Thursday, 9 December 2010

Why The World Doesn't Need Superman

(I recently happened to catch a re-run of the movie 'Superman Returns' on Channel 5 last Mon - I say 'happened' cos' I was supposed to have a dinner appointment that evening which got cancelled last minute, leaving me at home with nothing else to do. But you know how things don't just 'happen' with God around, and somehow that evening, my super-senses prompted me that He WANTED me to watch the movie again...)

"Why The World Doesn't Need Superman" the title of Lois Lane's editorial that won her a Pulitzer Prize in the movie. She probably wrote it as a response to Superman's sudden disappearance, literally from the face of the earth, for more than 5 years, leaving the rest of the world staring into the sky waiting, hoping and praying for his return. She probably wrote it as a defiant act of denial so that the rest of the world, but more so that she, could deal with the disappointment of his disappearance and move on in life. My next guess is that she probably wrote it, because deep down inside, she wished that the world wouldn't need Superman so that she could have the man she once and maybe still loved so deeply all to herself.

Since my decision to leave, not the face of the earth, but my girlfriend, and all my dreams and ideals of marriage, in order to enter the seminary as a response to God's apparent call to the priesthood, I have not been spared of moments from time to time where I try to write my own editorial in my mind with a similar title: 'Why the World Doesn't Need Me'. As my own defiant act of denial, I would often wish to remain just an ordinary citizen, to be with the girl I once (and maybe still) loved with all my heart, and just spend the rest of my years flying her across the seas and bringing her to the moon and back. I would try to find excuses for myself, proclaiming that there were plenty of men out there more worthy than I was to be His priest.

Superman (to Lois Lane): "You wrote that the world doesn't need a saviour, but I hear them crying for one everyday."

Yet no matter how hard I try to convince myself the world doesn't need me, I can't help hearing their cries for help, can't help seeing the rest of the world staring into the skies waiting, hoping and praying for relief from their miserable, painful, unbearable situations in life. Everytime God sends someone in need into my path, something within me just automatically responds by reaching out to the person, and trying my best to journey with and help the person through whatever difficulty he or she is facing. Everytime God does something incredible through me for someone else, in ways that I could never imagine myself doing without His help, I would be totally in awe and affirmed of the life God is calling me to. Somehow, though my love for my once true love was strong, my love for the world seems to be growing stronger each day that I can't possibly bring myself to throw all that away just for my own selfish desires.

Lex Luthor: "Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don't share their power with mankind. No, I don't want to be a God. I just want to bring fire to the people. And I want my cut."

If Superman was really selfish, he would be using his given power for his own selfish reasons and purposes. (I know what many guys would do with X-ray vision.) Instead, he used his power for the good of mankind, to help those who were less fortunate. Contrary to what Lex Luthor exclaims, Superman did more than share his power with mankind. He shared his very life to the world. Deep down I am sure he wanted to spend all his days flying Lois across seas and bringing her to the moon and back. But instead, he made the more difficult decision to stay true to his greater calling and purpose, to give up a life he could have spent with Lois, and to give up his life for the world that needed him.

In the same way, I have come to realise and accept that all the gifts and blessings I have received in my life were not earned by my own efforts, nor were they just for my own selfish gain. They were God-given gifts freely given to me to be used in service for His people. I would be the selfish one if I were to keep all these gifts to myself, and fly around in my little red cape and living the life I want, without any care to share these gifts with the world.

Yet, I have often asked myself why can't I still share my gifts with the world while still being in love with the love of my life? And that's where the movie struck a chord, when I realised how easily Superman could have just decided to kick Lois' fiance out of her life, to be the man both of them would have wanted, and maybe compromise by giving half his time to saving the world, and the other half to Lois and her son. But, he didn't. And I suppose he realised something that I am slowly trying to accept - that the world doesn't need Superman just half of the time, or most of the time, but all of the time. And Superman will never be the person the world needs if he were to dedicate a part of his life to Lois.

God is not asking me just to share my gifts and talents. He is asking me to share and give ALL of my life to Him, in the purpose that He created me for, in my case and in the case of Superman - to live in service not just to someone, but to the entire world.

Superman (to Jason asleep in his bed): "You will be different, sometimes you'll feel like an outcast, but you'll never be alone. You will make my strength your own. You will see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son."

