Sunday, 27 December 2015

Finding Baby Jesus in a Shelter

posted on Facebook on Christmas Eve...

This is my first Christmas eating such a simple dinner. Away from family and all the abundant good food. Missing midnight Mass and the whole hype of Christmas that I'm used to.

This year, I somehow find it hard to get into the Christmas mood. I cannot even connect much with the fact that it's Christmas Eve today. Time passes too quickly.

But what is the Christmas mood? Presents? Cribs? Nativity scenes? Carolling? Bright lights? Christmas trees? Is there a particular way I need to feel on this special night? 

I do not think it is a sad fact that I'm working on this night. Neither am I over the moon. But I'm beginning to experience what this Christmas night truly means in its more authentic sense. Now that I'm void of all the external facades that are supposed to form the equation of Christmas. 

One of the girls said to me just now that she doesn't like all these Christmas celebrations because she is here, separated from her family. And I told her, "Me too. I'm also not with my family. Same same." And I smiled at her. Yet not quite the same, since I'll be back with my family tomorrow. 

Though I cannot imagine what it exactly is like in their shoes, there is a sense of solidarity with the poor and abused. God is using me to prove His love and faithfulness to these who are beaten down by others. And aren't there many more people out there celebrating this Christmas night alone? Perhaps even without a roof over their heads? Many foreign workers might still be working hard tonight. Who will bring them the joy of Christmas? 

Then, I handed a Christmas present to our newest girl. She was surprised that there're Christmas presents for them too. With tears in her eyes, she told me she's so touched and thanked me. And my eyes became wet too. Something moved within. 

God chose to enter into our lives, yes, even our very messy lives, even our at times stinky lives. And He showed this from the start of Jesus's life when He chose to be incarnated not as a mighty King on a high throne, dressed in royal robes, being waited upon in a huge palace, with an army troop securing His safety. But in a humble stable, among sheep and cattle, perhaps on a heap of hay. Smelly, noisy with the sounds of animals, messy, no facilities. Where water has to be fetched from a distance, food not served on a platter. Defenceless baby, completely vulnerable. Shabby. 

What do all these mean for me? I now find myself spending this night in a stable with Jesus. And am I not more connected with baby Jesus tonight than every other Christmas nights that have passed? Tonight, I share especially in the joy of Mary, who pained to bring Jesus into our world, our lives, as I surrender my usual Christmas indulgences to bring Jesus to this very minute part of the world. 

May Jesus be born anew in our hearts and through us, into our world. And joy, peace and love be thus ours to have and to share. 
Blessed Christmas everyone!!! 🎄🐿

Monday, 24 August 2015

Human & Divine Functioning

Do you recall the time when you were still a child? What would your parents' reaction be when they found out you did something wrong, whether it was accidental or deliberate? What would your teachers' reaction be? 

I find it very difficult and perhaps even impossible to recall a time when I received a reaction that was anything less than anger and disappointment. There were times too when I even thought to myself that I would not be forgiven again this time and there was no way I could redeem myself from the wrong I had done. On top of facing the anger and disappointment of the one I had offended, I was often plagued with guilt, self-blame and disappointment with my own self. And it was only when I glimpsed some hope, when this person reverted back to the normal way of talking and relating with me that I eased up, heaved a sigh of relief and got energised and affirmed again that I could start anew. 

Over the years, I became conditioned. Conditioned to the ways of the world. If I did something wrong, if I behaved in a less than pleasing manner, I would be frowned upon. Faulted, blamed. Unlovable. I cannot be lovable when I am not good, when I fail to meet expectations. 

And how naturally do I bring this conditioned understanding of cause-and-effect into my relationship with God. How often do I find myself trapped in my unbelief that God can continue to smile and delight in me when I am anything but pleasing. How often do I shun away from His love because I cannot relate with the reality of who God is - that despite my ugliness and faults, He still loves me and smiles at me. A reality that turned upside down my understanding of human functioning, defined by the ways of the world. Forgetting that His is Divine functioning. No anger, no questions, no blame, no disappointments. Only love, only hope, only patience and understanding... 1 Cor 13. Only the invitation to return to His side though He has not left me one bit. 

