Thursday, 21 November 2013

The God Who Came, Who Comes & Who Will Come

In today's first reading (Zechariah 2:14-17), prophet Zechariah proclaimed the message of the Lord, saying, "Sing, rejoice, daughter of Zion; for I am coming to dwell in the middle of you - it is the Lord who speaks." The Lord, who he then prophesied is "awaking and is coming from his holy dwelling", has already come to us at Christmas morn. 

St. Bernard of Clairvaux spoke about the 3rd coming of Christ. It occurs in between the 1st and the 2nd coming. It is the continuation of the 1st coming and leads to the completion of God's reign at the 2nd. This 3rd coming is taking place continuously in our lives. Jesus comes and dwells in the middle of us every day of our lives. And He does this through the Sacraments of the Church, through nature, our families and friends, etc. 

This morning, I'm particularly moved with gratitude for Jesus's coming into our midst for because of His great love, generosity and detachment to all He has as God, I can enjoy peace, love, joy, forgiveness in my own life. 

Who would urge me to forgive so that I can be at peace with Man? Who would explain the undercurrents of Man's hearts so that I can understand and be compassionate? Who would calm the anger within me so that I am freed of this burden? Who would heal my wounds so that I can be liberated? Who would do all these and so much more and who CAN do these? If not Jesus, who has come to walk among us, to experience humanity and so understands humanity?

He was not afraid of poor living conditions and material poverty. Yet, my body tenses up when I visited slums and am surrounded by mosquitoes. 

He was not afraid of coming into close proximity with sinful Man, to eat and live with them. Today, He even allows me to eat of His flesh and blood in the Eucharist, allowing His pure and holy Self to be one with my unholy, stained self. Yet, I judge others and keep those who have not won my approval at bay. 

He was not afraid to be accused by Man, to be misunderstood, insulted and labelled a failure. Yet, I always feel indignant when I am not well understood and would eagerly clarify myself to avoid a tarnished reputation.

He was not afraid to leave His glory behind. He had control over all but came to give His life into the hands of sinners. He had but He did not cling on to it. The little that I have… I cling on, unwilling to let go, struggling to go against my will. Wanting to control, wanting certainty, wanting to save my poor life only to lose it in the process. 

Today, I pray especially for the grace of death. Death to self. So that, like Jesus, God may bring life to many through my dying. 

What does Jesus's coming to dwell in your midst mean to you? How does He do this?
What grace do you desire for today?

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

For the Risk-Takers

Pasting this here for future reference

Written by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh
Archbishop of Singapore
© All Rights Reserved 
- See more at:


SCRIPTURE READINGS: 2 MC 7:1, 20-31; LK 19:11-28

The context of today’s parable in Luke’s gospel is that of the second coming of Christ, when He will come as King.  The story about a man of noble birth going to a faraway country to receive his appointment to become its king is an allusion to Jesus who has ascended into heaven and will come again for a reckoning.  The worst scenario that can happen to us is to reject Jesus as king, as some people in the parable did. To reject the kingship of Jesus is to reject His rule in our lives.

However, even if we accept the rule of Jesus, it is still not sufficient to enable us to live fully in the Kingdom.  The parable of the Talents is therefore an appropriate way to remind us to take stock of the way we should be living the life of the Kingdom, especially when we are almost at the end of the Church’s liturgical year.   What, then, does it take for one to live in the Kingdom?  The message in both scripture readings is clear:  one must have the courage to take risks if we want to live fully in this life and in the next.  Taking risks in life is necessary if we want to live in the Kingdom.  Those who do not take risks will not be able to live their lives meaningfully.  This is the gist of today’s gospel passage.

Indeed, the parable of the Talents does not simply teach us that we have to make use of our talents.  Rather, it is that we must take risks in life, especially when it is for the Kingdom, namely, when it is for love, joy, peace and unity.  Without taking risks for the Kingdom, we can never find real life.  For this reason, the third servant in the parable was reprimanded, not because he lost the money entrusted to him but because he did not invest the money.  He was too cautious.  Because he was overly cautious, he did not gain anything from it.  In this sense, he was irresponsible because he did not make full use of what was given to him.

