Sunday, 9 May 2021

Learning to Love Someone - Utter Dependence on God

I have not blogged in a very long while but there is something coming up for me since January 2021 that has set me on a very unusual, unpredictable, unexpected, unplanned and very challenging journey. It entails learning to love.

Fr Chris Soh, SJ said before, "Love is effortful." I cannot agree more.


Loving an intimate other is a whole different experience from loving a group of everyone else. Perhaps, this marks a huge difference between the married and lay single / religious vocation. Loving an intimate other naturally desires for the other to reciprocate the love and it is very specific. We hope and desire from this person what we do not in the same way hope and desire from any other person.

But as with all human relationships, we cannot control anyone other than ourselves. No matter how much we want the other to love us in return, there is absolutely so much we can do to try to win that love. And even if we have won that love, there is no certainty of securing that love for the rest of our lives. 

When something shakes the foundation of a relationship - an argument, a hurtful comment, a selfish decision - and working things out together between the couple is not a mutual decision of commitment, how? When two hearts are not beating as one, when they are not quite on the same page, and the future of the relationship so tremendously dear to you is bleak and at times even hopeless, how? 

Pain, heart-wrenching pain, insecurities, uncertainties, more pain, fear, anxiety... 

Whether or not we dare to admit, we are after all only humans - limited, finite. The more I fight this truth instead of accepting it with humility, the harder I try to "fix" things, the messier things get, the more exhausted I feel, the less "natural" things are, and ultimately, what do I get? The same dead-end; I face the same human limitation that renders me helpless in the face of an independent other I cannot control. 

The only one then who I can now depend on after acknowledging my helplessness is God. If there's anyone who can pave out a way I cannot pave out, it is God. If there's anyone who can, in short, help the situation, mend the brokenness, it is God. No one else. 

God alone knows best. He loves us more than anyone can possibly love us. If the relationship is His will, then all we need to do is to hand it over to Him, to entrust it to His love and provision, to beg Him to do for us what we in our limited powers cannot do. And discern where God is leading us, listen and follow His lead, trusting that whatever the outcome may be, it will be the best for each of us. It may be the best only upon hindsight 10 years later, who knows! But what I can say is that if it is a relationship God blesses, I know and have witnessed Him making a way where there really seemed to be no way. 

The question then is... 

How personal and deep is our relationship with God that allows us to surrender to His loving providence? And if we don't know God enough to trust Him this much, perhaps this is the starting point - deepening this relationship through prayer, contemplation, perhaps even with the help of a trained spiritual director. 

Utter dependence on God.
May God give us the grace to truly be poor in spirit so as to be rich in Christ. 

Sunday, 21 June 2020

The Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

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Mary's response to God was wholehearted, single-minded. Her heart was one with her son, Jesus; deeply connected beyond our imaginings.

And today (20 June 2020 - I'm half an hour late), the Church honours her immaculate heart. May we discover our deepest thirst for God and allow Him to gradually merge our hearts with His.

This is a prayer of offering I have been praying when the priest consecrates the bread and wine during the offertory at Mass. It is adapted from Karl Rahner's captivating words in Encounters with Silence:

Lord, bring me to your altar.
There, let me die completely to myself
so as to be buried entirely in you.

Friday, 19 June 2020

10th Anniversary of Conversion

Today marks the 10th anniversary of my conversion experience in Rome. It's been 10 years. Back then, when I embarked on this spiritual journey, I never saw how the journey would unfold, neither did I know what 10 years from then would be like, feel like, or look like. I was a very different person and could never have dreamt that life as it is now for me or the person I am now was ever possible. 

I began this day with spiritual direction via Zoom. It was so timely, so apt. And I shared this prayer experiences I had few days back with my spiritual director: 

Reading Healing Our Beginning made me aware of the need and possibility of healing wounds even as far back as conception. As I read the 1st two chapters of the book, I was noticing my inner stirrings. I began to understand the possible root causes of some of the struggles I have been helplessly facing that prevented me from a better discipleship that I desire very much. Awareness alone of my tendencies and emotions could not translate to choosing better actions because the emotions were too intense and beyond me. And I asked the Lord for help to overcome these. I felt as I read, God's invitation to bring my new realizations and insights to Him in prayer. And so I began.

