Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Making miracles happen

Although it has been busy days for me, life has been fruitful and I am amazed daily by the goodness of God and all the miracles along the way

Deep down we all love to hear about miracles and even experience them in our own lives although we, oftentimes, approach them with adult cynicism. First of all, we usually think we are not worthy of receiving miracles. Secondly, we dismiss them out of hand for fear that others will laugh at us should we share them, so better to pretend we didn't even notice them in the first place. Worse, we doubt our own ability to be architects of miracles, which we can be, when we cooperate fully with God.

Listening to Sister Maria Jose of the Verbum Dei* community share how she and another sister spent the last 20 years establishing their community here in Singapore and how the growing community proved all the naysayers wrong, I have to agree with Father John Paul, the main celebrant of their 20th anniversary celebration in Singapore that there is no lack of vocations but, rather, there a lack of vision and trust - trust in God and where He is leading, each slow, uncertain step of the way.

Sister MJ had a true missionary spirit and lived out the poverty, chastity and obedience of Jesus as He did in His time on earth, and ended up growing the Kingdom in what was thought to be barren land, bearing much fruit in a scarce 20 years. Miracle upon miracle unfolded through the years of great struggle as the community established their presence here.

As Father Anthony preached last Saturday: if we truly know who and what we are as children of God, we will find ourselves going out and sharing the Good News, impelled by an inner effervescence and generosity of heart to spread the deep joy that can be found in the salvific love of Jesus Christ.

We are all saints in the making for we share in Christ's divinity as fully as He shares in our humanity. If we truly wish to maximize our saint-like potential, then we will listen to Him wholeheartedly and tread where angels fear to go, walking the narrow path unreservedly. Our bodies may be bathed in sweat, and tears, but we will experience the daily miracles that flourish in the fertile soil of aligning our wills with His. This is how we channel divinity, infusing our humanity with the best of virtues, living meaningfully the quotidian without losing hope or faith, working the extraordinary into the small, ordinary, even boring stuff.

Today P and I have been married nine months. It feels like a lifetime he jokingly remarked. I agreed with a smile for I can no longer imagine life without him - he has grown dear and familiar to me. Worshipping the Lord in marriage has been extremely rich and life-giving for me. I feel I have been stretched to grow in new ways that bring nuance to my spirituality and dimension to my personality. I have become more wise, more patient, more forgiving, and, more loving, all, of course, by the grace of God, for in striving to serve Him better, I recognize that I can do this by being a better wife and mother - all the time.

It's so clichéd but so true that one can never outdo Jesus in generosity for despite giving up many things, I have received more pleasure and joy, especially from the small miracles of family life every day. So when it comes to miracles, I comprehend fully that I have my own part to play as well: I first need to acknowledge Jesus as my all in all, relying on Him completely and with humble simplicity; I need to pray unceasingly for the needs of others for prayer can change the world; and, I need to act with unrelenting compassion and mercy as Jesus did by remaining open to the gentle promptings of the Spirit.

Like Mother Mary who remained resolute when the Angel Gabriel called her name and answered with that first "easy" yes (and that is why we honour her Holy Name today), and then proceeded to carry and give birth to the miracle called Jesus Christ, we can all be miracle makers with a simple yes. So what's your miracle today?

* To read more of the history of  Verbum Die in Singapore, go to: http://verbumdeisingapore.org/latest/about-verbum-dei-singapore-4/

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Saying yes to wholeness

It has been an exhausting couple of weeks helping out at the five-day Pastoral Care Course entitled Empowering the Wounded Healer that just ended two Sundays ago as well as being involved in an earlier weekend retreat for Church of The Nativity of The Blessed Virgin Mary and an afternoon talk by Pia Attard entitled In Search of the Beloved.

There are so many things that have touched my heart - from lessons relearned to new discoveries. I am humbled and awed at just how God works and moves in mysterious and wonderful ways, not just in the lives of others, but in my own life. Truly the more one serves, the more graces one receives.

Perhaps the most important reminder for me this August is that saying yes to Jesus requires a lifetime of repeating the same response with fresh heart every day, something that somehow doesn't get easier with time.

My yes occasionally requires my willing to go the way I know I should even when my heart isn't in it: when I am feeling uncomfortably stretched beyond my limits, when I am most afraid to come out of my comfort zone, and especially when I am drooping and bone weary.

