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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Sunday in the Thirty-first Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle A, 05 November 2023
Malachi 1:14-2:2, 8-10 ><}}}}*> 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13 ><}}}}*> Matthew 23:1-12
Photo by author, Malagos Orchid Farm, Davao City, 2017.

More than 18 years ago when we were assigned to a parish in our concurrent positions as school administrators in Malolos, an older priest offered to help us think of “gimmicks” so people would come to our parish. He insisted how the Church must have “marketing strategies” to attract more people celebrate Mass especially on Sundays.

After that older priest had left, I told our Rector to dismiss everything he had heard. I explained to him we do not need any marketing strategies because we have the best to offer – God in Jesus Christ. I stressed to him that only two things are essential in the parish: good liturgy that flows to good service.

A few years later, I was assigned to a parish of my own and held on that conviction. Modesty aside, that parish entrusted to me grew and became so vibrant during my nine years of stay there. Even during the pandemic lockdown, we continued with our good liturgies on line and in the ground that enabled us to serve everyone, especially the poor regardless of their religion. We never asked donations but people volunteered to give cash and goods to sustain the parish and our outreach programs.

Photo by Ms. Ria De Vera, Christ the King procession in November 2020.

Our readings today are very timely as the Synod on Synodality concluded in Rome recently that sought new ways in getting everyone in the Church especially those in the margins may journey together in Christ, with Christ to God our Father.

Although we priests and bishops remain as the biggest problems in the Church since the beginning like the Pharisees and scribes during the time of Jesus, having a good and meaningful liturgy that is living and fruitful is everyone’s responsibility.

And now, O priests, this commandment is for you: If you do not listen, and if you do not lay it to heart, to give glory to my name, says the Lird of hosts, I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I will make a curse. You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction; you have made void the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 2:1-2, 8

How appropriate were the words by Prophet Malachi spoken in 480 BC who invites us too today to examine the manner we celebrate the liturgy in our communities, the spirit and seriousness that animate us, the image of God our celebrations project.

Is God still among us in our liturgy that after every celebration, we find him in our midst?

Is there still a sense of awe and wonder, of mysterium fascinans or we – priests and people – have replaced God in our worship?

Malachi was right on target then and now in echoing God’s anger and frustrations at the sight of our degenerate and perverted worship where anything goes as if God does not see us. And worst, as if we could fool him when our hearts are divided and so far from him and from one another which Jesus tried fixing these past two Sundays.

Photo by Mr. Gelo Nicolas, Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan, February 2020.

Jesus had silenced his enemies today in our gospel, he took it to unleash to them – and us – powerful tirades against their hypocrisies (and ours too), of how far our hearts been from God and one another, lacking in love due to its being so divided.

What a way to conclude his teachings these past two Sundays after failed attempts by his enemies to trick him into saying things that could lead to his arrest and execution.

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.

Matthew 23:1-5

These past two Sundays, Jesus stressed the need of purifying our hearts so that we may give to God what is due to him which is our total selves. To purify our hearts, to have a clean heart to see God as in his beatitudes we heard proclaimed on All Saints Day means to enter into a communion with Jesus Christ, the One with the purest and cleanest heart who truly loves God and all of us.

Photo by author, St. Scholastica Retreat House, Baguio City, August 2023.

Today Jesus is calling us to walk our talk, to mean what we believe and say, to be true as his disciples who choose to love and suffer for God, who finds value in God dwelling in our hearts not in things outside like names and ranks, titles and designations, clothes and other signs.

Today Jesus is calling us to live and relate honestly with others wherein our whole selves – words and actions, body and soul – are united by hearts inclined, resting in God.

Today Jesus is calling us to focus on him alone for he is our only true Teacher and Master who lovingly humbled himself as servant of all to lead us to God our one Father in heaven.

Of course, Jesus is not asking us to disregard nor dismiss all titles and designations that define our roles and functions not only in the liturgy but even in the family and society. When we learn to give what is due to Caesar and what is due to God, then we discover that our proper “seat” is in this life is in the place of a servant and that our true “place of honor” is at God’s kingdom where everyone is equal. When we have this clearly in our minds and in our hearts, then, our words and deeds are no longer in opposition like the Pharisees and scribes who did not practice what they preached because we have become witnesses to integrity of self as disciples of Christ.

Photo by author, Our Lady of Fatima University, Valenzuela, 13 September 2023.

Vatican II rightly and beautifully called the liturgy as “fons et culmen” – the fount from which all blessings of our faith flow and the apex or summit of our lives as Christians, as disciples of Christ.

How true is our worship of God?

St. Paul gave us a glimpse of their living worship in Thessalonica, picturesquely telling them how “they were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had tou become to us” (1Thes. 2:7-8).

How I wish we priests could be so sincere like St. Paul to the people and most especially to our Lord! This Sunday, may our worship be our lives too in Jesus like the admonition of St. Augustine to his congregation when distributing the Holy Communion, “Become what you receive: the Body of Christ”. Amen. Have a blessed new week!

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