It came to a point in the first prayer period when Mary (Jesus's mother) invited me into her own womb. Gradually, I took up her invitation as the Spirit led. (This is the contemplative prayer method) In her womb, I could see the house I came to know from my 30 day retreat. Mary and Joseph were working in different parts of the house but there was a deep love and connection between them. I felt safe. 

Then Mary invited Joseph into the house for lunch, when she revealed to him that she's expecting (me). He was overjoyed. Overjoyed. I could hear their laughters, their joy. Joseph was praising God and then, he turned to Mary and said so intently and consciously, "God has given us a gift." At these words, tears began to fall. It is one thing to know by faith that I'm a gift; it is quite another when God speaks it to my heart directly. I am God's gift. I have never experienced this reality so profoundly as I did in this prayer experience. 

Later, Joseph, after much more laughing out his joy and excitement, asked Mary, "Is it a girl or a boy?" And without waiting for a reply, he came close to me in Mary and spoke directly to me, "Whether you are a girl or a boy, you are equally precious." More tears fell. 

They were excited to meet me, to see me. Their joy was immeasurable. And I felt it anew that someone is actually so excited to see me. I felt so welcomed, so loved, cherished, special; a gift. Joseph then assured Mary that he will take very good care of her. And with him doing that to the lady carrying me, I, in her womb, felt cared for and absolutely secure. For the first time in my life, I was that excited about my life. 

I can say with confidence this whole experience was Spirit-led because only God knows what exactly I needed to hear and experience for the kind of wounds I had. And He gives it as He knows I need. 

In the second prayer experience the next day, I thought of doing a repetition of the experience but went along with the strong prompting to go back instead to the actual scene of my conception. 

This time, I saw the process of human fertilization. But it stalled at that moment just before fertilization took place. And this time, God was there. After some time, He waved His hand gently. It wasn't just a physical gesture. In that wave, I understood that He opened the egg. In that wave, I felt so unmistakably His deep, deep love for me, such a love that He desires at His core to bring me into being. At that moment, I understood that every new life is far more than the consequence of human actions. I understood that every new life happens as a rapture of God's infinite love for that being. 

Then God brought His hands to His heart. From there, He brought forth a baby soul. A fully formed being, a soul. He looked so intently, gently, tenderly at the soul. He was completely mesmerized. For the first time in my life, I felt God like a mother, feminine. Oh He was so tender and loving. I was taken aback looking at how He was gazing upon that soul (me). After some time, He looked at me and asked, "Isn't she beautiful? I love her so much because she comes straight from my heart." Straight from God's heart. He placed my soul into the fertilized egg. And I looked anew at my first cell. I loved it, picked it up gently in my hands and said, "You are so beautiful, Jacinta, Jacinta. I love you."

Straight from the heart of God. My spiritual director helped me this morning to stay with this experience for long before reminding me (I forgot!) that today is the feast of the Most Sacred Heart and how wonderful it is to touch this "coming from God's heart" experience on this feast. I cannot grasp how perfect God's timing is. 

Today, God sent and gifted me my spiritual director to share deeply in my experiences and in my journey, as if he's standing in on behalf of God, to gift me the grace of being accompanied. It is a great celebration for me, a day of consolation. The affirmation and "pat on the back" that God gifts from having fought the good fight, of having enjoyed the great heights of God's mountain-top-consolations, of enduring the deepest, darkest moments, of God's unearthing my insides to re-landscape it as He desires. All is grace. ALL IS GRACE. All is God's love. 

There is a joy within me. An excitement that looks forward to what God has in store for me in my life ahead. And I share this and my prayer experiences as a way of expressing that inner joy, that glow and gratitude to all God has done in me, for me, through me, with me. I share these to celebrate life - life in God, life only in God. All praise and glory is God's and God's alone! 

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Inner Healing - Unnecessary, Yet Love Desires It For Us

I would like to take a different orientation in this second post on inner healing. In yesterday's post, I shared more about why I have welcomed the process of healing and the benefits I have experienced from it. Today, I would like to look at God.

To help us understand and relate a bit more easily, let's look at a very human experience - parents accompanying their sick child through a process of recovery.

For most parents with children, I'd think that one of the most worrying and stressful situations they can face is when their child falls sick or gets injured. Not only parents are worried but anyone in the family who loves this child will feel it too.