This Divine functioning. Completely radical and beyond human understanding. It makes all that is illogical logical. And I need to allow Him to recondition me so that I may no longer be lost in my own disappointments and be held captive by my doubts towards His ever-smiling face. I can live free and secure in the love that compels my God to run out to meet me along my journey back to Him... Lk 15.

Do you also experience blockages in your relationship with God because of your upbringing and life experiences? How can you allow Him to recondition your understanding of Divine functioning?

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Conversion - Part 1 - Rome Sweet Home

Friday marked the 5th anniversary of my radical conversion during a very short pilgrimage with the SFX Youth Choir to Rome and Assisi. We flew over after a choral competition in St. Petersburg. I have decided to share my experiences (I'll do so in parts as there's too much to say at a go) because I hope to bear witness to the redeeming love of God in my life. If He can redeem my life from the mess it was in, He can do the same for anyone else. And He desires to. Because He loves all of us in the same measure. 

For 10 years before this pilgrimage, I was a Sunday Catholic. Maybe, a little more than a Sunday Catholic given my active participation in the choir. But I was not praying daily like I used to because complacency and pride caught up with me in college years. It was a stark contrast from the life I was leading before this decade. A life of daily prayer. Although I received no spiritual direction as I was not exposed to the idea, God's abundant graces guided me to speak with Him in the most authentic manner that I find difficult to do even now. It was in prayer that I brought all the experiences of the day to God, rattling on and on before listening to all He had to say to direct my heart towards forgiveness, peace, love, joy. 

With pride and complacency came sin. An increasing sinfulness. And without prayer, without bringing all my accumulated guilt and struggles, hurts and joys to God, without being able to push that "reset" button, I lost God (though He never lost me) and I lost myself. I lost the willingness to forgive, I lost peace, love and joy. I lost people I loved, or claimed to love. I became a terror, demanding my rights wherever I went, building up mighty fortresses to prevent "dangerous" people from coming too close to my heart, in case I got pricked by their many thorns. I had to ensure that I protect myself well because no one else would, and that meant to react defensively whenever I sensed the slightest threat of being taken advantage of. I lost, most of all, my identity of being a precious child of God. And I was bitter behind the facade of my strong exterior. 

When the choir received our competition results, we were in the practice room, praying and singing thanks to God. I broke down. Uncontrollably. I felt the pain of putting my then relationship with my fiancé on the rocks for the competition and that all the sufferings were worthwhile. I felt a strange comfort of being able to cry out all I had kept within me for those months leading up to the competition. My heart softened a little. 

On the night before the choir flew to Rome, I was unexpectedly held up by something that happened to some members of the choir. It turned out that the next morning, I had to tell on someone against my wishes because I felt it was the right thing to do. The responsible thing to do for the sake of other members. It was tough. I felt like I was betraying a friend. And when the matter was addressed to the choir, I felt like the greatest sinner in the world. I expected friends to reject and ostracise me, and I projected these expectations onto them. Eventually, I felt so crappy about myself that I distanced away from everyone. Withdrawing into my own fragile shell. Yet, this fragile shell was the very needed cave in which God wished to meet me in the coming days. This incident pulled me away from the high of the fun and jokes I was immersed in with my fellow choir members. It got my attention. As Richard Rohr wrote in "Everything Belongs", "The path of prayer and love and the path of suffering seem to be the two Great Paths of transformation. Suffering seems to get our attention..." 

