Saturday, 14 March 2020

Jesus said, "... Do this in remembrance of me."

This evening, thanks to a Jesuit I have never met in person, I have found the words to articulate where I am coming from when I say I support the Bishop's decision to continue the suspension of Mass.

In short, it is to protect lives.  

Let's go back to the Gospels.

Luke 22:18-20 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

"for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood."

For the first time in my Catholic life, I paused at the word "this" and suddenly, I asked, "What is He asking us to do in remembrance of Him?"

How does one remember another who is deceased? Over these years, I wondered a few times what losing a parent would be like. What would I do in my attempt to continue loving my parents but in a different way since they were no longer with me? My answer has not changed. I would let their legacy live on in my life, that my life bears the imprint of their lives. That when I am relating with others, I am always mindful of the love they have selflessly, unconditionally showered upon me - the ungrateful and undeserving one. And in this same way, I love others, as if in the name of my parents. 

To remember is more than a mere mental thought and process of calling something to mind again. It is to feel again, to experience again. To relive the encounter, allowing it to shape my person. 

So what was Jesus really saying as He instituted the Eucharist? What could He mean? I am no biblical scholar and I do not speak for the Church. But here's what I understand.

Yes. We participate in the Eucharist - the Holy Mass. Through the whole liturgy, as the hymn goes, "We remember how You loved us to Your death..." Jesus came to bring us the Good News, What is this Good News?

Luke 4:16-19 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

It is this Good News that Jesus is so convinced about (Read Jesus: An Historical Approximation by Jose Antonio Pagola) and wanted the people to experience, to encounter in Him, and then come to believe, to receive hope from, and to start living it out in their lives. Not even death was going to stop Him from proclaiming this radical love of the Father, which the Father had sent Him to proclaim. 

I would like to suggest then that we participate in the Eucharist not only because Jesus was instituting the Eucharist as He said to "do this in remembrance of me". Rather, we do so so that we can remember how we have received this Good News, how we have experienced God in our lives so that our lives thereafter will bear the imprint of God's life in us. Perhaps, "this" might then point towards what Jesus was foretelling in Luke 22:18-20 - that He Himself is the Lamb - blessed, broken, poured out for others. Bearing this imprint in our lives is to, ourselves, be blessed, broken and poured out for others. This is our participation in the continuation of the mission Christ began, that through us, His Body, He can bring all of God's labouring all through Salvation History to completion. 

All of which culminates in the one greatest commandment Jesus explicitly stated as a command:

John 13:34-35 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

We remember our Trinitarian God through Jesus by loving as He loves. And in a pandemic situation we are all in now, loving others is working hard to protect everyone - not just our loved ones. 

"For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?" Matthew 5:46 (RSV)

We are not diminishing the essence or the centrality of Mass to the faith. And we are most certainly not renouncing our faith or turning our backs on God with the suspension of Mass. Instead, we are proclaiming our faith in concrete ways by depriving ourselves of such an important sign of grace (which is what Sacrament is) so that as many as possible may have life. 

James 2:14-20 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 
But some one will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren?

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Holding Ourselves in Grief


When I was young, I was attracted to a friend and wanted very much to be with him. A very good-natured person I could feel safe with. But things happened quite differently from what I had hoped for and we never got together. I remember crying over it for about 3 days, after which, I decided to protect my heart from hurt and I mastered the art - the deadly art - of shutting out my emotions. I thought to myself that it was not worth crying over and I wanted to be strong, not weak. 

Today, decades later, by God's grace, I have come to recognise that grieving a loss is not an act of the weak. It takes great courage and strength to remain with, to grieve, to allow ourselves to feel the intensity and the reality of what the loss truly means to us, to recall all the memories of times spent together, to face the still emptiness left behind in our hearts and in the physical spaces around us. 

We can find comfort in the fact that a relationship cannot be completely discontinued. Even in death, as Christians, we believe that life has changed. It is not ended. And if life continues, though in a different form, so does the relationship - it is adjusted, takes on another more unfamiliar form, but it continues. And the ways love is given and received in this new form of relationship also go through a transformation. 

