Saturday, 11 November 2017

Neighbours & Sainthood

Have you ever lived with inconsiderate neighbours? Those who drag their chairs across their floor and your ceiling, and make really weird clanging noises that lead you to wonder what really they are up to in the room? Even late into the night? A great annoyance especially when the noises prevent you from sleeping very much at all before having to catch a very early morning flight for instance. 

What would your immediate reaction be? I think that mine would be to storm upstairs even in my pjs and tell those inconsiderate fellers off, warn them to stop their noisemaking before I take this to the authorities. After all, I'm angry!! Rightly so!!

Brings to mind someone - let's just call her Therese, since I'm reading about the life of St. Therese. Therese was unfortunately suffering from such noisy disturbances, thanks to the family that lived upstairs. For quite some time, the noises got to her almost every night and there were many times she even rehearsed what she would say should she head right up in attempt to get some neighbourly cooperation. But of course, cooperation was not even a guarantee! For they could, if they were really nasty, create even more noises to make a statement of their displeasure at the complaint. 

Then came one night when by some divine grace it seemed, she had a new insight and understanding. Therese realised that though she could very well justify her cause if she finally said her piece, she saw that this same annoyance towards the noise might be what people with some psychological dysfunctions experience too. The noise not from the outside caused by someone else but that which resounds unceasingly interiorly, in the mind; the noise in perhaps those who are suffering from depression. How hard it must be to bear them everyday!

Therese made a decision. She prayed and offered any endurance she had to make of the noises from these inconsiderate neighbours to God for those experiencing psychological unrest.  Strangely enough, the noises continued but Therese was no longer the same Therese minutes before. Over time, she noticed less of the noises and the disturbances those noises made within her grew lesser and lesser. Till the time when she was not irritated by the noises at all anymore. 

Isn't it interesting? A response like this. Seemingly suggesting what a coward Therese is and how she does not know to fight for her rights and make a stand for herself. Yet, what she revealed was a great interior strength and graciousness. By the grace of God. Growing in patience and humility, gentleness and compassion. 

Whatever situations we may find ourselves in, most especially the challenging ones, seem to be God's classroom for our sainthood. Why do we thus thank God for our "curses" and pain? Not because we who believe in Him are idiots. But because we have been given the faith and grace to see beyond, to look deeper, to recognise how God's love wishes to shape us increasingly into His image and at the same time, setting us free by His truth. Free from anger, resentment, unforgiveness; free from the effects of sin. Because the truth is that in the unpleasant, the struggles, the cutting pain, therein lies all that God's infinite and unfathomable love wishes to do in us, for us. 

What need we let go of to feel secure enough in God's love to put down our armour of war against the perceived negatives in our lives? So as to use these as opportunities to be moulded more and more into the image and likeness of our Creator? Have you signed up yet for God's classroom for sainthood? 

Monday, 24 July 2017

Allocutio - Living like a Sponge

Have you heard of people who liken a child’s brain to a sponge? I think they say this presuming that what the child is absorbing is good. Because the child is equally able to learn things that are not good. Thankfully, the real sponge only takes in liquids while anything solid will remain mostly at its surface. Otherwise, we might have to change the sponge every other day!

Is it good then if we are like a sponge in the way we live out our Christian lives? Surely, our Catholic faith offers us everything good. While a sponge by its design only allows certain things to pass through its surface, for us humans, we do not have such an easy time. We need to do our own discernment to know in which circumstances is God inviting us to be a sponge and when he is not. If we take a close look at the Gospels, we can notice that Jesus would go to a quiet place on his own way before dawn to pray. He would know then which district to go next to spread the Good News. He does not do so on his own, stay longer when the people pressed him to remain with them, but goes where he is led. It was the same for the early followers, who came together to pray, discern and act.

Surely, discernment is not an easy thing. Because we don’t hear God’s voice as distinctly as we hear one another speak. Most of us are busy throughout the day and there is hardly stillness within even when our environment is quiet. But all of us are able to learn to discern, and with practice and a good spiritual guide to co-discern with us, we would be able to live as discerning Christians.

