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 
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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.