Yet despite all the good I see God doing in me and through me, I do often feel left out at times, when couples enjoy the romance of courtship I once used to enjoy, when fellow peers get to have the dream wedding I once wished to have, when couples express their love and commitment towards each other in ways I once aspired to work towards. These often become difficult times for me to endure and face, until I slowly learnt to turn to my Father in heaven, to make His strength my own, to see my life through His eyes. I recall how I am not alone each time I think of the terrible ordeal Jesus went through too as a persecuted, ridiculed, scourged and finally cruxified outcast. And though Jesus Himself wished His cup be taken away from Him, he eventually submitted Himself to the will of the Father. And these words of His continue to strengthen me in my daily battle: "...the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed." (John 5:19-20)


"Why the World Doesn't Need Jesus" the title of the editorial many people in the world write in their heads. Some write it probably as a response to the daily suffering they witness in the world today, so that they can deal with the disappointment of the apparent disappearance of God in the world and move on in life. Some write it as a defiant act of denial, thinking that they are better off without a God that seems to want to control their lives. Some write it probably because they want to have their lives all to themself, without having to submit it to Christ and to do His will - which can often seem demanding, difficult and full of suffering.

Yet, no matter what millions write in their heads, the fact is that a different editorial has already been written in the hearts of all of us even before we were born. This editorial expresses our very nature made in the image and likeness of God. This editorial speaks of our deep yearning and desire to be one with our Creator, to receive the very nature of love that we were made of, made from the very nature of the Holy Trinity. In each of our hearts, conscious or unconscious, we are crying out each and every day for the Return of Jesus our Saviour deep in our hearts. And it is this desperate desire for Christ in our hearts that leave us empty, unfulfilled, restless, unsatisfied in the long-run no matter how many achievements we try to obtain, how many material goods we try to possess, how many successes we try to clamour after.

Our world is in need of Jesus, whether we like it or not. Yet, it is only when we acknowledge our need for Jesus in our life, will we then discover the powers that were already given to us before we were born that allow us to share in the glory and joy of Christ. And once we see the power of Jesus working in our lives, will we then discover our greater calling of sharing this power with the rest of the world. And once we begin to be aware of the cries for help of the world today, will we then realise our call to be the Jesus that the world needs today.

The world needs us to be Jesus to all in whatever capacity God has called and prepared us for - priest, religious, married couple, single - it is up to us to return to the Father, so that we may allow the Father to return to our hearts, and help us rediscover our greater purpose and calling, not just to serve our own needs, for also for the needs of the world.

May this season of Advent be a time we can be more conscious of the world today looking up in the sky for the saviour in us to respond to the world's needs and cries for help, so that we may be more motivated to open our hearts to the Lord, and anticipate with eagerness, hope and joy for the upcoming...


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Life Beyond Life

Welcome to the last day of what I call the "Triduum of the Dead." That was what happened the past three days. On Sunday night, the secular world partied with the dead among the living – it was Halloween. Yesterday, the Church celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints – where we rejoice with our brothers and sisters who are already in heaven. And today, the Church commemorates all the faithful departed who are still undergoing purification – commonly known as All Souls’ Day. Of course, my reflection here concerns only All Saints and All Souls.

It is interesting to note that the Church places these two celebrations side by side. What we celebrated on All Saints’ Day is actually the future of those souls whom we remembered on All Souls’ Day, since we believe that the souls of those undergoing purification in purgatory will eventually end up as saints in heaven. Here’s the official teaching of the Church: “All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” [CCC 1030]

So why do we pray for the faithful departed? To ensure their entry into heaven? No, because as mentioned, their salvation is already assured. To ‘shorten’ their stay in purgatory? Possibly, but who are we to determine their readiness to enter heaven? And who are we to bargain with God on their length of stay in purgatory? Anyway, strictly speaking, none of us sinners can claim that we qualify for entry into the perfect and spotless Kingdom, as the Psalmist says: “If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt; Lord, who would survive?” [Ps 130:3] The fact that anyone is allowed a period of purification in purgatory is purely due to the grace and mercy of God. So who is to complain?

Therefore, when we pray for the souls who have gone before us, we're just like the spectators of a race cheering for the runners and reminding them that their final destination is just around e corner. We’re here to remind them of the abundant love of God for them and His eagerness to welcome them into His Kingdom.

