too. It must have been so traumatizing for those who caught the virus during the early surges of 2020 and 2021 without the benefits of the vaccines and other modern medicines. Many of them who survived COVID or have lost loved ones until now feel the pains and hurts of those experiences. Indeed, it is after a difficult situation when we truly realize the value of every present moment we have with our loved ones, when everyone becomes so real and precious, when every present is truly a gift.

Today our readings invite us to slow down, to saunter – so to speak – as we journey in Jesus with Luke as our guide who at his prologue to his gospel tells us how he had “investigated everything accurately anew” regarding the “certainty of teachings of Jesus handed down” to us since the beginning (cf. Lk.1:3-4). Like with our loved ones we miss so much these days of quarantine and surge, Jesus reminds us to always listen to make everyone and him present in us.

Our conscious coming into the Father’s house

Last Sunday at the Feast of the Sto. Niño we reflected how we exercise our child-like traits before God whenever we go into “the Father’s house” like the 12-year old Jesus who was found at the Temple. Our going into the Father’s house to pray and receive the Sacraments expresses our rootedness and oneness with God through Jesus Christ.

This Sunday in our gospel, we find Jesus going again into his Father’s house to “proclaim and claim” the word of God as his very presence among us.

Imagine his movements in “slo-mo” when “He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” (Lk.4:16-18).

It must have been a moving moment for everyone. So mesmerizing for here was a man so present, so strongly felt with something in him freely walking up to proclaim the word of God. And what an experience for everyone that after “Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk.4:21).

That “today” would be repeated by Jesus with the same intensity on Good Friday shortly before he died when he promised to Dimas “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk.23:43).

But, do we make that conscious approach in coming into the Father’s house to celebrate the Sacraments particularly the Sunday Eucharist where the first part itself is devoted to the liturgy of the Word?

Photo by author, April 2020.

In non-verbal communications, we have that communication of spaces called “proxemics”, of how places are designed and positioned to convey something special and profound. Houses of worship of every faith are built on this important aspect of proxemics as every space conveys something about God and his people.

One example of proxemics is the patio of the church with its tall cross at the middle to remind the faithful they are about to enter the Father’s house, of their need to dispose themselves both inside and outside by being silent and being dressed properly.

Sadly, many churches in the country has no patio at all or its patio had become a parking area and worst, a basketball court. What is most tragic is how all these dispositions of coming into the Sunday Mass are disregarded by many people, led by church volunteers who talk endlessly with one another while some priests dress and look sloppily. This is one of the positive aspects of the Tridentine or Latin Mass where the atmosphere of solemnity fills the church and the people as well – and that is why many of the faithful are asking for it! A good example of what St. Paul tells us about the unity in diversity within the Church in the Holy Spirit.

How can we experience the “today” of Jesus being present in us and among us when we do not have such kind of attitude and disposition to listen to him which begins outside the church? If we cannot do it in the proxemics or spatial level, how can we even do it right inside our hearts, whether we are laypeople or the clergy?

Listening to Christ today

One of my favorite writings by the great St. John Paul II is Ecclesia de Eucharistia published in 2003. He tells us something so beautiful about the “universal and cosmic character” of the Eucharist which for me captures the essence of the “today” mentioned by Jesus in the gospel:

Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #8).

Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #8

This is very true but we rarely experience it happening because we have refused to immerse ourselves in the very words of God. So few among our people read and pray the scriptures while many of us priests rarely speak the Lord’s words as we prefer to tell what we have seen or heard in media or from some famous theologians or thinkers.

Whatever our vocation and place in the Church and the assembly, each of us must immerse one’s self in the word of God first because it is his very presence too. In the story of creation, we learned how everything came into being simply with the words spoken by God.

Photo by author, ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum in Galilee frequented by Jesus, May 2017.

This Sunday we have heard how Jesus “read” on a sabbath at a synagogue in Nazareth, of how in his proclamation of that part of the Book of Isaiah the very words were fulfilled in their hearing.

It happens daily in the celebration of the Mass everywhere in the world whenever we – lay and clergy alike – imitate Jesus, asking us first of all to come with strong desire to be one with the Father, whether in his house of worship or in our room when we pray the scriptures.

Let us enter God with Jesus and in Jesus in the Sacred Books to find him there so we can listen to him how and what he reads, not what we want to hear and say.

We can only touch the hearts of the people and make them hear God speaking again in his words offered us daily in the Mass if we first learn and listen to what Jesus reads and tells us. It is only then when we hear the Word who became flesh that we are able to respond, “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.” Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead.

