Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Conversion of St Paul - Call to Holiness

Today (25 Jan 2011), we remember the conversion of St Paul, Apostle. 

I was on that journey and nearly at Damascus when about midday a bright light from heaven suddenly shone round me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" I answered: Who are you, Lord? and he said to me, "I am Jesus the Nazarene, and you are persecuting me."

After this vision, Saul was given the name "Paul". He spent several years contemplating on his life and gradually allowing his conversion to grow deeper, more complete and more rooted in his heart. Finally, he became one of the greatest apostle in the early days, so much so that his letters take up many parts of the bible, teaching us how we too can live as an apostle of Christ. 

Today, we can learn from St Paul. We can examine ourselves and identify the people we are persecuting. To name a few more common groups of people - the foreign workers, maids, construction workers, taxi drivers, the beggar along the underpass, the dustbin collector, etc. It could even be our neighbour or someone living under the same roof!! Who are we persecuting? Who have we treated unfairly? Who have we robbed human dignity and respect from? Some of us persecute ourselves too when we allow ourselves to feel inferior, that we are lacking, not good enough; we are rejecting ourselves whom God has created in His image and likeness. Who have we excluded from our list of people we show love and care towards?

And Jesus is asking us today like He did to Saul, "Why are you persecuting me?" Why have we refused Him love, the sharing of our blessings with others? It is Jesus whom we are persecuting since He is present in every human person. And it is only when we have seen Jesus and experienced Him that we will stop persecuting Him and start loving Him in all His peoples. We will begin to look at the road sweeper with a different perception - that which encompasses love and love alone. 

Conversion is not an overnight experience. Paul took years in a continuing process of conversion. We too cannot become Saints overnight. We need to cultivate goodness within us; change our distorted views of life and the world, set our values and focus right and so on. But like Paul, we too can experience the hope in Christ, that we are called to goodness, to holiness, and what is impossible for us to achieve alone, we can achieve with the help of Jesus. But we must desire, take time, make the effort and strive hard to continue our own conversion process.

Our digestive & circulatory systems are linked; when we consume Jesus in Holy Communion, it is digested and flows through our blood steams to every part of our body. Jesus "digested", lives in every part of us. We can draw strength from this because we now know we are not just made up of ourselves but we are one with God through Jesus who is now in us. 

When we receive Holy Communion, we can think it to be receiving Jesus into our bodies, our hearts and lives; we receive, agree, accept & integrate into our daily lives everything abt Him - His love for us, ways, teachings, commandments. We're nourished by His Body and Blood, strengthened by His Holy Spirit that the Father promised us through this same Jesus. 

Can our hearts be truly converted? Yes. We must hold firm to our faith in this and be renewed in our hope that God will provide us with His Spirit if we but open our hearts wider each day, receive of His Nourishment daily in the Eucharist and contemplate our lives like St Paul did - examine our lives thoroughly and honestly, compare it with how we truly should live our lives, and work on the disparity. With God, we can!

26 January 2011 Wednesday

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Our Cross & Jesus

With each swallow, it is as if a knife is cutting through the throat.
I thought about the poor suffering people struck down with throat cancer. 
How much more pain they must feel.
Jesus must have felt so much more pain when those whips ripped his flesh apart.
With the alternating cold-hot sensations of fever, the icy cold hands and feet,
it brings to mind those who are suffering dengue fever.
How much more unbearable the body aches and temperature swings must be.
Jesus must have felt so cold too, naked on the cross, the wind blowing directly on his open wounds.
With the thought of the needle piercing through my skin and being left there throughout the procedure, 
it brings to mind the diabetes patients on dialysis, whose needles in their hands are far larger.
Yet, what more excruciating is the pain Jesus endured when nails hammered right through his hands and feet.
When I woke from the sedation, my empty stomach could not take the Milo given and I threw up there and then.
I thought about the poor suffering people who cannot eat and drink, especially those plagued by stomach cancer; how restricted the diets of those with illnesses.
And what about those who cannot afford food or drink and are starving to death?
How we take our food for granted; how we take our abilities to eat and drink for granted! To fast a meal or make a little sacrifice is met with rejection more often than not. 
How Jesus must have felt so hungry those 40 days in the desert; how He must have felt weak from hunger with the heavy crosses (physical, emotional and spiritual) He bore to Calvary. 
Going to the waiting area and then to the surgery room, one cannot put on make up, bring any companions, possessions; even the clothes worn are provided by the hospital. One would realise at that point in time that everyone gathered in the anxious wait to be called into the room have no differentiation. No matter what status, academic qualifications, amount of wealth, size of house, car model, number of family members and friends, beauty or beast, race, religion, nationality... All are still waiting to lie on the surgery bed for the same medical procedures. No one can bring in any companions or any mode of communication with the world outside. Everyone is alone. There, there is only 1 possibility i.e. the companion of God, Mary & the angels and saints. And truly, only with Jesus, Mary & the Saints, whose lives are the greatest examples of faith, courage and love, can we obtain the strength, courage, faith and love that we so need to carry the painful crosses for God. It is only when we are familiar with the lives of the Saints and those beatified that we know to offer up our sufferings for the conversion of sinners, the reparation of sins and for the Holy Father who faces much persecution. Our sufferings can then be meaningful.

