Tuesday, 27 September 2011


Humility is not quite about looking within ourselves and acknowledging that what we have is nothing to brag about. Neither is it putting ourselves down by discounting the truth about our gifts by comparing them with the "greater" gifts that others have.

Humility is the most-needed anchor that prevents the distractions of today's seductive world of pride, commercial success and self-reliance from tossing our ships beyond our control, soon to find ourselves capsized into the deep waters that cannot wait to engulf us wholly.

Real humility seems to be the inevitable consequence of an authentic relationship between God and I, between God and you; the consequence of a discovery of the truth about who we are, who we belong to; our unworthy reception of God's blessings highlighting God's infinite mercy and love freely extended to us, sinful creatures. Real humility recognises that the good which springs forth from our hearts is not solely the result of our wise and responsible usage of our God-given freedom of choice but it is more so, the handiwork of God's graces in our otherwise impure hearts. Real humility seems to acknowledge too that itself is God's blessing.

Real humility grounds us in God because it shines the light of truth in our hearts so that we may come before our Lord in sincerity and honesty. Real humility seems to, above all, embrace human nothingness and thereby, rely wholly on God's omnipotence to transform this nothingness into an instrumental significance always and only for His own greater glory.

27 September 2011, Tuesday

Friday, 23 September 2011

Where is Your Heart?

Have we ever put on our lips the words, "He doesn't deserve it"? An event took place and injustice was done. The feeling of helpless frustration towards the perpetrator, coupled with the wrenching empathy towards the poor victim, drives us into the tension that fills our hearts with a certain anger and unwillingness to extend mercy and forgiveness. And when we finally hear the perpetrator pleading for mercy after he knows he is about to pay a heavy price for his deeds, how we protest in the name of justice and refuse to "tenderise" the hardness of hearts in the firm believe that "He doesn't deserve it".

In last Sunday's Gospel, Jesus paid all the workers 1 denarius for a day's work, no matter how many hours they had each worked. If we were to put ourselves in the shoes of the workers who were the first hired into the vineyard, we will certainly feel a strong sense of injustice, perceiving that since we had done more, we should deserve to be paid more. A highly diligent child of average intelligence feels sore and jealous that he could never outdo his lazy peer of high IQ no matter how hard he studies. Isn't this comparison and calculation of the amount we put in in relation to the amount we get a very pertinent practice in our society? We have performance-related bonuses to reward people who work harder and produce greater results for the organisation. If we were to leave an organisation, our month's pay will be prorated accordingly. We judge and we attach a price tag to everything according to what it appears to deserve, like the television game show "The Price is Right". While we can price objects and the commercial work we do, can we honestly do the same for love, sacrifice, selflessness, which founds the nature of God's work in the vineyard?

If we dare to put aside our prejudices and the familiar adoption of our societal norms, and dig deeper at the message that Jesus might be putting across to us, we might catch a better understanding of who God is and what is required of us at the crux of our relationship with this God. The initial suspicion that God might not be that fair after all might slowly give way to an appreciation of His flawless ways of directing our hearts to the real Truth of His Kingdom.

Here, the question "Where does our heart really lie" comes to mind. Have we wholly set our hearts on God? Or are our hearts distracted with the many externals? "What do I get in return", "How much are you paying me", "Will it make me look good", "What is the job scope like"? If today, God hires us to work in His vineyard, will our thoughts be similar to these real human concerns? If they are, then perhaps, we might have missed the point. The focus is not on the amount of work done or what we will get eventually but rather, the focus is for who it is being done.

If our hearts are set upon God wholeheartedly, our will, united with His, brings us together in the common goal of working for His greater glory in every way we can, in whatever measure it requires of us. Our hearts will rejoice with each lost sheep found, no matter how late, because our hearts share the same beat as our Lord, who desires to save all. When our hearts do not beat alongside with God's, we will forget the truth that we are mere creatures, limited, sinful and undeserving. We will begin to compare ourselves with others and see others as undeserving and ourselves as more deserving. We will feel that God is unfair, blessing another seemingly more than He blesses us, and the worst of all is when we meet at the Gates of Heaven the very people we had judged as unworthy.

