Sunday, November 12, 2017

Choosing life over death

I say I choose life every day but I lie. While I do make a conscious choice to be life-giving, to be as compassionate and loving as Jesus was, and I acknowledge the primacy and centrality of God in my life, I choose death when it comes to my physical well-being.

I don't pay such close attention to what I put in my body, often eating foods that are bad for me; I ignore what my body needs to maintain optimum health. I even ignore the pain I am in, until it becomes unbearable before I actually do something about it. Hence, I choose death on some level every day.

Just by listening to the people around me, seeing the states their bodes are in, I know I am not unique. I may even make 'better' choices, and thank God, my health issues are not serious and revolve mostly around managing muscle pain and getting a good night's sleep.

P said that people generally avoid a fast death but they invariably pick a slow one. He was talking about people with chronic illnesses who have the power to manage said illnesses yet choose to ignore the prescribed remedies, preferring instead to let their conditions degenerate to a point where symptoms can be dire, and damage irreversible. Even then, they refuse to take accountability and make judicious changes in lifestyles that would help, opting instead to use medication as their only line of defence.

It's completely baffles me that people can be so irrational, choosing death over life, albeit a very slow death, but, then again, I am no different myself. I do not eat properly and exercise regularly. I do not do what's right for my body. I guess I'm not disciplined enough, and laziness trumps vanity for me. Prayer, now I've got that down pretty much, even mindfulness, but exercise and eating right? Hmmm, I still have a ways to go.

Although looking after one's health is not explicitly preached in the Bible, Saint Paul did remind the Corinthians that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit within us, and that we are not our own, we belong to God. We also know that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins and that temperance is a virtue. In Genesis, we are tasked to be good stewards - should this not apply to our bodies besides the environment?

When I feel tired or unwell, I am not able to give my best to the tasks I set myself. I even draw back from reaching out to others, loving others, for it all becomes just too much. My efforts are lackadaisical and perfunctory.

When I am in pain, I can only focus on my own pain, my world shrinks, and I tend to ignore the pain of others. I become self-centred, selfish, without even realizing it. I become short-tempered, impatient and quite intolerant of others' weaknesses.

When I am emotionally exhausted and fragile, I close up unto myself, and I do not hear the cries of the needy around me. I don't want to. I just can't. How can I be the hands and feet of Christ when I myself am so in need of comfort and rest?

I recently had a minor procedure done and while the outcome was good and I feel relieved and grateful, I am also physically drained. So I am learning to love myself a little more by resting and taking better care of my body. I realize I cannot continue down this path of poor stewardship over my own health for the price is high in terms of not being able to do the things I love, and the missed opportunities to minister to others.

I want to be pain-free, energized, brimming with health and vitally alive. If I am in better shape to worship the Lord, I will do a better job of it. Right now, my best is really not my personal best, and that's a shame. As I work on restoring my health, I invite you to take stock and see if you could make some healthier choices and to do it immediately. Every day we are given the power to choose life or death, choose life in all the ways that honour the Creator. 

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Cultivating coupleness in marriage

I was sharing with my SD last week about how my marriage was going and he said to me you both need to find a new language of love that is special to the two of you, a coupleness that is forged from each person's gifts and talents, and expressed in giving to the other in a committed love. I thought, what a lovely concept, and I was heartened for P and I have actually been doing this for the last year or so, discovering and building our own unique love language.

He reminded me of not falling into the pitfalls of a consumer relationship where we use each other for our own selfish needs, and we do not not respect the other's gendered dignity and we objectify each other. The archetype of this kind of relationship is where the man is seen as the banker or social status enabler while the woman is the "decorative vase" or baby factory.

Then there is the convenience relationship where we are in relationship merely to suit our own needs and purposes. It is not really what we are looking for in a relationship but it serves certain superficial social purposes, so why not? This is almost like a friends with benefits type of relationship where we fulfil ourselves gratuitously at the cost of real intimacy. Again we fall into using quite easily.

I will also put into this category, what my SD cautions against for married couples, and that is the married but living as singles. There is no true commitment to establishing a life together as one couple. Neither is willing to give up or make certain sacrifices that would make the other happy, so we still pursue separate interests and social lives, much like housemates. The relationship dynamics centre around quid pro quo, a what's in it for me attitude, all very transactional. Hardly what one can call marriage.

The kind of relationship marriage should be is the committed relationship where we are invested in the welfare of the other, what is good for him or her. It's a self-donating love that does not give up one's own dignity and individuality and is centred first on loving God in order to love the other. It's not about codependency or being a doormat.

