Monday, 14 May 2012

Vocation Discernment Retreat 2012 - Testimony

"I felt the grace, love and his call from this retreat. Thank you to all of you for hosting fellow aspirants and me at the seminary. This 3 days of time I spent with you all and the lord was fantastic. Also I have to thank Br Alphonsus for his help. He had help me to put down my 8 years of burden I have been carrying, I think he was send by the lord  to help me. This 3 days of discerning, made a new me. And I am going to work hard to say yes to the lord. Another most wonderful experience was during the holy hour. He had given me the grace and shown me the path I am walking. I am going to continue the road he has plan for me and glorify his name. But first I have to go through a lot of pruning by him. Thank you brother's for your time. Shalom" 

Aloysius Charles Tan 
Church of Holy Family

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Star gazing

Stars shining bright above you
Night breezes seem to whisper "I love you"
Birds singing in the sycamore trees
Dream a little dream of me
(from 'Dream A Little Dream Of Me')

I used to love singing this song, especially with a loved one before me.
I also love star-gazing, and in the same light (no pun intended), especially with a loved one beside me.
Ever since I began this journey towards the priesthood, I am usually left singing songs to myself or star-gazing by myself. Yet, I still find considerable joy and delight in them.

5.02am. The sky was still dark as I walked down the covered walkway of the seminary, headed towards the chapel. I glanced to my left and noticed this bright speck of light above the horizon. I stopped in my tracks, amazed to see how unusually clear the sky seemed to be. I considered how I was already slightly late for my usual early morning holy hour with the Lord, but something prompted me to just take a step outside. Following my gut, I stepped out of the covered walkway and looked up. I was stunned. The sky was littered with glittering diamonds that shone so brightly. It was one of the rare times in Singapore that I ever got to see so many stars in such a clear night sky. It was truly a sight to behold.

It's been said that it only takes the smallest flame to light up the darkest room, the tiniest speck of light to lead to the furthest end of the tunnel. It is always amazing to see how the smallest events in life, often lead us to the biggest and most amazing changes of our life. It could be a friend's unexpected encouragement to apply for a scholarship on the last day of application, a girl you just happened to bump into on a mission trip, or a simple out-of-the-blue invitation to attend a retreat. And we can so easily just brush aside these chance encounters of the smallest speck of light above the horizon of our life, and walk on ahead as if nothing really happened. Or we can take notice of it, respond to it, and let that tiny bright star lead you to eventually being granted that scholarship which you initially never thought it possible, to getting attached to the girl of your dreams whom you never thought ever possible to meet, and to discovering your true vocation in your life that you once thought was never meant for you.

As I marveled at the sight above me, and felt the cool breeze brush against me, the song flowed into my head. It seemed like the perfect night. For I knew I was not alone in my stargazing. The Creator was right before me, His Spirit right beside me. I was finally stargazing once again with my One True Love. And as if things couldn't get any better, my One True Love once again exceeded my greatest expectations. While I gazed into the clear night sky admiring His sparkling jewels, a sudden flash of light bolted across the night sky for a split-second. I was literally star-strucked. I blinked my eyes in astonishment, while my mouth was left gaping. I was just blown away at having just witnessed the brightest shooting star I had ever seen in my life!  

As I followed each of my tiny stars in life, and each time getting pleasantly surprised by what God had in store for me, somehow, God would make sure that there was plenty more to come. Even after getting my first scholarship from the firm in which I started my working career in, God showed me that He had something even better planned out for me in terms of a 'career'. Even after meeting the girl of my dreams, one that fulfilled everything I ever wanted in a life partner, God showed me that He had an even better 'spouse' planned out for me. Even now as I enter the early stages of formation for the vocation that God has revealed to me, today, through that shooting star, He assures me that greater things are yet to come. I only need to keep watching out for Him, to keep my eyes fixed on Him, to keep Star-gazing.