Of the people whom the landowner had hired, was there even one who was truly deserving of the 1 denarius? If not for the landowner who went out in search of us, would we not be still standing by the roadside, aimlessly, hopelessly, meaninglessly? Wasn't the landowner the master of his servants, whose lives were his to decide? Were not servants meant to serve their master in their entire lifespan? Why demand for that 1 denarius or more if the work being done was what ought for us to do to begin with? If Jesus is truly the Master of our lives, can He not decide how He wants to hire us, what He wants to hire us to do? If our hearts truly take Him as our Master, will not our gratitude to Him for the gift of life and love naturally burn our hearts with the deep desire to do whatever He asks of us, regardless the reward, and independent of any other person? Isn't the indescribable joy and peace of being His trusty worker, so great a reward that nothing else matters?

Jesus paid up our wages with His own life, opening up the gates of heaven and the hope of salvation to us. He paid us even before we began work, before we chose to work or not in His vineyard. Since He has paid with His life, it is only right then that the work we do requires us to lay down our lives too.

Where is your heart?
How pure and sincere is your love for God?

23 September 2011, Friday

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Have You Ever Fallen In Love?

Have you ever fallen in love?
Do you know how it feels like to really be in love?

The love that defies all logic and explanation, the love that burns within the heart with an increasing desire to be forever close to that person, the love that is life itself, the love that moves you to refuse nothing to this most beloved lover of your life? The love that breaks down all pride and anger, the love that whitens the stains in your heart, the love that compels you to forego everything for this person? The love that breaks you down into tears because you long for this person so intensely when he is not around, the love that draws out of you an even greater invitation to love, more than you thought you could ever give?

Can a human person be loved with such a love so strong, so intense, so deep-rooted, so helplessly deep-rooted? Can a human person love with such a love? This love, which touches the divinity of the Infinite,
which originates from the Infinite,
and which has its end in the Infinite.

Have you ever fallen in love?
Have you really fallen in love before?

22 September 2011, Thursday

Searched and Found

Picture taken @ MacRitchie Reservoir from a Quiet Hideout (picture below)

I used to search for You beyond the horizon, 
thinking You are in a place far above the earth.

I used to search for You in the nature
that emits the marvel of Your creation,
thinking You have stored in it Your goodness,
which overflows onto me
as I behold its beauty before my eyes.

I used to search for You in the Eucharist,
thinking You have hidden Your form
so that I may use the eyes of faith
to see Your face.

I used to search for You in Man,
thinking You must desire to purify my heart
by my looking beyond imperfections
unto the recognition of the image of You in all.

I searched and indeed,
I found You in all these.
Yet, You led me to see too, 
the most tender and marvellous truth,
that above all, 
You are right here in my heart, 
living and labouring in me,
and loving me unchangingly
with the most incomprehensible love.

The Quiet Hideout of Consolations

22 September 2011, Thursday
Written @ 4.50pm

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Who is the Boss?

A "colony" of ants gathered together to move a piece of chicken from the corner of a kitchen back to their nest. It was a tremendous amount of work to be done for these tiny little creatures but with so many of them, they pulled together all their energy and collectively, they seemed awesomely formidable. Yet, a blow of air from my mouth sent them scurrying in all directions, in the fastest speed possible. They panicked and ran for their lives because they knew the truth of how small they are and that with one step of my foot on them, the whole army, in all its might, will be wiped out.

At Mass yesterday, Fr. Chris focused his homily on the question, inspired by the sitcom, "Who's the Boss?" And what a blessing this question is for those who find it tough to trust in God in difficult moments, when our problems or impending problems seem too much for us to prevent and solve. The gospel reading (Lk 7:1-10) was telling about the Roman Centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant, whom he cared very much for. The Centurion acknowledged his unworthiness as a pagan and did not dare hope for Jesus to enter his house but he also acknowledged the power of Jesus, recognising Him as the Son of God, as "The Boss". And so, the humble and trusting Roman pleaded with Jesus for His mere words, just words that conveyed His Will, and which would be the "command" for healing grace to be poured out upon his dying servant. He knew that that was all that was needed for his servant to be cured.

