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...


Thursday, 19 May 2011

Diocesan Vocation Retreat 2011 - Testimony #2

(Editor's Note: The recent Diocesan Vocation Retreat was held from 6-8 May 2011. Here is a testimony from one of our participants at the Retreat.)

The Diocesan Vocation Retreat “Hungry Sheep Seeking Shepherds” held in 2011 was my first at the St Francis Xavier Major Seminary. Prior to the retreat, I had had a very difficult couple of months that culminated in the ending of my relationship of almost three years. I resented the Lord for taking something so precious away from me when He prompted / called me to come away and discern (seriously) the call to the priesthood. And so I came to the retreat seeking answers and some form of closure from the Lord.

The highlight of the retreat for me came during one of the Eucharistic Adoration sessions (which was then followed by the Sacrament of Reconciliation). During the session, the words of the retreat master struck me – “Do I resent God for calling me to discern the vocation to the priesthood?” I broke down in tears because that was exactly how I was feeling – the pain of ending my relationship in order to discern the call (to the priesthood) without any real tangible end in sight, was really too much for me to bear. Through the counsel of the confessor that love always entails some pain, I was reminded of how much the Lord loves me, even dying for me on the Cross. He also reminded me that the Lord is giving me a greater gift by inviting me to respond to His call. Indeed, as I recall now, the words that the Lord had spoken to the disciples, “Do not be afraid. It is I.” (Jn 6:20) was what I needed to affirm me that it is He who is calling me. It was truly a powerful and intense experience for me, when I “re-encountered” the Lord and came to a realization of His great love for me despite all my failings, sins and unworthiness. On another note, during the sharing sessions, I was continually struck and amazed by the words of one my group members. The main message for me was that having “found and trusted the Lord”, I need to “hang on what He has said”. It was another avenue that the Lord was using to reassure me.

I really cannot thank the Lord enough for His goodness and love for me, especially for giving me such reassuring words and signs; words simply fail me at this point. What I would really say to anyone who is trying to find out what is the Lord’s will for him with regard to his life’s vocation, is to “come and see” for yourself. The Lord will and can never be outdone in generosity, and you can be sure He will answer you at the appropriate moment. You will however, need to respond to His invite first, so what say you?

Clarence, 27 (Church of the Holy Spirit)

Diocesan Vocation Retreat 2011 - Testimony #1

(Editor's Note: The recent Diocesan Vocation Retreat was held from 6-8 May 2011. Here is a testimony from one of our participants at the Retreat.)


The vocation retreat was really very rich and powerful. When I attended it on the first day, I felt like "eating more even when I was full". So I was really glad to be able to experience the three days retreat as I got to experience God's love for real. No words can describe how I felt. It was like joy overflowing my heart. If there is another retreat like this, I do not mind going for it again.