When I was in primary school, I sprained my ankle when I fell off the beam during gym practice. My parents brought me to the Chinese doctor to get it fixed. I'd say it never quite got fixed to what it was before the sprain. After some time, the pain subsided and my body learned to live with the injury.

Then in secondary school, I sprained both ankles a number of times each playing basketball. By then, I knew that even if I were to leave the injury alone, sooner or later, I will get used to the injury and adapt accordingly. Yet, my parents would always bring me to see the Chinese doctor and if one does not seem to be able to assure us he knows what he's doing or if I don't feel somewhat better, they would find out from relatives and friends of other doctors that have a good reputation, and will bring me there.

What was going on in my parents and in all those of us who have ever experienced worrying about someone we love who's unwell and wanting the best treatment available for that person?

A sprained ankle does not threaten my life but there are lasting consequences. My ankles became weak, I couldn't wear heels without feeling some sort of discomfort and at times, pain. And weak ankles means I am more prone to further sprains because they are less able to support my movements. As a child and teenager, I did not think that far so I was still walking around with my bandaged ankles, disobeying the restrictions to my movement that I was advised to follow.

But despite the injury being relatively quite minor as compared to a fatal illness, my parents wanted me healed. Perhaps, they saw what I couldn't see at my immature stage, and did not want me to live with those lasting consequences of my unhealed injuries. And I'd say that this comes from a space of love.

Love desires the healing of the beloved.
Love desires the beloved to be made whole again.
Love desires the beloved to live free of the effects of injuries.

And this love is a reflection of God's love.

When we are hurt by others, even to a small degree that does not lead us to thoughts of suicide or to depression, it may seem like healing isn't necessary. We can still adapt and find ways to go on with life and to function as effectively as we know how to. Healing isn't necessary for God to love us or call us to be disciples and to minster to others. But healing is a very natural desire of love. And it is a great gift of love.

When God grants people the grace of awareness of how they are hurt and how it is affecting their attitudes, their behaviour and relationship with others, what is His purpose? I cannot fathom a loving God who desires our wholeness only to a certain extent. I cannot fathom a loving God who gives people awareness of their hurts and how these are manifesting in daily life just so they could live with a greater awareness and be able to mentally choose a better way of responding when triggered. God's love is far greater than that.

My parents did not tell me, "Ok so you have a sprained ankle. Now this has lasting impact. So next time when you feel the pain when walking in heels, you've got to remember that the cause of it is actually the sprains you sustained in earlier days." It would really be quite strange if they told me that. What huge difference would it make for me to just know this? I would still experience the pain, I would still be unable to jump high or far because of the weakness.

So when we are hurt, yes we can still experience the love of God, we can still function in our daily tasks, we can still be called to serve others in ways we can and in this regard, it may seem from this perspective that healing isn't necessary; unnecessary for all these. But love desires more. Love that is endless and infinite desires complete wholeness. Though we won't be able to arrive at that complete wholeness in our lifetime, there is always the more that love desires for us.

If we are deeply connected with God's love for us, I believe we will know that His love desires for us to live free; free from the negative effects of our injuries. And we will be more open to receiving this great gift from His loving hands.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Inner Healing - Why? I've Been Living Without It

What's your idea of inner healing? 

How have you experienced inner healing of any sort before? 

Some people may think that there is too much emphasis these days, especially among the youths and young adults, on inner healing. Some may feel that we ought to focus our energies on the present instead of the past, on living instead of mourning, on moving on instead of dwelling on. 

Yet, the talks, retreats and Masses that seem to draw greater crowds, in my limited observations, are when these have a healing theme. Self-help books take up a good section in larger bookstores. The field of psychology is developing extensively, and counselling and psychotherapy seem to be becoming more popular. 

People, religious or not, spiritual or not, seem to be innately and perhaps even unknowingly seeking for a "more" in life, a "more" they can be, a better and happier life. The soul seems to be at least unconsciously aware and attuned to a gap it feels, a sort of restlessness that leads it on a search that may seem endless, directionless.