Rejoicing in the Word of God

The Lord Is My Chef Daily Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Memorial of St. Jerome, Priest & Doctor of the Church, 30 September 2021
Nehemiah 8:1-4, 5-6, 7-12  ><]]]]*> + ><]]]]*> + ><]]]]*>   Luke 10:1-12
Photo by author (2017), mosaic at the Chapel of St. Jerome beneath the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem where the saint had lived and died in 420; many years later, his bones were transferred to the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.
What a blessed Thursday 
you have given us today, 
our dear loving God the Father
as we celebrate the Memorial 
of St. Jerome who taught us that
"ignorance of the scriptures is
ignorance of Jesus Christ".
In him we find hope and consolation
to tame our cantankerous attitudes
in this age of too much means of 
communication that lead to more  
quarrels and division than peace and unity;
give us the grace, O Lord
that like St. Jerome we may assiduously
pray, study, and most of all, live 
the Sacred Scriptures so we may be emptied 
of our many impurities to be filled with
your humility and kindness.
How wonderful that on this day
the first reading describes to us the 
great joy your words have brought to
your exiles upon their return to Jerusalem;
let us give the proper respect due to your
words, dear God, for they are life!

Then Nehemiah, that is, His Excellency, and Ezra the priest-scribe and the Levites who were instructing the people said to all the people: “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep,” for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. He said further: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”

Nehemiah 8:9-10
Bless us your priests, Father,
who are supposed to be men of the Word
according to Vatican II that we may
"enflesh" your holy words like Jesus
the eternal Word who became flesh
so that indeed, as your Son had said 
in today's gospel, people would pray
for more laborers in the field than
anything else to feed their hunger
and thirst for meaning in this life.
Amen.

Words, words, words!

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Week XX, Year I in Ordinary Time, 19 August 2021
Judges 11:29-39   ><)))*> + ><)))*> + ><)))*>   Matthew 22:1-14
Photo by author, Jerusalem at dawn, May 2017.
God our loving Father,
please make me conscious
beginning today of every word
that I say, of its meaning and
implications; better, teach me
to be silent and still, to speak only
when necessary, avoiding especially
making any oath even before you.

Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. “If you deliver the Ammonites into my power,” he said, “whoever comes ot of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites shall belong to the Lord. I shall offer him up as a burnt offering. When Jephthah returned to his house in Mizpah (after defeating the Ammonites), it was his daughter who came forth, playing the tambourines and dancing. She was an only child: he had neither son nor daughter besides her. When he saw her, he rent his garments and said, “Alas, daughter, you have struck me down and brought calamity upon me. For I have made a vow to the Lord and I cannot retract.”

Judges 11:30-31, 34-35
"Words, words, words!" 
Like Hamlet, we read and say 
many words without meaning, 
falsely believing words become true
when multiplied and said over and over
not realizing the most powerful words
ever spoken where those borne out of
silence when you created everything.
Give us the grace, dear God,
to be like Jesus your Son, 
"the Word who became flesh"
to be a person of credibility
and integrity whose "yes" means "yes"
and "no" means "no" - always dressed
in "wedding garment" for your
banquet in heaven (cf.Mt.22:12-14).
Amen.

Mary, mirror of God’s greatness

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 15 August 2021
Revelation 11:19-12:1-6,10 ><}}}*> 1 Corinthians 15:20-27 ><}}}*> Luke 1:39-56
Photo by author, December 2020.

We take a break this Sunday from our readings in the bread of life discourse in John’s gospel to celebrate on this date the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary following Pope Pius XII’s dogma in 1950 that at the close of her earthly life, Mary was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.

Without telling the manner or the circumstances of time and place of the Assumption, its dogma forms part of the deposit of our faith received from the Apostles as attested by its long line of traditions since the Pentecost. It is so important that its celebration supersedes the liturgy of any Sunday because it invites us all to see in Mary raised to heaven the image of the Church and of all the faithful on our way to eternal glory with God.

It is a very timely celebration while we are in the midst of another lockdown due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, giving us hope and inspiration to persevere in all these difficulties and trials to become better disciples of Jesus like his beloved Mother.

Photo by author at the Assumption Sabbath, Baguio City, 2019.

Mary, a type of the Church

Our first reading today presents us with two images of a woman that seem to contradict each other with scenes that anti-climactic, flowing in the reverse mode. It could have been better as in most cases that the first scene depicting the woman in all glory should have been last instead of the woman in childbirth pains and dangers that comes in second. Is it not the sorrowful always comes first leading to glory?

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems.

Revelation 12:1-3

It is easy to see the Blessed Virgin Mary in that woman depicted in John’s vision especially if we continue reading on to find the title and authority attributed to her child as our Savior Jesus Christ. But modern biblical studies go deeper than that simplistic view: the scenes speak more of the birth of Christ among us his disciples. It is “painful” because it takes place amid many evil and sins like persecutions and temptations symbolized by the red dragon; but, amid all these, Jesus remains among us, leading us, protecting us, and blessing us. Hence, the woman in this passage becomes a symbol of the Church in the glory of God following Christ’s Resurrection while at the same time in the midst of many earthly battles.

Of course, no other woman can best fit that image than Mary who gave birth to Jesus, who has always been in the most intimate relationship with her son as disciple among all humankind. And because of her role in relationship to her Son, to us his disciples also his Body as community, Mary is the image or type of the Church still giving painful birth to believers like in this time of the pandemic while we are already assured of glory in heaven as children of God. Vatican II perfectly expressed it in declaring:

“By reason of the gift and role of divine maternity, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with His singular graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united with the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ.”