Let me tell you a bit about myself. I am Michael from OLPS. I am a Catholic neophyte, recently baptized last Easter Vigil and I am deaf. God used my own gut feeling to draw me to the Catholic family. I came from a Taoist family. I started to know and believe in Jesus when I was young, studying in a Canossian School for the hearing impaired. Afterwards, I enrolled into Montfort Secondary School where I experienced my own fall due to my ego and immaturity. Back then, I was immature and arrogant. When everything around me went wrong, I found myself in a state of despair and depression. Then, I started to notice a person who keeps calling out to me. Immediately, I recognized it was Jesus who was calling me. Back then, my instincts and gut feeling told me there was something in Jesus. That is when I started to seek Him out. So I took my first RCIY in Risen Christ out of my curiosity. However, I was too concerned with my own difficulties like 'O' levels, family problems and commitments to sports. I remembered that I felt vey "hungry and thirsty" after I left RCIY. After 'O' levels, I made a decision to seek Jesus again. I dropped everything on my hands and made my way to OLPS. I think it was a miracle because I came to OLPS without any directional help or research. It was as if I knew that place even though I had never been there before. Without any obstacle, I spoke to the priest and secretary and took up RCIY again. Gradually, I joined the church ministries like the Charismatic renewal group and Youth ministry. I also visited the other Catholic churches due to my deep interest in Charismatic activities. However, I could not get baptized because my parents objected to it. Otherwise, I would commit the grave sin of disobedience against God and my parents. I had to wait till I reached the age of 21 and then get baptized on my own. But I still felt happy and contented and continued my commitment to Church ministries despite the problems and difficulties like desolation, spiritual dryness, family problems and miscommunication. Because I knew the Catholic Church was the true Church set up by the Lord Jesus a long time ago, I felt attracted to the Eucharist and could not help but simply adore the Most Blessed Sacrament. You can say, it was the Holiness of the Church that drew me to it. Then, last year, I found the chance and took up RCIA, my third attempt. Miraculously, my parents approved me of getting baptized and joining in Holy Communion with the Catholic Church. It had been six years of waiting before I could become one with God. I think it was really God's perfect plan because over six years, I came to know God more. The better I know Jesus, the more ardently will I love Him. If I got baptized six years ago, I would probably become a lost Catholic because I had so little guidance since I am deaf and cannot interact with other people well. I could have left the Catholic Church easily. God used my hunger to draw me to the Catholic Church. I want to thank God for making me deaf so that I found it easier to find God. Through my deafness, God broke my life and found me. I could relate myself to the disciples in Emmaus where they could not recognize Jesus until He explained the scriptures and finally broke the Bread. Really amazing. Although I suffered a lot, I was still happy because through sufferings, I relied on God all the time. Like the Lord Jesus said to St Paul when he was afraid to speak to Jews, "My grace is all you need. For My power is greatest when you are weak." (2 Cor 12:9) St Teresa of Avila said, "The saints rejoiced at injuries and persecutions because in forgiving them, they had something to offer to God when they prayed."

The reason I came to this retreat is that I wanted to know the Holy Will of God for me so that I could achieve it perfectly. If you ask me why I was even thinking of priesthood before the baptism, it was because it came to me. Not I who came to find it. At first, while I was newly active in the Catholic church, I received the advertising card about the Diocesan priesthood. I felt attracted to it because of its purpose in serving. But after a small discussion with friends, I felt it was not for me because I was not baptized yet and am deaf. So I put it away and forgot all about it. Then, one year later, it came to me again. I received the booklet about the priests' testimonies in priesthood. My interest was kindled again after reading it. This time, I became serious about it because I was very sensitive to my passions in my heart if they were from God. So I asked God if He wanted me to become the priest for Him, He must show me the sign as proof to confirm it. While still praying about it, I started to learn sign language for the final year project in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. When I was young, my primary school and parents did not allow me to use sign language and forced me to speak because they wanted me to mix with the world. It was very difficult for me because I did not have enough practice to speak and had very little training. Back then, English was the only accent taught in the Canossian School for the hearing impaired. Anyway, I was learning sign language for three months when I met my two interpreters. They brought me to the Singapore Catholic Deaf Community where I found my true calling. Over there, a deaf senior woman came to me and signed, "Young man, we had a very good hearing priest but unfortunately, he was old and sick, already down with diabetes. He was our spiritual director and is now staying in Canada. And the president of the deaf community is the potential candidate but he cannot become the priest because he is married. Both are hoping and looking for a deaf man to become a priest to serve our deaf world." I was astonished to the extent that my heart kept stirring up.

