Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Cry of the Voiceless

See the fear in their eyes. Their apprehensions. Their body languages. What if we were in their shoes? Alone in a foreign land, unfamiliar with the procedures, uncertain of the outcomes. Vulnerable.

The poor... the foreigners in our country... are all born with the same dignity as we are. As children of God. How can it be that they are treated as a lesser human person? How can it be that pets are treated better than some human persons, even though they may be working as our domestic helpers, supposedly under our charge since we are the ones paying them? The roles we play do not and should not influence our human dignity. 

And yet, most often, as I witnessed this morning, it is easy to throw our own lives' garbage onto the poor and voiceless and disrespect them because they have no means to pour a larger amount of crap back at us. If some of those people I met this morning were to treat the President in the same manner, surely, they will lose their jobs this same day!

It is discriminating that employers can interview and choose their domestic helpers but not vice versa. We are only concerned about not getting the 'wrong' maid, without considering that perhaps, those foreigners are also concerned about not getting the 'wrong' employer. But society works like this. The voiceless are at the mercy of others who have power given us by knowledge, information, wealth, status.

And yet, Christ hangs on the cross without making a distinction between who He was dying for and who He wasn't. He died for ALL. The bad and the bad-er. Without exception. Those who have a voice and a heart need to be the voice for the voiceless - the poor and the outcast. And not only that. If we are truly to be disciples of Jesus, then we are to embrace all of His people, including the big bullies. We are called to awaken the awareness and compassion in those whose hearts have been dormant or indifferent. And we are invited to do so with love for these our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to be the voice of their voiceless souls they have so successfully silenced that they no longer hear the cry of their own hearts, longing to be acquainted and set on fire once again by love to love.

We need not look too far at first. But perhaps to begin with ourselves. Do we treat others with respect, upholding their dignity? Then, within our families, extended families, circles of friends, do we notice anyone treating another poorly? Especially our domestic helpers? And if we do find such treatments, do we take the risk to voice out what is unjust? Or do we keep silent? 

How might God be inviting you in the real context of your life to be His voice for the voiceless?

Friday, 5 December 2014

Reality of Impermanency - 3rd December 2014

For the Thanksgiving Mass on 3rd December 2014... 

We are made to return to God, that no matter what we are going through in our lifetimes, we will not remain here forever. What we possess on earth, we will not keep forever.

This may sound very depressing for some of us, if you are like me with many attachments to earthly things. But I think it doesn’t have to be depressing if we allow this truth of life to teach us how to live, how to make choices.

So who then are we to one another? Wives to husbands, sister to brother, friend to friend, lay people to the religious? Who really are we? And why bother so much since even our relationships are not permanent?

I think we are given by God to one another to be companions through this pilgrimage of our lives. And you know for any pilgrimage, there is a starting point and a destination. We are companions to one another on this pilgrimage from where we are to God. Not just a physical journey but a journey of our souls. A spiritual journey.

In the silence of my walk after the Ignatian conference in HK that I just returned from last night, I asked what was the whole experience about? 4 days of listening to people from different parts of the world speaking about spirituality? To sum it all up, it was an experience of being inspired, of allowing myself to be inspired by others who have begun their journeys before me, but who once in a while look back at those behind, like me, and point out the way like sign posts on a highway. An experience of being renewed in my own faith and of growing towards God.

And so we have gathered this evening not because of me, not for me. But that no matter if we are strangers, partners, a torn in the flesh to another, that we take this time to remember the God who made us, the God who has in this time in history brought our lives together to be an inspiration to another, to spread His love even in the most difficult situations.

Each and every one of you seated here has been an inspiration, a companion, a teacher, a guide, a contributor of love into this world I live in. (And please don’t start analysing how you have done this.
But just let go and trust that you have.) I thank you for you and I thank God for you.

On the plane yesterday, I was watching Les Miserables and one of the lines towards the end of the movie that really caught me was when Jean Valjean said, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” And I think that being loved by someone is to touch the heart of God in the depths of our hearts.

And so now, may I invite all of you to close your eyes and recall one experience where you felt the most loved. 

Who is this person who loved you?
Imagine this person standing in front of you now… looking at you, and loving you.
Open you heart to let this love flow into the depths of your heart.
Yes, you are loveable enough.
Yes, you are worthy enough.
Yes, you are good enough. Trust that you are.

