Thursday, 26 January 2012

Qualities of Suffering [Part 3] - Redemptive

Redemptive. The third quality of suffering brings the greatest joy to holy souls, because it most resembles the suffering of Our Crucified Lord. Redemptive suffering is the highest form of suffering because it is directed not inward towards the souls own sanctification, but outward towards others. It is the culminating act in the work of Christ, and thus there is nothing greater that we can do in our imitation of Him. This form of suffering not only serves to sanctify the soul, but also the Church as well, and indeed the entire world. In this way, the soul participates most intimately with the mission of our Creator. While it is true that a soul does not necessarily have to pass through the first two qualities of suffering in order to suffer redemptively (Any form of suffering, no matter how small, has the potential to take on a redemptive character. Saint Teresa says that even a toothache can be offered for the conversion of sinners), it is also true that the more a soul has been tested and tried in the previous two kinds of suffering, the more graces will its redemptive suffering merit. Therefore, if a soul truly wants to convert the greatest number of souls and bring the greatest glory to God in this life, then it must put its hand to the plow of self-mastery, that is; self-conversion. As Saint Faustina said; "O my Jesus, I know that, in order to be useful to souls, one has to strive for the closest possible union with You, who are Eternal Love... I can be wholly useful to the Church by my personal sanctity, which throbs with life in the whole Church, for we all make up one organism in Jesus." To illustrate this reality, she was later made to understand that she saved a thousand souls in just forty days through her prayers and sacrifices alone, behind the walls of the cloister;
Saint Faustina
"On the First Friday of the month, before Communion, I saw a large ciborium filled with sacred hosts. A hand placed the ciborium in front of me, and I took it in my hands. There were a thousand living hosts inside. Then I heard a voice, These are hosts which have been received by the souls for whom you have obtained the grace of true conversion during this Lent." (Diary, p640)
Saint Teresa of the Andes
"We [religious] are co-redeemers of the world. And souls are not redeemed without the cross."
In a vision given to Saint Faustina, we observe how religious communities sustain the world in existence, acting as a shield blunting the sword of God's justice upon the world;
"During the renewal of the vows, I saw the Lord Jesus on the Epistle side (of the altar), wearing a white garment with a golden belt and holding a terrible sword in His hand. This lasted until the moment when the sisters began to renew their vows. Then I saw a resplendence beyond compare and, in front of this brilliance, a white cloud in the shape of a scale. Then Jesus approached and put the sword on one side of the scale, and it fell heavily towards the ground until it was about to touch it. Just then the sisters finished renewing their vows. Then I saw Angels who took something from each of the sisters and placed it in a golden vessel on the other side of the scale, it immediately out weighed and raised up the side on which the sword had been laid. At that moment, a flame issued forth from the thurible, and it reached all the way to the brilliance. Then I heard a voice coming from the brilliance: "Put the sword back in its place; the sacrifice is greater."
What great glory, at so little cost! And how few people really understand this reality! As Our Lady revealed to Venerable Mary of Agreda, if the saints in heaven were able to feel regret, they would be astonished at themselves for not making full use of the time by letting no opportunity pass for sacrifice. Let us then take advantage of this gift that we have been given, and recall the profound love Our Lord has for us. All He asks of us is our love, and if we are willing, a little suffering. And for such a small price, He will descend into the world and reverse the fate of souls who have co-signed themselves to eternal destruction. What then is a little discomfort on earth, compared to an eternity of bliss? As the saints reveal to us, there is no greater weapon for conversion than this.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Qualities of Suffering [Part 2] - Unitive



Unitive. Once gold has been sufficiently purified, it can then be forged by the hammer into the proper instrument; wielded by the hands of Christ. This second quality therefore subsists in the first, in that the purification enables the soul to be united with God, making it a image of Himself; to be as if a 'little Christ' on earth. In this stage, the soul begins to become inflamed with a burning love for Our Lord, and begins to realize what it once thought was love, was only an imperfect affection. It is now beginning to understand what true love consists; not in sweet feelings, miracles, or ecstasies, but in loving; in spending oneself for others; in giving until it hurts, without expecting any recompense. 

As Saint Faustina said; "Sufferings, adversities, humiliations, failures and suspicions that have come my way are splinters that keep alive the fire of my love for You, O Jesus."  