Lumen Gentium #63

With that, Mary has also become the mirror of God’s greatness in all time, the very reason we venerate her as first among the saints and angels because it is also the same call of holiness to us all as children of the Father and disciples of Christ. It is in this framework that we celebrate her Assumption, especially when we profess every Sunday: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of body and life everlasting. Amen.”

Photo by author, Nazareth, 2019.

Greatness of God, lowliness of Mary

As we have mentioned at the start, the dogma of the Assumption of Mary does not go into details how it took place. What matters most is the fact of the Assumption of Mary, body and soul. Like with her Immaculate Conception, there are no direct nor explicit biblical references to her Assumption; however, from the collective meditations and contemplations in the Church, we find vast and rich sources in reflecting the beauty and wonder of the Blessed Mother’s unique place in our salvation history.

For the Mass of the day of the Solemnity, we contemplate on Mary’s canticle called Magnificat which she sang after being praised by her cousin Elizabeth during the Visitation.

And Mary said:
"My soul proclaims 
the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generation will call me
blessed:  the Almighty has done 
great things for me, and holy is his Name."
(Luke 1:46-49)

It was the first proclamation of the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ whom Mary first received and shared first with her cousin Elizabeth in a town in Judah. See how in the Visitation Elizabeth praised and admired Mary, becoming the first to call her “blessed among women” because “she believed the word spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk.1:45). Instead of giving back her praise and admiration to Elizabeth who was pregnant with John the Baptist at that time despite her old age and being barren, Mary sang praises to God like the other great women in the Old Testament after experiencing God’s extraordinary acts in their personal lives and in Israel’s history.

Though we may never have the same personal experiences of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as members of the Church she represents, we can always look through her Magnificat the extent we have also become the mirror of the greatness of God especially at this time when everybody seems to doubt his loving presence in this time of the pandemic.


 It is the reason why we also sing the Magnificat 
during our evening prayers in the Church because 
before we can ever praise God for his kindness and majesty, 
we must first allow him to work in us by being lowly before him like Mary.

See how the Magnificat sings of the depths of Mary’s soul and her faith, of her perfect obedience to the word of God and the mission entrusted to her. Very clear in its lyrical expression, the focus and center is God, not Mary. It is the reason why we also sing the Magnificat during our evening prayers in the Church because before we can ever praise God for his kindness and majesty, we must first allow him to work in us by being lowly before him like Mary.

Have we truly been God’s lowly servant like Mary, allowing God to work his great wonders through us?

Three things I wish to share with you on Mary’s lowliness that enabled God to work his wonders through her:

First is her openness to the word of God like in the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus. Mary had a prayer life, a discipline of making time with God, setting her self aside for the Lord. Prayer is always the start of every relationship with God. That is when we truly become humble to lose control of ourselves, to forget our selves and let God in the Holy Spirit dwell into us. Even in the darkest moments of our lives, there will always be that glimmer of hope because the Holy Spirit enlightens us in our paths.

Second is Mary’s saying “YES” to God. She does not merely listen to God; she says “be it done unto me according to your word.” From the very start, Mary never doubted God in his wisdom and plans that she always said yes. One most beautiful expression by the evangelists of Mary saying yes to God is whenever Mary would “treasure in her heart” words of Jesus and of others.

But Mary’s greatest yes happened at the Cross, in her sharing in the Paschal Mystery of her Son Jesus Christ, being the only other disciple who remained with the Lord until his death. No wonder, it was to her based on tradition that the Risen Lord first appeared on Easter.

Third is Mary’s fidelity to God, her yes was not just a one-shot deal but an everyday yes to Jesus even after he had ascended into heaven. The Acts of the Apostles tells us explicitly how Mary was among the disciples present inside the upper room at Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost. Throughout the ages in her numerous apparitions, Mary said yes to God delivering Jesus Christ’s call for us to penance and conversion, to prayers and the Holy Eucharist especially at Fatima in Portugal.

“The Assumption of the Virgin” by Italian Renaissance painter Titian completed in 1518 for the main altar of Frari church in Venice. Photo from wikidata.org.

Mary went through many hardships and difficulties in her life and in the history of Israel, coming from an obscure town that was a butt of jokes of their time like when Nathanael asked Philip who claimed to have found Jesus Christ, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? (Jn.1:45)”.

In this time of the pandemic, the vision of John in the first reading becomes more real when people refuse to recognize the spiritual dimension of COVID-19, of the need to be converted and to again nurture that relationship with God following decades of affluence and materialism. Like Mary, let us be humble to accept we are not the masters of this world nor of our own life but God almighty.

We are called to persevere with Mary, to be strong in our faith and charity that God will never forsake us so we can be present among the poor and marginalized including those spirits weakened by the prolonged quarantines.

With Mary, let us believe the words of St. Paul how all will come to life again – body and soul like Mary – in the final end of time that begins right now, right here in the midst of all these trials and sufferings. Amen.

Have a blessed week ahead!