"The Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does; and he will show him even greater things than these, so that you will be amazed." - John 5:20

As we begin this season of Advent, we also recall how it was also one star that led the three wisemen to the greatest event of their lives - to see the Light of the world Himself. And as we recall our own tiny stars in our life that led us to the biggest changes in our life, we also need to recall the One who has been behind every one of those tiny stars, and reflect if there have been any other tiny stars in our life that we have failed to notice, or simply brushed aside as we walked our own way? Have there been signs that God has been placing in our lives that we are afraid to respond to, afraid to find out where it will lead us, afraid to have to give up what we originally planned to walk towards?

If the wisemen had not followed the star of David, they would not have found Jesus, and they would not have "returned to their home country by another way" (Matthew 2:12b), their lives totally transformed. If I had not followed the stars in my life, I would not have found Jesus, and have my life totally transformed by this new way of life that God has called me to. Be not afraid to follow your star, because you do not want to miss out on the most amazing plan God has for you, the most amazing life God has in store for you.


Advent Project 2011: STAY Awake!
If you'd truly like to follow the star in your life, this Advent Project may be one possible star that can lead you to God and His plan for you. It may seem like a small project, and you may not even see immediate results, but if you faithfully respond to His star, and patiently gaze upon it, you might just find yourself in for a big and pleasant surprise! So to find out more, click on: and happy Star-gazing!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Gonna get married

(in the background)

Goin' to the chapel and we're
Gonna get married
Goin' to the chapel and we're
Gonna get married
Gee, I really love you and we're
Gonna get married
Goin' to the chapel of love
(from 'Chapel of Love' by The Dixie Cups)

I used to dream of singing this song with the girl of my dreams one day.
As it turns out, she'll be singing this song with another man, on this very day.
I knew this day would come, sooner or later.
I just didn't know how I'd be like on that fateful day.

Some years back, my call and desire for the priesthood often got tangled up with conflicting emotions of jealousy over couples and resentment over weddings. I'd grimace at the sight of couples, looking at myself as if I got the short end of the stick, and battle with memories and heartaches at weddings, wondering to myself why my life couldn't end up just like the rest of them.

But God took care of that.

As time went by in the seminary and as God continued to affirm me of my calling, healing took place and slowly I was better able to receive wedding invitations with genuine joy, whilst remaining genuinely happy with my own vocation. Still, it's one thing to accept that your friends are getting married, and a totally different thing to accept the marriage of the one you used to dream of walking down the aisle with, and of the man who is to take your place.

But God took care of that.

The Invitation
Firstly, in God's perfect timing, it was only after I received a deep healing experience at the Conversion Experience Retreat early this year which freed me from a lot of repressed hurt and resentment, that I then received her wedding invitation about a month later, which I surprised myself by taking it rather calmly, and found myself able to be happy for her, and to give her my fullest blessing.

The Departure
Secondly, as the day of the wedding was approaching, and while I was in the midst of deliberating whether to attend the wedding or not, for fear of what may happen to me on that very day, it so happened (of cos' I knew God was behind this yet again) that the seminary was to have a Recollection on the same weekend, which kind of 'solved' my dilemma. But what was more amazing was that on the Fri evening of the Recollection, we were shown a Japanese movie aptly entitled 'Departures'.

In the movie, circumstances caused a man to lose his dreams of being a cello player in an orchestra, and re-directed him to the discovery, and eventually a love for the job as an encoffiner (someone who performs the ritual of cleansing over the deceased), a job that is 'taboo' and looked down upon by others. I identified with it in the way God made me give up my dreams of marriage in order to discover a whole new vocation which I have come to love, and found myself so much more fruitful and happier - a vocation that 'nobody also wants'. Yet, in the movie, it pointed out how the role of the encoffiner was so essential and greatly appreciated by many families as it helped them in their grieving process; in the same way, I too have discovered how the priesthood is just as essential and instrumental in ministering to others and being the bridge for them to encounter God. What people go through in a lifetime, encoffiners and priests go through every other day, making that much a difference for the lives of many through their one single life.

Through the movie, it was also said that death is not the end, but a gateway to a new and different kind of life. From this, it assured me that I didn't really need to be there at the wedding for 'closure', cos' this is not the end. This day is but a gateway for her to live the new life God has planned for her in the vocation of marriage, just as it is a gateway for me towards the new life God is planning for me in the vocation of the priesthood. I believe our love for each other hasn't ended; it has only changed in the way we express it, this time by continuing to be spiritually present to each other's vocation in prayer and support.