While we're busy cheering for them, let us not forget that we too are running our own race – our journey on earth. And the beauty is that, just as we cheer for the souls in purgatory, the saints in heaven are cheering for us at the same time. These saints are the “many witnesses in a great cloud all around us,” as mentioned in the Letter to the Hebrews. Indeed, they are the witnesses of true faith and examples of faithfulness in the Lord. And just as we, in our prayers, urge the faithful departed to let go of all their earthly attachments in order to embrace God completely, these saints too are encouraging us to be free of all sins and everything that prevents us from running this race of earthly life.
“With so many witnesses in a great cloud all around us, we too, then, should throw off everything that weighs us down and the sin that clings so closely, and with perseverance keep running in the race which lies ahead of us.”
[Heb 12:1]

This is the beauty and the dynamics of the Communion of Saints where all of us “who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church” [CCC 962] continue to encourage, love and pray for one another. How privileged we are to be part of this living Church of Christ!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Walking in the Dark

I thanked God for the cool night - but not so much for the mosquitoes though...

As with every other night, I made the sign of the cross, and began walking around the seminary grounds, under the few twinkling stars that dipped the clear night sky. I then started to think of the few friends whom I recently conversed with or heard about - one just went through a painful break-up, another faced family problems, some others were going through a faith crisis, and a religious sister was stricken with cancer - and she didn't tell many of us about it. 

Many questions swarmed my mind. The break-up reminded me of my own, and I shuddered as I relived my own pain from my own break-up some years back. Why play the cruel joke of giving us a whiff and taste of the sweetness and possibility of love only to snatch it away from our hands? - in those moments it would even have seemed we were better off without that whiff in the first place. Then family problems - how could one's sister be so insensitive to the family, and only care for her own needs and wants? Faith crisis? I'm not surprised. Look at the world, God. What a mess. Is it at all surprising so many people ask 'where is God?' And finally, the religious sister, who used to give so much of her time, presence and love to us. Why strike her with such a cruel condition at such a young age? Isn't there so much more she could still be doing in a world that's already in such a bad shape? And did it even leave her wanting to shut herself from the rest of us instead of getting all of us to pray for her? But then another thought quickly came to mind. I somehow sensed that she could be silently offering this suffering to God on behalf of the rest of the world, including us - what my spiritual Father calls 'Redemptive Suffering', with the same faith and trust as Blessed Chiara Badano, a member of the Focolare movement whose recent beautification at the young age of 19(!) I just read about in the CatholicNews awhile ago:

Chiara was diagnosed with bone cancer at the age of 17. Yet, she bore the news well, and offered up her sufferings, saying: “If you want it, Jesus, I want it too.” She endured much pain during countless tests and intensive treatment. When a tumour took away her ability to walk, she merely said: “Young people are the future. I can no longer run, but I want to pass the torch on to them like in the Olympics.”

Chiara continued to live the Gospel every day, and her faith in God gave her the peace and courage to cope with her illness. The people who surrounded her were awed by her serenity, and, despite the severe pain, her smile. She sought to console them instead, and prepared them for her departure. She saw her suffering as God asking more of her, and waited for the day she would meet Jesus.

At that point, I stopped in my tracks, looked up into the skies, and teared as I silently offered up my own personal suffering to God - the sacrifice of cutting off from the people I love, the residual pain of surrendering my past wants, the constant reminder of what I once had that I had to give up still lingering in my heart. I then asked Him to grant me and all my friends the strength and grace to accept these sufferings, to increase our love for Him and His people, and the patience and perseverance to run the race to the finishing line, according to the plan that He perfectly chose for each of us, for our good and the good of all His children... 

With these intentions, I began my rosary.

The first... joyful... myster-... JOYFUL?! Why joyful?? Of all the days I happened to choose a Monday to offer up prayer intentions for people who are suffering. Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to reflect on the Sorrowful Mysteries to find some meaning or reason for our suffering? But no... I'm supposed to contemplate on the JOYFUL mystery? How joyful can one's suffering be?! My human emotional reaction pushed my faith aside and barged its way out of my mind (indeed I was). But I quickly humbly shoved it back into my head before beginning with the first JOYFUL mystery.