The Servant of God Fr. John Hardon once wrote; "We Love God Only in the measure that we are willing to suffer." ...not suffering for it's own sake, but for others. 

As Pope John Paul II summarized in his Theology of the Body; "Man cannot find himself except by making a sincere gift of himself"

And so, in this stage, the soul is now becoming more itself--what it was created to be--and her happiness increases exponentially. Just as the force of a magnet increases as it draws nearer to iron, so too does the union between God and the soul increase. But now, the soul is still not yet perfect. Our Lord asks (but does not force) the soul to continue its advance, as He has prepared a greater mission for it. If the soul complies, she may begin to experience intense periods of interior darkness, or nights, where she must learn become detached not only from creatures and things of this earth, but also spiritual attachments as well; at times feeling as if a blind man walking in darkness, relying on only blind faith and obedience as its guide. It is during these periods that the soul makes the greatest progress, unbeknownced to itself. It is only until the darkness passes that the soul looks back and sees a great chasm it has crossed. And if the soul perseveres, the greater will its love be inflamed, until it can be said that Christ has taken possession of the soul..

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Qualities of Suffering [Part 1] - Purgative

As we read in the writings of the saints, we begin to understand more clearly the distinct fruits of suffering. These do not have to happen strictly successively, but can at times overlap, or at times occur all at once.
Purgative. Suffering acts to purify and humble the soul. It is a crucible in which the impurities of our soul are unmasked and expelled. Suffering can be physical (such as illnesses), but can also be emotional (humiliation, persecution, etc.), and spiritual (dryness in prayer, temptations, etc.). This degree [n.b.Purgative Way] is the first  and most necessary step towards union with Our Lord. In this stage, the soul can be likened to a baby, which needs continual comfort and nurture from its parents. And just as a good father is quick in showering his child with many gifts, so too does our Father in heaven do to the young soul, to give it stregnth to be further purified by the fire of Divine Love. The more the soul trusts in God and is faithful, the more happy she will be in the midst of suffering, because suffering will them be elevated to a supernatural level, drawing tears of love, gratitude, and peace.
Whereas, those who are farther from God cannot understand this, because for them suffering brings nothing but misery and despair. This sweetness stirs up in the soul feelings of love, gratitude, compunction. Yet there will also be certain times when Our Lord removes even the consolations, so that the soul does not become too attached to the sweetness alone. As Thomas A. Kempis writes; “God wants you to learn to suffer tribulation without comfort and, submitting yourself entirely to Him, to grow in humility through tribulation. No one so deeply feels what Christ endured as one who has had to suffer as He did.” Saint John of the Cross believed that this stage was so necessary, that without a complete and total eradication of the appetites and self-will, a soul will never advance to higher degrees of holiness. He states; "One inordinate appetite alone....suffices to make the soul so captive, dirty, and unsightly, that until the appetite is purified, the soul is incapable of conformity with God in union. [...] It makes little difference whether a bird is tied down by a thread or by a chain. The bird will be held down just the same."

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Traffic Jam of Prayer Life

With the body comfortably sunken into the leather seat in complete relaxation, the hand steering the vehicle towards its destination in the quiet of the night, the acceleration showcasing the smoothness of the engine, anyone who loves to drive will be absorbed by the speed and control of the car, especially when the roads are scarcely littered by just a few other vehicles.

Yet, the same route home that I take almost every evening is not always so easy to drive along and is certainly rather congested at the time I am heading home. On rainy days, the vehicle may just be moving a metre or two every 10 seconds. It is stressful to drive in such conditions. More and more signposts are springing up to warn us of road accidents and traffic jams ahead precisely because we really do not like being held up, nor do we like moving slowly, especially in short, occasional spurts.

We like things moving smoothly and quickly. And isn't this the way we expect our prayer life to be too? Always smooth-sailing, always being able to feel the presence of God so that we can be assured He is there listening to what we have to say to Him? We want our prayers to travel quickly to the ears of God and that He, too, respond quickly and in our favour.