The Break of Dawn
Thirdly, on the Sat morning of the Recollection, which is today, part of the Recollection was for us seminarians to take a walk towards Punggol End where we spent some time in meditation near the beach. Being a lover of nature, God allowed me to once again encounter the vastness and depth of His love and faithfulness through His creation. It was as if God was enveloping me and embracing me with the entire sight of His creation, giving me much consolation and assurance. What was even more amazing, was that just a few days ago, as I spent time praying for a biblical verse to give to the couple as my humble wedding gift, this was what I received from the Lord:

"Blessed is the man that trusts in the Lord,
and whose hope the Lord is.
For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, 
and that spreads out her roots by the river,
and shall not see when heat comes,
but her leaf shall be green;
and shall not be careful in the year of drought,
neither shall cease from yielding fruit."
(Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Along with the verse came an image of what appeared to be a sunrise, rising from behind a foliage of trees, casting its reflection over the still, peaceful waters below it, and lightening up the open sky in gradual tranquility. I shared this image with them as well, praying that their day of Holy Matrimony be a sign of new life, new beginning, where as the sun rises to light up the world, so too may the Son rise in their lives and light up their marriage, so that together as one, both may also rise together with Christ, and light up the world around them.

Today, during my morning walk and meditation, I saw the above verse and image come alive before my very eyes - an entire stretch of evergreen trees planted by the sea, its leaves vibrant green, its flowers and fruits abundant. To top it off, I too, saw the sunrise! It was as if the inspired verse and image that I gave as my wedding gift, was also meant for me to keep in my own path of life.

Looking back, I have come a long and difficult way to reach where I am today. And when I ask myself how was it all possible, I have come to realise that all this while, God has been teaching me a new song. A song that is new, not because the lyrics have been changed or that the melody is different. But a song that is now tuned to the mind of God and not of mine, pitched to the will of God and not of mine, and played on His terms and not on mine. And as I gradually and unknowingly began to learn this new song, not only have I learnt to appreciate this new song, I have come to actually embrace it and fall in love with it. For the beauty of the song lies not only in its perfect arrangement, but more so in the Person who sings it to me, and who invites me to sing it with Him. And once I begin singing this new song, I also begin to realise that I no longer desire to sing any other song, even those I once dreamed of singing.

Sing to the Lord a new song,
sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
(Psalm 96)

As I look back even further to the very day I stepped foot in this seminary for my very first vocation retreat, where God distinctively called me to 'sell everything' and follow Him, where the desire to dedicate my life not just to my spouse but to the entire Church was so strong, I begin to remember why I was crying for the entire 3 days. I wasn't crying cos' I couldn't get married anymore. I wasn't crying cos' she may one day get married to another man. I was crying cos' I was in so much pain at the thought of having to disappoint her by having to end our relationship in order to follow my call. I was crying cos' I was in so much pain worrying if she'd ever find someone she could be even happier with.

But today, God took care of that.
As He always does.
Especially when we learn to sing His new song...

... in the chapel of love.


*jump with arms in the air*

Friday, 21 October 2011

What Kueh Lapis taught me about sin...

During the seminary community's recent Educational Outing to the Bengawan Solo factory, besides gaining a full dosage of the rich, fragrant smell of cakes and kuehs the minute we walked into the building, besides gaining an insight to the company's humble beginnings and impressive business model, and of course besides gaining a little weight from the generous samplings of their goodies, little did I expect myself to also gain some beautiful insights from our little trip upon further reflection... especially when it has to do with a rather serious and unpopular topic: SIN.

The Process
While being taken on a tour of the factory and getting a chance to witness some of their kueh-making processes in action, one particular process that intrigued me was the way they made their famous 'Kueh Lapis' (layer cake). Before my very eyes, the chef would pour a thin layer of that sweet 'kueh lapis' mixture, comprising of butter, eggs and sugar, into a tray, before placing the tray on a conveyor belt where the layer would be steamed for an entire round until it returned for the chef to pour another thin layer of that sweet mixture. This process would be repeated for a number of times until the layer reached a certain height.