This is important because God is our only goal, and if so, everything else – our family lives, work, apostolate mission – is only the means to this end. If we do not discern, there is a high chance of going with the flow and at times, this flow may not be the way that leads us closer to God. It may be for another person but not how God calls us individually to go. If we are to accept every invitation to a church ministry, respond to every call to evangelize, attend every talk and retreat available, we will eventually find ourselves drained out, disillusioned and lost. Our attention scattered rather than it being focused on God. Thereafter, no time or too tired to pray. Instead of moving closer to God through these means of living out our discipleship, we will find ourselves further from him. Being a disciple is not a call to load onto our plates more than what we are called to do. In deciding on our apostolate work, we too need to discern. Who is God inviting me to reach out to? And to those he is, how is he asking me to be his instrument?

To discern, we need first to grow in awareness of our feelings. How am I feeling now? In the moment, as a result of something that has happened or something we have experienced. It is essential because God does speak to us through our emotions. For example, I find mopping the floor during my night shift very tiring, mundane and trivial. But when I become aware that I am doing it out of love for the children I work with, and who are so loved by Jesus, it fills me with a sense of purpose and connection with Jesus. He pours out his love into me as I share this love with the children through the simple act of mopping floor. By noticing these inner feelings, I continue to notice too that even in such simple deeds, God is inching me closer to him. And thus, I know this is what he is calling me to – the way he wills, at least for now, for me to walk in his direction.

As you go on your daily life, you may consider taking a minute or so periodically to look back at the time that had passed, what you experienced and your response, and how it made you feel. To notice increasingly with more practice, so that you can become more conscious of how God is working in and through you.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Allocutio - Only a Sower

I have been into planting seeds and watching them germinate and grow into a plant. In the process, I realized that not every seed sprouts. Not every seedling survives and grows into a nice plant. No matter how much I want them to.

The most challenging so far is to grow lemon balm. For those few that sprouted, they usually died shortly after, despite me giving it enough water. I later discovered that worms invaded the soil and killed my seedlings. I refused to give up. I planted more seeds again, read up on the conditions lemon balm needs. Only recently had I found out that I was watering my seedlings too much, which invited flies to lay eggs and the roots would also rot. After many tries, my lemon balm seedlings now are finally growing well.

The strangest was when I was growing basil. I sowed basil seeds and was most delighted when they sprouted. I happily transferred the tiny seedlings into a nice pot of soil and later found out that somehow – and I am totally clueless about this even till today – what was growing in that pot was not basil but weeds. The landscaper at my place told me. Well, it is quite a nice weed with green leaves with a tinge of yellow. So I decided to let it grow in my pot anyhow. It is life all the same.

Last Sunday’s Gospel spoke about a farmer sowing seeds, which fell on different kinds of grounds. In our apostolate work, we are like farmers sowing seeds for God’s Kingdom. I would like to draw our attention today to the disposition of the sower. When we sow, what is subtly going on within us? Do we attach conditions to our sowing? Prerequisites?

It would be quite silly of me to, before planting these seeds, examine, evaluate, calculate (if I can) each of their internal composition, hypothesize and conclude which will germinate and grow into a healthy plant and which will not. I do not do research or alter the genes of the seed to control the outcome. As a farmer, as a sower, I simply sow. That is what I am called to do.

However, it is not always that I find it easy to apply this same attitude to sowing seeds for God’s Kingdom. For all too often, I judge prematurely if someone is good soil for me to sow seeds on. If I suspect that it might not reap much results, I would subconsciously avoid reaching out and turn towards others who might have a greater potential in responding positively to my sowing. I sow with the harvest as my focus. But the harvest is not within my control. It is God’s to control. I can do my best to give my seeds and seedlings the best conditions I know they need but yet their survival is hardly my doing because if it were, then all my seeds would have grown into healthy plants just as I will for them to. I do not breathe life into them. God does. And He sustains them with His breath.

So it is in our apostolate work. Wherever there are seeds to be sown, let us sow and let God breathe His life into our work. When seedlings die after some time, let us sow again. And again. For God never gives up on His beloved people. When weeds grow, may our disappointment not keep us from trying again.

Definitely, we do not reach out to everyone in the same manner. We do need to be discerning about where people are, what they are ready for, what is their style, etc. It is not a one size fits all. If someone is truly unreceptive or difficult to approach, it does not mean we give up on that person. Our way of sowing can be altered. Even a genuine smile or a simple “Have a good day” towards one who only responds with a glare. Just as the first reading also told us, that God’s word does not return to Him without it having done what God had willed, any love we sow would not return to us without it having moved something that perhaps was too hidden from our sight to notice. Every seed of mercy, every seed of compassion. God sees them all and blesses them all. Love itself is His breath and life.