The Annunciation
As I contemplated on how Angel Gabriel announced to Mary of God's plan for her, I realised that it may have seemed like exciting, billboard-huge, JOYFUL news to be told that she was to carry the child of Jesus in her womb, and she would be part of God's mega-plan to bring salvation into the world! But then, I also realised of the suffering Mary must've also foresaw as a result of such 'joyful' news - the possibility of being stoned, the unkind names people might throw at her for being an unwed mother, her possibly unbelieving would-be husband. Yet, she still chose to say "yes", to accept God's plan for her, along with all the suffering that may follow, with faith and trust.

Can I accept the 'annunciation' of my suffering with the same faith and trust, saying "yes" to God's ultimate plan for me despite the current trials that His plan seems to include (and hope it's not just a loophole in His plan)?

The Visitation
The image of Elizabeth came to mind, and the miracle of her pregnancy at an age where she should've been barren. The words followed in my head: "Nothing is impossible for God."

Can I trust that amidst seemingly barren circumstances, where all tears have been exhausted and no hope seems to be in sight, can I still believe that nothing is impossible for God, that His goodness and promises will eventually prevail?

The Birth of Jesus
Jesus suffered even from the time of his birth, being born on a prickly haystack, surrounded by the fine stench of farm animals. But in return, He received Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh - to remind Jesus of His identity as King of God's new eternal kingdom, His role as Priest to bring comfort, healing and God's message of love and truth to His people, and finally His mission to suffer and Die for our sins so that we may receive salvation.

Can we, in the midst of prickly and stinking situations, still recall and accept our identity as precious children of God, heirs to His heavenly kingdom, our role as priests (common or ministerial) to be witnesses of faith and love to others when we persevere in our suffering and inspire others to do the same, and our mission to suffer and 'die' to our comforts, desires and will, in order to carry out God's plan of salvation and share in the glory of Jesus' resurrection when the time comes? Can we also accept God's many other gifts, including the gift of faith, hope, and love, to sustain us through our ordeal and keep us close to Him?

The Presentation
By consecrating their son Jesus to the Lord at the temple, Mary and Joseph chose to offer up to God all that He has given, with no thought of 'possessing' and claiming ownership over their son, recognising that everything is a pure gift from God.

Can we too consecrate our lives to God, recognising that we have no rightful claim, ownership or control over everything God has placed in our lives, and realising that only when we submit our lives and will to God, can His perfect plan for us be fulfilled in our lives where true peace, love, joy and fulfilment will indeed be given to us at the appropriate time?

Finally, the Finding of Jesus at the Temple
For this last mystery, I was prompted to close my eyes, and recall how Mary and Joseph must have been worried sick while they were anxiously looking for their son, uncertain and 'blind' to his whereabouts and having to count on patience, hope, and gruelling hours of waiting and searching until they found their son. This reminded me of how in the midst of our suffering, we too find ourselves trapped in total darkness, uncertain of the future ahead of us, unknowing of where to go from here, frustrated over having no clear direction as to where all this suffering is leading us to? 

As I continued my rosary walk, contemplating on this last mystery, and prompted to keep my eyes closed while walking in order to enter into the 'darkness' of our suffering, I began to notice my steps slowing down, my awareness of my surrounding increased, and my senses sharpened as I tried to feel my way ahead with my feet to ensure I didn't fall into a drain or crash into a tree. Sure enough, while I was mid-way through my last decade of the rosary, my slipper touched the curb in time for me to freeze immediately. As I slowly opened my eyes, I realised that if I hadn't stopped in time, I would've been on my way to falling into a drain!

That was when I realised what suffering does for us. In life, we often get so busy and caught up with life, clammering for what we desire, that we fail to slow down, fail to be aware of what God truly wills for us. Suffering does that for us. It gives us a much-needed opportunity to slow down, and hopefully after we get tired of ranting and raving and getting angry with God, we may eventually decide to rest in Him, another much-needed opportunity that we rarely make time for. And once we slow down, our awareness of God in our surrounding and in our hearts increase along with our senses that begin to sharpen as we gradually begin to sense God's comfort in the small things - a comforting word from a friend, an encouraging email that 'happened' to be sent to you, or even an out-of-the blue kid that smiles at you, things which you normally don't realise in the hustle and bustle of life. And that is when we begin to slowly become more conscious and aware of God's love and faithfulness towards us, and begin to desire to grow in our relationship with God, and trust in His ways.