Father William Goh's session assured me that my intention for the priesthood was proper and correct because I intended to sacrifice my life for God as the purpose of my choice in priesthood. Priesthood is the gift to all mankind and is not meant for the selfish purpose. He taught that the priesthood is really mysterious because we are not worthy since we are sinners yet we can become priests through God's grace. It is not that priests themselves are qualified just because they are holy. It's God's grace given to them. We were not in the retreat by chance and coincidence. It's that God chose us. Father Alex's session taught me that God loves us so much that He chose us. Take Saint Peter for example, as he said. Even though Saint Peter was violent, loud-mouthed and low educated, Jesus chose him as the Rock of the Catholic Church. Why is it so since he was such a terrible candidate? It is because God loves him so much. Father William said that we do not need to be talented, smart, powerful, famous and strong to become priests except the holiness which is the effect of the Church. Pope John Paul II said that the baptised are called to holiness. What surprised me is that Father William taught that we can grow holy through ministries serving the people. I thought we only grow holy in prayer and mediating on the Word of God. He taught that holiness is to be one with yourself, God and other people. It is not a very difficult life. Actually, it makes life easier. He taught that we must continue to develop our spirituality and deepen our prayer life. We must love God with all our heart, mind and strength and pray for the gift of vocation. Father Alex taught that we must be honest in our discernment process. Otherwise, we cannot find our true vocation. My passion was heightened afterwards. I wanted to start journeying with my spiritual director to confirm my calling soon. Actually, I was very keen in the Jesuits because of their very deep spiritual life. I believe that once we know our deepest desire of our hearts, then we will know our true calling and true vocation from God. God is also present in the deepest place of our hearts. Jesuits are well known for their spirituality, strict lifestyle and intellect. But I felt drawn to Diocesan priesthood more because of my desire to serve people, especially deaf people and bringing them to God was stronger rather than focusing on my own developments. I see the priesthood as the true love of God because through sacraments, we get connected to God and join in Holy Communion with Him. Without priests, there would not be the Catholic Church today. Holiness is the fruit of love. I remembered Archbishop Nicholas Chia's teaching when he wrote the book, "Journey through RCIA". He taught that we have three great virtues: Faith, Hope and Love. Love is the greatest among three virtues because Faith gives way to eternal life and Hope gives way to the Vision of what we believe. But Love keeps growing forever and ever. There is no end of Love. It was really a wise teaching of Archbishop Nicholas Chia.

What had a deep impact on me? It's the Hourly Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the chapel. I always love adoring the Blessed Sacrament because through faith I can see the Lord Jesus in it. My heart was stirring up excitedly when He asked us whether we really loved Him and then asked us to feed His sheep. It was really a great honor we received because St Therese of Lisieux said, "The greatest honor God can do a soul is not to give it much but to ask much of it." Jesus asked me, "Michael, do you love Me? Will you feed My sheep?" And He told me, "You're my wonderful child. I made you special so you can reach out to so many more people whom other priests cannot reach out to. You are wonderfully made. The road ahead of you will not be easy because you are destined for greater tasks than anyone here in this room. You will be their light in time to come." I felt like my heart was bursting out in an explosion and I cried like a crybaby. Another thing that had a deep impact on me was the video: "Fishers of men". What captured my attention was the story of how a priest inspired a young boy to become a priest. This is the holiness, the effect of the Church as Father William taught. Father William also taught that people only believe in what we do. Not what we say. If we want to change, we must change our lives. As we change our lives, we will change other people too. And the dying man whom the priest blessed, challenged my thoughts. There are many people who need priests in the world. What if they die suddenly and there is no priest around to deliver them to Heaven? What if they die without knowing God? Like Father William's situation when he was a young priest. He thought many people knew how to pray but in fact they did not know. So he taught them how to pray. As a result, they grew in their relationship with God. It kept ringing out to me because I knew many many many deaf people who do not know how to connect to God since they have very little guidance. It applies to other unfortunate people too. Saint Felix Rougier said, "The thermometer of faith depends on the number of the religious people and priests."

After the retreat, I knew where I am going. But I first want to obey the Catholic church by living my Catholic faith for three years as a Catholic neophyte in order to fulfill Canon Law's requirements. If I do not obey it, how can I obey God, Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Nicholas Chia and the senior priests? Even though it will be harder for me to become a priest, I still want to be a priest. Even if it costs my life, I still want to become a priest because I am already dead to myself and fully alive in the Lord Jesus Christ. So my life all belongs to God alone. I will certainly make a lot of efforts to learn how to speak for the sake of Christ. Then, I will be able to serve all kinds of people and bring them to the Lord Jesus Christ, our true God, our true King and our true Saviour.

Now, my only wish is that the Lord Jesus takes control of all my life and uses me for whatever He wants and teaches me how to become the Saint. Then, I will be able to produce fruits in Jesus, giving glory to our Abba Father. Everyone in the world will know how much I love the Lord Jesus.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, please look at the Tabernacle and applause to Lord Jesus for He deserves all our praise, honor, glory and reverence. Thank you for listening to my story.

Best regards and God bless,

Michael Gabriel Raphael Goo, OLPS

Monday, 16 May 2011

Surprise Party

“Do you trust me?”

This seems to be the question God continues to ask me throughout my vocation discernment journey.

If you’ve ever planned a surprise party for someone, especially someone truly important and special to you, you know you would create the best possible plan ever and make the most amazing party arrangements just to give that person the time of his life. And once you’ve prepared everything, just before you lead that special someone to your surprise party, you would blindfold him, and whisper into his ear, “Do you trust me?”