Similarly, whenever we receive the outpouring of God's sweet mixture of His grace, mercy and forgiveness, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and after we pray the Act of Contrition, ending with the words "...I will not sin again", deep within our hearts, we know that we are really not quite there yet. In fact, very shortly after, we find ourselves having to go through another round of testing through 'fire' and steam, facing another round of temptations that often lead us back into committing the same sin yet again, and having to eventually return back to the Lord for another outpouring of His sweet forgiveness.

I often get very frustrated and upset with myself whenever I allow myself to get caught in this process of falling into the same sin over and over again. I used to even wonder if God would ever get tired of hearing my confessions, and if there was still any purpose in going in the first place, knowing how easily I might fall into the same sin again after that.

The Countdown
What I learnt from the chef, was that every 'kueh lapis' takes about 25 layers of that sweet mixture and 25 rounds of steaming before it becomes its finished product. That would mean that after 20 rounds of steaming, the chef would know that there would be 5 more rounds of steaming to go.

Supposing God, our all-knowing God, knows exactly how many times we would fall into the same sin, before we are to eventually break free from that sin. This would mean that for every sin we repeat, even after trying our very best to resist its temptation, it does not necessarily take us one step backwards in our journey towards God as many of us would think. It may in fact take us one step closer towards becoming the finished product that God intended for us to be, so long as we continue to return back to Him with contrite hearts for another sweet layer of His grace, mercy and forgiveness. Instead of feeling all guilty and upset for too long a time, I should take comfort that I am work-in-progress, and should not give up but continue to endure another round of testing and purification, and let God countdown towards our eventual completion.

The Necessary Step
In addition, I have also realised that the process of falling into sin in our lives, may not necessarily be an outright impediment or hindrance to our spiritual growth, as if it were a big fat juicy fly landing right into the 'kueh lapis' mixture. God can very purposely make use of our experience of sin, and let it form part of the process of our spiritual growth, or even a necessary step in order for us to learn and grow into the person He intends for us to be. From my own experience, I have witnessed for myself how my constant struggle with sin keeps me humble before God, reminds me of the need to constantly depend on Him for strength, serves as a reflection as to how near or far my relationship with Him is, and also helps me be more compassionate towards others who also fall into sin.

The Anticipation 
Lastly, just as a chef, while taking much conscientious care of every round of steaming and layering, would keep most of his attention (and excitement) to the final anticipation of eventually savouring his final product, or to let his customers finally have a taste of his remarkable pride and joy, so too will the God who made us, our Masterchef, while conscientiously watching over every round of steaming and layering in our lives with great care, would reserve His greatest excitement for the eventual day of anticipation, when after a much painstaking and ardous process, we would finally become the masterpiece that He intended for us to be, His pride and joy that He cannot wait to let the whole world have a taste of. And this is when we can meet the world's urgent appetite for God by becoming His powerful living testimonies of the Lord's goodness, love and mercy, where we may proclaim to the entire world, that whatever our God creates, His creation, especially those made in His image and likeness, it will always made of the finest stuff that cannot bluff!

P.S. Enjoy your process...

Saturday, 15 October 2011

'To Save A Thousand Souls' Vocation Retreat 2011 - Testimony #1

There was no outright calling from Him.
In fact, I was pretty distracted and found it hard to focus/open up.
The talks by Fr Brett Brannan were great.
I enjoyed the morning Lauds and evening Vespers, chanting with 50 other males. Heavenly praises filled the chapel.

During adoration in the afternoon on the 2nd day, we were given a chance to "touch the cloak of Jesus" (similar to the account in the Gospel of a lady suffering from hemorrhages). I really want to go up and touch the cloak and seek healing. But when the queue started to form and time was running out, I didn't feel like going anymore. And then a friend of mine told me he felt prompted to ask me to just go. And after much hesitation, I stood up and just went ahead. Touching the "cloak", I prayed for inner healing to heal my wounds and my sins. The healing didn't take place there and then (in God's time I believe). But after that, towards the end of the adoration, I suddenly felt this pair of big and warm hands stretching out over my head, and I could feel 3 words being whispered into my ears, "I love You." Thank you, Jesus.