The story of the Roman Centurion strikes us hard on the head that we need also to know the answer to the question, "Who's the Boss?" And indeed, who is OUR boss? The ants knew that I am their cruel "boss" who would wipe them out and so they ran for their lives upon the slightest threat of danger. If God is our Boss, then we need to know, too, who this Boss is. He is not One who waits to pound on us or crush us under His feet for the slightest fault we make and neither is He without compassion that He will sit back and watch us struggle through life alone.

In the slightest threat of danger, for instance, something happened that threatened the peace and security of our career or family, how do we react? Do we panic and run for our lives like the ants do? Do we set out to deceive like a lizard losing its tail in flight? Or do we hold fast to our God, our Boss, who sees all, knows all and controls all in His hands? Can we trust in Him even in moments where we see no hope, where we cannot look ahead and think of a way out? Can we submit to our Boss and let Him do the fire-fighting for us? Can we let go of our pride, and like the ants, acknowledge how small we are before God and then, like the Centurion, let go of our fears and place all hope and trust in Him? As Father wisely pointed out, if we do not live our daily lives when all is calm and peaceful with the disposition that God is our Boss, then there is no way we can trust in Him when we are faced with a crisis situation.

I love the challenge that concluded the homily yesterday; the question posed to each of us present and now, to each of you. "Who is YOUR boss?"

13 September 2011, Tuesday

Thursday, 8 September 2011

How does God see us?

To a company, you and I are but some persons who, once sacked or resigned, are easily replaced by some other persons.

To a hawker, you and I are but patronizers who come and go. If we return again, it is good income for him but if we do not, then someone else will come by to patronize.

To a maid, you and I may be family for a time but once our paths are separated, another family will come by to hire and share their lives.

To a doctor, you and I are patients who are cared for during the moment of consultation and treatment. Shortly after, another patient enters the clinic while we would have collected our medicine and left.

If we look around our society today, things and people are easily replaced. If our newly purchased camera is faulty, we take it to the shop and they will make a 1-for-1 exchange. If you do not know what to do with your old Tefal iron, you can trade it in and buy another at a lower purchase price. If your pen ran out of ink today, wouldn't you simply go to the book store to get a refill ink or buy another pen? Like things, we come and go just like everyone else. In a moment, the paths of life meet and then they separate again. To many, you and I are just passing by, for that few seconds of brushing past each other as we cross the road, that few minutes of squeezing next to each other on a jam-packed train. To many, you and I really do not matter... in our absence, someone else will replace us.

Yet, if we look again at our lives, there are things that are just one of a kind. If someone designed and handmade a single piece of flower vase as a gift to us, we know that once this vase is broken, we can never find a duplicate to replace it. We could try to describe or show a picture of the vase to another skilled potter but he will never be able to replicate an exact same vase as the broken one. If someone special gives us a gift and this someone has since passed away, we know it that even if we were to buy the same item from the mall, it will still not be the same for it will be without that attachment of sentiments left by the deceased.

And so it is too, to a family member, you and I may form a large part of his life, the meaning of his daily struggles, the warmth he returns to at the end of a day. Without you and I, life to this person will never be the same again. Another mother, father, brother or sister will never be able to replace the person we are and the presence we claim in our families.

To a close friend, you and I may form the pillar of strength he relies upon when life seems to turn on him, the listening ear he lends when no one else seem to care. Without you and I, life to this person will never be the same again. Another close friend will never be able to exactly replace the kind of person we are to this friend.

Most of all, whether we are some unknown person hiding in a cave, an average citizen like most of us are, known to a group of people we come into contact with or we are a high profile successful person of society whose face is publicised on the magazine's cover page, we are far more than that one person in billions of people who have lived, who is living and who will live on this planet Earth... because we are, to God, irreplaceable.

