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.