I believe that a loved one's passing is a point in the journey of the relationship that presents us with an invitation we do not usually have or pay attention to in the normal pulse of daily living. It is an invitation to look back at the relationship, to encounter the experiences again - this time from a distance that allows us a broader view - and to become aware of what these experiences mean to us in ways they never did. To allow this whole process to take us eventually to how we desire to continue living out this relationship in the days and years ahead of us. That this person we have temporarily parted with means so much to us, it speaks of the impact he or she has made in our lives, how our lives were made positively different as a result. All the more, the footprints this person has left in us need to continue finding its tangible expressions in our lives. 

All of these are found in the very painful, transitional period of waiting, in which we could choose, as I did, to erect a fortress around our hearts to block out our emotions. It is after all easier not to feel. Our days and nights can go on without too much unwanted disruptions. But can we really say we are alive without our true emotions? 

If we have really loved someone, we would know that the emptiness will never quite find a substitute, the tears will never quite fully be wiped away. At least not in our lifetimes. And if we have really loved someone, we would be driven by this power of love to pain, to cry, to weep, to sit in silence, to revisit, to miss, to yearn, to adore.

In grief, we feel in our bones an excruciating pain so hard to hold and yet, this holding is the one great act of love, an enduring act of honouring the preciousness of our loved one. Because of love, we hold our disoriented selves with patience, gentleness and docility in the great pain of loss. And we are only able to love this courageously by first being held ourselves in the infinite love of our God. 

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Advent has INDEED begun for me

I've spent this 1st week of Advent pretty much in waiting. Earlier this week, I experienced what waiting for my Grab car can feel like in a city like Bangkok, quite renowned for its traffic jams. A wait of more than 10 minutes was quite the norm. Waiting in the jams, waiting for the plane that was delayed and waiting as the plane flew me back to Singapore. It wasn't a pleasant wait at all with a fever and the short flight from Bangkok felt unending. And then came the wait to disembark, the wait for the luggage.

I waited through the night with a high temperature, just to wait some more at my doctor's the next morning. (She was very kind to see me earlier than expected!) I waited for my temperature to drop, for the cough to stop, for the alternating shivers and perspiration to end. When it is a viral fever, I have learned that there is nothing anyone can do and I just got to wait. I waited in bed the past 3 days to feel more strength, waited for the time I could finally sit up to eat without seeing stars.

Time passed me by without waiting and still I have to wait.

To be honest, I got tired of waiting. It is more annoying to wait this time because I have another trip this Saturday to prepare for. And since it is a retreat, I feel all the more the need to prepare well. It explains the growing frustration that I seem to have wasted 3 days sleeping. And I don't even know if I'll be fit to fly by Saturday though the fever subsided yesterday. More than the physical readiness, I have not packed or run any of my errands. I just don't feel ready for the retreat at all levels.

It is no coincidence that we have just begun this season of Advent. A time of waiting. Mary and Joseph waited 9 months for the arrival of the Son of God. The Jews waited through generations for God to send the Messiah to deliver them from the hands of their enemies. There was a lot of waiting, of anticipation. Unlike my kind of waiting, where I know that if God wills, I will recover my health and I know how that roughly looks like and feels like, the kind of waiting Mary, Joseph and the Jewish people were involved in weren't so defined. In fact, baby Jesus had to wait in Mary's womb too!

But whatever the wait may be like, could it be that the one common purpose (though it may not be the sole purpose) of waiting is to learn to let go of being in control? Of learning that if I care to be honest, I cannot control time and viruses, cures and health. I cannot control when God comes and how He comes and in what form He comes. I may have my plans of what I feel I need to do before my retreat, in preparation for my retreat. But isn't it another timely reminder that I am not the God of my retreat? Can I stop being panicky about being out of control and let go of my fixed ideas of how things need to be and so be finally able to trustingly fall into the unknown of my mysterious God who never fail to surprise me?

Perhaps, there isn't a better way for me to begin Advent. And this is how I am beginning. By allowing myself to lose control more and more. In the waiting, to come to a more authentic self-knowledge and God-knowledge. To learn to be human. And then, perhaps, in my more authentic humanity, I can truly welcome into my emptied heart the King of kings, the humble Child, the Messiah.

I shall wait, in humility and poverty.

How will you wait?