And then the programme continued and we ended the night with us being assigned to specific stations of the cross to meditate at the stations. There was a lot of praying, meditation, and adoration. I think all these helped to build up towards something good that awaited, even though I didn't feel a deep connection during most of the "organized prayer sessions". So when I finished with the Stations, on the way back, I decided to drop by the Adoration Room. There was this nagging feeling that I still hadn't gotten enough of Him and I needed more.

After prostrating, I sat down in a nice corner. And just few minutes into the silence, tears starting welling up in my eyes and from then on, I couldn't really stop crying for the next 1 hour. It felt like Jesus was purging out all the bottled up pains, unhappiness, bitterness and fear in me. I cried out to Him, "Jesus, I'm sorry. Jesus, I'm scared. I'm in pain." And He simply replied me, "I love you. Do not be afraid. Love yourself." And for the first time, I was able to gaze straight into the Blessed Sacrament with my eyes wide open while tears kept flowing. Usually I'd shut my eyes in the adoration room for fear of losing concentration. But this time round, my eyes were so fixed on Him throughout most of this teary conversation, and I wasn’t really distracted by people going in and out of the adoration room. Then I thought to myself, isn't this the mountain top experience I was hoping for? He embraced me with His love, and asked me to love myself too.

My discernment journey has only just begun.
It is only when you learn to love yourself,
and love Jesus and LET JESUS LOVE YOU,
then you can truly begin to hear His voice.
And to sustain this love,
the only way is to PRAY.
It'll help to be given the strength to be
generous in love &
generous in praying for others.

Church of St Francis of Assisi

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Find. Hide. Sell. Buy.

"Jesus said to the crowds: 'The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off happy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.'"
(Matthew 13:44)

I relate most to this first parable of today's Gospel reading when I 'stumbled' upon God's call for me to the priestly vocation during a diocesan vocation retreat 4 years ago. I remember staring at my 'treasure' in disbelief and shock, yet at the same time feeling as if the missing part of my life that I have been unconsciously seeking for all my life has finally been found. The joy was so great that till today, I still cannot believe how within the span of those 3 days of retreat, I was crazy enough to make that conscious decision to give up the treasure I thought I had found in the girl of my dreams, and to 'sell' away every dream and plan of a marriage with her, just to obtain the newfound treasure that God revealed to me.

But as I reflected upon the above verse again, what struck me was why didn't the guy just keep the treasure instead of having to hide it back in the field, then go through all that trouble selling everything in order to buy that field. Then the Lord revealed His hidden answer: that treasure would not be treasure if it weren't hidden in the field (the whole purpose of calling something a treasure, no matter what it may be, suggests that it has to be precious and hidden away to be found). Similarly, heat would not be heat if not hidden in fire; love would not be love if not hidden in a relationship; a gift would not be a gift if not hidden in the giver; and the kingdom of heaven would not be so if not hidden in God Himself. In order words, a treasure won't make sense without the field; heat without fire; love without a relationship; a gift without a giver; the kingdom of heaven without God; and in my case, my priestly vocation, or any other vocation of marriage or singlehood for that matter, will not make sense without the One who calls us to our personal vocation - Christ Himself.

Slowly, I realise how this explains why many times over the last 2 years of seminary formation, there are times I start to lose the 'thrill of the chase' (or in this case the 'thrill of finding treasure'). I start to gaze upon other fields and wonder if the treasure hidden in those fields would be even better. The same can be said for married couples who suddenly seem to lose their flaming passions for each other which were once evident in their courtship days, only to be reduced to a whimpering flame or even just a puft of smoke as the years go by. Or in the case of getting involved in a new minstry in church, charged with all the burning enthusiasm of going all out to serve the people of God, only to eventually lose steam, interest and worse, faith. During these moments, we begin to seek other fields for other hidden treasures, seeking one worldly field after another, finding AND losing one worldly treasure after another, to the point that we keep repeating this vicious cycle throughout our lives without realising that the only treasure that can truly satisfy us, is the one God gives us, but only if we know what's the best thing to do with it.