22 January 2011, Saturday

Monday, 17 January 2011

Have You Ever Experienced Love?

Have you ever experienced someone who you know for sure will always be there for you when you are most in need of a pillar of emotional support?

Have you ever experienced someone who you know for sure will never judge you no matter what you tell him/her out of your insecurities?

Have you ever experienced someone who has thought of you in a better light than you have of yourself? 

Have you ever experienced someone who has seen beyond your weaknesses and recognised and acknowledged your gifts and goodness? 

Have you ever experienced someone who stands from afar and watches out for you?

Have you ever experienced someone who would give you time amidst his/her super busy schedule?

Have you ever experienced someone who asks around, person after person, just looking for the help that you need? 

Have you ever experienced someone who has been to you everything I have mentioned above... all these wonderful experiences coming from just 1 single person?

I have been blessed to have experienced all these from more than one person in my life and still experiencing even now. If you have experienced it too, you must know that it is so heart-warming just reminiscing these blessings God has given to us through these people He has sent into our lives. You must know, too, how treasured, how precious those moments are, of which we intimately touched love, compassion, mercy, understanding, selflessness, care, consideration, etc through what these angels in our lives have been to us and done for us. 

Putting ourselves at the other end of the rainbow of love shifts our disposition as the receiver to that of the giver. For us to have experienced all these heart-warming acts of love and kindness, someone had to "give". If we know how wonderful those acts of love had made us feel, how they cheered up our dullness, lift our souls up in our despair and inject the hope and faith that someone does truly care for us, then we will also be aware of the same love, happiness, hope and faith others will receive if WE GIVE of our time, energy, attention, affirmation, understanding, compassion and acceptance. 

Show mercy to others as God has been merciful towards us in His continued blessings and protection.
Show compassion to others especially those who are sick, aged, dying and suffering as how we would want others to be to us when we one day become reliant on a wheelchair, dependent on a caregiver or confined to the bed. 
Be quick to forgive, the way God is always ready to embrace us into His loving arms even though in many times, we are less than being truly sorry and aware of how our sins have hurt God and others. 
Give unto others the good that we ourselves have received from others.
Give unto others the good that we ourselves have received from God's own hands in His blessings.

We have no reason or excuse to refuse others what we ourselves have received and enjoyed not by our own merits but solely by the infinite grace and mercy of God. 
We have no reason or excuse to love any lesser than a fellow human being who is not Catholic since we are the only ones who have the perfect example of love - Jesus. 

To what extent do we choose to be the symbol of God's love to others? 
How far do we choose to go in loving, caring and helping others around us? 
How much of God's ways do we choose to follow? 
How closely do we want to follow in Christ's way of love? 
Are we truly serious and determined and decided or just paying a lip service or worse still, consoling ourselves with diplomatic answers to these questions for the sake of reducing our "guilt" of not taking God more seriously in our lives? 

17 January 2011, Monday

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Children & God's Kingdom

This video shows clearly how children are being captivated by the magician's tricks. Take note of the looks in the children's eyes and their body language.