There are undoubtedly differences in how men and women communicate, and how they see things from a feminine or masculine perspective can add tension to a relationship, even in the best of committed relationships. P and I are still learning to accommodate each other's differences, even when we don't completely understand the other at times. With patience, empathy and the ability to forgive, we can change to become better people together as well as individually through time.

Here is where what JPII calls the complementarity of the sexes comes into play. We are each called to combine the best of our masculine and feminine genius in how we interact with each other as a couple and how we, as a couple, act and interact socially.

This gender difference is found in spirituality as well. Brother Dominic shared that for men, the tendency was to the external, think Saint John of the Cross's Ascent to Mount Carmel. For women, it is more internal much like Saint Teresa of Avila's bid to enter the Interior Castle.

Women tend to be more life-giving, while men more life-protecting, just like Joseph who fled to Egypt with Jesus and Mary upon receiving a dream from an angel. The invitation is for both to nurture the life-giving qualities, without ignoring being life-protecting, and bless each other, their extended and respective families, and society at large.

As P and I continue to grow in coupleness, creating our own love language, I find the words of Saint Louis de Montfort in his book True Devotion to Mary apply equally to the marriage vocation and I can certainly shoot for this:

It is certain that growth in the holiness of God is your vocation. All your thoughts, words, actions, everything you suffer or undertake must lead you towards that end. Otherwise you are resisting God in not doing the work for which he created you and for which he is even now keeping you in being. What a marvelous transformation is possible! Dust into light, uncleanness into purity, sinfulness into holiness, creature into Creator, man into God!

Monday, October 30, 2017

To Jesus through Mary

P and I just spent the weekend at the Montfort Centre learning more about Montfortian spirituality with regards to Mother Mary. We both had a great time. Brother Dominic cracked us up even as he taught us profound truths of why going to Christ through His Mother is the surest, smoothest, shortest and most perfect way. We learned more about what it means to have a true devotion to Mary, and allowed ourselves to just bask in her hidden way.

I was also delighted to find two labyrinths on the peaceful and lush grounds and to walk them in prayer. It was lovely to reflect on the past months of busyness and great adjustments, and to give thanks for all the graces I have received. Mother Mary has been my source of strength, comfort and inspiration in these months of trying to be a good wife and mother. That the transitions have been so smooth, and I have been able to find my way with not too many missteps in the trickiness of forging new relationships is due in no small part to Our Lady. I thank God for the gift of  Mother Mary, who has helped mould me in her feminine gifts of gentleness, generous hospitality, intuitive wisdom and quiet humility.


Hush! Child, do not cry!
I am here with you.
Do not be afraid!
Just do whatever He tells you
For He knows best.
I know for he is my son, 
And I have taught him well
To revere his father 
Honour his ways and walk
With integrity and mercy 
In every breath
In every heartbeat
In every step.
I am the Immaculate Conception.
Graced by God to be his echo
Tree of life
Unifying oceans 
Mystical bowl 
The hidden way
Queen of all hearts.
So learn from my fiat:
Let it be done in all things
According to the Father's will
Especially receiving the man child
Into your heart,
Giving him room to grow
So you will become more like him
God-like, Spirit-full
Singing true, humming strong
The glorious salvation song
Cutting evil at its knees.
When hope is lost remember
To light your way from within
Ponder in silence 
Pierce through the mystery
Winnow the pain away leaving
The healing scent of winter roses
Tempering suffering into a sweet delight.
You must hold firm!
Grounded in the Beloved
you are, as I am.
Via Maria
I am the perfect way
Straight to his heart
From my heart.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Using faith well

Faith unused decreases. It's a law... Today unused is lost. A talent unused is lost. An ability unused is lost.

The words of Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker who used the parable of the talents to illustrate his message of using all you've got struck a chord within me.

I thought it was interesting to view faith as a something to be used but Jim Rohn had a point. While faith is fundamentally a gift - given to each of us freely, just as salvation through Jesus Christ is - if we do not even bother to unwrap the gift, we will remain completely unaffected by the gift, unmoved. We will lose out on the experience of marvelling at its beauty, or of availing ourselves of it to bless others, and indirectly bless ourselves.