I like P's simple approach on how to say yes in tough circumstances. First, accept the situation for what it is. Then, look at the big picture (this also requires you to know who you are and where you want to go). Finally, respond by making the best out of the situation. Cut through all the dodgy rationalizations, the unreliable, seesawing emotions, plus the conditions that ego and pride place on things. Cut out all the complaining, griping and inner trash talk. Do what's right by God and by others even if it comes at great personal sacrifice that may not make sense at the time.

So when I wish to flee the scene, I am invited to make the best of it by standing my ground. And instead of bewailing the situation and allowing it to drain me, to look at it with a fresh set of eyes. Really grin, not just grit my teeth, and bear it. Bear it with good grace such that I eventually begin to see the merits of the situation. Did Saint Paul not say love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things?

Pia Attard quoted a line from Thomas Merton's Seed of Contemplation that is both profound and inspiring: There is a hidden wholeness in everything.

She encouraged PCC participants to live out a spirituality of imperfection for we are all called to wholeness and not perfection as the world sees it. Saint Paul proclaimed God's power is made perfect in our weakness, thus God's grace alone is sufficient.

It is only in my weakness that I seek for God strength.

It is only in my poverty that I seek for His richness.

It is only in my sin, that I seek for the Lord's mercy.

It is only in the seeking that I open my heart to receiving divine graces, and I open the door to wholeness, a wholeness that reveals the incredible beauty of Christ's suffering face in His redemptive act of love.

I, too, then, can be an instrument of redemptive grace and inject unimaginable richness in my life through my yes. It doesn't require me to be perfect, just to be honest with myself, vulnerable, and open to following Jesus.

In attempting to weather the hard blows and difficult life situations with the grace Jesus did in His life, the hidden wholeness will surface slowly, but surely. And even if it doesn't, I know it is there, and that, in itself, is enough. Therefore I need to continuously undergo kenosis, the self-emptying of my own will in order to receive His divine will, thereby enabling a constant flow of metanoia, a transformative change of heart.

Pia shared Saint Bernard of Claivaux's four degrees of love that we all, I believe, experience concomitantly even as we aspire to live out the fourth degree most fully:

1. Loving yourself for your own sake.
2. Loving God for your own sake.
3. Loving God for God's sake.
4. Loving yourself for God's sake.

When I can receive and wholly embody the love the Father has for me, then I am able to love myself as He loves me. Secure in my 'belovedness', I can mature into the being He created me to be. My brokenness can also be the space where He enters to bring wholeness to others. I just have to say yes to it, a wholeness that may remain hidden.

Our yeses power our actions of daily living, whether we are faithful to what we believe in, and whether we are able to rise above our own personal fears to act with integrity consistently. So make it a good resounding yes today. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Wounded Healer

I am not perfect.
And I will never be perfect
But that's okay.
In actual fact I am quite broken
Messed up
And more than a little quirky 
Good thing my Father really loves me
Greatly, and unconditionally
He dotes on me constantly
Calls me His delight
In His sight, I am precious
A priceless pearl
Me!
I am a child of God.
So no matter where I go or what I do
If I keep running to Him
I can celebrate my belovedness
Gain and regain strength in my weakness
Untold riches in my poverty
And in my sins I find His mercy
My imperfect cracks are gilded over
Made beauteous gifts that I can share
I can set the world on fire*
Just be being me _
Imagine that!
The imperfect, wounded one 
Who brings Christ to all.




NB   I am part of the team running the Pastoral Care Course comprising ICPE Mission Companions from all over the world, together with our brothers and sisters from the Earthen Vessels Catholic Community here in Singapore. It's a five-day course that ends tomorrow and it has been wonderful learning how to Empower the Wounded Healer inside each of us.

* inspired by Saint Catherine of Siena

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Living with heart

P was sharing that when it came to healthcare, there is the heart and the art, besides the science of medicine. A good physician is one who has all three in the right proportions so that his or her patients will respond positively, to treatment both physically as well as psychologically.

Good doctors not only use their medical knowledge and skills to heal patients but they are able to build a relationship of trust with each patient, bringing reassurance and hope as well as the buy-in from each patient to do their utmost to restore their own bodies to health.

The danger is when a doctor loses heart and becomes jaded. All actions become mechanical and the practice of medicine becomes mere science, a depersonalized process lacking any soul. The loss of heart, and art, not only affects the physician's patients, but all he or she comes into contact with - colleagues, juniors, families, the entire healthcare system. The loss of heart taints everyone and everything.