Watching the same trick, how different will the look be in the eyes of adults? Perhaps, some will have that same excitement and wonder; the amazement of "how did he do it"? Yet many more of us will pull ourselves back and our eyes suggest skepticism and suspicions. If we, like those children, ask to watch the trick again, our purpose might probably be to spot the loophole in which we can solve the mystery of the trick. Children are different in that when they want to watch the trick again, it is simply because they were amazed beyond their understanding, thrilled by the incomprehensible and desire to once again be captured in that "mystical" moment of "magic". 

In the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 2, during the Pentecost, tongues of fire appeared and rested on the heads of each Apostle, who then, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke of the marvels of God in foreign languages. We are told in verses 12-13... 
Everyone was amazed and unable to explain it; they asked one another what it all meant. Some, however, laughed it off. 'They have been drinking too much new wine' they said.

And Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:3-4 
Then he said, 'I tell you solemnly, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And so, the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'

Is Jesus asking us to be like Benjamin Button to age backwards and become a child? Is this possible? No. Rather, He wants us to have the qualities of children - completely dependent and trusting, unassuming and obedient, simplistic and blameless, quick to forgive, slow to anger. Children are unguarded; they allow themselves to be fully absorbed in situations such as play, in which they completely forget about the world and even themselves. How often do we question how children seem to have unlimited energies to play non-stop, even till the point that they do not even need to eat their dinners!! And adults seem to somehow appear listless, bogged down by a perpetual fatigue and display a face that only see some life on Friday afternoons just to go dim again on Sunday nights. Children do not have the distortions of life, distractions and self-protection that adults are more often than not plagued by. These distortions, distractions and self-protection stand in the way of our values, priorities and perceptions of life and God. Needless to say, they directly pose as a hindrance in our relationship with God. 

Those who witnessed to the Pentecostal empowerment in the Apostles, heard with their own two ears the miracle unfolding before their very eyes, and yet laughed it off in disbelief, are as good as deaf and blind. They saw and heard but they did not perceive nor listen because their hearts were totally shut. They were unwilling to open their hearts to accept the Truth and marvel at the wonders of God like how children would - with trust and simplicity. They never would have experienced the hope, peace and joy that God fills children with only because their hearts are so opened and free to accept goodness. 

Week after week, we go to church, hear the word of God in the Gospel readings and the homilies. At times, we hear of inspirational stories of a life being transformed by God's healing grace, a miracle that took place, a life protected in that split second to disaster. What is our reaction and response to all these? Perhaps we do not go to the extreme of "laughing it off" but do we truly allow all these to take root in our hearts and value them as God's affirmation and repeated reassurance that He is very real and very present in our lives and all around us? He is calling out to us to love Him more deeply, trust in Him more completely and walk in His ways more faithfully. If all the homilies and God-experiences shared by others do not make us believe more fully in the God who provides for us in our every need and get us up on our feet to take more initiative and ownership in our faith and relationship with God, then we are just as deaf and blind as those who did not believe in the miracle at Pentecost because we would have allowed God's word and work pass us by continuously, unnoticed, unappreciated, unvalued.

When was the last time we allowed ourselves to drop that self-image, pride and suspicions and become selfless, non-pretentious, authentic, gracious and trusting? When was the last time we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable, knowing that we will be subjected to hurts and disappointments, but depending always on the faith that God's Will for us is in the present situation, the "here & now", in which He blesses us with the joys to lift us up and the pains to make us grow stronger? As the weekend begins and we will again head to church for Holy Mass to listen again to the word of God and partake in His Eucharistic Sacrifice, what will our attitudes towards the Mass and God be this time? Are we going to be an audience or will we decide to participate with greater attention, reverence and devotion? How much of a child do we dare to be? How much discomfort do we dare challenge ourselves with in order to be child-like in our relationships with God and others? 

How free and liberated we can be... if only we become like little children. 

15 January 2011, Saturday

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

In His Hands

Isaiah 64:8
And yet, Yahweh, you are our Father;
we the clay, you the potter,
we are all the work of your hand.

Jeremiah 18:6
House of Israel, can not I do to you what this potter does? - it is Yahweh who speaks. Yes, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so you are in mine.