God did that to me 4 years ago. That was a time when I had a secure and promising career in a top accounting firm, and was blessed with a beautiful, Christ-loving girlfriend who was everything I ever wanted in a lifetime partner for marriage. I thought I had everything I could ever ask for. But God knew better. With a grin on His face, He blindfolded me and prompted me to attend my first Diocesan Vocation Retreat. Initially, I was apprehensive, especially when I couldn’t see what was ahead of me. Then God whispered into my ear, “Do you trust me?”

During the retreat, God then lifted up my blindfold a little, and gave me a sneak preview of what was ahead of me. As I learnt more about the priesthood, my eyes were opened to a whole new way of life, one where I was actually attracted and inspired to boldly lay down my life not just for my spouse, but for the entire Church! Of course, under the blindfold, I was also crying profusely at the thought of having to leave and disappoint my girlfriend then. But God whispered into my ear, “Do you trust me?”

4 years later, I can now share this testimony only because I answered, “Yes!” And I’m here to tell you, that God’s vocation for me has so far been the most amazing surprise party of my life! Throughout my party, one pleasant surprise after another keeps coming up, and the Party Planner, God Himself, has shown that He can never be outdone in faithfulness, generosity, and surprises!

Firstly, every struggle, pain, obstacle and worry that I had to deal with in responding to my call, was taken care of one after another over time. My ex-girlfriend was blessed with another God-loving man; my family has been well taken care of; and my resentment and jealousy towards couples have been healed. All of them now join me in my party with their full support and blessing, and that has meant the world to me.

Secondly, never did I imagine how much closer I could get in my relationship with God. The more I trusted Him, the more the Lord revealed Himself to me in ways so personal and deep that it has brought me tears of joy many times. Through this relationship, I no longer need to see what is ahead of me with my eyes, but have learnt to let the Lord take me by the hand, and simply see the Lord’s providence, goodness and love with my heart, trusting Him to lead me every step of the way to the greater things that lie ahead of me.

Thirdly, I have met so many people whom God has brought into my party, and have witnessed and been affirmed of how the Lord has been using me to make such a deep impact in their lives that I am just astounded and filled with so much joy when I see these people filled with the same joy and love that I have experienced from the Lord!

Our God-given vocation in life is not something to be fearful of. Whether priesthood, religious life, marriage, or single life, all these vocations are meant to be a party! - a celebration of God’s love for us! But it is not just a celebration for us alone. Our vocation also affects the lives of many out there whom God has brought into our surprise party, people waiting for us to answer our call and appear at our own surprise party, so that they too can receive blessings and love and joy from God through the living out of our own vocation. Our one choice whether to trust in the Lord’s plan for us, can determine a lifelong celebration for thousands, including ourselves, or turn us into a party pooper, and leave many disappointed and deprived of a celebration.

Today, I pray for those of you who have yet to find your vocation in life, or may already have some promptings but are still fearful of proceeding blindfolded. Be assured that God has already made all the necessary and awesome preparations for your surprise party. On top of that, He has brought in all the necessary people who shall support you in your journey, as well as all the people whom He wishes to bless through you. God is not asking you to jump off a cliff blindfolded. He only asks that you trust Him one small step at a time. All you need to do, to enter into the biggest party of your life, is let the Lord blindfold you and take you by the hand, and respond positively to Him when He whispers into your ear, “My Beloved, do you trust me?”

Friday, 22 April 2011

If only we understood...

Every Maundy Thursday, The Chruch of St Anthony of Padua (Woodlands) will always hold the Passover Sedar meal of the Lord. This year is no exception. And definately, I was there as well.

Being early, I 'floated' around looking for the best place to sit, view and enjoy the narration of the supper. Somehow, the Lord did not permit me to just sit anywhere but he had reserved a special place for me. I ended up at the place of honour at the table. The place to the left of Jesus......

It was a place, not only of honour, but held great meaning. Not only was I next to the master of the banquet, I was also in the place of Judas Iscariot, the one who was to betray him. I was having mixed emotions... I knew the Lord has a revealation for me... I just had to wait for it...