Saturday, 2 November 2019

From Fear to Love

Image result for fear

This morning, after reading this terrifying news report (click on link to CNA), I was clearly feeling fearful. Fearful of falling prey to these evil people who seem to have lost all sense of life's sanctity, the sanctity of others and of what it truly means to be a human person. Not even a servile fear of God (fear of God's punishment) seem to be informing the choices they make. Quite immediately, my reaction was to inform my family about this, post the report on Facebook so that others may be cautious, and then to continue my project of clearing out photos from my Facebook with greater urgency. I started reacting out of that fear. 

Beneath this more immediate reaction, hidden out of the radar of my consciousness, something else was happening at a deeper level. That fear was starting to form another story or perhaps, to reinforce previous stories out of which I live. The story that I am not safe, that this world is truly evil, people cannot be trusted. And how these stories then lead to the belief that I cannot afford to be vulnerable, this screwed up humanity is not worth my time and life. My self-protective wall is reinstated and I will be on self-defense mode, constantly on a lookout for what is bad and imperfect and potentially threatening to me. I know this thread. I will soon grow spikes all around me; spikes that can be shot at will in any direction before I am even able to catch myself or hold myself back. Or at the very least, I will be fully armored and all people will encounter is that cold, hard, metal suit. My attention would be shifted increasingly onto myself and my well-being. I will be moving towards narcissism and further away from transcendence and love. 

By God's tremendous grace, He reminded me in prayer that there is a different direction, a different way. A way that is not a foolish gullibility and naivety but a way to be human. It began first with the recognition and acknowledgment of that deadly emotion called fear. And then, He reminded me of what He showed me during my 30 day retreat last year, that in every person, though hidden, ignored, evaded, repressed, suppressed whatsoever, there is that presence of the Divine. That part in each person that still desires good and love, and seeks goodness and love. And God will not take away His Divine presence that has already been gifted to each person made in His image and likeness. 

In this reminder, I was being called to the Magis, the more beyond myself. To recognise these evildoers in ways in which I wasn't able to recognise them this morning, and perhaps, also in ways they themselves do not yet recognise themselves. I was being called to recognise them the way in which God has recognised me in my sinfulness, when I couldn't even recognise myself as being that beloved child of God the Father, created out of love and meant for love. 

It is amazing that the disgust, fear and paranoia I felt this morning are nowhere to be found now. And I am given the grace then to hold this sinfulness of humanity in a healthier, more loving and life-giving manner. The grace also to hold these people up to God for God to touch, forgive and heal. And I gradually entered a calm, a rootedness in God and the ability then to wait on this God who holds humanity in His loving embrace, yes, even in our wretchedness. A waiting that is charged with hope in a God who can transform any death into new life, a resurrection that I have witnessed in my life too. 

And at the end of the day, what lingers are gratitude and consolation. God keeps His candle lit in the dark even when there are treacherous gales trying to extinguish its tiny flame. God be praised and glorified. 

Are there any fears in you that need God's transforming grace too? 

Monday, 11 June 2018

What is Your Anchor of Hope?

At yesterday's novena devotion, Fr Vincent Low mentioned about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain who, despite their successful careers, ended their lives prematurely, 5 days apart. He ended his preaching very persuasively, urging us not to lose hope for God never gives up on us.

Today, Fr Ignatius Yeo at Risen Christ Church delivered a very dynamic homily, infused with healthy humour, about "fear (being) the path to the dark side", quoting Master Yoda from Stars Wars. We have to choose either to stand with Christ or with satan (there isn't a 3rd side). Not deciding to stand with Christ is deciding to stand with satan. But if we should decide to stand with Christ, then we must claim His strength in the Eucharist and resist fear.

Scrolling down Facebook, I couldn't help but notice the posts on depression and suicide, more now than ever before in history, plaguing our world today. According to The New Paper (May 30, 2018), "In 2015-16, 77 children aged five to nine and 4,563 aged 10 to 19 called the SOS hotline compared to 14 and 2,366 in 2012-13." SOS (Samaritans of Singapore) is a suicide-prevention centre.

While the politicians are gathering over these days for the summit in Singapore, playing their political games and hopefully, by God's grace, arriving at some real effective conclusions for the greater good, many individuals are suffering, living in constant pain and in the darkness of hopelessness and purposelessness.

I sat in the pews today, looking at someone displaying clear signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I wondered what he has gone through in life that led to this disorder. I looked up at Jesus on the crucifix and thought about our world at large. In that moment, I felt the force of oppression that seems to be covering our world like a thick fog. And I had the image of 2 huge magnets, humanity being one and satan being the other. Both magnets were facing each other at their like poles. Hence, there was a great force of repulsion. The more satan pressed down on humanity, the more its force threatened to push us 180 degrees around so that the opposite pole can then attract the magnet of satan. Some were turned. And the numbers were increasing.