Here's an excerpt from a reflection in my most recent silent retreat.
Part by part, corner by corner, detail by detail, He is shaping me into His masterpiece. He pinches off the parts of me that are not required, removing my impurities in that sense. All I need to do is sit there on the wheel while God surrounds me with His hands and shape me into what He wants me to become. But sometimes, I get anxious when I cannot see what He is doing with me and I cannot understand why He is moulding me here and there, not knowing at all His larger plan for me. And sometimes, I cry out to Him that it hurts to go in this or that direction. His plan for me - the final product, lives only in His mind; He alone knows what I will turn out to be ultimately but since He is the ultimate Potter, His creations are all masterpieces, each, in its own uniqueness and perfection, glorifies His creativity and fineness of skill. When I become dry and difficult to mould, He adds water to me; He gives me His graces and blessings so that He can make me "mouldable" again and then, continue to shape me.

I have no hands to mould myself, nor legs to spin me round for Him to mould. I am solely and wholly dependent on Him who spins me on the electric wheel; His hands, my own. I have to put my whole trust in Him and surrender to the unknown plan that He has in His mind and wait for Him to command me to inch here and there, follow His command, smile back at Him as He does the moulding and await the day He completes this masterpiece of my life in eager anticipation and joyful hope.

God knows that I cannot retain the water in me and after some time, I will again dry up and become firm and difficult to mould. When I refuse to be moulded in stubbornness, pride and selfishness, He persuades me to persevere and be patient with Him. He adds water to me to soften my heart of stone with His immense love and invites me again to let Him be the Potter so that I can become more beautiful than the original raw formless shape I was in. He knows that when I experience His love for me, I will always give in.

In moulding me now, my Potter is preparing me for the ultimate fire; He does not throw me into a fire that is beyond my melting point and He wants to throw me into the biggest fire so that I can emerge very white, and then He can gloss me and place me together with His other great masterpieces. He does not say for how long He will leave me in the fire but I sure know that when He knows I am ready, He will take me out for the finishing touch and then eternal rest - I will not need to enter the fire again. 


As I spin round on the wheel, I look intently at my Potter, whose assuring hands I am in. I look at Him with eager anticipation and with an excited smile like those of a child. He looks back at me tenderly... as His hands mould me into a symbol of His love. 

End of excerpt

What does it really mean to be clay? Sitting on the wheel that spins us round...
What does it really mean to be in the hands of the Potter? 
How does the relationship between the clay and the potter shed light on our personal relationship with God our Heavenly Father?
Can we truly trust ourselves as the clay entirely to the Potter's hands that will mould us by His creative love?
What kind of clay are we? Are we easy to mould? How hardy are we? What temperatures can we withstand? 

"Lord, I surrender my entire life to You; Do with me as You will."

12 January 2011, Wednesday

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Love Energy

In God's creation, that of the world and all within, there are many different types of energies - gravitational, kinetic, potential, etc. All these energies have been gradually discovered and fitted logically into concepts, theories and formulas over the years of advancement in human intelligence and Scientific progression. The process of "evolution" has been marked by increasing gratification of knowledge revealed to humans with the development of a deeper understanding of our unknown world and its mysteries. 

Yet, there is one other energy that has been in existence from the beginning of time and in fact, from before the "foundation of the world". This energy defies the most logical logic, the most conceptualised concept and the most theorised theory mankind has and will ever discover or develop. It is beyond all possible formulas since it has no measure or maximum value. The Sun is the ultimate direct and indirect source of energy for all living things on earth. Even so, this mysterious energy that Science has failed to encapsulate is the very reason for the existence of the Sun and the energy it emits. This energy is LOVE.

This weekend's Gospel of the Baptism of our Lord explicitly witnesses to the love of God the Father towards His Son, Jesus. The Father acknowledges His Son, His most Beloved, His Chosen One, His most highly favoured. At a more intimate level, it also witnesses to the love of the Father towards us, His children. If the Father loves His Son so dearly and yet, gives to us this Son to be sacrificed for our own redemption, then we, too, have a share in this infinite love of God. This infinite love the Father has for us brought Him to give His dearest gift of His Son. This is beyond human logic, which is formulated by limited human perceptions and confined within the walls of the narrow human heart. 