But our journey in prayer is not always that easy. In fact, it is a big struggle more often than not. And we become impatient with the journey, too eager to arrive at our destination without further delay. Perhaps, in a traffic jam, the best thing to do is to wait patiently for the next possible movement, be it half a metre or ten, in the acceptance that since we have chosen this road to travel on at this particular time of the day, then we would expect to be caught in a jam. Even if a jam occurred in an unexpected time and place, can we truly say it was unexpected? We cannot use any road for that matter and expect it to always be jam-free. By taking up this approach, rather than resenting the jam and allowing it to grow a frustration within our hearts, we may be able to tide through the jam with greater ease and lesser tension.

Since we have chosen to open our hearts and minds to God in prayer, thus, allowing Him to labour within us, then we have to also accept that our prayer life will inevitably meet occasions of blockages that slow us down - doubts, fears, dryness. We enjoy moments of feeling the consolation of God, when we can praise Him and trust in Him so effortlessly with the help of His graces. But in the face of desolation, when prayer becomes dry, when we cannot seem to feel God close to us, perhaps, like in a traffic jam, the best way is to accept this as a part of the spiritual journey and await patiently for the next possible movement, when God will lead us and take us to the next station, as He wills, when He wills. Just as a traffic jam is never permanent, so it is too with our prayer life. Trust in the Lord who knows what He is doing in us.

11 Jan 2012 Wednesday

Monday, 9 January 2012

People Need the Lord

After school this afternoon, Keith lifted his leg above the parapet of the school building and pulled his body over. His friends pulled him down and proclaimed at the top of their voices that Keith wanted to commit suicide. They were still speaking about it among one another 2 hours later. They knew he was serious about it but little did they know that Keith was not out of his mind when he wanted to throw himself off the building. All throughout CCA, Keith was barely present. When it was time to sit down, his body was curled up in a ball as he hugged his knees as closely to his chest as he could.

The teacher called out to Keith, whose eyes were red and as he spoke, tears fell uncontrollably. He explained that life is miserable, too miserable for him to take, and so, he wanted to end it. An accumulation of frustrations, of pain and hurts, of disappointments and rejection, with nowhere to go for help, no one to turn to. 

Keith is turning 12 this year, with barely sufficient coping mechanisms to get him through the harsh reality of life. A child being surrounded by the artificial image of a rosy life for nine years and placed on a pedestal, only to be beaten down thereafter by the same people who now picks on his weaknesses instead of responsibly teaching him, as parents, how to overcome his flaws and cope with his shortcomings. 

Keith affirmed that he knows fully well that his parents are scolding him excessively out of love for him. "Love", such a pure and beautiful gift. How does it then become a weapon to corner a person, disarming him of even the slightest hope of a happy life? How can something so divine bring about destruction and pain? Look around us (and we don't have to look very far). How many are troubled by problems of one kind or another? How many of these problems have aroused because of our imperfect love? Have we really understood what love is? We probably believe we do. We are knowledgeable people of the 21st century, with information readily at our fingertips. We turn on the media and we are taught what "love" looks like. Understanding concepts is nothing new or challenging for most of us. And we chuck religion aside or at least to the bottom half of our priority list, not realising that it is precisely because of all the inaccurate teachings about "love" that bombard us throughout each day that we need a good example and definition of love that we can fall back on for the truth. A definition that has been tried and tested and proven repeatedly to hold true across time and space. 

People need the Lord - the Perfect Sacrifice of Love. But people do not want to admit so. And there are also those who do not even realise they are empty inside, just as the song tells us. They seem to be aborting themselves, with the silent cry in their hearts for the Truth being left unattended. People are suffering as a result. Innumerable people are suffering the brokenness of their lives, without any idea how to go about mending the increasing number and deepening cracks in their hearts. And so they lay layers after layers of cement to cover up the cracks.

Keith's parents are probably exasperated in the face of their less-than-perfect son, knowing that the world tolerates no shortcomings. Being confronted by the reality of societal demands and the reality of the imperfections of their son, what do they do next? How should they act? We can find our answers in Christ, who has taught us explicitly what love is. All Keith needed for a start is practical ideas of how to work around his major flaws. His eyes lit up when he was given those ideas because he felt that he was not a hopeless case any more. It will take him far more than practical ideas to mend his wounds but in time, with the help of God's graces, he will learn and grow. 