It all seems very bleak. Where is God? I am not surprised though I am saddened that people are increasingly losing their faith in God. After all, they cry and He doesn't seem to hear, and even if He does, He doesn't seem to care enough to do something to help. Perhaps they hear of other people experiencing miracles but not in their lives. Why God? Do you love some more than others? It is tough. I believe it is truly very tough in this very troubled era to believe that God still exists and that He will not let us down.

So what will help us build our trust in God? Will listening to biblical verses on hope and the unfailing love of God help? What would these words mean to us if we do not have a sense of connection with our ancestors of the faith, if we do not see that what happened back then between the Israelites and God has anything to do with us and our Mass? We hear, don't we, our priests painstakingly at times quoting these verses in their homilies in the hope of convincing us to continue hoping in God. Has it impacted our faith? Do we know enough of our salvation history to appreciate the profound continuation from the Old Testament to the New and to our lives, so as to see how God's love truly never ends and that we can be absolutely certain that suffering will never have the final say for those who place all their hopes in the Lord?

There is no quick fix to this disconnection between us and our faith. Our hope in God cannot blossom overnight. Expecting instant gratification will disappoint us greatly. I have seen that the slow, arduous process of seeking God has and is freeing me increasingly, and subtly, my faith has been growing a whole lot over the past years. I believe the key focus is not to grow my trust in God because I cannot trust who I do not first know. Rather, I have found my faith growing inevitably, consequently when my personal experiences and interior knowledge of God in the person of Jesus continue and deepen. What do I mean?

For instance, I see and encounter God's love when I look at my life from the angle of gratitude. And humility precedes gratitude. On the contrary, when I take things for granted or approach my life with the attitude of self-entitlement, all I will be able to see is myself, and nothing but my self-centred self. How will I see God's love? How will I be able to notice His presence in my life, when all I see are my efforts, my achievements, my failures, my talents, my status, my social facade, my determination? What have I received from God? The ingrate cannot find God in their lives. The grateful one will always have something to thank and praise God for, even if he lost everything like Job in the Old Testament. When I recognise God's blessings, I know intimately His love for me and I can trust His love will continue to provide.

God is very present in our lives, even when we are in the most desperate situations, when all we can feel is the pain of suffering and the endless worry of what is to come. Suffering is not the absence of God. On the contrary, suffering is infused with the presence of God. Because Jesus did not evade suffering. There is no pain of ours He has not already endured. Whether it is the shame of being stripped of dignity, being accused, insulted, taken for granted, rejected, misunderstood, laughed at. Even the embarrassment of looking like a complete failure when He hung helplessly on the cross. Valued less than a criminal. Betrayed and abandoned. Is there a pain of ours He did not already experience Himself?

When I was a child and a teenager, life was tough (not that it is now a bed of roses). There were many difficult emotions I had to handle and make sense of on my own. I recall that as a child, in those times I hid somewhere to cry, to complain to Jesus and Mary about what happened, telling them my feelings, one of the things that gave me great, great consolation was when Jesus showed me how He has already experienced those feelings. I began to see what He went through in His earthly life that made Him feel the same way as I was. It gave me such comfort to know that there was at least 1 person in this world who understood me perfectly and knew exactly what I was going through. I was not alone. Suffering connects me with Jesus and it has been the condition under which I have encountered so much the infinite love of God.

When I come to know Him, who He is, what He stands for, His character, when I seek the divine in my life, gratefully identifying His hand in my life experiences, my faith grows. Despite many times needing to wait for so many years to see some fruits of my prayers, when I see that He has not failed me after all, I know that He will never fail me. An attitude of seeking the divine and daily personal conversation with God (prayer) form the starting point of a life of hope.

Life does not end in our sufferings unless we choose to make it so. We do not know what will happen between now and our last breath. Who knows what miracle God will work in our lives tomorrow, the next hour? We do not know until we have lived through it to the end. No matter how talented and capable we may be, there will come a time we will have to confront our limitations as a human and creature. When that moment comes, the only thing that has power to give us hope is our confidence in a more powerful and greater Being above ourselves - God. Faith is not faith in good times. Faith is only possible in difficult, painful, threatening situations, when the power of fear will be so weakened because our eyes are fixed on Jesus across the stormy sea (Matthew 14:22-33). We know and we trust in God, who will reach out to grab hold of our hand even if we should lose hope and sink into the water.