It was only when the supper was almost over that Jesus (Fr Terence), explained that Judas was forgiven the moment when he dipped into the same dish with Jesus, when Jesus handed him the bread. There was no doubt to him about it. Was this the reason that his guilt became too great for him to bear and that is why he hung himself?

I was reflecting on this event and how I ended up in the seat of honour. There are many times that I felt like Judas, because of my many shortcomings and struggle with sin. There are so many people out there who are more worthy than me yet I am being called to the Seminary.

What did Jesus see in me that deem me worthy to be where I am now? I thought and pondered and reflected... and I cannot come up with any decent convincing answer.... except one... If he loves me enough to die for me, isn't that enough?

... if only we understood ...

Monday, 4 April 2011

I want to be....

There once was a stone cutter, who complained to God daily about his pitiful state. God finally got tired of it. "Tell you what. I will give you a chance to become whatever you feel is better than your pitiful state." said God.

The stone cutter is envious of the Merchant who buys his stones at a low price and yet sell them off at such a handsome profit. The stone cutter is tired of being exploited.

"I want to be the Merchant!" POOF! The newly changed Merchant shout in glee! Unfortunately, his transformation falls on taxation day. He has to pay the King almost forty percent of his profit. The newly- changed merchant became indignant. He did not like feeling small.

"I want to be the King!" POOF! The newly changed King is so happy that he went in to his beautiful palace garden to relax. The sun rays keep shining down on him and prevented him from falling asleep. The newly changed King became irrationally angry at the sun who stood high in the sky looking down on him. He did not like being looked down on.

"I want to be the sun!" POOF! The newly changed sun shined with all his might and take great joy in looking down on all creation. Suddenly, great clouds came and blocked his sight of the earth. try as his might, he cannot shine thru the thick clouds. He was fiery pissed at the notion that he can be ignored. He did not like being ignored.

"I want to be the cloud!" POOF! The newly changed cloud blocked out the sun and covered the earth in shade the whole day. Just when the cloud thinks that he can covered everything, he noticed something pointy sticking out of him. It is the mountain. The cloud cannot covered the whole of the gigantic mountain. He did not like to be thwarted by the mountain.

"I want to be the mountain!" POOF! The newly changed mountain sits smugly on earth, knowing that nothing can move him...

"CHIP! CHIP! CHIP!" The mountain wondered at the noise, and to his horror, it is a stone cutter carving out huge slabs of stone from the mountain core. "I want to be the stone cutter!" POOF! The stone cutter returned to his original form and complained no more after that.

This story is heard from the Conversion Experience Retreat recently. We always go one big round, wishing that we are somebody else. We fell into the trap of envy. We lament about the little gift we have and at times we wish that we can be like someone else. It is only when we realise who we truly are, we see the worth of ourselves in God's eyes!

Here in Kampung Punggol, whever a brother has a special talent, we remind ourselves constantly that it is a gift from God. The special talent may lead the brother to teach the rest of the community to learn new things. We praise God for him. This is a constant reminder for ourselves as we need to be on guard towards these negative emotions. We must not be a slave to envy, for it will eat us from inside out. Let us examine our lives and see where we have allowed envy to seep in. Lift them up to the Lord, for He loves us and He will surely grant us the grace to overcome it.

The life of the body is a tranqil heart, but envy is a cancer in the bones. Proverbs 14:30

New Life - Easter comes early

Update from my previous blog entry about the birds building the nest on my balcony. The nest was built pretty fast in about 4 days, after which the birds seemed to disappear, until one day I saw a familiar beak sticking out of the nest.
Laying/Incubating the Eggs
I knew that the eggs had hatched when one morning, I didn't see the mother bird in the nest. So I took a closer look and saw the beak of the chick sticking out.
Closeup of the Nest
And sure enough, during the day I see the two parent birds flying to the nest, I hear the hungry chirps of the chicks as they bring them food.
P3290185_smP3290197_smFather Feeding Chicks 02
Father Feeding the Chicks
Mother Feeding Chicks
Mother Feeding the Chicks
Mother Feeding Chicks 02
Closeup of the Mother
Closeup of the Father
Off to find more food
The two parents fly back and forth the whole day to find and bring food back to feed their chicks.
This is where I have to stand to take the photos.
One thing this has taught me is patience. As the opening of the nest is facing out of my balcony, I have to take the photos from the window in the bathroom. And as the hungry chicks devour the food their parents bring them, each stopover lasts less than 10 seconds. So I have to stand on the chair in the bathroom, holding my hand up with the camera sticking out of the window, patiently waiting for the parent bird to fly in. As I can't look out the window, I have to rely on the chirping of the chicks to tell me when the parent bird is there. And if I'm too slow, it is another 5-10 minutes of waiting before the next feed. So I stand there praying that the birds will be able to find food quickly.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

We come from many places....