Surely, we are imperfect and so is the love we are capable of extending. But in our imperfections lies the loophole in us, through which Christ can shine His Light and make Himself known to others. If we keep up our efforts and commitment to imitate Him more closely each day, even if it takes decades, we will still become more radiant reflections of Him. 

Do you take Jesus as your answer key to life's many questions?
To those who are in pain, how can you share Jesus with them?

9 Jan 2012, Monday

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Recognizing Jesus

"Often, like the disciples of the Emmaus, Christ passes us by, walks with us, and we don't recognise Him."

How has Jesus walked with you today? 
Take a moment to recognise Him in His many disguises and counting our blessings, give thanks to Him who has not abandoned us, upholding His faithfulness in His promise to us.

5 Jan 2012 Thursday

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Fish Food - Addiction

Being the first day of school, I was running through the school rules and my class rules with the kids. And I found myself saying to them (paraphrased), "We all know what we should and should not do, what decisions to make in the face of right and wrong. But the funny thing about us is that we tend to sway towards the side we know we should not and don't want to take. I don't know why." Recounting, the topic of "addiction" comes to mind.

Who does not know that addictions are bad? A child is taught at a tender age of this reality and the discipline he must have in order to prevent even the accidental onset of addictions. At times, like Goofy, we do not even realise when we have gotten ourselves hooked, until we wind in the line. Are there addictions that do not harm one person at the very least? Addictions to nicotine, alcohol, gambling, just to name a few. Yet, the very fact that these are classified as addictions warns us too that they are also very difficult to say "no" to, once we are hooked. But what logic does this make then of a person who consents to the very act that he or she knows fully well will harm? What makes a person go on gambling away his pension although he recognises the negligible probability of his wins ever balancing or surpassing the account of his losses? What makes addictions so addictive?

I find this picture of a fish looking at the worm very intriguing. It is particularly striking to see how it focuses its undivided attention on this worm that is stuck - an easy meal filled with a perceived satisfaction. Will a fish refuse a bait and swim away to hunt for a catch, which is far more tedious, unpredictable and risky? And who would not choose the easy way out of most or every situation, which otherwise demands of us time and energy, dragging us along for a long period of time, and at times, even putting us at a risk we dare not take? Perhaps, the easy way out is so attractive because it allows us to escape from having to face the pain, difficulties, struggles, uncertainties, doubts, fears that we know are hidden, embedded, in our hearts, and which we dare not face. The truth is often so hard to swallow. To know, we then have to act upon, which requires effort to change. Don't we all like nature to take its course? So that life becomes an uncontrollable outcome of this thing called fate?

Relying on something we find pleasure in, something that can momentarily transport our minds into the illusion of a problem-free fairyland, becomes such an easy way out. Thus, one of the reasons of addiction - to run away from something we cannot and are unwilling to face. A jobless man in his 50s takes to alcohol to forget the disappointment and insecurity of being unable to provide for his family. A helpless and desperate teenager from a highly troubled family takes to glue-sniffing to lift himself out of a depression too painful to bear. Another takes to self-mutilation to externalise the intense suffering trapped in his heart that he otherwise does not know how to ease. Then, there are those who spend unending hours playing computer games because in so doing, they have no time left to think about personal issues that will dust up a sandstorm of emotions too painful and too tough to settle and clear thereafter. Underlying all these is the tremendous fear of facing the insurmountable giant called "myself", "my life".

To overcome such addictions is to overcome this great fear of facing ourselves, and thereby, to look into our lives' imperfections. A sentence enclosing within it the prescription for a cure too humanly impossible to drink. Yet, it is, nonetheless, a worthy prescription to attempt. We can, sip by sip, drink the cup that we feel is too far beyond us. If we draw strength and courage from the One who first showed us that all these are possible, when He, for us, accepted amidst His great agony the most bitter cup given Him. The good we cannot do on our own, we can do with God's Divine Help, upon which we can rely for courage, perseverance, patience, understanding, humility, acceptance, and most of all, the grace of healing and forgiveness. May we turn to our Lord in prayer more whole-heartedly, to Him who promised those who seek first His Kingdom that all these other things that we so need will be granted. Our daily bread.

Are there any addictions, trivial or severe, that you might not have noticed?
If you have, what is it revealing to you about you?

4 January 2012, Wednesday