Sometimes, God is afraid (and even knows how) our fast-paced, spiritually-starved lives may one day drive us not just into a curb or a drain but even off a cliff if we are not careful. Out of His love, as much as it must hurt Him more than it hurts us, He allows suffering to enter our lives, to throw us into darkness and uncertainty, in order to slow us down, and 'force' us to increase our awareness and sharpen our senses to His abounding and faithful love, so that we may not only stop ourselves from hitting the curb, but more importantly begin to be more aware of His love, trust in His ways, and walk with Him hopefully for the rest of our lives, towards His perfect plan for us.

As I ended my rosary with this final insight, I stood under the clear night sky, slightly different from how I first began this rosary walk, no longer harbouring disconcerting thoughts, but thankful for the JOYFUL outcome of tonight's contemplative rosary walk, and filled with a renewed sense of hope, courage, and trust, for myself and on behalf of my friends, knowing that God knows what He is doing, and He does it for our own good, out of His faithful and total love for us.

I also thanked God for the blinding darkness in our lives. 

Even when we find ourselves constantly walking in the darkness of our shadows, it is Christ who has been constantly walking right behind us, shining His Eternal Light onto us to show that we are never alone.

Monday, 20 September 2010

I Don’t Wanna Grow Up!

Those of my generation would probably remember the Toys’R’us jingle which used to go, “I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys’R’us kid” which used to be broadcast on the television and radio ever so frequently, especially during the Christmas season. There was always a certain magical feeling within me whenever I could make my “annual pilgrimage” to Toys’R’us during the Christmas season. It was like a magical world come alive, where a young boy could wonder away into all his fantasies with the latest gadgets and toys that surrounded him.

Well, that jingle has kind of left an impression on me and it still remains in my mind as a good reflection of the realities many of us live today. Psychologists tell us that we have to embrace the child that continues to live in each one of us and that is true in terms of the innocence and “child-likeness” each of us has within each of us. I guess it is from this child-likeness that we can even join Jesus in crying out, “Abba, Father!”.

However, I would like to reflect on another phenomenon that many of us young adult Catholics struggle from and this phenomenon is what I may call the “I don’t wanna grow up!” phenomenon. Most of us have grown up physically, intellectually and socially; we have passed out of the education system and may even hold many academic accolades; we have gone on to be in many enviable positions in society and may be able to yield great influence and respect from our peers; however, many of us remain as kids when it comes to our spiritual life and I think the worst part is that we almost feel comfortable with it. Somehow, no one or no situation in our lives has forced us to grow up spiritually and so, we have never seen any need to do so. Most of us started our spiritual regimes when we were kids and have not altered them or matured in them for most of our growing years. I guess this indifference many of us have is the main reason why we have stunted spiritual growths which have had diverse ramifications on many aspects of our Christian life, in particular our vocation journeys and life mission.

I guess part and parcel of growing up is for us to learn to take responsibility for our decisions and this is something scary but we are often forced to do it when it comes to our secular lives because life’s many demands just forces us to grow up whereas, when it comes to our spiritual lives, we are able to neglect it because there seems to be no direct consequences just yet. St Paul admonishes us rather harshly when he says, “Brothers, I could not talk to you as spiritual people, but as fleshly people, as infants in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were unable to take it. Indeed, you are still not able, even now, for you are still of the flesh” (1 Cor 3:1-3).

It may be good for us to every now and then stop and take stock of where it is that we stand in our life journeys. When a young man or woman has started working or has established his or her career, people most often would ask, “so when are you going to settle down?”. There are stages in our lives that we are forced to enter, if not by internal conviction, then, it is often by external pressures that we move forward. Since we live in a highly secularised world today, almost nobody, sadly, not even our fellow Christians, would check on us and challenge us to mature in our spiritual lives, it may be up to us to seriously reflect on how we have matured and grown up in our spiritual lives. We need to make time to do this and this must be accompanied by sheer honesty and vulnerability with the self. If we are not experiencing the fullness of life that Christ promises us, then, it is highly likely that we could be living a “kiddish” spiritual life in a grown-ups body and it could be time to get down on your knees and to ask the Lord to guide you and to help you mature in your spiritual life. A good way forward if you are feeling helpless about what you can do about maturing in your spiritual life, then, it may be wise to seek the counsel of a matured Christian whom you know takes his spiritual growth seriously and will be willing to share with you his or her own journey in allowing the Lord to mature in this crucial dimension of being human. Do you suffer from the “I don’t wanna grow up!” phenomenon in your spiritual lives? Then it is time to do something about it!

