Monday, 29 May 2017

Allocutio - Perfecting the Broth of My Life


I am not a seasoned chef so I have to follow recipes very closely. Needless to say, the recipe also needs to be foolproof. Yet, I still fumble over the spices and sauces. Always adding a little of this or that which I think will fix the taste, then, tasting the food again, I try to pinpoint what is still lacking in it or what I have added too much of. I might at last come to the long-awaited pmoint of satisfaction with the taste. But that would not be without many repeated attempts at finding out what is lacking and filling in this lack.

In a similar way, we too, in our lives, even as we carry out our apostolate work, may find ourselves having a less than desirable concoction of virtues and vices. Good and bad habits.

The bad news is that unlike cooking, it is far more tedious and challenging to fix ourselves than the taste of food. There seems to always be an internal struggle, a disobedience of the flesh to cooperate with the will. Certain things in others seem to always trigger us, causing us to react rather than respond in loving ways.

I have been struggling a lot for instance with impatience. Especially towards those who do not meet my expectations, and especially when I perceive the matter to be commonsensical. Although these days, I am more aware of this and I can catch myself early enough to hold back a great deal without letting my impatience show too much, I am pretty sure the other party is still able to sense my impatience. I don’t like this impatience but it is there, a thorn in my flesh.

The consoling thing is that even the saints had their share of struggles. As St Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (7:14-24) “We are well aware that the law is spiritual: but I am a creature of flesh and blood sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand my own behavior; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate… the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want, that is what I do… What a wretched man I am!”

Is there a part of you that is a thorn in your flesh too? If there is, what might this be? How has this thorn caused you to live a less-than-satisfying life? And be a Christian who does not bear full witness to Christ? Does it bother you?

Well, here comes the good news. Jesus has risen, ascended to His Father, and has sent to us the Holy Spirit to be our help. We are approaching the feast of Pentecost. When the disciples, filled with fear, hiding, were given the courage and the gift of different tongues to proclaim the Good News to people from so many different lands. The Spirit lent divine aid and filled the disciples’ lacking so that they could transcend their human limitations and carry out God’s will.

We would be pleading to God in the responsorial psalm on Pentecost Sunday to “send forth (His) Spirit and renew the face of the earth”. Truly, we are not orphans, left to our own devices to fulfill the insurmountable task God puts on each of our shoulders to bear Him to our world. We have the Spirit of our living God, dwelling in us, waiting to fill our lacking and empower us for the work we are called to do.

We need to ask. But what shall we ask for? First, we need to examine ourselves, just as we taste the food that is cooking. To become aware of our strengths and weaknesses, know what we need to overcome the undesirable. Then, as we desire to be better for God, we ask the Spirit to grace us with what we need so that we are moulded increasingly into Christ. Like Mary, who the Holy Spirit overshadowed at the annunciation, may we look to God and daily call upon the Holy Spirit to overshadow us, to continually labour in us, so that we may bring Jesus more fully into the lives of all we meet.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Allocutio - Being a Mother

Have you heard of photograph mosaic or photomosaic? You might have seen one before. It is a photo made up of many small pictures. The object in each small picture is associated with the object portrayed in the larger picture. A photomosaic of a clock is made up of small pictures of different clocks and watches for instance. Each small picture plays a specific purpose of adding the right colour in its specific location to form the larger picture. Here is one of Jesus.


A photomosaic reminds me very much of the Church, made up of so many small members like us, and collectively forming the image of Christ to the world. But we do not simply put on a preplanned outfit colour, stand together in formation and literally form a human mosaic of Christ’s face. So then how do we bear the image of Christ to our world?

I would like to suggest that like we often hear it being said, “Holy Mother Church”, we bear Christ’s image to our world by being a mother. Not biologically. But in spirit.

A mother becomes a mother by first having her body broken, in one way or another, in order for new life to be brought forth into the world. She continues to give of herself so that this new life is nourished to flourish. A mother listens to recognize in each distinct cry the needs of her child. And having listened, responds to meet those needs, whatever it may demand of her. Tired and exhausted but each time pushing herself an extra inch more to restore her child’s comfort and wellbeing before finally giving herself rest. Tireless. Stretching beyond known limits. Body broken again and again so that life continues.

Not only does a mother break her body for her child. Her will and heart are also bent, broken, in the course of her motherhood. Whenever her child disobeys and errs, whenever she sacrifices her own needs, gives up her lifestyle. How much time and energy has a mother for herself? Especially if she is without the help of her parents, parents-in-law or a helper.

Mothers are models of self-sacrifice, self-giving, self-emptying. As we celebrated Mothers’ Day yesterday, perhaps we might also be invited to delve a little deeper into the significance of the occasion. To give thanks and show our gratitude to our mothers but beyond this, to integrate into our own Christian lives the qualities of a good mother, in the way we reach out to others and labour as ministers of mercy and compassion, love and peace, to make Jesus known and loved. To play our significant and specific role that God has designed for each one of us as a member of His Church so that we may stand in the larger collage of witnesses to bear Christ’s image to our world. Jesus Himself opened His side so that blood and water flowed, giving birth to the Church.

To what extent have we allowed ourselves to be broken in our laboring for God’s kingdom-building? How may we be invited to be like a mother – self-sacrificing, self-giving, self-emptying – in our works today and everyday?

Monday, 8 May 2017

Allocutio - Evangelization - Being a Sheep


Do you recall your parents saying to you as a child, “You must listen to mummy and daddy, we know what is good for you”? When mummy and daddy said, “Don’t go there… don’t do that… be polite,” what were our responses? Some of you are parents now and you might also find yourself saying similar things to your children. Only because you have gained much life experiences over the years and you hope for your kids to be attentive to what you have to say in order for them to be well-guided as they carve out their own life story. You know what would help their stories to be beautiful and meaningful. Parents know best.