During Mass on the first day in Rome in a private chapel in the basement of St Peter's Basilica, I teared from beginning to end. It is very unlike me to cry in any other place except in the privacy of my room. But my tears were very disobedient that day. Something was happening within me. Something beyond my control because it was God who was peeling apart the countless layers of dead cells, hardened layers, surrounding my heart. God had come and He desired to penetrate the walls of my disfigured heart to enter in. He wasn't going to continue watching me mess up my life further. It was as He did to Zacchaeus on the tree. He self-invited Himself to Zacchaeus' house and He did the same to me. But could it be that Jesus saw Zacchaeus' secret thoughts that were revealed in his climbing up the Sycamore tree to have a clear view of Jesus? Could it be that Jesus saw something in me in the messiness of my life? Something that perhaps longed so discretely for order, happiness, healing, wholeness? 

in St. Petersburg
From that Mass, peace took its throne in the depths of my entire being. A peace so deep and immovable that nothing I had ever owned and experienced before could ever bring me. A peace so precious that I committed myself to daily prayer again because I knew this is the only way I can continue to experience this peace. Life changed. Immediately. I didn't feel like I had to put on my makeup anymore on the trip and beyond. No need for loud earrings or my pretty hat. No need for more selfie and wefie marathons (no coincidence that my camera cranked up on me only in Rome). I embarked on the journey from the circumference towards the centre of my life. A journey from the exterior to the interior. I was in consolation. Deep, deep consolation. 

At every shrine the choir went to, I plugged in to my Taize music to shut out the noise and help me keep focus. Praying earnestly to God for good health, peace and harmony for my family. I felt the close presence of the saints, especially Saints Peter and Paul. Like how one would feel the presence of someone standing behind, I felt the presence of the saints behind me. Surrounding me. So close. I knew it was them because of the peace that accompanied their presence and through them, I felt a closeness with Jesus. In retrospect, it was truly an encounter of "the communion of saints" we recite in the Creed. 

The whole bible story from the beginning of creation became alive in me. It no longer felt like a story I listened to every week at Mass (I wasn't a bible reader and I disagreed with the hype over scripture studies though I love the Gospel stories). Rather, it is real, almost tangible. And I am now part of this story. I am the continuation of this story as a disciple of Christ living in this here and now. My heart was burning with a fervent love for our salvation history, for this whole seamless story of God and Mankind. 

My life would never be the same again. It has been 5 years and it has never been the same as before. God has come to the dumpsite of my humanity. He digs into the garbage and finds there my life. He saw something that I do not see and decided that I become His "pagpag". Food thrown away, useless and filthy, picked up by the extreme poor who have nothing to eat. They dust off the bugs and dirt, take the pagpag home, cook and eat. Food that becomes the source of nourishment for the poor and outcast. God has shown me His great mercy. His graces have saved me. Truly, amazing grace. Praise to our God, now and forever. 

A short CNN video on pagpag 

Friday, 29 May 2015

The God of My Retreat

A closing of my retreat on Cheung Chau's Xavier House
An attempt to articulate what I cannot articulate

Main chapel of Xavier Retreat House, Cheung Chau, Hong Kong

My infinite God,

When I attempt to gather my days of retreat experiences before Your Blessed Sacrament, desiring to present them all to You, to give thanks and praise You for Your wonderful gift to me, I instead find myself helplessly unable to utter anything that satisfies my need to express all I have inside. Silently, in my heart, with the resounding grandeur of a full choir, I sing a song of my undeserving reception of all the things You've done for me. Yet, even music fails me now.

How can I say thank you to You then, my infinite God? When You so choose to silence me with Your infinite infinity? All I want is to say thank you, that all I've been through in this retreat have been so beautiful; Your precious gift to me. But no matter what I say or sing, whatever words I can string together to express how I truly feel about these days, nothing, absolutely nothing seems to be able to describe my sentiments, my experiences, the You I've encountered. Nothing quite exact or even close. 

How then do I express myself and all I have within me that You have stirred up, trying to find an exit to be released? How can my poor thank you reach You? All I am capable of now is to remain helplessly before You, while Your infinity pierce right through me. 

Yet, Lord, after my impatient listening to the overwhelming sound of Your infinity and enduring its penetration into the depths of my being, maybe it is okay now for me to say thank you. Maybe You're not wanting me to reach Your infinity but to let me be filled with Your divine reality, so that I may know more fully that You are my God. The God of my experiences, the God of my retreat.

And so now, my dear infinite God, I don't mean to say that these words are enough but they are all I can offer to You in my own little human way. For these days of retreat, of encountering You in the most unforgettable way, Lord, thank You. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

True Love in a Shopping Bag

One of my reflections @ Macritchie this morning...