Each of us is loved by Him with the most tender and personal love. He loves you and I for who we are and not for what we can do and certainly not for what we have achieved in life. He loves us; our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and failures. He sees what we are, what we are not, what we struggle to be, and what we can become... and seeing all that He sees in us, He loves us.

Though it may seem like we are just passing through life on earth, a person who was born and who will one day go and thereafter, be forgotten in man's hearts, to God, He knows who we are, each individual human person, and He watches over us day after day, He sees all that we do, and He is loving us in every moment, even when we are in sin. And it is precisely when we are in sin that God yearns even more for us because He cannot bear the separation that we force upon Him when we choose to go away from Him in sin.

Such is the love of God for us and such is the significance we have in His heart, He who is our Creator. That when we think we do not matter to anyone at all, we actually matter the most in His heart. That when we think we are good-for-nothings, we actually are, in God's forming us in His own image and likeness, the evidence of His love for us because He wants to share something in common with us, He wants to associate Himself with us. That when we think we are the most undeserving of anything, God extends His hands to us and affirms us that however we may think and feel, He has already poured out His love for us on the cross and there is no way He can retract that love, already given, willingly, to you and I. That when we shy away from Him when we realise how evil our hearts may be, He opens His arms and says to us, "Come, ... come to Me."

How can we ignore such a God?
How can we go on living in our sinful ways in the presence of such a God?
How can we remain in despair at life's troubles when we have such a God?
How can we despise ourselves and think that we are less important than who we are to such a God?

How is such a God, this one and only God, calling us and inviting us today to open our hearts to accept and reject no longer, to receive and ignore no longer, His love for us? How do we see ourselves? And how differently does God see us?

8 September 2011, Thursday

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Best Children's Day Gift

Out in this weekend's Catholic News issue
Dedicated to all children, through all involved in nurturing them

The Best Children’s Day Gift

Every October, a day is set aside to celebrate the gift that children are to society. This year, on 7 Oct, children in Singapore will have a day of rest and play to commemorate the occasion. For those who have children in our lives – parents, grandparents and teachers – it’s an ideal moment to consider how special they are. Perhaps a gift may even be appropriate to show them our love.

I would like to think that an ideal gift is one that is useful and life-giving, one that can be brought to school, to the playground and even on overseas trips; a gift that is applicable in marriage and career, sickness and health, riches and poverty. One that fits all the criteria is the gift of Jesus Himself. But how do we make this a realistic gift, rather than an impossible ideal?

As a teacher, my experiences with children tell me they are easy to influence because they lack life experiences. No matter how we shelter them, they are persistently exposed to negative influences. Good values are easily diluted and distorted; many children grow up with little principles that hold them righteous in the face of temptations and negative influences. In reality, teenage suicide, pregnancy and abortion are increasingly rampant. Children as young as eight-years-old watch pornography and talk about it at school. Even pupils in top tertiary institutions are engaging in pre-marital sex freely, while theft and gangsterism begins as early as nine-years-old. There is a common misconception that children facing these issues are poor academic performers and who belong to the underprivileged and broken families. But this is inaccurate. Many of these children actually excel in their studies and belonging to seemingly functional families.

The need and urgency to guide these children to discover God in their lives must not be brushed aside. All of us who come into contact with children should take pains to teach them about God, as a vital part of their upbringing. It seems to me that most children do not open up to their parents anymore during the adolescent years, and parents have to accept the reality that we cannot be there to protect and restrain our children all the time – only God can and will. When we have accepted this limitation of our human finiteness, we can then begin to perceive more clearly the essentiality of helping our children develop their faith and of teaching them the values and faith that Christ gave to the Church.