Heart, or passion, is fundamental to everything we do in life, especially when it comes to our vocations and our ministries. When we are fired up with passion, our hearts are purest, we are unafraid and undeterred by obstacles; we have clear focus and we pour all our energies into hours of studying and practising skills to become good at what we do.

As practitioners, leaders or ministers, we continue to sacrifice comfort and personal wellbeing in order to help others. We aim to serve others always. We hone and use our skills so that others may benefit most. We keep on learning. And we maintain open and humble hearts to keep on running the race. We become people who inspire others to become like us: to live the art and science of being with heart.

It is not easy to remain unsullied by fame, fortune, position and power for when one is good at what one does, the attendant approbation and material rewards can change motivations and dispositions. Then there is the required staying power, the sheer grit to just keep plodding along when the going gets tough. When one loses heart, which invariably happens, how does one regain it?

I have a personal prayer which grew from the years where I turned my back on God and found myself in desperate and straitened circumstances. Because I could not experience the peace and joy of having Him in my life, I sought a purity of heart that would give me the ability to see Him again in my life. When I came back to the Lord and surrendered my life, I prayed daily that I would always be able to see His face and hear His voice in my life so as to always know where I should go. I know that if everything I am, all that I do is in God alone, then He will always teach me to walk with integrity and act with passion, compassion and wisdom.

I won't say that I do not lose heart in life, or grow a little deaf from time to time., for when the winds blow a little stronger, and the waves rise a little higher, fear does enter my heart. I am not good enough. I cannot do this. Who am I kidding - others are so much better than I am, how can I possibly make a difference?  Here is where I am called to come back to the correct disposition of heart, to return to the One in whom I live and move and have my being.

Matthew 6:33 encourages: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. In some Bible translations it says set your heart on the kingdom of heaven. So set your heart on Jesus. When your heart is in the right place, you will have faith that moves mountains and transforms a multitude of hearts. Just as there is a science of being, there is an art of being that can only expand by being refined by the Maker Himself. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Living in the communion of saints

C said this to me:  Someone once told me that if you seem to be doing something well in life, it means that there are lots of people praying for you...As I grow older, I begin to see more and more the wisdom of this saying.

I couldn't agree more with what he said for I know I have many brothers and sisters blessing me by way of intercessory prayer. The last seven months are proof, for I have, more or less, taken to marriage like a duck to water. Even I am surprised by how easily I have managed to take things in my stride. Not saying that it has all been smooth sailing, or that there haven't been moments of great frustration, deep hurt, and even despair, but all these difficulties seem to have been swept up in the strength of prayer to dissipate momentarily like fine mist in the warm rays of the morning sun.

In these last months, I have been given the wisdom to know what to do: when to hold, when to fold, and when to walk away (thanks, Kenny Rogers). I know the wisdom is not mine but the prompting of the Holy Spirit for the shift from completely clueless to instinctively knowing what to do is indescribable. The knowing is not a dead sure certainty, but instead works through an openness to being led by the Spirit; to be able to go with the flow of the situation, and to respond with flexible and humble sensitivity even when one is feeling quite unforgiving and hard. To be able to speak with gentle diplomacy rather than stubborn pride is remarkable, and I can only thank those who pray for me and desire that both P and I grow in the way of love and understanding in our marriage.

Apart from being a beneficiary of the intercessory prayer of others, it is a healthy spiritual practice to do likewise for those around us. Not only are we reciprocating or paying it forward when we pray for others, a good thing in itself, but we also gain a more grounded perspective and become more outward-looking as people, connecting unselfishly with others. No longer do our own problems consume all our attention. And when we go beyond prayer in helping others, we inevitably help ourselves grow in maturity.

Yesterday P and I attended the 10th anniversary memorial mass of Father Louis Fossion* at Church of the Holy Spirit and I was bowled over by how palpable the love in the room was, the love that the congregation had for this priest. P and I agreed that this man must be a saint for he touched the lives of many and changed the course of history in his own way. Of the eight priests in attendance, more than half became priests due, in no small part, to his influence, his authentic spirituality and lived love for Christ.

At the memorial mass, I realized fully that the communion of saints** is lived not just after we die and attain sainthood (some faster than others), but even as we live and breathe. (Guess it's hard for me to see myself and those around me as saints, most times.) As Father Paul Staes said, we did not come to pray for Father Fossion, but to pray with him. We, and those who are no longer with us, we collectively make up the communion of saints. We are all connected to each other in life and beyond death, and this connection becomes fully activated and alive in prayer. Last night, the communion of saints of both the living and the dead were joined as one, gloriously giving praise to God.