The truth of life is that people who are too cautious cannot expect to gain much. Taking risks is a necessary element of life. As the axiom says, “no venture, no gain”.  Yes, to be alive is to take risks.  In everything we do or say each day, we are consciously or unconsciously undertaking risks.  Waking up and going to work is surely a risk because we do not know whether the vehicle we are travelling in will be involved in an accident or not.  Staying at home or at the office can also be risky because you might get trapped in a fire.

Allowing our children to grow in maturity requires that we give them graded freedom.  Giving them freedom entails risk as well because they might abuse that freedom.  Yet, by failing to trust our children to make responsible decisions on their own and learning to take charge of their lives, we eventually destroy them because they grow up to be weaklings, unable to fend for themselves.  If these children never grow up, it is simply because they have never been given the opportunity to exercise responsibility in their lives.  Even if a simple thing like waking up in the morning requires the parents’ intervention, it shows the kind of responsibility the child has for himself.  But if we take risks and are willing to allow them to learn through their mistakes, then the child will learn very quickly the importance of making wise choices because he will have to be answerable for what he does or does not do.   Yes, if we do not take risks, there is no way to live our lives enthusiastically.  Simply staying at home and not doing anything can be considered the least risky thing to do, but we will be bored to death anyway.

But this is on the level of mundane life.  More importantly, the gospel invites us to take risks for the Kingdom. In other words, we must take risks for the development of our personal and spiritual life.  What is the kingdom if not the love of God and humankind?  The third servant in the parable is actually a reference to the Pharisees and the scribes.  They had received the knowledge of God, the Torah from Moses, but they sought to merit their salvation by a meticulous observance of the laws. By so doing, they excluded others, especially the simple folks, the sinners and the publicans from the Kingdom.  Others found it impossible to follow the laws.   Furthermore, because they put the laws before the love of man, they became legalistic in their conduct towards their fellow human beings.  Of course, the great thing about observing the law is that we feel secure because we feel right before God and man.  We feel that we have made ourselves worthy and so have no fear of judgment since we can stand before God and say to Him, “I deserve to be here!”  This of course can make us self-righteous as well, or think that salvation is achieved through our efforts alone.

We too must also ask ourselves whether we take risks for the building of the Kingdom of God. In our spiritual lifedo we venture out to deepen our understanding and experience of God?  Some of us can be so insecure and protective of the way we pray and worship that we are not open to other forms of prayer and worship.  We pass judgment for example, on the charismatic way of praying.  Little do we realize that we could be missing out on the ways God can touch us in our lives.  That also explains why some people are afraid to pray and meditate for fear that they will uncover some things about themselves that they do not like and cannot accept.

On the level of personal life, many people also fear to risk loving and growing.  I know of some couples who do not want attend Engaged Encounter or Marriage Encounter, simply because they fear that their relationships might not stand up to scrutiny. Then again, we have many people who, because of past broken relationships, are too frightened to take the risk of loving again. They close the door to all relationships and thus live empty, loveless and unfulfilled lives.

Yes we are invited to take more risks especially when it comes to love and sharing.  We must take the risk of sharing ourselves with others.  We must take the courage to reach out to people.  So long as we build barriers, we cannot expect to make friends or build a community of love.  Every relationship is indeed a risk.  But the risk we take is worthwhile.  And even if the relationship does not work out, we will at least have grown in some ways and come to understand better the meaning and demands of relationships.  This will certainly make us more matured and loving people.

Taking risks in love also means that we are called to give ourselves to others in terms of service.  We are called to give more and more of ourselves to others.  The truth is that the more we give the more we get.  Those who are over self-preserving will find themselves poor not only in friendship but in love as well.  A person who is poor in love cannot be a happy person because his heart is not expansive enough.  But when we give ourselves in love and service to others, sharing our talents, wealth and time, we will find that we grow more and more each day.  Conversely, those who hide their talents, those who are selfish and protective, like the third servant in the gospel, will have their talents taken away from them.  When we do not share what we have, we eventually lose them.  A person who does not make use of his hands and legs will soon find himself unable to move at all.  The only way to find life is to give ourselves to others.

Most of all, we are called to take risks for the glory of God.  We must do everything for the honour of His name.  We must be ready to risk, venture into new areas in the task of proclaiming the gospel.  This is what the New Evangelization is all about, urging us to go beyond the traditional ways and old ways of proclaiming the gospel.  We must find new approaches to transmitting Christ to our present generation that can no longer understand God or experience Him as they are living in a world of relativism, secularism, science and technology.  This is precisely how Jesus lived His life.  He took risks by going against the conventional way of proclaiming the gospel, methods so different from the religious leaders of His time.  He irked them by His inimitable preaching, His eating with sinners and breaking the Sabbath Law.  Jesus was not afraid to take risks in proclaiming the Good News in a new way.