Recently, my sister bought a whole bag load of things and food for me from Japan, where she went for her honeymoon. Reflecting on it, I believe all my sister felt when she was holidaying and shopping was that she loves me and wants me to have what she feels is good and nice and suitable for me. I don't feel that she is buying these for me so that in my next trip, I can buy the same amount for her too. That's definitely not her intention.

From my sister in this experience, I have come to understand again and anew what true loves looks like. True love doesn't expect or demand anything in return. It seeks only to give what best one can give. To share what one has. But love hopes. It hopes for a relationship and a deepening one that is as lasting as one's life can stretch. Love doesn't give in a measure that one can receive in return. 

My sister, among God's many gifts to me especially that of my family and close friends, gives me a glimpse of what God's love looks like. That all He desires is to give me what He knows is good and nice and suitable for me. He doesn't expect or demand my reciprocation but hopes for a relationship with me and a deepening one that lasts for as long as He lives - and that is, through eternity. He seeks only to share His love and all He is with me, giving me the best He can give, and taking a big risk in all these since I don't always understand good and best the way He does and often misunderstand His intentions instead of recognizing His love for me.

For the many gifts God has planted in my life to tell me constantly of His infinite love for me, I give Him thanks, praise and honour. 

All is gift that purposefully speaks to us of the infinite love of our Maker for us... and knowing how He loves us, we are moved to love Him. And yes, He accepts even our imperfect love for Him.

How is God communicating His love for you?

Sunday, 5 April 2015


On Holy Saturday...

My faithful God, 
when You gaze at the far less faithful me, 
what do You see that I do not see?
Which makes You trust in me far more than the hope 
I see in myself, 
rejoice in me far more than I am pleased with myself, 
love me far more than I appreciate the person I am?

You hold me bigger than I do myself
not because I am bigger but that You, my infinite God, 
are far beyond me. 
Your eyes see not my current state. 
Instead, You know Your authority over the movements of my heart.
And You see me from the reality of Your power.

My daily preoccupations add nothing to Your royalty.
And my own impatience becomes a fool before Your eternity.
All my frailties, like the whole of me, 
become invisible before Your mighty splendour, 
which penetrates through my darkness 
to shine out in brilliant light.

How can I give my lifelong yes to You?
As if I have knowledge of what will befall me tomorrow?
Knowing how easily I fall from grace, 
wouldn't it be prudent then to admit 
that my yes would be mingled with many nos? 
And aren't You found even here, in the mixture of imperfections?
Isn't this what You came to show us when You,
the perfect Being, mingled with us sinners?

I can only give You my every-moment-yes. 
Moment by moment.
Falling from grace from time to time and yet, 
this falling is no less a falling into Your hands 
for You will be there to catch me. 
Your graces increase in me that leads me to the next yes. 

And only by this - 
constant falling into You, 
constant dependence on Your graces - 
can my every-moment-yes carry me towards my lifelong yes, 
that yes made complete when I finally stand before Your unveiled face,
in the glory of Your resurrection.
My God, let this be so and all will know that You are God, 
the faithful God behind my every-moment-yes.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Indigestion to Nourishment

When I was much younger, when indigestion was a foreign word, and a slowing metabolism was unheard of, I would love to go for buffets. My family used to celebrate birthdays over a hearty meal and a delicious cake after. Buffets are when I can pig out. I would go for the soups I love, the western cuisine, and last but not least, there was ALWAYS space for desserts. We would even be noticing the number of rounds each person went for. There was variety. Spoilt for choice. We could sample and go back for more if it was yummy. And not only would we notice how much each of us was eating. We would also watch how mountainous other diners' plates looked. How some people could just keep filling and stacking their plates, not leaving out any dish at all. One wonders how elastic their poor tummies can be. 

How elastic my poor life can be in the buffet spread of life. Forced elasticity. To make good worth of the price paid for a buffet meal, I sometimes ensured I tried everything available. How now in my life? Do I bring the same buffet mentality into the reality of my life too? By filling my life with everything I can lay my hands on, by being here, there and everywhere and yet nowhere? By wanting to get the most of life, and yet getting nothing eventually? 