Whenever we think we have found the treasure of our life - the dream career, the dream partner, the dream church ministry, and even the well-discerned vocation in life - even if it were really true that God led us to finding these treasures, and that they were truly meant for us, it is when we fail to hide it back in the field and go through the ardous process of selling everything to buy that field, that the treasure eventually begins to lose its meaning, its purpose, and even its attraction. Whenever we merely grab our treasure upon finding it, clinging on to it in tight possession and even obsession, the treasure slowly becomes the 'curse' on our lives, like the treasure Indiana Jones grabs which then triggers the collapse of the whole temple, except that this happens very gradually and unnoticeably in our lives, until we realise it is too late to run.

Instead, today's Gospel reading challenges us to place our God-given-and-revealed treasure back into the Giver's hands, letting God be the one to safeguard it while we go through the long, painful, but worthwhile process of 'selling' away or purifying our impure motives, our mistaken preconceptions, our harmful attitudes, our painful past, our sinful inclinations etc - whatever that obstructs us from truly, personally and intimately knowing our True Giver, so that we may eventually embrace the Giver of our life, and in turn embrace the Gift or Treasure hidden in the Giver. Only then may we uncover the true joy of the Gift in and through our Giver, uncover the true joy of whichever vocation, spouse, career, church ministry, mission that God reveals to us in His time.

Indeed, Christ is not only the One who contains our treasure, reveals our treasure, and safeguards our treasure. Ultimately, He is the KEY to unlocking our treasure, the KEY to finding joy through our gifts, joy through our ministries, joy through our relationships, and joy through our life's vocation.

And each day as I remind myself to place my vocation in His hands, and manage to 'sell away' even just a tiny portion of what I cling on to that is not of Him, I 'gain' a little more of Him, who then so generously and lovingly grants me a moment of that Kingdom experience of His treasure, to the point that I not only desire to obtain the treasure, but begin to understand why I would want the whole field as well - why all I really want and need is Christ, my beloved Giver.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Living with the Dying

Since the start of June, I began my 1-month pastoral attachment to St Joseph's Home and Hospice. I stay-in together with the residents, sleep on the same 'hospital bed' as the residents - albeit in a separate room, get bitten by the same red ants that also keep some residents awake at night, and hear the same shouts and screams of some other residents in the middle of the night. Each day, I bathe them, dress them, feed them, and spend time talking to them - or sometimes hear them ranting instead. Almost all of the residents are wheelchair-bound or bed-bound. About half require assistance for almost every simple basic task. A small number are merely and most unwillingly counting their last days. After about a week of interacting with the residents, I have observed 2 broad categories of residents.

The Living Dead
These are the ones I feel very helpless towards. Apart from being given a bath and being fed, they spend the rest of their day sitting listlessly and staring into space. Boredom creeps into their very souls and taunts them every now and then until they become a permanent fixture in their everyday life. Those who can talk share hopelessly about their previous state of life, the things they used to be able to do and control, the career they used to be able to gain wealth and pride with, the food and independence they used to be able to enjoy. Yet, given their current state of life, they sink into depression and resignation, not knowing how to go on from here, and eventually lose all sense of meaning and purpose in living. The worse are the ones deprived of love, care and regular visits from their family members, simply left all on their own with only their pain and sorrow of isolation and desertion to accompany them with every excruciating passing minute. The most painful to watch, are the ones with fear of death in their eyes that remain widely opened for fear that closing them may be the last action they ever get to do. Every moment they lie in denial and resistance, insisting to feed themselves when they no longer have the ability to, wanting to cry but refusing to carry it through. Though I see the staff and volunteers making every effort to give them some form of human dignity - such as combing their hair, cutting their nails, giving them wallets to keep in their pockets - and spend time talking to them, joking with them, or simply being present to them, it still stings me to see them in such a lifeless state.