He risked loving and sharing His life with us because He lived only for His Father.  Even when He was on the cross, He took the risk of surrendering everything to the Father, commending everything to Him, not knowing how His mission was to be completed.  But because Jesus trusted in the Father totally, He was raised from the dead.  Of course, we have the shining example of the mother who unflinchingly “watched the death of seven sons in the course of a single day, and endured it resolutely because of her hopes in the Lord.”  Indeed she even encouraged each of them to give their lives for the Lord and be faithful to Him.  We must realize that at the end of the day, we do not live only for this world but for the life to come.  All that we do here on earth are both a preparation and a foretaste of the life that is to come. As the psalmist says, “Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.”

Of course if we want to take risks with our life like Jesus, we too must cultivate the same relationship with God as Jesus did.  Unless we experience the Father’s love and trust in His providence and wisdom, we will not be able to take risks in loving.  Yes, what we need is the trust and faith of the mother in the first reading.  She trusted in God totally, knowing that God will raise her sons to a new and eternal life even though they were burnt to death for refusing to compromise with pagan practices. Like the psalmist we must believe that God will “attend to my outcry; hearken to my prayer from lips without deceit. I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me; hear my word. But I in justice shall behold your face; on waking, I shall be content in your presence.” We can also take the same risks in life when we trust that God will take care of us and that His providence will see us through.  And even when we suffer setbacks in life, we know that these are but occasions for God to strengthen us and build up our strength.  In this way, we can live our lives meaningfully, dynamically and joyfully.  For to live our life in such a way, in trust, in love, in service and facing up to all the challenges of life, is certainly to live in the Kingdom.

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Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Testimony #4 - (CER36) Surrendering, Transforming

During the second praying over, I rested in the Spirit before Fr. William prayed over me. There were no catchers behind me and I hit my head onto the floor. It was painful, contradicting to what people have told me too that if it really is the Spirit, we will not feel any pain. What made my mind ‘churn’ further was that this time, there were no images, consolations, heat, cold, water droplets. Nothing. It did not take me long to get up so that when Father came, I might have a better chance of resting more ‘properly’.

But when Fr. William prayed over me and I fell again, I started doubting again. And the more I evaluated, the worse the desolations. Yet, there was a very brief moment during which I felt a strong conviction – far stronger than just a realization – that from then on, there is such an unbreakable bond between God and I that I will never be able to not love Him again. I had prayed earlier for Him to crucify me to Himself so that I will not be able to run away from Him again. I felt the sealing of this bond.

After this brief moment, my brain took over again and some time later, I heard a question posed to me, “I thought you said you will accept anything I give to you?” At once, I remembered that at the start of the praying over, I told Jesus that it did not matter if I rested or not because I will accept whatever He gives to me. As I continued lying there, feeling nothing in particular, the question I had to confront was, “Can I believe that God is healing me somehow even without me feeling it?” And yes, I believed. Somehow, I felt a deep inner calm, which I have not been able to experience for so many months. Prayer has been so difficult because I have been too restless to sit in stillness. God was healing me indeed without my knowing.

After the retreat, there were times I thought back about some of my past memories that used to make me feel awful but this time, there was a sense of detachment from those memories; they no longer had a hold on me. I could relive the memories with a calm acceptance and peace. I knew instantly that I have truly been healed.

That night, I brought the two praying-over experiences to prayer and realized that I have fallen prey again to the monsters in my head that seek to control, analyze, rationalize, judge and doubt. At this realization, it dawned upon me that this is one of the ‘work’ Jesus was referring to when He said, “We have work to.” The overturning of the parts of me that are hindrances in my relationship with God. I had stopped striving to be more Christ-like for months and I knew it was time to return to it. And I was all ready to press on. 

Monday, 11 November 2013

Testimony #3 - (CER36) Raised from Death

Although I have been to the Life in the Spirit Seminar twice in my teens, I have never rested in the Spirit until the first praying over at CER. I desired so much to experience this ‘resting’, for God to remove all obstacles that hinder in my loving Him and His people. I wanted to surrender entirely to Him and this has been a struggle for me who always finds the need for control and certainty.