I invite you to continue keeping your eyes closed.
We are going to celebrate the Eucharist in a short while and we do this to remember God’s love for us. Despite knowing we will be sinners, He still somehow love us so much even when He was hanging on the cross. God’s love for us is at least greater than the person who loves us the most in our lives.

We gather our hearts, our lives, and come now before God. Let us open our hearts and allow God’s infinite love to flow into the depths of our hearts. 

May you love and be loved this evening. Amen.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

From Existing to Living - Part I

It was the school holidays. Joash sent an SMS to his classmate, Jean, who he was attracted to, asking her if she would be interested in going out for dinner that weekend. In fact, Jean was fond of Joash too but her shyness would always ensure that her feelings for him were well hidden. However, when Jean received Joash's SMS, her grandma had just passed away. Jean was in a state of devastation because she was very close to her grandma who took care of her when she was a young child, and Jean did not reply Joash's SMS.

Joash waited in eager anticipation for Jean's reply as if his whole life's happiness hung upon her yes or no. But as time went by, her silence began to convince him that it was a no, and that Jean did not feel the same way for him as he did for her. Joash felt disappointed, depressed and rejected. He felt unloved, unaccepted... and began to form judgements of himself in his mind to explain this rejection. He thought "It must be that I'm not good enough... Not good-looking enough perhaps..." As he formed more of such deductions, he became convinced that he must be unloveable. 

Jean took the holidays to grieve over her loss and thought of meeting Joash in school to share with him what had happened over the holidays. But when the new school term started, Joash did not want to appear dejected in front of Jean. He wanted to look as if he was unaffected by her rejection. And so he put on a smile in school and started acting particularly friendly and excited with another female classmate. Jean saw this and thought that Joash was fond of the other girl and so she distanced herself from him. 


What happened to Joash in this story is something that runs common in everyone's lives in different contexts. Here is the flow... 


We experience something happening to us and it creates feelings in us about what has happened. These feelings may be positive or negative but they are neither right or wrong. Feelings are just the reality of how our experiences make us feel. And these enter into our hearts. 

However, these feelings actually do not cause us hurt. They cause us pain. The difference between pain and hurt that we often overlook is that pain is a feeling while hurt is the reduction of one's dignity / worthiness as a person. Our hearts can handle pain, which will dissipate and disappear after some time. But our hearts cannot handle hurt because hurt is caused by and lives in our minds and will only 'go away' when our minds change its way of perceiving ourselves. 

Joash in this story felt rejected, unloved, etc. These are feelings. But what did he allow those feelings to create in his mind? He began making conclusions about who he is as a person. He began to think that he is unloveable, ugly, unattractive, etc. These were the judgements he started to make about himself that we know are not true but Joash did not know how Jean felt. And when he made those judgements, he was hurting himself because he was reducing the amount of worth he saw in himself. He began to see himself as lesser. 

And then what did Joash do next? 
He put up a front and pretended to like someone else. He tried to cover up the rejection. He started to cover up his unworthiness, his feelings, so that the one he loved would not see that he is weak and imperfect, and think of him even lesser than he thought she did. His actions became the reactions from his judgements about himself. 

And these reactions blocked life. It blocked life because... 
1. It prevented Joash from touching the reality of his feelings and making choices to address those feelings, which then led him to form untrue negative conclusions about himself.
2. It prevented Joash from being open to a good conversation with Jean that could lead into a good and happy relationship. 
3. It would have sent the wrong signal to the other classmate Joash was pretending to take an interest in, and land him up in future complications with that girl. She might eventually get hurt too.

And the more we judge ourselves and react out of those judgements, the more we will stumble in our subsequent life experiences and deepen those judgements, bringing us further and further away from the one judgement that God has made of us - That we are His image and likeness (which I hope to write more about later). 

But first... 
How has this process of EXPERIENCE ----> FEELINGS ----> JUDGEMENTS been real in our lives too? 
Recall a significant experience that happened to you and notice what feelings it created in you. And as a result of those feelings, how do you see yourself? Just a word... "I see myself as ____."

Just become aware. The first step.

Adapted from the Workshop: Living from the inner springs of life - The interplay of the Two Standards in our Life by Fr. Cecil Azzopardi, SJ @ the Ignatian Conference, Hong Kong 2014