May we be good soil for God’s love to take root in us so that we may be good sowers of His life and love in the lives of those He sends to us.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Allocutio - Facilitating God's Reign (Bible Sunday)


This Sunday, we will be celebrating Bible Sunday. It is not only a time to get down to reading the bible, which I am sure some of you are already doing or have done. Maybe, there is something more, something deeper. Maybe, it is a time of reviewing what God has been doing throughout salvation history and how we are called to be a continuation of this story in our times and in our lives.

Jesus came to bring the reign of God to us. But what is this reign? 2000 years ago, among the Jews there was great oppression of the poor and weak, sick and widowed. The peasants who were mostly farmers were forced to give up the best of their crops each harvest to the government. The people had to pay high taxes and tithes and each family had to be extremely cautious to avoid being in debts and their lands taken over by the larger landowners. The Pharisees were also oppressing the people and putting huge burdens on them with all their rules and beliefs.

Jesus saw the sufferings of the people and He came to tell us who God the Father truly is. Merciful, compassionate, generous, and most of all, a God who hears the cry of the poor. And He has already been working among humankind to bring about a world in which God’s victory is arrived at in each person, each creature. Jose Pagola wrote in Jesus – An Historical Approximation: “Jesus did more than denounce whatever is opposed to God’s reign. He also recommended a way of living more in accordance with the Father’s will. He sought more than individual, personal conversion. He was trying to introduce in the towns and villages a new model of social behavior… He’s not talking about a miraculous intervention of God, but a change of behavior that can lead to a fuller and more secure life for all… Jesus was proclaiming the reign of God as a reality that requires the restoration of social justice.” Jesus Himself lived a life in which God reigns. This is how we are called to live too. And this is the work we must continue as disciples sent on this mission. Giving sight to the blind, setting the captives free…

There are many people around us who are suffering oppression of some kind. Many who might not even be aware that they are oppressed. They do not have sight. Even in our offices, workplaces, by superiors, fellow colleagues, etc. People who are pressured to work overtime either by an unrealistic workload or by peer pressure. The need to look as if one is so hardworking in order to maintain a good reputation as a worker. While all other aspects of life are affected as a result. Like it or not, we oppress ourselves too when we judge and belittle ourselves in the very subtle messages we send to ourselves unknowingly each day.

There are also many roles that we can play in helping the oppressed and working, like Jesus, to restore social justice. There are passive and active roles, and we have been given different gifts. In the Gospels, not much is being said about Mary during Jesus’s ministry but it is not hard to think of her as playing a very passive supportive role in all that Jesus was doing. Supporting Him in ways that would free Him up and help Him focus on His ministry. Mary of Magdala used her wealth from her business to fund the expenses of Jesus’s ministry, while at the same time, being herself very involved in what Jesus and His disciples were doing. Other women would have helped by doing the cooking and seeing to the chores. But these tasks were very much according to the gender culture of that time.

It is a good time this week, then, to discern – individually and collectively as a legion praesidium – how we are called specifically to restore social justice in our world, in our lives. Collectively, if not as a whole group, perhaps even in pairs. Have a grace-filled Bible Sunday.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Allocutio - "The World is Going Crazy"

“The world is going crazy.” Have you heard or read this line anywhere lately? Strangely, I have received more than one text messages in the last week or so with this sentence included in it. And it was usually followed by an invitation to pray for our crazy-ing world.

But what is making people perceive this way of our world? Could it be that they have noticed a forefront-ing of evil? That evil is prevalent-ing more so now than before? Maybe, they see a society that seemED able to tell good from bad, now seemingly confused about what to paint as white and black. And they sometimes rebel to paint black as white and vice versa. Leaving some others baffled-ing and unrested-ing because this other group of people has faithfully upheld the distinction between black and white.

Perhaps, good and evil have truly become subjective; it all depends on how one defines them for his own life. Pretty much without the need to follow any manmade or God-made rules, like how I am choosing now not to follow some English tenses in my writing because I feel like creative-ing.