Love is an energy. It is the energy of a mother allowing her precious night's rest to be disturbed by the cries and needs of her newly born. It is the energy of a priest allowing himself to be woken up at wee hours of the night to rush to the hospital to anoint someone who is dying. It is the energy of a young and promising adult choosing to give up the world's luxuries and pleasures to devote an entire lifetime to serving God in His people. It is the energy of a little girl taking care of her younger sister on that first day of school. It is the energy of a passer-by who makes a detour just to show a tourist the right road to take. Without love as the fundamental energy in these situations, there is absolutely no way anyone can act and live in such selfless and sacrificial ways. 

Love is an energy that needs no words to communicate. It always includes and thus, does not discriminate, be it by level of intelligence, social status, wealth, job designation, race, religion, language spoken and even different amounts of reciprocated love received in return. True love is not conditional to how others treat us but is extended even to those who hate and reject us. Love never excludes since love only leads to unity and not division just as good always begets good.

Like all other energies, the stronger the energy, the greater the effect. The higher the kinetic energy of a skateboarder, the further the distance he will travel with just one kick on his skateboard. Similarly, the greater the love, the more illogical, the more inclusive, the more selfless. We cannot receive all at once all the infinite love of God for us. Our limited human capacity does not have the ability to contain such greatness. But as we increasingly receive into our hearts God's love for us made possible only with an increasing power of our desire (another energy) for God, the more we will open our hearts to allow God's presence to fill it more completely. 

As we reflect on "love" being an "energy", we may like to take up the consideration of how great is the love energy that is in our hearts. And to evaluate if we have stored our love in the container of our hearts similar to a battery's shell. A battery sitting on a shelf is useless until it is connected in a circuit. So, is our love alive, growing, deepening and life-giving to others? How do we want to challenge ourselves in our daily experience to exhaust this love energy in us? A battery, kept in an unused appliance for too long, leaks and is damaged irreversibly. A battery, exhausted, must be recharged to become full of energy again. Once the battery has served its purpose after countless recharging, its battery life comes to an end and it retires. Similarly, our love energy can only be recharged in God who is the One Source and Origin of this energy. When we have served our purpose on earth, and have loved as God has called us to, we reach the end of our life, whatever age we may be at, and we can retire eternally in God's glorious kingdom. 

09 January 2011, Sunday

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Looking Into Her Eyes

Jean (not her real name) is a fairly young lady who went to the hospital to visit a 91 years old lady she had just met 2 months ago. This old lady, Anna (not her real name), participated in a Christmas pageant in 2010, which had its majority of the cast made up of elderly and terminally ill on wheelchairs. Anna's health took a sudden downturn after Christmas and was admitted to the ICU. She was transferred to the normal ward but was unable to speak and had difficulties breathing. 

It was Jean's first time visiting someone she was not very familiar with and who was dying. She went alone. She did not know beforehand what to expect, what she was going to do or say. She went into the room, greeted Anna, waved the little Carebear stuff toy she bought at the Pharmacy and then looked hard into Anna's eyes, which stared back at her for a long time. She wasn't sure if Anna knew who she was as they had only met during the few rehearsals for the pageant. Yet, Jean saw suffering in those eyes and in that suffering, she saw Jesus on the cross, probably also gasping for air. And she thought of the many people who are dying alone, in fear. Before leaving the hospital, Jean told Anna she would visit again the next day. However, in the afternoon of the next day, Anna passed away, before Jean could visit.

I believe that Jean, in those moments of looking into Anna's eyes, saw and "touched" the sufferings of Anna and even deeper than that, of Jesus. She must have felt the deep compassion for the pain and struggles Anna and Jesus went through. And through her own compassionate eyes, she would have, in turn, communicated love and comfort to Anna. It must have been a moment that no words could ever replace. 

When was the last time we dared to stare hard at sufferings and be comfortable with it? When was the last time we allowed the plight of others to move our hearts more thoroughly and realise more fully the sufferings of Christ? 