During the first praying over, as we worshiped in songs, I directed all my attention to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I sang and worshiped with my entire being, with everything I had, like never before. At times, I thought about the people who have hurt me and I cried. At other times, flashes of past scenes in which I had very deep encounters with God’s love came to mind and the tears fell like rain again. In those tears, I felt the faithful love of God for me, the assurance that His love has not changed one bit. It was liken to an old couple sitting in the porch reminiscing their courtship experiences and their love for each other. There were moments I turned to Mary and to my favourite saints, asking for their unceasing prayers. I felt Mary’s maternal love overwhelming me within.

When Fr. William prayed over me, I rested in the Spirit. Lying there on the floor, I was conscious of my surroundings. People have told me previously that when we rest in the Spirit, we will be immobile and unconscious of our surroundings. My mind started to notice, analyze and evaluate what was going on that time. Then, I told myself to stop thinking and just be surrendered. And after I did this, I had an image of a big field of tulips. In the middle of that field, I was there, dancing, spinning around, jumping. Free, liberated, light, full of peace and with joy overflowing. I had a big smile on my face.

A while later, I saw in my mind and felt Jesus walking to me on my right. He squatted down next to me. For the past one year, I have been becoming increasingly weary spiritually and for some weeks before the CER, I had wanted so much to be that little girl in the Gospel who Jesus raised from the dead. I was hoping for Jesus to somehow raise me from my growing spiritual death, which I just could not get out off on my own. So when Jesus came to squat next to me, this longing I have been feeling came to mind and I felt like that girl at last. Soon later, Jesus said very distinctly, “We have work to do.” I did not know what He meant but He’s slowly revealing it to me.

(to be continued…)

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Testimony #2 - (CER36) For All, For God

During my Conversion Experience Retreat (36), I was blessed with several God-encounters, of which I would like to share two significant ones. Here's the first.

During one of the sessions that we had to do in pairs, I was waiting for my sister to pair up with me. I thought she would understand my feelings the best and so, she would be the best candidate. However, she was engaged with another retreatant in the exercise and they were taking a very long time. After waiting for at least 10 minutes, another buddy directed me to Fr. William. I wasn’t too sure if it was possible to ask Fr. William to pair up with me but I mustered all the courage I needed and asked him if he would. He generously put down what he was doing and agreed.

There came a point in the exercise I was crying a whole lot. The internal pain I felt from past hurts were being externalized and it was liberating.

That night, I brought this experience to God in prayer and what came up for me were not so much the crying and the healing. Rather, it was my encounter with this compassionate Bishop. In that prayer, as I recalled him holding my hands, I relived the love, acceptance and compassion that he conveyed through his disposition. I felt like I was really precious to someone, imperfect but not judged or condemned. Only loved. It was a reflection of my Heavenly Father’s unconditional love for me.

I recognized within me the kind of touch and love that I have been searching for in a partner for so many years but never could find in all my past relationships. Then immediately, I recognized that this yearning for such a love finds its roots in the lack of love I have been experiencing all through my life. Love in the fashion that I wanted, expressed in ways of gentleness and acceptance. This brought me to a deeper understanding of myself and my tendency to search for love in ways that could not satisfy and which also further reinforced my insecurities.

Right after this realization, it struck me too that Fr. William could only hold my hands in this manner because he has chosen not to hold just one person’s hands but to make himself available to all through his priestly vocation. He made his hands available to all for God. At once, it just clicked in me. I was filled with the conviction that I too want not to hold one person’s hands in marriage but to be for all, for God. I knew that deep within me, I want to spend my life working for God’s kingdom-building with all the gifts given to me – talents, time, health, past experiences. There isn’t anything else I want my life to count for.

This was a significant breakthrough for me because for the past three years, I have been looking for a religious congregation to join after a discernment process but haven’t quite been able to set my feet in any. It was during this experience in the retreat that I felt, for the first time, a deep-rooted desire to make the vows of a religious, to be consecrated to God. It is getting clearer that God’s call for me may not be to the religious life but to religiosity, and to minister to the spiritually hungry specifically in Singapore. I am thankful that it has been made much clearer for me in this getting in touch with the desires that lie at the core of my heart.