Yet, I suspect that you can still understand the message I am trying to convey despite my deliberate misuse of tenses. And if so, would you also be able to understand what our crazy world is trying to convey despite the deliberate misuse of life? Because no matter how she may mutilate life, the one underlying and overarching message is – I am hurting inside; I need love and attention. The deeper the brokenness, the louder the cry for love, the greater the mutilation. And then, the greater the mutilation, the stronger the reaction and rejection from the other side, the deeper the brokenness, the louder the cry for love. Until someone like Pope Francis – thank God for him! – responses in a refreshing manner to reveal to our agitated world God’s compassionate and merciful face. And then, there comes peace, harmony, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness, conversion.

Just as the mutilation of life becomes more explicit and evil is made more visible, what is also becoming more obviously defined is the reality that our physical world has failed miserably to satisfy our true selves. Our restlessness never seems to end. And which leads us to the question, “So… what’s more?” It either directs us to achieve and accumulate more worldly things or it awakens our consciousness to the divine treasures our eyes have yet to be set upon.

Whether she cares to admit it or not, our world needs God. Our world needs the infinite love of God that judges and discriminates not but is always ready to welcome and embrace. The love of God that heals and liberates us from the effects of our wounds. And if there is anyone in the world to facilitate this encounter of God’s love, it is us – Christians. We are the ones who can help rekindle daily in our world the hope that is so easily lost, to spread the love that is so scarce today. We who must not keep Jesus hidden from the world any longer. The true face of Christ that we must first see and experience for ourselves before we can show to others.

It takes effort and time to make space in our lives to encounter this face of Christ ourselves. We need also to be guided by someone who is walking the way ahead of us. Because the image that we have of God more often than not needs alteration and refinement. For our ignorance and a thwarted understanding of God can be a counter-witness and its effects are damaging.

An essential component and also our responsibility in our apostolate work is our nurturing of our Catholic faith and the deepening of our personal relationship with God. Only when we are tuned in to God and are in touch with ourselves can we give Jesus to this hungry, mutilated, confused and aching world. And then, there will be peace, harmony, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness, conversion.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Allocutio - The Art of Hanging


The past week has seen several prayer intentions circulating in the group. Loved ones passing away, people suffering losses. Not to mention our own challenges each day. We remember with deep sadness too the many victims of the recent attacks around the world. In all these, we might have found ourselves in moments of helplessness, stranded between hopefulness and hopelessness, consolation and dejection. And one might be tempted to ask a very reasonable question, “Where is God?”

While it is important to review the week’s incidents and experiences, to find God in them, today, I would like to suggest a turn of this question. In all these challenges, sufferings, pain, loss, where were you? In the sufferings and helplessness of your life, where were you?

I must admit that in my tough situations, I am usually on the run. It has become such a natural tendency that I subconsciously swing towards. Running away from all my difficult emotions, running away from the reality of what’s happening. I am everywhere else except at my heart, where my emotions reside and try hard to call out for my attention. As far as I can, for as long as possible. I distract myself with anything that will direct my attention away from the awful helplessness and heaviness within. Computer games are good distractors!

Unfortunately, avoiding the difficulties and unpleasant emotions do not make the issue at hand disappear. For over time, anger, frustration, resentment, etc accumulate and my peace diminishes by the minute. It is like plague building up in the arteries and we are almost certain that what follows will be a cardiac arrest. Sooner or later.

The good news is that there is a better way of be-ing. A be-ing that imitates Jesus and Mary. By His divine power, Jesus was not helpless in His passion and death. But He chose to be that way, like a lamb led to the slaughter. Experiencing excruciating pain – physical, emotional and even spiritual when He felt His Father abandoning Him. All Jesus did was to hang there on the cross to bring His Father’s will to total completion.

This image of hanging. It does not require us to be physically hanging on the cross. Rather, it suggests a certain resignation to the cross, no resistance but only an abandonment of oneself into the arms of the one who is truly in control. A hanging that seems like one is doing nothing but one is in fact totally present to every bit of the experience. Mary, as she followed her Son along the way and finally, witnessing the brutal death of her beloved Child on the cross, had her own heart pierced through. She stood there. She remained. Feeling very blow of His, every wound of His. She was completely present to her emotions. She was hanging with Jesus on the cross.

In our apostolate work, we face situations in which there seems to be nothing much we can do at all except to pray. Yet, there may be something more. To be with the helpless one suffering – whether it is another person or ourselves – to hang with this person and with Jesus on the cross. In total solidarity and connection. Because it is this connection that carves out the channel for love to flow. The love of Christ that renews and restores the face of the earth.

In difficult situations, where would you choose to be?