Yesterday, we celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday or Vocation Sunday. I was blessed to be at the St. Joseph feast day to listen to the inspiring homily of Fr Lionel from Malacca. He highlighted that “shepherds” do not just refer to the priests and religious, and their answering the call of God to this specific way of life. Each one of us is a shepherd. Parent to a child, elder sibling to a younger, grandparent to grandchild, CEO to subordinates, uncles and aunties to nieces and nephews. In so many different ways, we play the role of a shepherd to others. He also mentioned that to be shepherds, we need first to be sheep. We need to listen to our Shepherd.

Shema Yisrael! Hear O Israel! Deuteronomy 6:4
“Shema Yisrael” are the first two words of a section of the Torah, and is the title of the prayer that Jews say in the morning and evening everyday.
When a scribe asked Jesus which is the first of all commandments, Jesus replied, “This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one, only Lord…” Mk 12:29

It is so important to listen to Jesus. How else can we be guided to live a beautiful and meaningful life? To be attentive, to be still and quiet, patient and well-disposed. To pay attention to what is stirring within, what the soft voice of God is trying to say to us.

When I am feeling mad at someone, which would be more life-giving for me and those around me? To go on being oblivious, unaware and throwing my anger at innocent parties? Or to sit still for a few minutes, listen to the anger within, listen to how God is inviting me to respond to this feeling? Perhaps He is helping me to understand the situation in another perspective or to understand the person who caused the anger, so that the fire in me can be extinguished and I need no longer be held captive by it.

When I see a child always wetting the bed at night, which would be more life-giving? To reprimand and punish her or to listen a little deeper at what this might be telling me of her inner struggles and difficulties, and attend to these?

The Good Samaritan acted the way he did because he listened. He listened to the voice within that told him of the suffering of the victim. He listened to the voice within that told him how sorry he felt for the victim. To the voice that told him he would not be able to be at peace if he were to pass by and do nothing to help. He listened too to the inability of the poor man to pay for his medical care, and to the voice that told him to give beyond. He listened and acted.

We listen so that we can respond instead of react. To respond in life-giving ways that also give glory to God. Isn’t it true that it is precisely in the need for our response that we have a platform to live out our baptismal promises and our Christian values? We listen to the plight of suffering people, to needs and respond by sharing what we have, be it wealth, time or energy. We listen, we allow our hearts to be moved, and we act. We listen, we learn and we grow. We listen, we change our ways, we inch closer to God.

Mary too was a woman who listened so attentively to God. To every word the angel spoke, to every teaching of her Son. She listened, kept all in her heart, and responded when the time was right. Listening to Jesus on the cross, she even took in not only John the apostle but the whole human race as her own, despite us being the cause of her dear Son’s death. Perhaps, she heard something deeper than just those words uttered by Jesus. Perhaps, she heard His plea, His deepest love for God’s people; she heard God’s thirst for our souls. And she took it upon herself to be the Mother of the whole world.

Listen, listen deeply, respond. 
How much attention do we pay to listen? 
How may God be inviting us to avail space and time, however small they may be, to listen as a sheep so that we become Good Shepherds?

Vocare Vocation Forum @ Nativity Church

for a vocation promotion sharing @ the Church of the Nativity, 7 May 2017

Can you imagine me in a wedding gown walking down the aisle? That was what I was heading towards with my wedding plans all in place.  Travelling almost every school holiday as a teacher, a job that paid enough for my lifestyle. I was happy. Or so I thought. Inside me, I harboured a lot of bitterness and resentment. And I made life quite miserable for many who crossed my path. Discernment was unknown to me and religious life never crossed my mind.

June 2010 – I went with my church choir for a choral competition and then a short pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi, where I had a radical conversion. I experienced God again in a very profound and unforgettable way after 10 years of not praying daily. My relationship with my fiancĂ© at that time was also quite unstable. I decided to find out what God is calling me to before I enter marriage and regret for the rest of my life if that’s not what His call is for me. So I returned, and with the help of Msgr Philip Heng, SJ, who taught me about discernment, I got my answer in 2 months. God was calling me to the religious life. So I took steps to break the engagement, cancel the wedding plans, settle the forfeitures I had incurred. 

4 years of searching for a congregation, finding answers, trying to hold my life still in my hands. No answers came. I became disillusioned, angry with God. I was anxious, ashamed, fearful of what others may think of me especially since I broke up my engagement for religious life. After a discernment retreat, I decided to be a lay person; God was not calling me to this life anymore.

One day, I had a conversation with Sr Elizabeth (Gd Shepherd Sr). When I walked into Oasis retreat house in the Good Shepherd compound, I felt peace. From then, the desire grew in me to return to that place. This time, being relaxed, without needing to squeeze out any answers from God or from myself, I was more ready to live out the Ignatian Spirituality and rules of discernment that I came to learn and fall in love with. I continued my daily life but watched more closely the inner movements in me - the growing desire and attraction towards the Rgs, which I did not understand why. After some time, when the desire did not fade away, I knew something was up. So I contacted the congregation.

It has been 2 years, 5 months since I moved into the Rgs as aspirant and am now a postulant. There were many times I tried to run away from the call still and there were many reasons to justify it. The call became blurred and I was confused if God's still calling me to this. I made a retreat in February, during which Jesus even told me it’s okay to leave, that He understands and will love me still. But I found myself saying to Him it’s not okay to me; not okay that I give Him anything less than my best. Because I love Him, despite this love being so minute, it is, by grace, enough to make me unable to say “no” to Him. And again by grace, I eventually gave in. And this time, I’m not turning back again.