To God be all praise and honour. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

And The Lame Shall Walk

Have you ever sprained an ankle or fractured a bone? Or maybe, cut your finger and had to bandage it? I recall those days of playing basketball when I sprained my ankles a few times and most recently, when I had to do a very minor surgery to remove the embedded splinters in my finger. Sounds like a pretty unpleasant topic to speak about. But it is interesting and maybe even necessary to recall the inconveniences we faced in those times of injuries. 

When I had my finger wrapped, bathing was difficult. I had to pay extra attention not to use that finger to wash my hair. It felt strange, like using a comb with missing teeth. The parts of my head that were 'taken care' of by that finger had to be 'babysitted' by the other fingers, which had to cover their usual parts plus the additional. Washing my hair took a longer time than usual. The injured finger quite naturally went back to the washing since that is one of its function but then awareness pulls it back again. 

When I sprained my ankle, walking was difficult. Feeling the pain and being aware that any aggravation would make the injury heal slower, I walked less and leaned more towards the side that is not injured. In the end, I found myself straining the healthy side too with the additional weight.

If you had similar experiences, can you recall what it felt like to have a part of your body not functioning as it should and normally would? 

I bring this up because most people are blessed with a healthy body and for this, I have never considered myself a cripple and could not relate very much at all with those cripples Jesus met in the Gospel stories. But we do not need to be physically crippled to experience what it is like to be crippled, to be inhibited and unable to enjoy the lightness and agility in our movements. In our emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of life, do you remember ever feeling heavily weighed down, burdened, like a stone pressing down on your heart? 

There are many things that can cripple us. A promotion that went to someone else, a guilt of having said hurtful things, a project gone wrong, an addiction to pornography or gambling, disappointment with some religious or priests, a family member who has gone astray, arguments between parents, suicide of a loved one, less than desirable examination results… So many things can cripple us. 

Where there is a lacking, there we are crippled by our wanting. 
Where there is hurt, there we are crippled by our unforgiveness.
Where there is sin, there we are crippled by guilt.
Where there is disharmony, there we are crippled by fear.
Where there is expectation, we are crippled by disappointments.
Where there is rejection, self-doubts.
Where there is a threat, the need to defend and protect ourselves. 
Where there is insecurities, we are crippled by the need to prove our worth. 
Greed, pride… leads to so many wants. 

All these wants weigh us down. We are always searching, never satisfied. Always hungry and never filled. Always running after things we think we must have and never feeling happy. 

Society defines our lives, our satisfaction and happiness. Ladies must dress up. We must work overtime so that people will not speak ill of us. Grownups cannot play with soft toys, cannot be like a child once in a while because we will look childish and stupid. So many adults have forgotten what it is like to play, to let loose and just GO… without fear of falling down, without an image to uphold. Even some (not all) priests and religious seem to have an image to uphold. To be prim and proper, serious, composed. Cannot let others know about their weaknesses. True that people will stare and talk when they see a religious hopping around, dancing about, smiling from ear to ear. But that's their own pride, insecurities and prejudices to handle. 

How does one rejoice and truly be joyful then? Without being able to raise one's hands, to sing at the top of one's voice, to move one's feet in dancing without feeling the need to be inhibited… how does one truly express the joy of the Lord when inhibited? When concerned about how others will see us? 

We are crippled when we cannot be who we truly are, when we cannot live like a redeemed son and daughter of God… freely, without putting on another image or a mask. When we cannot love fully because of the fear of being hurt… when our actions do not match our feelings. When we dare not be unique but are governed by conformity… When we shun away from the intensity of our hurts and sufferings… 


And here in our handicap is Jesus saying to you, to me, "I order you: get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home." Lk 5:23 Stand up and walk!!

What joy it is when my ankle was well again and I could walk properly, when my finger recovered and I could freely play the piano and type on the computer again. What joy it is when we need not be burdened to meet expectations, earn love, win approval, hold back someone else's faults. What joy it is to believe and live fully in the love of God. 

When I sin, I return to Him and receive forgiveness.
When I am hurt, I stretch out my hands to receive His healing.
When I doubt myself, I return into my Father's arms and remember I am loved and always good enough for Him by His mercy.
When I am happy, I claim that happiness.
When I am sad, I let myself grieve.  
When I cannot, I rely on Him.
In Jesus, I can be who I am, imperfect, seeking perfection. 
In Jesus, I can be freed of all inordinate attachments. 