"We come from many places. All across the Land. Of many different Races. Together hand in hand. United we stand. Divided we fall. Ready to serve our nation's call...."

Suddenly the familiar army song came into mind on a saturday night. This is rather apt to describle the family here. Men from different backgrounds and races come together under a nation of God's people. These men come together to stay and live in a community. The big difference between the Kampung Punggol and the army is the freedom of choice. Once that choice is made, God provides the grace that it needed. What stays true for both Kampung Punggol and the Army is that unity is of paramount importance to both of them. This posting is to celebrate that grace given to us here at Kampung Punggol!

That sense of belonging is strengthened especially after we all attended the Conversion Experience Retreat (CER) in the Catholic Spiritual Centre. We realise our own brokenness. We realise that despite of own brokenness, we are beloved children of a loving God, our heavenly Father. And that binds us. We are not perfect. None of us are. It is only because of that love from Him, that we can be able to love each another much much more. I am very thankful that the community have transformed over the years. The Community has reached to its current level of love and maturity due to the hardwork of those come before me. Praise God for them, the true lovers of God!!

We heard in the retreat, which most of us here at Kampung Punggol attended as shown in the topmost picture, that favortism can drive a wedge into a community or family. Favortism can cause envy, gossiping and especially resentment. That is why those anointed with authority or seniority within the community take great pains to ensure no favortism is practised. Brothers are very careful not to tease each other by referring as some other brother's favourite. Indeed, I tell you that if I have heard even a brother to say that I am a favourite of some other brother, it will have hurt me. There will be discord sown or even promote jealousy from such an insensitive teasing. Spiteful remarks like special treatment from a certain brother or even the blue-eye boy of the rector can possibly cause many to fall from grace. We are all unique and thus relate to each other differently. We know that we may feel closer to certain brothers, but we must love all.

It is for us who are strong to bear with the susceptibilities of the weaker ones, and not please ourselves. Each of us must consider his neighbour's good, so that we support one another.

Indeed, that is what Saint Paul said to the Romans in the first two verses of chapter 15. We must support each other and keep in mind of the inherent human weakness in each of us. We have to be careful not to cause each other to fall into the capital sin of envy and pride. We are proud to live under four impartial formator Fathers, who tried their best to keep favortism out of practice. Some of you may laugh at the notion of adults behaving like children fighting for attention. However, the green-eye monster has no preferences for any age group. We can often see that in church ministries, workplaces and especially in our own homes.

Let us each stop passing judgement, therefore, on one another and decide instead that none of us will place obstacles in any brother's way, or anything that can bring him down.

This verse 13 comes from the letter of St Paul to the Romans in chapter 14. I have learnt a lot from my older brothers. They have tried their best to place judgement aside and focused on love. Some of those anointed with responsibilites and authority more often or so encourage the rest of us with thanksgiving and affirmation. I am writing all these not to paint an absolute rosy picture of the community, but to share with you on the love I have experienced here. This community is growing in love and maturity each day. We have our moments of weakness, but we remind ourselves constantly of this:

Do not let resentment lead you into sin; the sunset must not find you still angry. Or else you will give the devil a foothold. Eph 4:26-27

We may get angry with each other due to misunderstandings, but we must not allow the devil to get a foothold to our soul because of that anger. Much humility is required to resolve such issues. Somone ask my older brother if we fight in the seminary. My brother and I have a good laugh. The answer is an obvious no, but we do have the silent treatment in place of that physical violence. It gives us time to think and reflect. Reconciliation will then takes its place in due time. Yes, community life is like that. The important thing I have learnt from my older brothers is never to give up on each other.