In my own experiences especially in the past 9 years of inner healing work, going through this process of inner healing in a healthy way does not mean that I stop living, that I put on hold every other aspect of my life. Each experience of healing opens up to me each time a new and better way of being a human person and thereby, of living. It is for living more fully, of being more alive, of recovering more of the person God created me to be that was distorted or destroyed by the effects of sin that I embark on a process of healing. It is claiming back what Satan has stolen away, breaking the chains it has thus used to bind me to itself so I may no longer be as free within to live in union with my Creator God. This, I have come to believe and be so convinced of, is what Jesus meant when He said He has come to set the captives free.

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free..." Luke 4:18

That our sight may be decreasingly tainted and our vision less distorted. This is the good news for the poor - those who are poor in spirit and recognize our need for God - that in our helplessness towards life's challenges, we have help. Divine help. 

There is a vast difference between living and existing. I can maintain a status quo and go on my daily tasks, surround myself with things that take away my awareness of what might lie deeper within, device strategies and coping mechanisms and live quite effectively, even successfully, functionally. I can escape into my head-space, never having to see what is there in my heart-space. 

But what happens when life circumstances strip us bare of all these defensive layers? Take for example a patient fighting for life in an ICU ward or when cancer forces us into a downward mobility. What are we left with? What will we be left with? Can we still escape then to our head-space? 

Perhaps, we are quite happy with life; things have been going quite smoothly generally. To be honest, I sometimes envy such people because they did not have to go through the downs I've gone through, the pain I've had to experience. And I do become suspicious of where they've been to experience such a smooth-sailing life - maybe life for some has really been without troubles (and I am happy for them) but could it also be that some are living only on the peripheries of life and never quite immersed themselves in it? 

Whose joy is greater?
The rugby fan cheering on the spectator stand whose team just won the match or the rugby player who trained hard, sustained injuries, pressed on and fought to win the championship?

So, always, on second thoughts, I switch sides. If I haven't gone through all I have, experienced the depths of pain and heights of joy, I won't really be able to relate much to a God fully immersed in human life, who in the person of Jesus wept, laughed, celebrated, reacted out of zeal, was moved with compassion... I won't really be able to be in solidarity with most people, who do struggle with life at least at some point of their journeys, and neither will they find support and companionship in me. 

When I come back to who I am and who I have yet to become, to my deeper desire for the "more" I can be - for myself, those around me and for God's purposes - and discover that no matter how hard I may try in my efforts to be better, to respond better to God's love for me, there are still obstacles that somehow thwart my success and keep me from doing the things I desire to do and know I ought to do, I know I have to get to a deeper root cause. 


It is not just about trying hard, about pushing myself, about forcing things through; this will only get me to a certain distance. But it is more about clearing out a channel that has become increasingly clogged so that, more naturally, God's graces can flow into me, into my life and through me onto others.

Through counselling, one can learn healthier ways of managing one's anger for instance. That's functional. But with healing, one won't even have to experience that anger when those specific triggers of that anger are healed. I find this a much better option and way to live.

Most of all, it is when I allow God to walk with me through my deepest struggles, wounds and pain that I encounter Him most tangibly, most miraculously, most powerfully, most lovingly. And I become more and more convinced that, as Fr. Monty Williams, SJ said, "There is no death that God cannot resurrect."

The process of inner healing is painful and arduous but not once have I regretted each experience of it because the liberation it gives me is something I won't trade for an easier path.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Jesus said, "... Do this in remembrance of me."

This evening, thanks to a Jesuit I have never met in person, I have found the words to articulate where I am coming from when I say I support the Bishop's decision to continue the suspension of Mass.

In short, it is to protect lives.  

Let's go back to the Gospels.

Luke 22:18-20 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

"for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood."

For the first time in my Catholic life, I paused at the word "this" and suddenly, I asked, "What is He asking us to do in remembrance of Him?"

How does one remember another who is deceased? Over these years, I wondered a few times what losing a parent would be like. What would I do in my attempt to continue loving my parents but in a different way since they were no longer with me? My answer has not changed. I would let their legacy live on in my life, that my life bears the imprint of their lives. That when I am relating with others, I am always mindful of the love they have selflessly, unconditionally showered upon me - the ungrateful and undeserving one. And in this same way, I love others, as if in the name of my parents. 

To remember is more than a mere mental thought and process of calling something to mind again. It is to feel again, to experience again. To relive the encounter, allowing it to shape my person. 