Truly, He has come to set prisoners free. The lame shall walk, the blind shall see, the deaf shall hear. 
Blessed be the name of the Lord. In Him alone is found true and lasting freedom. The freedom to drop all I do not need even if the world says I need them. The freedom of having no need, no lacking because I have everything in Him who created me, sustains me, and to Whom I will return.

How have you been a cripple too? And how is Jesus asking you to get up and walk? How is He breaking your chains and asking you to go free?

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Testimony #1 - A Mother's Embrace

This post is the first of its kind on my blog. 
And it is a part of my commitment to Evangelisation, testifying to God's work in my life, in the hope that more people will come to know Jesus who constantly awaits and seeks them too.


A little background...

It has been more than a decade since I last went for a healing service (charismatic style). Back then, I was involved in the youth ministry in my parish and went regularly to the Youth Praise Ministry (YPM). In the Youth in the Spirit Seminar and Life in the Spirit Seminar, I encountered God's love and healing but in those days of being so green in the healing process and barely knowing anything much at all about spirituality, I did not know very much about surrendering, letting God take control, resting in the Spirit, etc.

I became more familiar with faith, surrendering and openness over the last 3 years plus and it really proved helpful as I participated in the most recent Conversion Experience Retreat (CER). It was only at this retreat that I experienced resting in the Spirit. What is important is not the resting in the Spirit per say but the grace to think less, control less and to allow myself to be at God's disposal. In so doing, I am more able to acknowledge that I am not God and to allow God to be God. 

Last night's healing...

Last night, I was at the 4th Saturday Mass and healing service at the Catholic Spirituality Centre. A lady prayed over me and this time, I asked God to remove every obstacle in me that prevented me from loving my mother whole-heartedly. My desire for this was strong.

After some time of lying there on the floor, my attention was shifted to an incident that I have no memory of but I knew it happened because my mother mentioned it a few times before. I was very young and she was carrying me down the stairs when she either missed a step or slipped. She was so worried that I would fall from her arms and get badly injured. So she held me really tight as we fell. I do not know how bad was the fall, if she was injured as a result or what happened in the end other than the fact that I was not hurt. 

This incident came to my mind in an instance and although I have no memory of it, I felt my mother's tight embrace as I was on the floor last night. I began to tear as I felt the Spirit wrapping my mother's love around me so intensely. I felt that she loves me with her life. 

All my life, I know my mother loves me. I'm convinced of her love. She has dedicated her life to the family, always putting us before her own needs. Because of the many things she has done to show her love, I know she loves me. But this knowing has, most of the time, been a knowledge in my head. Somehow, this knowing has not travelled to my heart. I do not know what is the missing link. Could she be so caught up with the doing that she paid little attention to her being and so I could not experience her love? Could it be that she showed her love differently from how I would have liked her to? Could it be that I have shut my heart and so I could not experience her love? Maybe I took her love for granted. Maybe it has been a combination of all these.  

Whatever the case, I have finally felt the embrace of her love. This, I knew at that moment, was the key that opened my heart to love and accept her again for who she is and who she is not. After the service, I went up to my mom and hugged her. As usual, she gives me a brief hug but this time, I held her longer whether or not she was returning the same big beary hug. 

I'm sure there is more healing I need but I will be patient and take it one step at a time, with Jesus by my side... 

To God be all glory and praise.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

God in Our Hearts

LUKE 1: 5-25
The birth of John the Baptist Foretold

This account tells about angel Gabriel appearing to make known to Zachariah that his old and barren wife, Elizabeth, will conceive and bear a child whom they must name John. He will become John the Baptist, who is to bring many to repentance. We are told later that John was to prepare the way for the people to receive Jesus who is the Good News through repentance. 

What humiliation Elizabeth underwent because she was barren. When she was finally with child, she said, "The Lord has done this for me now that it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered among men."

In those times, people saw misfortunes as God's punishments for wrongdoings. If you were blind, it was because you were sinful and God was punishing you for your sins or those of your ancestors. Perhaps, it was their way of making sense of sufferings and the inequality among themselves. But perhaps too, it was because of the fact that they lived their lives following strictly to a very long list of rules of do's and don'ts. The way of holiness and the ticket to eternal life were found in the perfect abiding of these rules. 