Faith cannot remain pristine or remote, some perfect ideal dwelling on top of the mountain removed from civilization. Faith must be lived out: it has to be engaged, and even gritty, for it is mostly when we grapple with it in the everyday struggles of life that we can actually grow in faith. We have to use it: use it to make decisions, use it to grow in virtue and tease our disposition into the image and likeness of the One who created us.

The parable of the talents is one that used to trouble me a lot for what if I am like the servant with one talent who is so afraid of losing it and buries it in the ground to maintain it? I am in deep trouble. Although I have moved out of that place and I see myself more like the servant who is able to somewhat multiply the talents given to me, ultimately I want to max out my potential. I have been given much, therefore more is expected of me.

So what is my faith like? Do I use it every day? Is it central to my life? Do I act out my beliefs and live out a powerful witness of life? Or is my faith incidental, I choose when and where to exercise it; it comes and goes with circumstances and I do not live and breathe the name of Jesus in all my actions? Here is where the marriage vows of being true in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health should apply. Like love, faith is not a feeling, Nor does it rely on sentiment. Faith is a commitment, an act of will as much as it is a grace given by God, a gift.

We were reflecting on the greatset commandment earlier in the week, which is the Gospel of today and initially I was focused on what I do to love my neighbour for I believe that faith must be lived out not just in words, but in action. Then the second time I reflected on it, I was struck by the necessity of loving God as stated in the first part of Jesus' answer.

I will always live in the tension of having too much to do in a limited amount of time and an easily depletable store of energy. Before I even act in love, I need to love God, sit quietly at His feet with all that I am and let His love enfold me. In so doing, awash and steeped His love, He will show me how I need to love others; who are the people, on a daily basis, that I need to love actively as my neighbour, while supplying me with the necessary disposition, plus what talents do I need to deploy to love effectively. Loving Him first frees me from unrealistic expectations on my own part, and allows me to examine my own motivations and purify them so that I do not suffer from burn out. So loving God and neighbour are inextricably tied together.

As we approach the end of the liturgical year, the Gospel readings remind us to stay awake, be alert, and be ready for the Master's coming. We cannot afford to slacken in our disciplines of faith, nor flag in our attempts to love the people who surround us. In the parting words of Jim Rohn:

Make sure that all of your talent and ability, and mentality, and ingenuity, and vitality, and strong feelings, faith, courage, make sure that all you've got is being used, otherwise you lose.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Making the mark

She was quite upset, wailing that she had made a mistake in a major decision even though she had prayed and discerned about this matter previously. What she forgot was that making the right decision does not exclude difficulties, sacrifices or a need to make radical changes in one's life, all not so easy as we get older and more set in our ways. On the contrary, making the right decision usually holds more challenges, obstacles the size of mountains even.

She wanted to know if I regretted my decision to get married, for wasn't marriage difficult at times? It is, but no regrets. I did not elaborate much for I find it pointless to gripe about my struggles. Of course there have to be struggles despite the fact I married a super great guy: there were the inevitable teething problems, the occasional communication breakdowns and misunderstandings, situations that may not be to my liking, constraints I may resent... the list goes on.

There are also times I feel lost, and empty, for marriage seems so reductive that I have become a shadow of who I am; I feel I am not serving the Lord as fully as I should, that I have buried my talents in the ground. Is this right for me? Questions crowd my mind, with no immediate or clear answers. Insecurities and fears gnaw at my consciousness. I have hopes for the marriage - for us as a couple, for myself, for the one whom I love - desires that I wonder will ever come to fruition? I can fall into despair.

Here is where I go back to the beginning.

Father Michael asked us at the Lector Day of Recollection two weeks ago, what is the mark if sin is defined as missing the mark, and we fall into sin when we are insecure of God's love, or when we doubt the giftedness of our beings and begin to let fear get the better of us. While the Kingdom of God is my mark as a lector and Christian, my personal mark goes beyond ensuring the redemption of my soul and thereby entering into eternal life.

My mark is like Mother Mary's fiat: His will always, not mine. I aim to do whatever He tells me. Why? Because no one loves me the way He does, so perfectly, so generously and so tenderly. I believe He knows what's best for me and I trust Him implicitly with my life. I follow Him because He has all the right answers: to the uncompromising, demanding yet illuminating truth, to life's mysteries, and the way to a love that satisfies completely.

Father Greg said at yesterday's retreat for ICPE Singapore's Companions that at the heart of worship is gratitude. The best way to reciprocate the Father's love is to demonstrate a heart of gratitude by loving others as Jesus loves me - which can mean to the point of death. This is the hard part, for the inconvenience of dying to self again and again is at constant war with my instinctive inclination for self-preservation.