So what was Jesus really saying as He instituted the Eucharist? What could He mean? I am no biblical scholar and I do not speak for the Church. But here's what I understand.

Yes. We participate in the Eucharist - the Holy Mass. Through the whole liturgy, as the hymn goes, "We remember how You loved us to Your death..." Jesus came to bring us the Good News, What is this Good News?

Luke 4:16-19 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

It is this Good News that Jesus is so convinced about (Read Jesus: An Historical Approximation by Jose Antonio Pagola) and wanted the people to experience, to encounter in Him, and then come to believe, to receive hope from, and to start living it out in their lives. Not even death was going to stop Him from proclaiming this radical love of the Father, which the Father had sent Him to proclaim. 

I would like to suggest then that we participate in the Eucharist not only because Jesus was instituting the Eucharist as He said to "do this in remembrance of me". Rather, we do so so that we can remember how we have received this Good News, how we have experienced God in our lives so that our lives thereafter will bear the imprint of God's life in us. Perhaps, "this" might then point towards what Jesus was foretelling in Luke 22:18-20 - that He Himself is the Lamb - blessed, broken, poured out for others. Bearing this imprint in our lives is to, ourselves, be blessed, broken and poured out for others. This is our participation in the continuation of the mission Christ began, that through us, His Body, He can bring all of God's labouring all through Salvation History to completion. 

All of which culminates in the one greatest commandment Jesus explicitly stated as a command:

John 13:34-35 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

We remember our Trinitarian God through Jesus by loving as He loves. And in a pandemic situation we are all in now, loving others is working hard to protect everyone - not just our loved ones. 

"For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?" Matthew 5:46 (RSV)

We are not diminishing the essence or the centrality of Mass to the faith. And we are most certainly not renouncing our faith or turning our backs on God with the suspension of Mass. Instead, we are proclaiming our faith in concrete ways by depriving ourselves of such an important sign of grace (which is what Sacrament is) so that as many as possible may have life. 

James 2:14-20 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 
But some one will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you shallow man, that faith apart from works is barren?

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Holding Ourselves in Grief


When I was young, I was attracted to a friend and wanted very much to be with him. A very good-natured person I could feel safe with. But things happened quite differently from what I had hoped for and we never got together. I remember crying over it for about 3 days, after which, I decided to protect my heart from hurt and I mastered the art - the deadly art - of shutting out my emotions. I thought to myself that it was not worth crying over and I wanted to be strong, not weak. 

Today, decades later, by God's grace, I have come to recognise that grieving a loss is not an act of the weak. It takes great courage and strength to remain with, to grieve, to allow ourselves to feel the intensity and the reality of what the loss truly means to us, to recall all the memories of times spent together, to face the still emptiness left behind in our hearts and in the physical spaces around us. 

We can find comfort in the fact that a relationship cannot be completely discontinued. Even in death, as Christians, we believe that life has changed. It is not ended. And if life continues, though in a different form, so does the relationship - it is adjusted, takes on another more unfamiliar form, but it continues. And the ways love is given and received in this new form of relationship also go through a transformation. 

I believe that a loved one's passing is a point in the journey of the relationship that presents us with an invitation we do not usually have or pay attention to in the normal pulse of daily living. It is an invitation to look back at the relationship, to encounter the experiences again - this time from a distance that allows us a broader view - and to become aware of what these experiences mean to us in ways they never did. To allow this whole process to take us eventually to how we desire to continue living out this relationship in the days and years ahead of us. That this person we have temporarily parted with means so much to us, it speaks of the impact he or she has made in our lives, how our lives were made positively different as a result. All the more, the footprints this person has left in us need to continue finding its tangible expressions in our lives. 

All of these are found in the very painful, transitional period of waiting, in which we could choose, as I did, to erect a fortress around our hearts to block out our emotions. It is after all easier not to feel. Our days and nights can go on without too much unwanted disruptions. But can we really say we are alive without our true emotions? 

If we have really loved someone, we would know that the emptiness will never quite find a substitute, the tears will never quite fully be wiped away. At least not in our lifetimes. And if we have really loved someone, we would be driven by this power of love to pain, to cry, to weep, to sit in silence, to revisit, to miss, to yearn, to adore.