I started to learn it was time to stop going for buffets when my body told me it can no longer take the ridiculous amount of food it was not made to hold to begin with. When I started to suffer from indigestion, when I had to regurgitate everything out in order to finally feel comfortable enough to fall asleep. Too much. My body just isn't made to take so much food. And not only the amount matters but what I eat also matters. I remember eating only one banana prata at the Prata House near my place for supper years back and suffered the same consequences that required the same solution. 

And it is taking me more years to discover that my life just isn't made to take so many gods, so many focuses, so many contestants for the first place in my heart. Stuffed. Indigestion. Discomfort. Unable to rest without first regurgitating what does not sit well within. 

Meals in the RGS community are simple and tasty. Most of the time these days, I take a very small portion of unpolished rice, some vegetables, some meat, coupled with a small bowl of soup. It took a while for me to get used to this diet but now, I know that this really is the amount my tummy needs. It feels comfortable after a meal. One plate, barely filled, but sufficiently filled because what is put onto this plate is what is essential.

I have one life. What do I put in it? Barely being filled with luxuries, wealth, parties, ... and in fact,  even scarcely filled... but could it be that I've put my own self onto this plate of my life? Self-consumed? And being self-consumed, could it be that I've put other people I love onto it too? All my attachments. Things, lifestyle, attitudes, beliefs, work, favourite activities, favourite places ... Maybe, none of these is bad. Good things too. Wanting to worship in the church I feel most comfortable in, and where I have grown as a person and disciple of God for instance. It isn't bad in itself. Not until it makes me so stuck in this place that it causes me to be rigidly clinging on to it, unable to find the same meaning and comfort attending Mass elsewhere. So I keep trying to fill my life by returning to the same place. One plate, overflowing, yet empty because what is put onto this plate of life is everything but the Essence. 

How then do I begin to empty the mountainous load on this plate and fill it with the Essential? What is essential and what is not? That is a choice I need to make. What do I want on my plate? A want requires a decision. What would give me the same comfortable feeling after my meals? A satisfaction not arrived at by filling my life with everything and anything possible but by prudently choosing what I need and want to fill my life with. And this decision isn't easy because it calls for detachment, letting go, shifting my gaze from all the distractions onto God. But this decision guarantees joy, peace, love and inner freedom. It guarantees a life worth living, a life fully lived. 

In the buffet-spread of life... 
What do you see on your plate of life? And how does it make you feel?
How are you being invited to change your dining habits? 

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Living as an Aspirant - Part 1 - Becoming One

It's been almost 8 weeks of being an aspirant living with the sisters of the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS). Aspirancy is a phase of "come and see", during which one explores the life as a religious sister to get data for discerning if this way of life is what one is called to. This has been the closest ever to living the life of a religious since I began my discernment 4.5 years ago. So how has it been?

When my fellow aspirant (I'm the newest addition) asked me to sum up my experiences on my 1st month anniversary in one word, immediately I said, "Growth!" I did not even have to think.

Truly, it has been a period of growth. But before growth, difficulties and struggles. A Jesuit asked me recently how I have been, and when I said, "Struggle," he replied, "Struggle is good. If there is no struggle, something is not right." I appreciate his little comment that was more comforting to me than he probably thought. 

I am a very easily distracted person, with many interests and a few deep passions. Keeping myself fixated on only one thing has not been my way of life all these years. I enjoy multitasking though I have found this ability declining over time, and I love getting my attention caught by nice -looking things, aesthetically attractive. Not a very helpful makeup for a person like me who is trying to settle down. Not helpful at all for one trying to find a focal point to fix my eyes upon for the rest of my life. Hence, on hindsight, I realized that my episodes of struggles have all revolved around this - Focus.