My SD told me earlier this week that it is not about preventing myself from feeling fearful but that in those fearful moments, the crux is in my choice. I would like to end with this counsel from Jesus to me in my last retreat in April and I suspect it is not only for me. "Fears are real. There will be fears. But keep your eyes on Me and you will not sink."

What is your choice?

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Testimony (Post-CER Journey) @ CER Fellowship, St. Ignatius Church

Testimony for the 1st CER Alumni Fellowship at the Church of St. Ignatius, 17 May 2018

I was in CER 36, about 4.5 years ago. At that time, I had spent 3 years discerning the religious vocation after my conversion experience. But the search for a religious congregation to join was tougher than I had expected. Over time, prayer became dry and I felt so lost, discouraged and spiritually dead.

I resisted going for CER initially because I loved the silent retreats that I was making! But I went eventually because I was so desperate for a spiritual resuscitation. God did bring me back to life in the retreat.

After CER, I was pretty much on a high I think like almost everyone else. And then came the question of what CSC ministry to join. Because of the fire of zeal I felt after the retreat, and the comforting sentiments of being back in CSC where I encountered Jesus so deeply, I was very eager to get involved, to stay connected with the CSC environment. And so I joined the healing ministry.

The ministry members are truly lovely people. But I soon began to notice various practices, underlying values and beliefs within CSC at that time that didn’t quite align with my beliefs and reflect the God I have come to know. The politics and strained relationships between persons that saw no improvement led me to wonder if God has really been taken seriously, and if He’s not, then what was the service really about? I became quite disillusioned and frustrated.

Only recently, I realized that I was the one who was not ready to accept imperfections, respect where people are and love them anyway. I’ve been seeking perfection as a way of protecting myself from getting hurt by imperfections. Simply because I was very hurt in my earlier days by people’s imperfections. So I wasn’t ready to work alongside anyone because I would just end up judging them and getting very frustrated. And then, I would get upset with myself for being judgmental, and that made me feel too unworthy for God’s love. This was a very big obstacle in my relationship with God.

On hindsight, I really should have discerned more carefully the call to join another ministry as I was already serving here in the parish. I realised what I needed most at that time was actually to focus more on God, on deepening my relationship with Him, being more disciplined in my daily prayer, aligning more consciously my priorities and values with God’s; in short, paying more attention to my interior life and building that up first, rather than to distract myself with ministry and everything else that comes with it. As Ignatius noted in his rules for discernment of spirits, when in consolation – which I was in right after the retreat – the soul frequently forms various resolutions and plans, which are not granted directly by God… and which must be carefully examined before they are given full approval and put into execution. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite aware of this back then.

Thankfully, I had the support and guidance of spiritual mentors and companions, and more, deeper encounters with Jesus in silent retreats on top of spiritual direction. I came to understand that CER is God’s tremendous gift to personally encounter Jesus but alone, it is not enough for the spiritual journey. Once that high is gone, the Ignatian Spirituality has been another of God’s gift to continue growing my interior life.

The Friday growth sessions, healing Masses were external structures that gave me an aid, lifting me up emotionally and spiritually when I felt down and tired. But relying on these external structures alone to give me a sense of holiness and consolation in that moment didn’t take me very far. Interiorly, I needed to decide for myself my level of focus on God and commitment to this journey. How serious am I when I say I want to follow Christ? When I’m in a high, it’s easy for me to say I love Him. I’ve said that so many times. But when it comes to the reality of my daily challenges, how much do I fight to keep my word? And when I fail to love God in others, and I’m once again faced with the ugliness of my human self, how much do I trust in God’s unconditional love for me? These have been and still are very real questions in my journey.

Few months after joining the healing ministry, God’s grace led me to the Good Shepherd Sisters (RGS), where I spent 3 years in pre-novitiate formation till late January this year. I learned to live with very different people of different ages, cultures, personalities, worked in very humbling settings caring for abused women and later, children who were abused or neglected. In community and ministry, I had my buttons pushed in more ways than I liked. The sisters are very good people but no one is perfect. And I’m certainly not perfect either. And through it all was the constant struggle to choose love over the easier and more familiar tendencies.