Recall your days as a student. What were the school rules like for you? For me, there were rules I could understand and accept and there were those I could not. While I saw the logic of punctuality, I did not agree that wearing earrings was wrong. What harm did it cause? What I did not believe in, I went against on some occasions. To some who abided, they might have understood the school's efforts to instil the value of simplicity, which took me many more years to realise. To some, rules are simply meant to be kept. No questions asked. They abide because that is the way they have been conditioned to do. They may not see the reason to but they just do. And yet to others, they might have abided only to stay out of trouble. Of those who keep the rules, how many of them truly understand the deeper and most often hidden purposes of the rules?

When our way of life is governed by a set of rules, when our religious practices become a mere doing of what we should and refraining from what we should not, then life and God become confined within the mind, where we constantly, scrupulously measure, evaluate, rank, judge, justify and rationalise all our thoughts, words and deeds. This becomes our preoccupation rather than appreciating the deeper meaning of what we do and do not do. Everything is logically linked.

It is no wonder that the people could not accept the radical change that Jesus came to bring - to turn around a religion that existed in the mind to one that resides in the heart and soul. This was completely unfamiliar and difficult to relate to. For the Father to send His Son to show us His illogical infinite love on the cross, for the Son to forgive sins and heal people, taking away their "punishments". These defied all rules they had and challenged at its core their belief in an eternal life that needed to be earned by their good deeds. It injured their pride that the sinful ones who did not work as hard to keep the laws were being forgiven so easily and made equal with them again. It was unthinkable that they could never stand worthy before God who gives us a salvation we have not deserved.

When we do good, when we hold ourselves back from doing wrong, let it be because we love God, we respect and uphold the dignity of one another. Jesus has to be alive in our hearts. When we attend Sunday Mass as an obligation without making any effort to mean the prayers we utter, when we go for the sacrament of reconciliation without sincerely being sorry and determined to work at our weaknesses, when we serve in ministries because our parish priests urged us to or because we want to glorify ourselves, God is not alive in our hearts. And without this living and personal relationship with God, we can have no lasting fuel to sustain our good deeds. We will fall into pride and self-righteousness, which will then become the underlying driving forces of those external good deeds. 

Our pride will give us excessive guilt in our wrongdoings and excessive self-gratification in our successes. All because we start to buy to the idea that we have done right to deserve our good. God becomes a fictional character in the head and our religious practices become our brownie points that get us to heaven. We will not need God's mercy in that case. And God's mercy is the primary evidence of His love for us. So if we do not need His mercy and do not receive His mercy, we will not receive His love either. We will always remain in our brokenness because only God's love can heal our wounds and restore us to wholeness.  

This, I believe, is why Jesus warned the people, "I tell you solemnly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you." Mt 21:31

Only those who seek cure can be cured. The tax collectors and prostitutes were public sinners. Their sins were known publicly. And perhaps because of this, there was no way for them to conceal their sins and were forced to acknowledge it. Since only those who realise, admit and surrender to their brokenness, inadequacies and sinfulness can be humble enough to go to the Doctor of Life, then only these will encounter the Living God fully present and alive and working in their hearts and lives. 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Praise for the Rain

O God,
I praise You for the rain
That speaks of Your faithful love to me.
For it falls on good and bad alike,
Even on those who’s turned their backs on You.

The rain that waters the soil of the earth
And brings forth goodness to nourish our bodies.
The farmers rejoice in its abundance,
They dance with joy before the harvest.

I join with them to sing Your praise,
To tell of Your goodness through my life.
For each time I walk away from You –
And God, You know how easily I do –
Your faithful love never cease to fall on me,
To call me back into Your arms.
Your faithful love looks out into the distance.
It runs to meet me, to bring me home.

O Lord,
At times, Your rain brings a flood,
And peoples’ lives are lost in it.
Buildings destroyed and towns are ruined.
People would ask, “Lord, where are You?!”

And yet Your faithful love remains,
A constant call for me to trust
 Beyond my understanding and agreement
That Your faithful love does have a plan.
That You will allow these sufferings of mine
Only because You can turn them into good.

If I but trust in You, my God,
To go beyond my fears and doubts,
To let Your love embrace me full.
O God, I thank You for the rain.
Oh let my life be soaked with it.

~ 05 October 2013