At yesterday's novena devotion, Fr Vincent Low mentioned about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain who, despite their successful careers, ended their lives prematurely, 5 days apart. He ended his preaching very persuasively, urging us not to lose hope for God never gives up on us.
Today, Fr Ignatius Yeo at Risen Christ Church delivered a very dynamic homily, infused with healthy humour, about "fear (being) the path to the dark side", quoting Master Yoda from Stars Wars. We have to choose either to stand with Christ or with satan (there isn't a 3rd side). Not deciding to stand with Christ is deciding to stand with satan. But if we should decide to stand with Christ, then we must claim His strength in the Eucharist and resist fear.
Scrolling down Facebook, I couldn't help but notice the posts on depression and suicide, more now than ever before in history, plaguing our world today. According to The New Paper (May 30, 2018), "In 2015-16, 77 children aged five to nine and 4,563 aged 10 to 19 called the SOS hotline compared to 14 and 2,366 in 2012-13." SOS (Samaritans of Singapore) is a suicide-prevention centre.
While the politicians are gathering over these days for the summit in Singapore, playing their political games and hopefully, by God's grace, arriving at some real effective conclusions for the greater good, many individuals are suffering, living in constant pain and in the darkness of hopelessness and purposelessness.
I sat in the pews today, looking at someone displaying clear signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I wondered what he has gone through in life that led to this disorder. I looked up at Jesus on the crucifix and thought about our world at large. In that moment, I felt the force of oppression that seems to be covering our world like a thick fog. And I had the image of 2 huge magnets, humanity being one and satan being the other. Both magnets were facing each other at their like poles. Hence, there was a great force of repulsion. The more satan pressed down on humanity, the more its force threatened to push us 180 degrees around so that the opposite pole can then attract the magnet of satan. Some were turned. And the numbers were increasing.
It all seems very bleak. Where is God? I am not surprised though I am saddened that people are increasingly losing their faith in God. After all, they cry and He doesn't seem to hear, and even if He does, He doesn't seem to care enough to do something to help. Perhaps they hear of other people experiencing miracles but not in their lives. Why God? Do you love some more than others? It is tough. I believe it is truly very tough in this very troubled era to believe that God still exists and that He will not let us down.
So what will help us build our trust in God? Will listening to biblical verses on hope and the unfailing love of God help? What would these words mean to us if we do not have a sense of connection with our ancestors of the faith, if we do not see that what happened back then between the Israelites and God has anything to do with us and our Mass? We hear, don't we, our priests painstakingly at times quoting these verses in their homilies in the hope of convincing us to continue hoping in God. Has it impacted our faith? Do we know enough of our salvation history to appreciate the profound continuation from the Old Testament to the New and to our lives, so as to see how God's love truly never ends and that we can be absolutely certain that suffering will never have the final say for those who place all their hopes in the Lord?
There is no quick fix to this disconnection between us and our faith. Our hope in God cannot blossom overnight. Expecting instant gratification will disappoint us greatly. I have seen that the slow, arduous process of seeking God has and is freeing me increasingly, and subtly, my faith has been growing a whole lot over the past years. I believe the key focus is not to grow my trust in God because I cannot trust who I do not first know. Rather, I have found my faith growing inevitably, consequently when my personal experiences and interior knowledge of God in the person of Jesus continue and deepen. What do I mean?
For instance, I see and encounter God's love when I look at my life from the angle of gratitude. And humility precedes gratitude. On the contrary, when I take things for granted or approach my life with the attitude of self-entitlement, all I will be able to see is myself, and nothing but my self-centred self. How will I see God's love? How will I be able to notice His presence in my life, when all I see are my efforts, my achievements, my failures, my talents, my status, my social facade, my determination? What have I received from God? The ingrate cannot find God in their lives. The grateful one will always have something to thank and praise God for, even if he lost everything like Job in the Old Testament. When I recognise God's blessings, I know intimately His love for me and I can trust His love will continue to provide.
God is very present in our lives, even when we are in the most desperate situations, when all we can feel is the pain of suffering and the endless worry of what is to come. Suffering is not the absence of God. On the contrary, suffering is infused with the presence of God. Because Jesus did not evade suffering. There is no pain of ours He has not already endured. Whether it is the shame of being stripped of dignity, being accused, insulted, taken for granted, rejected, misunderstood, laughed at. Even the embarrassment of looking like a complete failure when He hung helplessly on the cross. Valued less than a criminal. Betrayed and abandoned. Is there a pain of ours He did not already experience Himself?
When I was a child and a teenager, life was tough (not that it is now a bed of roses). There were many difficult emotions I had to handle and make sense of on my own. I recall that as a child, in those times I hid somewhere to cry, to complain to Jesus and Mary about what happened, telling them my feelings, one of the things that gave me great, great consolation was when Jesus showed me how He has already experienced those feelings. I began to see what He went through in His earthly life that made Him feel the same way as I was. It gave me such comfort to know that there was at least 1 person in this world who understood me perfectly and knew exactly what I was going through. I was not alone. Suffering connects me with Jesus and it has been the condition under which I have encountered so much the infinite love of God.
When I come to know Him, who He is, what He stands for, His character, when I seek the divine in my life, gratefully identifying His hand in my life experiences, my faith grows. Despite many times needing to wait for so many years to see some fruits of my prayers, when I see that He has not failed me after all, I know that He will never fail me. An attitude of seeking the divine and daily personal conversation with God (prayer) form the starting point of a life of hope.
Life does not end in our sufferings unless we choose to make it so. We do not know what will happen between now and our last breath. Who knows what miracle God will work in our lives tomorrow, the next hour? We do not know until we have lived through it to the end. No matter how talented and capable we may be, there will come a time we will have to confront our limitations as a human and creature. When that moment comes, the only thing that has power to give us hope is our confidence in a more powerful and greater Being above ourselves - God. Faith is not faith in good times. Faith is only possible in difficult, painful, threatening situations, when the power of fear will be so weakened because our eyes are fixed on Jesus across the stormy sea (Matthew 14:22-33). We know and we trust in God, who will reach out to grab hold of our hand even if we should lose hope and sink into the water.
My SD told me earlier this week that it is not about preventing myself from feeling fearful but that in those fearful moments, the crux is in my choice. I would like to end with this counsel from Jesus to me in my last retreat in April and I suspect it is not only for me. "Fears are real. There will be fears. But keep your eyes on Me and you will not sink."
What is your choice?