In grief, we feel in our bones an excruciating pain so hard to hold and yet, this holding is the one great act of love, an enduring act of honouring the preciousness of our loved one. Because of love, we hold our disoriented selves with patience, gentleness and docility in the great pain of loss. And we are only able to love this courageously by first being held ourselves in the infinite love of our God. 

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Advent has INDEED begun for me

I've spent this 1st week of Advent pretty much in waiting. Earlier this week, I experienced what waiting for my Grab car can feel like in a city like Bangkok, quite renowned for its traffic jams. A wait of more than 10 minutes was quite the norm. Waiting in the jams, waiting for the plane that was delayed and waiting as the plane flew me back to Singapore. It wasn't a pleasant wait at all with a fever and the short flight from Bangkok felt unending. And then came the wait to disembark, the wait for the luggage.

I waited through the night with a high temperature, just to wait some more at my doctor's the next morning. (She was very kind to see me earlier than expected!) I waited for my temperature to drop, for the cough to stop, for the alternating shivers and perspiration to end. When it is a viral fever, I have learned that there is nothing anyone can do and I just got to wait. I waited in bed the past 3 days to feel more strength, waited for the time I could finally sit up to eat without seeing stars.

Time passed me by without waiting and still I have to wait.

To be honest, I got tired of waiting. It is more annoying to wait this time because I have another trip this Saturday to prepare for. And since it is a retreat, I feel all the more the need to prepare well. It explains the growing frustration that I seem to have wasted 3 days sleeping. And I don't even know if I'll be fit to fly by Saturday though the fever subsided yesterday. More than the physical readiness, I have not packed or run any of my errands. I just don't feel ready for the retreat at all levels.

It is no coincidence that we have just begun this season of Advent. A time of waiting. Mary and Joseph waited 9 months for the arrival of the Son of God. The Jews waited through generations for God to send the Messiah to deliver them from the hands of their enemies. There was a lot of waiting, of anticipation. Unlike my kind of waiting, where I know that if God wills, I will recover my health and I know how that roughly looks like and feels like, the kind of waiting Mary, Joseph and the Jewish people were involved in weren't so defined. In fact, baby Jesus had to wait in Mary's womb too!

But whatever the wait may be like, could it be that the one common purpose (though it may not be the sole purpose) of waiting is to learn to let go of being in control? Of learning that if I care to be honest, I cannot control time and viruses, cures and health. I cannot control when God comes and how He comes and in what form He comes. I may have my plans of what I feel I need to do before my retreat, in preparation for my retreat. But isn't it another timely reminder that I am not the God of my retreat? Can I stop being panicky about being out of control and let go of my fixed ideas of how things need to be and so be finally able to trustingly fall into the unknown of my mysterious God who never fail to surprise me?

Perhaps, there isn't a better way for me to begin Advent. And this is how I am beginning. By allowing myself to lose control more and more. In the waiting, to come to a more authentic self-knowledge and God-knowledge. To learn to be human. And then, perhaps, in my more authentic humanity, I can truly welcome into my emptied heart the King of kings, the humble Child, the Messiah.

I shall wait, in humility and poverty.

How will you wait?

Saturday, 2 November 2019

From Fear to Love

Image result for fear

This morning, after reading this terrifying news report (click on link to CNA), I was clearly feeling fearful. Fearful of falling prey to these evil people who seem to have lost all sense of life's sanctity, the sanctity of others and of what it truly means to be a human person. Not even a servile fear of God (fear of God's punishment) seem to be informing the choices they make. Quite immediately, my reaction was to inform my family about this, post the report on Facebook so that others may be cautious, and then to continue my project of clearing out photos from my Facebook with greater urgency. I started reacting out of that fear. 

Beneath this more immediate reaction, hidden out of the radar of my consciousness, something else was happening at a deeper level. That fear was starting to form another story or perhaps, to reinforce previous stories out of which I live. The story that I am not safe, that this world is truly evil, people cannot be trusted. And how these stories then lead to the belief that I cannot afford to be vulnerable, this screwed up humanity is not worth my time and life. My self-protective wall is reinstated and I will be on self-defense mode, constantly on a lookout for what is bad and imperfect and potentially threatening to me. I know this thread. I will soon grow spikes all around me; spikes that can be shot at will in any direction before I am even able to catch myself or hold myself back. Or at the very least, I will be fully armored and all people will encounter is that cold, hard, metal suit. My attention would be shifted increasingly onto myself and my well-being. I will be moving towards narcissism and further away from transcendence and love. 