Monday, 16 August 2010

No Pain, All Gain

The roll call one July morning at Block Fourteen, where Saint Maximilian was being kept, revealed that a prisoner had escaped. Commandant Fritch’s policy in such cases was to assemble all the prisoners from the block in the yard where they would stand at attention the whole day. If, by the end of the day, the escapee had not been recovered, ten others would be chosen at random to die in his place – death by starvation.

By three o’clock the prisoner was still not found and Fritch selected his victims. One of them, Francis Gajowniczek, cried out, “My poor wife, my poor children! What will happen to my family!” At that moment another prisoner stepped up to the commandant with hat in hand. Fritch bellowed, “What does this Polish pig want?”

The reply came: “I am a Catholic priest from Poland. I would like to take his place, because he has a wife and children.” 

A Witness recalls, “From astonishment, the commandant appeared unable to speak. After a moment he gave a sign with the hand. He spoke but one word: ‘Away!’ Gajowniczek received the command to return to the row he had just left. In this manner Father Maximilian took the place of the condemned man.”

From the hour that Father Kolbe descended into the starvation bunker – dark, cold underground cells of torture where human beings were left naked without any food or water to shrivel up and die in unspeakable agony – from that hour a great change came over the horrible place. Its keepers testify that the wailing and cries of suffering that earlier reverberated off the bunker’s walls were now converted into prayers and hymns. The change, in fact, was seen throughout the whole camp. Beatings were less frequent and less severe after the holy man’s sacrifice. Even Fritch himself took no more hostage – victims to die in the place of escapees.

“Never before,” said the guards, “have we seen anything like this.” When they made their morning rounds at the bunker to remove starvation – consumed corpses, they would find among the heaps of agonized, half-dead victims one who was always in prayer on his knees or standing, one who was always bright and fully conscious, one who was always peaceful and well kept. That one was Father Kolbe. “As if in ecstasy, his face was radiant. His body was spotless, and one could say that it radiated light,” an attendant reports. “I will never forget the impression this made on me.”

Last Saturday, on 14th August, in the midst of the seminary's Vocation Discernment 'Broken to Complete' Recollection, we also celebrated the memorial of St Maximilian Kolbe, a Catholic priest who volunteered to die on behalf of a fellow prisoner, who had a family to support. During one of the Recollection sessions, Fr Alex highlighted to us the amazing fact that while St Maximilian was approaching his death in a slow, painful way by starvation, an eye-witness account from one of the guards described his face to be "bright and fully-conscious, one who was always peaceful and well-kept... As if in ecstasy, his face was radiant. His body was spotless, and one could say that it radiated light." Fr Alex further shared his reflection that one of the reasons why many of the martyred saints could willingly die for Christ (such as St Lawrence, whose feast we recently celebrated, and was literally barbequed to death - and he could even joke with his torturers to flip him over while he was on his 'BBQ pit') could be that - they felt no pain! They could possibly have been so mesmorised by God and their love for Him that they truly felt no physical pain. And this was my take-away from the Recollection.

Looking back at my own vocation journey, during the many times that I would cry foul for the pain, suffering, resentment, jealousy, self-doubt, unworthiness etc. that I was experiencing, I realised these were the moments where I was focusing my attention very much on me, myself and I (the lonely trinity as shared by one of the seminarian brothers). Fr Ronald Rolheiser, in one of his recent columns in the Catholic News, also termed this as the 'Ego-drama' - where the drama of our lives were centered upon our Ego-self. In this Ego-drama, he explains that life is all about ME, about things having to always go MY way, and about getting the things that I want. The problem with the Ego-drama is that it is very much dependent on the situations in our lives, the external forces of circumstance, where we have little, if not more often than not, NO control over. That is why we often find ourselves going through mood swings depending on where the wind blows, frustrated when things don't go our way, angry and resentful when our loved ones get taken away, disappointed when our personal dreams and desires do not materialise, flustered when we see acts of injustice and persecution blatantly being carried out with no seeming end to it...