Thus, I not only have the intercessory power of saints official and unofficial to tap on, but the intercessory prayer of my brothers and sisters in Christ as well. They are my communion of saints just as beloved saints like Saint Therese of Lisieux are, and holy men such as Father Fossion who gave his life in service so that many could come to the faith not just in Singapore, but in Mongolia and the Philippines. I can even ask for intercessory assistance from departed loved ones who may still be in purgatory.

As I continue to intercede daily not just for those whom I love, but also those in need of prayer, I would like to thank all who intercede for me for I am grateful that I am doing well in life. Thank you for being my communion of saints.

* To find out more about the amazing and beloved Father Fossion, go to:
http://catholicnews.sg/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2315:singapores-oldest-priest-dies-at-age-92&catid=98&Itemid=473&lang=en

** The Catechism of the Catholic Church states simply that the communion of saints is the Church. New Advent has this definition to offer : The communion of saints is the spiritual solidarity which binds together the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven in the organic unity of the same mystical body under Christ its head, and in a constant interchange of supernatural offices. The participants in that solidarity are called saints by reason of their destination and of their partaking of the fruits of the Redemption (1 Corinthians 1:2 — Greek Text). 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Learning to be a serpent-like dove

Yet another birthday has come and gone. This one is different for I celebrated it as a married woman. Initially I did not think anything of it until E highlighted it. It is special for my family has transformed quite significantly. It has grown, just like that. Apart from P, I have two lovely children in their 20s without having gone through pregnancy and childbirth (the best part), and I finally have sisters, together with another brother, who with their spouses and children do add up. I also have a mother-in-law who gives me the sweetest smiles.

While it can get overwhelming at times living in a houseful of people with an über affectionate goldie - as I commented to our Bible-sharing group I went from just having to please my mother to many constituents to serve - I wouldn't change it for the world. God has called me to live out my vocation of marriage and motherhood within this specific milieu and this is where I choose to be.

Reflecting on what has passed in the last year and what will be, the stories of Abraham and his progeny resonate robustly with me. The depth and breadth of faith displayed by Abraham, especially when faced with perceived great personal tragedy of the loss of Isaac at his own hands is inspiring. This can only come from a place of utter humility and obedience based on a level of deep trust.

As Henri Nouwen wrote in a letter to a friend in crisis found in the book Love Henri: You are asked to cling to your Lord no matter what. You are asked to keep praying even when it might seem absurd. You are asked to enter the darkness of not understanding with an ever growing surrender.

Just as I got proficient with my yes in my single life and was seeking a deepening of my relationship with Jesus, He saw fit to put me on a new path where I am a novice again, bumbling around cluelessly. It is not just a singular giant leap of faith I have taken with marriage, but multiple leaps into completely different dimensions with almost every step.

This time, last year, I was journeying towards marriage and looking back, I had many questions, some reservations and even deep fear even though I knew in my gut that P was the right man, and marriage was right for me, for us. Well meaning voices added to my confusion. Then there was the pain of leaving behind my single life which I loved and would miss greatly. I counted the costs, wept over the losses, but like Abraham, left everything behind - the old comfortable way of life to venture into the unknown based on a promise of greater things, a covenant of unimaginable proportions.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can laugh at how I struggled so unnecessarily. And yet, the struggles were vital. Without the struggles, I would not have grown so rigorously. I would not have sought for the healing insights, nor received the transformative wisdom I have since acquired. I would have remained a smaller, weaker person. Less refined and matured, spiritually and emotionally.

Despite seven good months of marriage, I currently feel off my game and more than a little frayed around the edges given my menopausal brain cloud and the physical woes of my fifty something body, but I have no doubt I will find my stride eventually.

Right now, it is time for me to lay low, lay fallow. It's not unlike going back to school to learn many things, chiefly, how I can find my place within my new family, bringing my own distinctive brand of love and care even as I continue to serve the Lord with docility and lightheartedness.

Yesterday's Gospel from Matthew 10:16 is something I will adopt as a theme in the new year: To be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.