By God's tremendous grace, He reminded me in prayer that there is a different direction, a different way. A way that is not a foolish gullibility and naivety but a way to be human. It began first with the recognition and acknowledgment of that deadly emotion called fear. And then, He reminded me of what He showed me during my 30 day retreat last year, that in every person, though hidden, ignored, evaded, repressed, suppressed whatsoever, there is that presence of the Divine. That part in each person that still desires good and love, and seeks goodness and love. And God will not take away His Divine presence that has already been gifted to each person made in His image and likeness. 

In this reminder, I was being called to the Magis, the more beyond myself. To recognise these evildoers in ways in which I wasn't able to recognise them this morning, and perhaps, also in ways they themselves do not yet recognise themselves. I was being called to recognise them the way in which God has recognised me in my sinfulness, when I couldn't even recognise myself as being that beloved child of God the Father, created out of love and meant for love. 

It is amazing that the disgust, fear and paranoia I felt this morning are nowhere to be found now. And I am given the grace then to hold this sinfulness of humanity in a healthier, more loving and life-giving manner. The grace also to hold these people up to God for God to touch, forgive and heal. And I gradually entered a calm, a rootedness in God and the ability then to wait on this God who holds humanity in His loving embrace, yes, even in our wretchedness. A waiting that is charged with hope in a God who can transform any death into new life, a resurrection that I have witnessed in my life too. 

And at the end of the day, what lingers are gratitude and consolation. God keeps His candle lit in the dark even when there are treacherous gales trying to extinguish its tiny flame. God be praised and glorified. 

Are there any fears in you that need God's transforming grace too? 

Monday, 11 June 2018

What is Your Anchor of Hope?

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?

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Testimony (Post-CER Journey) @ CER Fellowship, St. Ignatius Church

Testimony for the 1st CER Alumni Fellowship at the Church of St. Ignatius, 17 May 2018

I was in CER 36, about 4.5 years ago. At that time, I had spent 3 years discerning the religious vocation after my conversion experience. But the search for a religious congregation to join was tougher than I had expected. Over time, prayer became dry and I felt so lost, discouraged and spiritually dead.

I resisted going for CER initially because I loved the silent retreats that I was making! But I went eventually because I was so desperate for a spiritual resuscitation. God did bring me back to life in the retreat.

After CER, I was pretty much on a high I think like almost everyone else. And then came the question of what CSC ministry to join. Because of the fire of zeal I felt after the retreat, and the comforting sentiments of being back in CSC where I encountered Jesus so deeply, I was very eager to get involved, to stay connected with the CSC environment. And so I joined the healing ministry.

The ministry members are truly lovely people. But I soon began to notice various practices, underlying values and beliefs within CSC at that time that didn’t quite align with my beliefs and reflect the God I have come to know. The politics and strained relationships between persons that saw no improvement led me to wonder if God has really been taken seriously, and if He’s not, then what was the service really about? I became quite disillusioned and frustrated.

Only recently, I realized that I was the one who was not ready to accept imperfections, respect where people are and love them anyway. I’ve been seeking perfection as a way of protecting myself from getting hurt by imperfections. Simply because I was very hurt in my earlier days by people’s imperfections. So I wasn’t ready to work alongside anyone because I would just end up judging them and getting very frustrated. And then, I would get upset with myself for being judgmental, and that made me feel too unworthy for God’s love. This was a very big obstacle in my relationship with God.

On hindsight, I really should have discerned more carefully the call to join another ministry as I was already serving here in the parish. I realised what I needed most at that time was actually to focus more on God, on deepening my relationship with Him, being more disciplined in my daily prayer, aligning more consciously my priorities and values with God’s; in short, paying more attention to my interior life and building that up first, rather than to distract myself with ministry and everything else that comes with it. As Ignatius noted in his rules for discernment of spirits, when in consolation – which I was in right after the retreat – the soul frequently forms various resolutions and plans, which are not granted directly by God… and which must be carefully examined before they are given full approval and put into execution. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite aware of this back then.