Yet, in recent times, I realised that it is when I begin to shift my focus away from my Ego-self, and centre it on God alone, do I then find my apparent pain, frustrations, anger etc slowly fade away, making room for inner joy, peace and hope to slowly pour into my heart. This is what Fr Ronald Rolheiser terms as the 'Theo-drama' - where we make God centre-stage of our life drama, making our lives not about us but about Him, and surrendering and subjecting every aspect of our life according to His plans, His ways, and His will. The difference in the Theo-drama is that spiritual state of heart and mind is independent of external circumstance, and dependent instead on an unchanging, unfailing, ever-loving, ever-faithful God. And because God never changes His loving and faithful nature, so too will we not be moved in our spiritual state of inner joy, peace and hope - which may even flow into our emotional and even physical states of heart and mind - so long as our gaze and focus continues to be centered on God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the Holy Trinity that never leaves us feeling alone or in despair).

The effects of the Theo-drama, and the idea of some martyrs possibly feeling no pain before their death, was somewhat concretised in my own experiences of self-mortification that I attempted since Lent this year, by kneeling without a cushion for an hour before the Blessed Sacrament on certain days of the week, and especially by my record experience of kneeling for 3 whole hours before the Blessed Sacrament just before the Good Friday procession at St Joseph's church - as described in my previous entry 'In His Footsteps'). Although initially, I could feel the pain emerging from my knees as if my body got heavier by the minute, it was when I continued to fight the pain and remain focused on the Blessed Sacrament that I began to enter deeper into the presence of Christ, to the point of being almost mesmorised by God Himself, and oblivious to my surroundings, not anxiously counting down how long I had to stay in that position for, and truth be told - oblivious of any pain that I was initially feeling! Indeed, it was like going through a tiny sliver of what some martyrs may have had to go through while being slowly tortured to death - NO PAIN! 

But of course, to reach that true stage of replacing the Ego-drama with the Theo-drama, of dying to self to the point of feeling no pain, and experiencing all the gain of peace, radiance and ecstasy, does not happen overnight. As I'm sure was the case for many of the martyrs, it demands the daily consciousness of seeking out opportunities to practice dying to self, dying to the ego; to constantly subject ourselves to the pain of being bread broken for others in order to slowly internalise the Theo-drama, and make it such a part of our daily lives that it becomes second nature. It demands choosing to sacrifice my comforts and inconveniences for the sake of others. It demands making choices that are not self-motivated but motivated by love for others. It demands that I die to my will of how things should be done, and learn to entrust things to God's way of doing things according to His time and purpose. It may even demand me to die to my pain and frustration in view of certain injustices or persecutions that I see happening in the church today, and focus on the hope and victory of God in His time.

And so for me, this truly encapsulates the theme of the Voction Discernment Recollection - 'Broken to Complete', whereby one follows Jesus not just in the way of which vocation He calls us to follow, but more so in following Jesus all the way to the cross, where He broke Himself by dying on the cross, so as to complete His mission of making His Church one complete Body, bringing us completeness of joy, peace, love, and ultimately salvation. And so regardless of whichever vocation we may be called to - whether religious life, marriage, or even as a single - all of us are called to break of ourselves through the sacrifices that comes with every vocation, so that we may echo the words of St Paul who proclaimed, "At present I rejoice when I suffer for you; I complete in my own flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, which is the Church." (Colossians 1:24). It is also through this dying to ourselves, that we truly forget our entire ego-self, and bring our complete attention towards God, as if the self dies away, to the point that there is no 'self' left to feel any physical or emotional pain and suffering, such that "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).

With every daily moment-to-moment step of dying to our ego-self, I believe we can be one step closer of experiencing what St Maximilian did - that amidst all the turmoil, suffering, stormy days that we may be subjected to, we can still truly feel NO PAIN, but only ALL the GAIN of God's never-failing, everlasting love, joy and peace that leaves us radiant and in complete ecstasy.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Mary, Woman of Priority and Exceptional Love

“Don’t let someone be a priority in your life… when you are just an option in theirs.”

This is a message displayed as a status in one of friend’s Facebook account, and as I was thinking about it, and while this same message although seem to be intended for perhaps a reality check for my friend’s relationship with other people, this same message can be applied on the spiritual level as well.

“Don’t let someone be a priority in your life… when you are just an option in theirs.”

