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.

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