To fulfil my commission well, I not only need to be wise and gentle, but patient and persevering. Where I have failed in the past, I can redeem those mistakes by not repeating them in my new family. I must re-invent myself into a better version of me, a more true version of who I am. The only way I can accomplish the desired integrity and nobility of spirit is if I surrender unquestionably to Jesus.

As I meditated on the sorrowful mystery of carrying the cross yesterday, I was struck by the reflection that stated should I choose to take up my cross, then Jesus and Mary would help me bear it. There is no need to resist so much, to be so beset with worry or fear. Let things unfold as they will, meet each step on the journey with Christ's courage and Mary's grace, even when the hour seems unendingly bleak. All will be well.

I praise God for an amazing year of growing in these last 12 months, and I am grateful His Spirit has been within me all this while, guiding me. I am also thankful for the gift of Mother Mary, who, as the peaceful dove, is the one who will teach me best to be a wife and mother par excellence.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

The Lord provides

We were talking about crosses and yokes, and, somehow, the immediate picture conjured up is one of being additionally and heavily burdened, not something one undertakes with enthusiasm. Worse, the cross literally implies crucifixion, death on a cross.

Do I opt for crucifixion if I can avoid it? Not likely. And yet, as the words of the hymn Old Rugged Cross goes, the Cross has a wondrous attraction for me. To add to that, God promises that if we submit to His yoke, we submit to a kind of freedom - to be free of heavy burdens and unbearable yokes. It does not imply that life is without suffering or hardship, but it promises that we need not walk alone, and that Jesus is bigger than our problems, with Him we will always find a way out.

G recently commented that I was travelling much more recently and I laughingly responded that my dry season was over. She replied beautifully that the dry spell was a time of purification, an internalization of God's love, while now is the full expression of God's love, a time for fruition. I couldn't agree more and yet, I have enjoyed my dry season in an altogether different way.

In the intervening years since my Damascus experience, I have felt like the tree in Psalm 1, so rooted in God that I didn't feel the effects of my self-imposed drought. I was putting forth tender, green shoots of faith every day; the branches of my being were dressed in lush foliage, buds of virtue were forming to eventually bloom in profusion. Bumper crops of goodness were enjoyed by self, friends and family alike.

The dry spell was necessary to shape and mature my sensibilities, to bring out the true flavours of the woman I am. I have been tried and tested, and have grown from strength to strength. There is so much joy and satisfaction in the process of self-actualization, and this is one of the greatest benefits of taking up the cross of Christ. Plus, it is only in the desert that one can truly comprehend and appreciate God's providence.

I came to Him weary and heart-sick. When I put myself under His yoke, submitting completely to His will, I was able to receive His divine graces fully. It is the same today, when I am fearful, anxious, when I doubt myself in difficult situations, Jesus is my go-to guy. I lay everything that is out of my control at His feet, and I sit and wait, to figure out what it is I must do.

Sometimes what I am asked to do seems to be a contravention of the covenant established between God and myself. But if I keep saying to the Lord in complete obedience, here I am, just as Abraham did, I will experience extraordinary blessings. My ineffable, almighty and awesome Father always comes through.

Yahweh-yireh, the Lord provides, this is the name given by Abraham to the place on Mount Moriah where he was supposed to sacrifice Isaac, his precious son and greatest hope, as an offering to God, but was instead given a ram with its horns stuck in a thicket to sacrifice just as he was about to sacrifice his son- a reward for his faithfulness.

The Lord always provides, whether we are aware of it; whether we even ask for it. When we walk in His ways, He provides in even greater measure, not just materially, but in myriad, countless ways. It's a question of whether we ourselves can grasp the infinite generosity of the Father's beneficence.

So why wouldn't I want to take up my cross and follow Jesus? Why wouldn't I want an easier yoke or a lighter burden? It always comes down to my own generosity of spirit.

Do I want to give myself totally in service to Him by loving others without reservation or prejudice?

Have I not been shown again and again that I can never outdo Him in generosity, that the more I give, the more I receive?

Is my faith so puny that I refuse to let His power be made perfect in my weakness?

Am I so afraid of failing, of ridicule, that I waste an opportunity to help others experience the joy of being loved unconditionally by the Lord, a joy I myself have known over and over again?

Yahweh-yireh. The Lord provides. I testify to this every day and I have no doubt He will continue to do so in my future. My personal prayer is I keep praising and thanking Him as I hold my cross up with enduring pride. At the same time may I hold lightly in my hands all the gifts He bestows on me, sharing them joyously with others.