Is God a priority in our lives or is God one of the many superfluous in our lives, so that he is a good option especially when times seems bad, relationships are on the rocks, finances are uncertain, and that option of having a soothing God makes perfect sense. Or is it when times are good for us, God seems to be that nice accessory that makes all things picture perfect? Or is he truly the real mantelpiece that takes centrestage in the room of our lives, in the heart of our being?

“Don’t let someone be a priority in your life… when you are just an option in theirs.”

If in our relating with people, especially with those whom we perceive as important, in a way likewise, we hope they will see us as important, as priority in their lives and not just mere options, second best accessories. Are we likewise doing the same for God, who practically gives us everything that you and I have in our lives. Nothing, nothing really belongs to us, they are gifts from the Lord. Yet, God gives us the freedom to use these gifts as we deem fit. He leaves the choice to us, no coercing, no forcing upon, while at the same time gives us the grace of knowing what is right and wrong.

Mary’s yes to the invitation to become the Mother of God in the Annunciation, her urgency in visiting Elizabeth thereafter despite her own pregnancy, Mary’s attentiveness the needs of the bridal couple at Cana when they ran out of wine, her openness to be not just the mother of Jesus, but to be the mother of the beloved disciple – who represents the whole of humanity – at the foot of the Cross despite her own sorrows, was not simply bored out as a matter-of-fact, as if it comes naturally to her. But Mary’s constant ‘yes-es’ was a result of her recognizing God as a priority in her life, and the awareness that she too is not a mere digit or iota in the plan of God, but truly as someone unique and is a priority in God’s plan. Not an option but truly a priority.

Mary’s yes is also an act of love, an act of the mind and heart, an act of will. Love is acceptance of what God has in store for us as it is, and yet love is also a rejection. When we love something or someone, it also means we reject something or someone. If John loves Mary, this would mean that he rejects all other girls and his love, his preference is for no one else but Mary. Likewise, if we love God, it also means that we reject sin and all other things that prevent us from loving him wholly and fully.

If given a choice on a train journey, would we not want to travel first-class and enjoy all the perks and first-class comforts? God does not have second-best or economy-class plan for each of us, but God has a first-class plan, a heaven-class plan for each of us, and He is inviting to hop on this train ride with Him, and yet only if we want to. Sadly, many of us prefer a second-class train ride, a second-rated relationship with Him, and that at times includes even me.

Whenever we approach Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, let us ask God the Father for the grace to see as Mary sees, to love as Mary loves, to see and ask for the grace to recognize that God has a unique plan for each of us. We are not mere options in God’s masterplan, but truly a priority. Ask Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament for that exceptional love just as Mary has, to love God the Father exceptionally, as truly a priority in our lives. Let God be the priority in our lives and not just an option.

Dearest Mother, grant to us the quality of exceptional love for your Son Jesus, so that He can lead us to the Father. Help us in this train of life, and never let us lose hope. Whenever we lose sight of your Son Jesus, gently guide us with your maternal love and when times calls for it, rebuke us with tough love on your part, so that we be ever perfecting in our journey towards the Kingdom. All these we pray in the name of Jesus, through the Father, in the Holy Spirit. Amen

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Reflections on Corpus Christi

A Catholic Bishop was speaking with a learned man who was a non-believer. The man asked, 'How is it possible for the host to be transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ?' The Bishop thought for a while and replied, 'Do we eat food everyday? These food are digested and transformed into our body and blood, is it not? God is capable of even greater things. Why then is it not possible for this to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ?'

The man asked again, 'How can the whole of Jesus be present in the little piece of host?' The Bishop pondered for a moment and said, 'The scenery before us is beautiful, is it not? The whole horizon and the vast plains in front of us.' The man nodded in agreement. 'The scene before us is captured in our eyeball, such a small receptacle of the human body. How then is it not, for a God who is capable of greater things, to make present the whole Jesus in the little host?'

The man pondered and asked again, 'Tell me how then, is it possible for the same Jesus to be present in all the hosts all over the world, at the same time.' The Bishop thought for a moment and replied with a smile, 'You have seen a mirror? It captures the image of whatever it reflects. If you throw it on the ground, it will shatter into little pieces. Each piece will also reflect the same image at the same time won't they.'

The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ which we receive every mass is so often taken for granted. My prayer is that this day and everytime we receive this sacrament of love, we may ponder more deeply the great gift that our Lord has given to us, to be present with us not only spiritual, but also physically.