The Dying to Live
Yet, it isn't all doom and gloom in the Home. There is another group of residents who somehow have been able to spend their days not only meaningfully but joyfully, to the point that they become the ones who sometimes 'minister' to me and bring me joy and hope. Just to point out 3 examples:

The first cheerful resident I was introduced to was an orphan at a very young age. She was taken care by the religious sisters and stayed with them for the most part of her life. Though she can walk, she has very poor eyesight that does not reach beyond her outstretched arms, and is hard of speech and hearing. Yet, every morning without fail, she walks into the chapel - or feels her way through more like it - and faithfully closes the windows or sometimes cleans them as a personal duty that she has adopted out of her own generosity. Each time you reach out to touch her, her failing eyes burst open as she throws this huge megawatt smile into your face that just melts your heart. And she most enjoys communicating with people when you trace out letters into her palm while she does the same to your palm in response.

The next uncle that amazes me may be in a wheelchair, and is also hard of speech and hearing, but he faithfully spends every day going through his own 'stations'. 4 times a day - or sometimes more - he would pray before the statue of Mother Mary with tightly clenched fists and deeply focused eyes, before adopting the same posture in front of a picture of Jesus, then followed by other statues of saints in the Home. Sometimes, you even see him in front of fishtanks or birdcages as if he were keeping them company by talking to them. Then, if you happen to pass him by and wave to him, he bursts into his own megawatt smile and excitedly makes small talk with you through simple gestures that makes it look like you just made his day.

Another astounding resident is wheelchair-bound and unable to speak, and whose contorted body and face requires others to feed him. Yet, he makes it a point to drink water on his own, carrying each glass with weak but determined fingers, lifting it up as he bends his head awkwardly backwards so as to pour water precariously into his gaping mouth that at times overflows and sends streams of water flowing down his neck. Yet, he appears unfazed and remains strong-willed and happy drinking on his own. He also loves having conversations with people, listening to others talk and then responding by spelling out words through patiently pointing letters one at a time printed on a card on his lap. He often asks me to take him on evening walks where he would asks questions about life and God, and often gets very excited and jolly when I make a joke or say something very encouraging and positive. He shares his fear of dying, but allows himself to be encouraged when I reassure him of God's presence and providence in his life.

These are just few of the many whom I see God working powerfully through them, making them powerful witnesses and 'prophets' of how we ought to live life, and more so how we often fail to live life even when we may be physically healthy.

The question that remains on my mind is what makes these 2 general groups of people so different despite the similar circumstances that they are all living - or dying - in?

"Learn how to live, and you'll know how to die; learn how to die, and you'll know how to live"

I got the chance in the Home to watch a movie based on Mitch Albom's book 'Tuesdays with Morrie', and one of the things that struck me in the movie was the above quote in bold by Morrie Schwartz, a school professor who gave his famous last 'lecture' on how to live, while he was dying. And how glaringly true his quote became as I reflected on the residents above. Yet death is a topic we are often unwilling to face or even think about. But the consequences have now become more real and alarming than I ever realised.

But how then do we learn how to live and die? I reflected on this question during my quiet prayer time, and soon the life, and death, of Christ our Saviour came to mind. Jesus first spent His life walking His talk by living out His 2 commandments for us which simply put is: Love God and neighbour. We see the love and trust He had for the Father, and the love and compassion He had for His people in His days on earth. Every moment of His life was centered upon God the Father, and focused on living for the people, not for Himself. And through the way He lived, He re-emphasized it through the way that He died - in total surrender, trust and faith in the Father's will, and in total self-giving love for the world. And through His death, He brought about New Life, for Himself in His resurrection, and for us, if we are to accept it, and live it.

The question that remains for each of us is: are we willing to learn how to live, so that we may be prepared how to die? Are we willing to think about death and learn how to die, so that we may be more equipped on how to live? We can always choose to continue living life the way we want, acquire the things in life we want, control the things we want, and enjoy the things we want. But will we ever be prepared for the day that may come at any point of our God-given life that may leave us helpless, hopeless, and eventually lifeless? If not, now may be the time we start thinking about death, and prepare for it, so that when we start to learn how to love our God and trust in His providence and will, and learn to live life meaningfully out of true, selfless love for others, the day may come when we may be physically deteriorating, and physically dying, yet we may continue to find joy, peace and meaning in being loving and life-giving in whatever small way possible, and spend every last days of our life...