So then, let us be always seeking the ways which lead to peace and the ways in which we can support each other. Rom 14:19

Saturday, 2 April 2011

He doesn't have to try

By Brooks Peck from Yahoo! Sports- With 27 goals in 26 La Liga matches this season, it may seem like Lionel Messi has a supernatural ability to score. And that's because he does. Seriously, it's science. Here he is warming up before Argentina's friendly against the U.S. and displaying that the cosmic field of magnetic energy he creates not only drives the ball he kicks into the net, but any other balls that might be sitting stationary between him and the goal, as well. Was he trying to hit the ball that was sitting in front of the goalkeeper with the one he actually kicked? Pshhht. He doesn't have to try. After both balls hit the back of the net and even the goalkeeper applauds his little trick, Messi just walks away, because to him that's nothing.

Now I am not a typical soccer fanatic. If you ask me which club I support, I will probably tell you that I support Arsenal and Blackburn. Those are the two clubs in which my closest buddies support. For me, watching soccer is the company that counts the most. It is not about the score line. Then again, I won’t really complain if the team I support happen to win =)

At the end of the above article by Brooks Peck, there is a comment of hailing Messi as God of football. Wow, God of football! The video footage can incur two responses. Those, who love Messi, will see it as a great skill. Those, who don’t, will view it as a mere coincidence. Is that not the view of the world today? Through the eyes of faith, we can see every simple thing as a miracle by God. And we know that He is awesome, and if I may borrow words from Brooks Peck, our God is so awesome that He doesn’t have to try.

While Messi walks away, our God does not. God continues to be with us every step of the way. Why? Maybe to Messi (according to Brooks Peck), that display of skill is nothing. Our God stays with us. Why? It is simply because we are something to Him.

And when God does something miraculous, are we not like the goalkeeper that we have to applaud even though the awesome result is against our own judgement or prediction? Think of those, who thinks nothing of Messi. They will see this shot as a mere fluke and it is just part of the warming up. The goal does not even matter at all, since it is before the actual match.

I myself fall into this trap often and become very cynical at the end of the day. I do not see Him in the simple mundane routine of my life. When a brother comes to affirm me in kampong Punggol, do I accept it as a message of love from God or merely shrugged it off or the affirmation only to myself and not the talent God has given me? Well, unless of course it is a huge crisis in my life, I will belittle His grace in my life. His miracle does not matter at all.

Sigh, isn't it sad?

Truth be told. Messi, like the rest of us, is created in the image of God. Imagine what Messi can do on the pitch, God can do SO MUCH MORE in our lives! Think about the guy who caught the whole warming up on video, he must have been expecting something extraordinary. Imagine him sitting on the edge of his seat in the stadium and not willing to let go any of the precious moment to pass him by. Then he is rewarded with this great clip.

Can not our God do the same for us? We just have to be on edge of our seat daily and see what wonders He can bring. Best part is He doesn't have to try, but He did. He constantly try to reach out to us, and we just have to reach out. The problem is...we are not even trying.

Reach out to Him today!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Fed with Love

While I may never ever have a child of my own to feed, today the Lord allowed me to experience feeding a few of the residents in St Joseph's Home, where I now visit every alternate Saturday as part of my pastoral formation. Not that I have never fed my younger brother or cousins before, but today's experience somehow fed me with a whole new perspective on feeding - it was as if I was actually the one being fed by each of these residents who taught me these valuable lessons.

The Art of Feeding
Firstly, feeding requires sensitivity and conscientiousness which I'm sure many of us have already taken for granted in this seemingly simple act. But it isn't, at least not when the one you're feeding isn't yourself. Feeding someone else actually requires you to look into so many simple, important yet often forgotten aspects.

Is the porridge or noodle too hot?
My first few attempts got me in trouble to the point that the poor lady refused to eat anymore. Then I realised I almost burnt her mouth cos' I didn't remember to check how hot the food was! From this, I learnt to place my face near the bowl to detect any heat coming out from the food, and to blow each spoonful before serving the resident if necessary. I remembered to also spread out the rest of the food in the bowl to allow it to cool faster, something I remember my parents teaching me to do when I was younger, but had plainly taken for granted at this stage of life.

Is the portion too large?
I received my next lesson from a lady who spat out all her food after my first serving. Then a nurse had to tell me this particular lady eats small portions at a time. I gave a sheepish apologetic look on my face to the nurse and the lady, and began to feed smaller portions, even if it meant taking a longer time and many more spoonfuls for her. This truly taught me patience, and to accomodate to each person's specific needs and preference.