With secularism, consumerism and materialism shaping our lives, it is now tougher to uphold our Christian values of humility, obedience, compassion, selflessness and the like. Many are willing to spend thousands of dollars to enrol their children in “branded” schools and enrichment classes, buffing them up to meet expectations. There seems to be a “competition” over whose child is given more and better enrichment classes. However, do academic achievements guarantee happiness? All parents want their children to be successful, but is “success” only measured by the number of A’s they have on their report card, or only in the number of zero’s in they pay cheques in future? Success is important, but too many have defined the word according to the way the world sees it. How about eternal life? What about faithfulness and love for neighbour? Jesus Himself warned us, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mk 8:36)

Jesus showed us that the way to live life to the fullest is to live in His ways, upholding His values. These values contradict those of the secular world but it is these values that hold the key to the joy and peace that precisely, many who are absorbed in the world do not have. The “best gift” we can give our children is not necessarily those that are on their wish-list, things that give but a temporary spark of excitement. We would be short-changing them greatly. What do our children really need to tide them through life’s many ups and downs? Do we prepare them sufficiently to be people of good values so that they may reflect the goodness of God to others they meet, or are we thoughtlessly putting them on a treadmill, on which they run without end to prove that they and us are special and more worthy than another human person?

Living the Catholic faith starts with building a personal relationship with God. Through this, we find strength in our difficulties, comfort for our pains, hope in our disappointments, courage to withstand peer pressure, wisdom to choose our friends and activities, and it puts on us the armour to resist temptations. This is the best gift that anyone can give to children. There will be many times that friends and even family cannot be there to support. But God is always there, at all times, in all places and situations.

There was a teenage girl, Carol (not her real name). She was rejected by her schoolmates, who jeered at her and passed unpleasant remarks, calling her “spastic”, which made her feel so inferior about herself. For three years, Carol lived in fear, despair and helplessness. She bore these pains in silence, alone and without any emotional support from family and friends. In addition, she had to face frequent arguments among family members, threatening the security of her family life. When emotions swelled and all Carol saw was pain and hopelessness, she looked down from her window and contemplated suicide, the easiest way to put an end to all the torture she was experiencing. Only one person stopped her from taking that irreversible step – God. In the depths of her heart, Carol knew that God loved her; she had encountered this God in a personal way, and knew that taking her life would upset Him greatly. Because of this, Carol pulled herself back and hung on to life despite her lack of understanding of why God had brought her into this world to suffer. Her only confidants in all her pains and sufferings were Jesus and Mary. She would tell Them about her feelings, pour out her sorrows in daily prayer and after which, obtained the much needed peace and healing that only God can give.

And this gift of faith can be practical, and not just idealistic daydream. It would be a good start if we ourselves put in effort to build a personal relationship with God through prayer and through faithfulness to God’s ways. We can begin by examining our attitudes towards our faith. For example, do we find ourselves attending Mass each week because “we have to”, or are we attentive and harbouring the desire to seek Christ more earnestly? When we take Holy Mass more seriously, we will begin to make every effort to guide our children through the different segments of the Mass, explaining to them the prayers and teaching them reverence before our God.

Secondly, we can evaluate our prayer life; its regularity and quality. Do we go to Him with authenticity and with the desire to deepen our relationship with Him or are we rattling off a complaint or a list of prayer intentions? When we discover our personal God through prayer, we can then include our children in family prayers, showing them by example the commitment that they too need to have in their own discovering and deepening of their relationship with God.

Also, we can reflect more thoroughly on our value system and list out our priorities in life. How do we relate to others, be they colleagues, family or even our domestic helpers? Do we treat them with equal respect, care and consideration? How much of Christ’s values do we want to emulate? When we have centred all our words and deeds on Christ, we can then correct and guide our children to follow suit. Children pick up their mannerisms primarily from parents, their closest references of the “right” behaviour.

A relationship with God grounds our children in the goodness that comes only from God. Let us therefore open the eyes of our hearts to recognise the need to nourish our children with the one Source of Life and to lead them closer to Jesus with the help of Mary’s intercession. May this Children’s Day be a meaningful celebration for us all.

Picture was taken at St Paul's Hill 
Golden Jubilee Twin Celebration - St Ignatius S'pore & St Francis Xavier Pertaling Jaya