Thankfully, I had the support and guidance of spiritual mentors and companions, and more, deeper encounters with Jesus in silent retreats on top of spiritual direction. I came to understand that CER is God’s tremendous gift to personally encounter Jesus but alone, it is not enough for the spiritual journey. Once that high is gone, the Ignatian Spirituality has been another of God’s gift to continue growing my interior life.

The Friday growth sessions, healing Masses were external structures that gave me an aid, lifting me up emotionally and spiritually when I felt down and tired. But relying on these external structures alone to give me a sense of holiness and consolation in that moment didn’t take me very far. Interiorly, I needed to decide for myself my level of focus on God and commitment to this journey. How serious am I when I say I want to follow Christ? When I’m in a high, it’s easy for me to say I love Him. I’ve said that so many times. But when it comes to the reality of my daily challenges, how much do I fight to keep my word? And when I fail to love God in others, and I’m once again faced with the ugliness of my human self, how much do I trust in God’s unconditional love for me? These have been and still are very real questions in my journey.

Few months after joining the healing ministry, God’s grace led me to the Good Shepherd Sisters (RGS), where I spent 3 years in pre-novitiate formation till late January this year. I learned to live with very different people of different ages, cultures, personalities, worked in very humbling settings caring for abused women and later, children who were abused or neglected. In community and ministry, I had my buttons pushed in more ways than I liked. The sisters are very good people but no one is perfect. And I’m certainly not perfect either. And through it all was the constant struggle to choose love over the easier and more familiar tendencies.

When I was deeply hurt by my own companions and formators, I had to face my anger, my pain, disappointments, still trying to keep my eyes on Jesus, holding myself back from reacting, and at times, begging Jesus to move my heart to forgiveness when all I could do was to sit in prayer helplessly angry, confused, and crying out the pain. How do I forgive when the other person isn’t even sorry? When she’ll continue to be the way she is? It was always a tug of war inside. But once, Jesus said, “Love needs no justification.” It was His invitation to exchange my human logic and need for justice for God’s humanly illogical, unconditional love. It was a choice I had to make each time and choosing to forgive because I want to walk the talk comes with a price; the painful price of discipleship.

On another note, through having my buttons pushed, I became aware of what those buttons were and I could bring them to God in prayer to listen to what He was trying to do in me. There’s a deeper reason why I was being triggered – my old, unhealed wounds manifesting, and it was God wanting to enter these painful memories to heal them and make me more and more whole.

And God took this healing even further. Part of our journey towards novitiate was to go through a psychological test. After which, the Jesuit Fr. Varghese who conducted the test for us pushed this rather new idea real hard and my provincial very generously offered for the first time as part of formation psychotherapy. It is not cheap and I’m most grateful for this. Not that we were found to be psychotic but as Fr Varghese shared, the psychological tools developed are now so advanced that being freed from our past wounds has become much more accessible and easy. And it’s only for the sake of freeing us up internally to be better ministers of God.

My therapist and I worked very hard in the process and the results are beyond my imagination. I never expected to encounter Jesus so deeply in the therapy as I normally would mostly in retreats.

After months of therapy, although we did not cover every single wound in my life and I am still far from being perfect, anger, frustration, fear, insecurities, inadequacy – these affected many of my relationships and were so much a part of my daily struggles in the past – but they have been greatly, greatly reduced.

Life situations have not changed but I have, and I can trust God’s love a lot more. I don’t feel as crippled by fears, which always took my eyes off Jesus and made me forget He holds everything in His hands. Being much more secure now, I was, in my retreat last month, finally able to hand over to Jesus my need and obsession for perfection because I’m emotionally stronger to handle the threats of imperfections and more than that, I feel safe enough to allow Jesus to take over the place as my Protector, my Calm, my Confidence. I don’t need to overprotect myself anymore.

I don’t know what you’ve been hearing about my journey but I see a lot of struggles in my journey. And it doesn’t look like they’re ending. At least not before death. But all these struggles and growth would be absolutely impossible if not for God’s abundant graces. I don’t know where I’d be without God’s continuous working in my life. His faithfulness to me. And the struggles would all be hopelessly depressing if not for a much greater prize to gain – which is the gift of greater intimacy with Jesus, the joy that brings and the comfort of knowing my daily struggles are my spiritual vitamins for growth. So my adventure continues and I pray that yours is abundantly graced too.