How to scoop each spoonful?
As silly as this may sound, I had to also learn the art of scooping each spoonful, especially when it came to noodles. At first, some of my spoonfuls had too much noodles, other times, there was too little, especially when some strands would slide off the spoon immediately after I proudly thought I had scooped up the ideal portion. Then I got a little frustrated with strands of noodles hanging by the side of the spoon which I didn't know how to get rid off other than re-scooping it. It was after many frustrated attempts that I got 'enlightened' enough to cut off the dangling strands by pressing the side of the spoon against the bowl. Believe me, I felt so stupid I wanted a room there to curl myself in.

Is there food bits left on her lips or chin?
With the greater sensitivity I learnt from each resident I fed, I began to take notice even of the tiniest grain of rice or spot of gravy left on their lips or chin. I could imagine how uncomfortable that might feel for them, and immediately wiped it off the minute I caught sight of it. I knew it made a difference, for when I was just about to raise my hand to wipe off that smudge of gravy, so too did the lady synonymously raise her hand wanting to do the same. That made me more determined to make even the act of feeding as discomfort-free and pleasant for them as possible. It was the least I could do for them really.

I must say, through such a seemingly simple task, I had a very humbling experience, realising how often we take for granted of so many things in life which others have to struggle to do for themselves. This greater awareness makes me more appreciative of the simple tasks I am able to do on my own, and to be more attentive and sensitive to the particular needs of others, especially when I am called to love and serve them.

The Art of Intimacy
As I got better at feeding, just quietly sitting beside one resident and patiently feeding her spoonful after spoonful, somehow drew me into a deeper connection with her. There seemed to be this unspoken act of intimacy between us as I faithfully fed her and she faithfully trusted me enough to allow herself to be fed by me. What deepened that intimacy was the realisation that she depended on me to be fed. She not only trusted me, she NEEDED me to feed her, something she couldn't do on her own. Somehow, that made me realise what an important, life-giving role I played even if for that few minutes. And it was one of the most beautiful exchanges of love I ever felt, especially from an older person - I loved her by feeding her, she loved me in return by allowing me to feed her.

This brought me back to the time when I was a child, when I depended on my own parents to feed me. We hardly ever remember that life-giving act of our parents, that mutual exchange of love and trust, let alone feel appreciative of what they did for us. But to now feed someone who depended on me for food, I realised how we can never ever live our lives merely for ourselves, for the very fact that we exist today comes from the very fact that someone lived not for themself alone, but lived for us even by the simple act of feeding us when we were young. And from that selfless act of someone else, we rightfully and dutifully owe it to live the rest of our lives for others, if not feeding, then serving others in any way possible. From the day we were born and had to depend on others to feed us, bathe us, care for us and bring us up, we were meant to learn the very life lesson that life was not meant to be lived in isolation as if we could 'take care of ourselves', but to be lived within a family, community, and society, where those who were able and blessed, were to serve those who were unable and not so blessed.

The Art of Small Acts
After their meal times, I was pushing some residents on wheelchair back to their rooms. Then I passed by one of the residents I had only fed for the first time today. She recognised me and threw me this big, toothless grin on her face that just melted my heart and made my day. Never did I expect a small, simple act of feeding her earlier that day made such an impression on her that she remembered, and expressed her gratitude in such a similarly small, simple yet powerful way. Feeding her that day may have seemed like the simplest of things for me, but to her, it may have meant the greatest act of kindness anyone could have showed her.

With the many seemingly small and simple things we take for granted in life, we also take for granted the huge life-giving potential these small and simple acts can do for someone else. Be it a simple, ressuring touch on someone's shoulder, a smile and a nod to a stranger, a desperate attempt to spew what command of hokkien or cantonese I could put together just to strike a conversation, or even just to sit quietly beside someone and make your presence felt - all these I realised make such a huge difference to each of these residents, and also to so many people out there who crave for these small and simple acts of love, if only we take notice of such needs, and if only we take notice of how lacking we are in these small and simple acts.

Blessed Mother Teresa once said, "We can not do great things. We can only do little things with great love."

I am glad that today, the residents of St Joseph's Home fed me with the opportunity to do just that for them.