Where / Who / What am I looking at?
The eyes of my heart have been wandering. For a start, I was looking at beautiful things... houses, cars... mostly houses, travel destinations. Then, I was looking at my past; times with family and friends. And I began missing those times so badly. Familiar things I have brought with me were uncomfortably strange in a new setting. Very painful. The next episode was marked by my looking at myself. My enjoyments, my private space and personal time, my agenda and willfulness. And finally (for now), for the longest time, my eyes shifted onto certain specific people in my life. Extremely tough and painful. 

It seems easy to dismiss these wanderings. After all, isn't this what most people focus their lives on? Even when some say they want to live their lives for God? Do His will? Serve His people? I'm human too. But this isn't how I am called to live - wandering, flirting around with so many other gods - because if it were so, I would not be feeling so burdened, pulled apart, disintegrated, disconnected. I realized that this period of difficulties and struggles, like my Spiritual Director so wisely put it, is a period of purification and clarification. 

So I found myself tired, exhausted, disfigured. I have not come to rest in the One Person, who alone gives rest. My heart is divided into different pieces of varying sizes, and given to this or that thing or event or person. I am scattered.

Finally, last night, I sat in prayer and asked Jesus, "What would it be like if my eyes were fixed on you and you alone... when you become my one focus, now until my last breath?" I want this but know it is beyond me. I know that God will provide all the graces to fill my many lackings and have begun asking God to fix my eyes upon Him, permanently. 

And I see now that this really is purification. Purification of my heart, sweeping out the clutter, so that my heart-space can be filled with God, my attention can be given all to Him. A period of "Christifying". Of becoming like Christ, whose heart and mind were preoccupied with the Father's purpose. And which led Him to become bread and wine for us. When at Mass, the representatives bring up the gifts of bread and wine during the offertory, my prayer would be, "Lord, I bring my life to your altar here. Help me to die with you and so be buried completely in you." Now it seems that my struggles and gradual growth these past 8 weeks have been an intensification of God's answering of my prayer. He is truly labouring in me to bring our union closer to completion. This growth is the most significant, apart from the others.

Difficulties and struggles to growth. What comes in between? It is God's grace. Endurance, trust, faith, courage, insights and realizations, etc...

No one except God knows if I will eventually become a religious. But does it matter? No time spent in responding to God's call goes down the drain. It doesn't matter anymore which way I go... for whichever way it is, hasn't God already been hard at work in my life, sculpting me and bringing me deeper in relationship with Him? And that's all that matters. That I become one with Him.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

God in the Mess

Looking at the messiness of a construction site reminds me of the messiness we can at times find ourselves in. I dislike messiness in every possible form, be it my hair, my work desk, music,... And it irks me to live amidst messiness especially when I haven't the time to tidy things, when I haven't the containers to stack things up neatly. But when I get a chance, I would restore order. 

But not every mess is so easy to make neat. Not every mess can be tidied out in a few hours. This construction site has machines everywhere. Piles of metal wires not placed perpendicular or parallel to one another. Sound barriers half erected. Yet, I know that in time, this mess will be turned into beauty. When this mess has completed what it was meant to build, something will emerge. Beautiful, functional, beneficial to many.

Often, the messiness of life and our inner movements make us feel so uncomfortable and at times, painful, that we hurry to try to clear the mess, fix what needs to be fixed. And when we cannot achieve the desired results in the desired time, it's better to just leave it and shift our attention elsewhere. But it seems that God's grace is found even in the ugliest of all mess because this mess is a work-in-progress. This mess is to build something beautiful. This mess requires our patient waiting, hopeful hanging on. This mess is God's workshop.

The difference is that in a construction site, the people involved in the building know the plan. They know the final outcome they are working towards. They have the blueprint. They see the end and know the duration of the work. In the life of faith, we don't. We don't know anything and yet we are called to walk on, to labour on, to remain in the mess, trusting in a God we cannot see, whose plan for us we cannot know. All we can fall back on is our own life history, our own experiences of who this God has been for us. He is, by the evidence of my own life, the God who never fails, who never disappoints, who is very sober and knows exactly what He's doing with us and in us.

In moments of messiness, of desolations, we can only beg God for the graces to continue waiting, hoping, trusting and loving.