When I was deeply hurt by my own companions and formators, I had to face my anger, my pain, disappointments, still trying to keep my eyes on Jesus, holding myself back from reacting, and at times, begging Jesus to move my heart to forgiveness when all I could do was to sit in prayer helplessly angry, confused, and crying out the pain. How do I forgive when the other person isn’t even sorry? When she’ll continue to be the way she is? It was always a tug of war inside. But once, Jesus said, “Love needs no justification.” It was His invitation to exchange my human logic and need for justice for God’s humanly illogical, unconditional love. It was a choice I had to make each time and choosing to forgive because I want to walk the talk comes with a price; the painful price of discipleship.

On another note, through having my buttons pushed, I became aware of what those buttons were and I could bring them to God in prayer to listen to what He was trying to do in me. There’s a deeper reason why I was being triggered – my old, unhealed wounds manifesting, and it was God wanting to enter these painful memories to heal them and make me more and more whole.

And God took this healing even further. Part of our journey towards novitiate was to go through a psychological test. After which, the Jesuit Fr. Varghese who conducted the test for us pushed this rather new idea real hard and my provincial very generously offered for the first time as part of formation psychotherapy. It is not cheap and I’m most grateful for this. Not that we were found to be psychotic but as Fr Varghese shared, the psychological tools developed are now so advanced that being freed from our past wounds has become much more accessible and easy. And it’s only for the sake of freeing us up internally to be better ministers of God.

My therapist and I worked very hard in the process and the results are beyond my imagination. I never expected to encounter Jesus so deeply in the therapy as I normally would mostly in retreats.

After months of therapy, although we did not cover every single wound in my life and I am still far from being perfect, anger, frustration, fear, insecurities, inadequacy – these affected many of my relationships and were so much a part of my daily struggles in the past – but they have been greatly, greatly reduced.

Life situations have not changed but I have, and I can trust God’s love a lot more. I don’t feel as crippled by fears, which always took my eyes off Jesus and made me forget He holds everything in His hands. Being much more secure now, I was, in my retreat last month, finally able to hand over to Jesus my need and obsession for perfection because I’m emotionally stronger to handle the threats of imperfections and more than that, I feel safe enough to allow Jesus to take over the place as my Protector, my Calm, my Confidence. I don’t need to overprotect myself anymore.

I don’t know what you’ve been hearing about my journey but I see a lot of struggles in my journey. And it doesn’t look like they’re ending. At least not before death. But all these struggles and growth would be absolutely impossible if not for God’s abundant graces. I don’t know where I’d be without God’s continuous working in my life. His faithfulness to me. And the struggles would all be hopelessly depressing if not for a much greater prize to gain – which is the gift of greater intimacy with Jesus, the joy that brings and the comfort of knowing my daily struggles are my spiritual vitamins for growth. So my adventure continues and I pray that yours is abundantly graced too.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Neighbours & Sainthood

Have you ever lived with inconsiderate neighbours? Those who drag their chairs across their floor and your ceiling, and make really weird clanging noises that lead you to wonder what really they are up to in the room? Even late into the night? A great annoyance especially when the noises prevent you from sleeping very much at all before having to catch a very early morning flight for instance. 

What would your immediate reaction be? I think that mine would be to storm upstairs even in my pjs and tell those inconsiderate fellers off, warn them to stop their noisemaking before I take this to the authorities. After all, I'm angry!! Rightly so!!

Brings to mind someone - let's just call her Therese, since I'm reading about the life of St. Therese. Therese was unfortunately suffering from such noisy disturbances, thanks to the family that lived upstairs. For quite some time, the noises got to her almost every night and there were many times she even rehearsed what she would say should she head right up in attempt to get some neighbourly cooperation. But of course, cooperation was not even a guarantee! For they could, if they were really nasty, create even more noises to make a statement of their displeasure at the complaint. 

Then came one night when by some divine grace it seemed, she had a new insight and understanding. Therese realised that though she could very well justify her cause if she finally said her piece, she saw that this same annoyance towards the noise might be what people with some psychological dysfunctions experience too. The noise not from the outside caused by someone else but that which resounds unceasingly interiorly, in the mind; the noise in perhaps those who are suffering from depression. How hard it must be to bear them everyday!