Jesus' brand of self-donating love is where the beginning lies, a love found in Creation, and again at my inception and birth: the Father's pure love, unmerited and lavish. It is a gift of grace. Loved into being, loved for who I am in all my strengths and weaknesses, loved beyond my grievous faults, monumental mistakes and grimy, repulsive sins - how can I not love Him in return?

Our final sharing yesterday revolved around how to see community as mission instead of as a means of facilitating mission. Father Greg invited us to see perichoresis as a dynamic dance of ourselves and the Trinity at the table of the Lord. If we infuse community with the indwelling of the Trinity, we could dance in love and joy with and around each other, and thus gather others into the power and beauty of the Divine-filled dance.

On our own strength, we will bring to the table of community our paltry five loaves and two fish which may not be desired or adequate sustenance, but if we fall back on the Trinity when relating to one another, the loaves and fish can multiply and transform appetisingly and nutritiously into a rich banquet enjoyed by all. The dance requires our collective agreement to be as humble, loving and forgiving as Jesus is, to be as patient and generous as the Father is, and to be as wise and merciful as the Holy Spirit is, and so much more. It won't be easy, it will take effort, sweat, definitely tears, and we will always be buffeted by the tensions of living out our commitments to our loved ones as well as to our brothers and sisters in community.

Whatever my future struggles may be, whether in my marriage or my community (I pledged my commitment as Associate Member for another year), I know I need to always go back to the beginning, focus on the mark, then let myself be guided in the tango that mimics the perfect timing of the love that flows back and forth, between and among, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Heeding Our Mother's words

While I have been on vacation, life has not stopped. People I know and love have lost loved ones, distant relatives have fallen seriously ill... conflicts, tragedies, hurricanes, earthquakes, all these are part of the rhythm of life but made surreal because I was surrounded by fellow holiday makers all out to have a good time.

So what's my take away these last two weeks? Besides confirming how P and I are good and bad (we are both such Foodies) for each other, whether one is on vacation on not, certain things remain constant and fundamental to life, like prayer.

Our Lady of Akita
We began our trip to Japan with a pilgrimage to Akita where the carved wooden statue of Mother Mary there shed real human tears, blood and even perfumed sweat for a period of time. She also appeared to a sister with messages for the world, and even healed this sister of deafness.

Apparitions, miracles, these are events that make us sit up and take note, maybe reflect a little deeper on how such realities can make a difference In our lives, inspiring us to be better people. The community at Seitai Hoshikai which is home to Our Lady of Akita is itself a miracle - how it was born out of a need and grew in such harsh conditions. Christianity is definitely not for the faint of heart but for those who are spiritually rugged and tough, people who can stay the distance.

The message of Our Lady of Akita echoes the same one Our Lady conveyed in Fatima, that prayer, constant prayer alone can avert the disasters that loom so alarmingly and threaten to overcome the world. The exhortation of Our Mother remains the same, pray the rosary daily, it is our weapon against the darkness and bleakness that prevails in our lives.

We took to heart the message of Akita and in the days that followed, we both prayed the rosary as well as the Stations of the Cross daily. There is something special that happens when we offer up our days to the Lord even when on vacation. God grants the desires of our heart, both the spoken and unspoken ones. Despite changes in our travel plans due to a typhoon, everything went smoothly and the weather cooperated, mostly - even when it rained, it was not a major deterrent, we managed to go where we needed to go.

To satisfy our tastebuds, we found a variety of restaurants that served good food, so, so important. We also stumbled upon a number of beautiful gardens on our walks around Tokyo, and visited the awe-inspiring Saint Mary's Cathedral in Seikiguchi where we had the opportunity to hear the organ played beautifully. Best of all, there was a church near our hotel in Tokyo so that we could walk to morning mass while we were there.

I am grateful for the joys and pleasures I have experienced these last two weeks, and for the many opportunities P and myself had to build stronger bonds. I feel an even greater closeness and love for Our Mother who has blessed us in innumerable ways this vacation. So although the vacation is over, my devotion to Mother Mary and Jesus grows. I may not be doing anything in life that is greatly influential, but I know I can change the world, just by praying the rosary daily.

The following words written by Saint Therese of Lisieux resonate increasingly with me. May they serve to inspire you: My whole strength lies in prayer and sacrifice, these are my invincible arms; they can move hearts far better than words, I know it by experience. 

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 clich├ęd 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/