When we see a tragic photo in the papers or a cruel act recorded in the news, we turn away because it is too painful to watch on. We pretend life is rosy and try our best to maintain the harmony in our hearts. We hate the feeling of those butterflies fluttering around in our hearts when sufferings we see around us threaten the wholeness of life's beauty. 

Yet, if we never challenge ourselves to accept and embrace sufferings, be they of others or ourselves, we can never deepen our relationship with God and we will never come to realise more deeply the infinite love God has for us because our eyes, minds and hearts will be closed and blind towards the suffering of God, which is His sign of just how much He loves us. If we cannot see His sign of love, how can we know of this love? How can anyone who has never seen even a picture of a polar bear know how it looks like? We can only hear from another's description of a polar bear cub but we will never be able to experience just how adorable and heart-warming it looks.

Not knowing of this great love of God, there is absolutely no way we can realise how much we want to reciprocate this love. We can only feel the burning desire to love when we have been transformed by the experience of an infinite love because the one and only response to love is love itself. When we experience how loved we are by God, our hearts will feel so stretched because its finiteness cannot contain such a great amount of love. The only way to contain this love is to use it; to use it to love in return. 

May we be more sensitive to and respond more selflessly to the sufferings and needs of others, to not shun away but to look upon it compassionately and courageously and let the uncomfortable feeling inside us enlarge our hearts more and more so that God can enter more fully into our more spacious hearts and make His home in us. 

06 January 2011

Sunday, 2 January 2011

New Year Resolution - Kite vs. Bird

Consider a kite flying high up in the sky. The strong wind passes beneath it and lifts it higher and higher. Yet, it soars only as high as the length of its string that binds it to earth. It is, thus, not free to fly where it wills nor where the wind would want to take it. And it is a matter of time the strong wind will subside and then it will lose all energy it previously had to take it to its great heights. Another kite comes near and their strings entangle. The weaker string is cut by the other and its kite flies out of control before it finally crashes back onto earth, at times, so far away that it is never to be found or picked up again.

The spirituality of some are similar to a kite. Everyone is given gifts and blessings to "soar" high above the earth. Yet, attachments to the things of this world bind them and inhibit their freedom of sensing and responding to the Will of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit. There is always an excuse, a reservation, a worry or doubt, or simply an unwillingness to push oneself into a deeper spirituality. All these form the string that dictates how high the kite can fly. Such a spirituality is lifted up momentarily by exterior "energies" like the kite that flies high only when the wind blows strong. It withstands not the time, climate or other influences. It is unstable, unpredictable and short-lived. 

Consider then a bird flying high up in the sky. It is alive and living by the breath of life God breathed into it. It goes wherever it wills, wherever the Providence of God takes it to. It builds its nest and knows well where Home is. It worries not about what it will eat or where it will rest; where there is food, it goes, when it is not looking for food, it flies freely in the sky, when it is tired, it rests upon a tree or even on an air conditioner's compressor. It is, thus, in tune with nature; it IS a part of nature, and it senses accurately and promptly an approaching storm or a devastating earthquake. 

How wonderful if our spirituality may be like a bird's life - free, reliant on God's Providence, one with Him in His Will. Living our lives by the Providence of God allows us to be contented with whatever we have been given; there is no need for envy, jealousy, selfishness and sting. There is no need for pride too since everything we have comes from God and we are simply blessed because He has decided to be generous and kind towards us. We can live in unity with God and His Holy Will and in so doing, enjoy the peace and joy that only He can grant. We can experience true freedom from the things of this world that are meaningless but which the world enforces a false significance upon and demands our attention for. 

The nature of every human being lies in its concrete need for a meaningful life. Everyone searches for meaning in life. The only difference is "Where do we search for this meaning?" If we search in the right place, equipped with a reliable map and an accurate compass, we will find our treasure sooner or later but surely. But if we take the wrong map or use a broken compass, we will exhaust our lifetime and find nothing. 

At the beginning of a new year, amidst setting out the new year resolutions we aim to accomplish within the year, we might also want to be resolved about the spirituality we want for our lives, the type and depth of relationship with God, reconsider our priorities and open our hearts and minds more fully to God's ways, thus, closing our hearts and minds more tightly to the ways of the secularised, commercialised, materialised world.

02 January 2011, Sunday