Therese made a decision. She prayed and offered any endurance she had to make of the noises from these inconsiderate neighbours to God for those experiencing psychological unrest.  Strangely enough, the noises continued but Therese was no longer the same Therese minutes before. Over time, she noticed less of the noises and the disturbances those noises made within her grew lesser and lesser. Till the time when she was not irritated by the noises at all anymore. 

Isn't it interesting? A response like this. Seemingly suggesting what a coward Therese is and how she does not know to fight for her rights and make a stand for herself. Yet, what she revealed was a great interior strength and graciousness. By the grace of God. Growing in patience and humility, gentleness and compassion. 

Whatever situations we may find ourselves in, most especially the challenging ones, seem to be God's classroom for our sainthood. Why do we thus thank God for our "curses" and pain? Not because we who believe in Him are idiots. But because we have been given the faith and grace to see beyond, to look deeper, to recognise how God's love wishes to shape us increasingly into His image and at the same time, setting us free by His truth. Free from anger, resentment, unforgiveness; free from the effects of sin. Because the truth is that in the unpleasant, the struggles, the cutting pain, therein lies all that God's infinite and unfathomable love wishes to do in us, for us. 

What need we let go of to feel secure enough in God's love to put down our armour of war against the perceived negatives in our lives? So as to use these as opportunities to be moulded more and more into the image and likeness of our Creator? Have you signed up yet for God's classroom for sainthood? 

Monday, 24 July 2017

Allocutio - Living like a Sponge

Have you heard of people who liken a child’s brain to a sponge? I think they say this presuming that what the child is absorbing is good. Because the child is equally able to learn things that are not good. Thankfully, the real sponge only takes in liquids while anything solid will remain mostly at its surface. Otherwise, we might have to change the sponge every other day!

Is it good then if we are like a sponge in the way we live out our Christian lives? Surely, our Catholic faith offers us everything good. While a sponge by its design only allows certain things to pass through its surface, for us humans, we do not have such an easy time. We need to do our own discernment to know in which circumstances is God inviting us to be a sponge and when he is not. If we take a close look at the Gospels, we can notice that Jesus would go to a quiet place on his own way before dawn to pray. He would know then which district to go next to spread the Good News. He does not do so on his own, stay longer when the people pressed him to remain with them, but goes where he is led. It was the same for the early followers, who came together to pray, discern and act.

Surely, discernment is not an easy thing. Because we don’t hear God’s voice as distinctly as we hear one another speak. Most of us are busy throughout the day and there is hardly stillness within even when our environment is quiet. But all of us are able to learn to discern, and with practice and a good spiritual guide to co-discern with us, we would be able to live as discerning Christians.

This is important because God is our only goal, and if so, everything else – our family lives, work, apostolate mission – is only the means to this end. If we do not discern, there is a high chance of going with the flow and at times, this flow may not be the way that leads us closer to God. It may be for another person but not how God calls us individually to go. If we are to accept every invitation to a church ministry, respond to every call to evangelize, attend every talk and retreat available, we will eventually find ourselves drained out, disillusioned and lost. Our attention scattered rather than it being focused on God. Thereafter, no time or too tired to pray. Instead of moving closer to God through these means of living out our discipleship, we will find ourselves further from him. Being a disciple is not a call to load onto our plates more than what we are called to do. In deciding on our apostolate work, we too need to discern. Who is God inviting me to reach out to? And to those he is, how is he asking me to be his instrument?

To discern, we need first to grow in awareness of our feelings. How am I feeling now? In the moment, as a result of something that has happened or something we have experienced. It is essential because God does speak to us through our emotions. For example, I find mopping the floor during my night shift very tiring, mundane and trivial. But when I become aware that I am doing it out of love for the children I work with, and who are so loved by Jesus, it fills me with a sense of purpose and connection with Jesus. He pours out his love into me as I share this love with the children through the simple act of mopping floor. By noticing these inner feelings, I continue to notice too that even in such simple deeds, God is inching me closer to him. And thus, I know this is what he is calling me to – the way he wills, at least for now, for me to walk in his direction.

As you go on your daily life, you may consider taking a minute or so periodically to look back at the time that had passed, what you experienced and your response, and how it made you feel. To notice increasingly with more practice, so that you can become more conscious of how God is working in and through you.