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 ├╝ber 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.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The little things

Your concern
Your care
The way you look at me
when you think I am not looking
Your gentleness
Your patience
The quickness with which you
forgive my foolishness
Your kindness
Your generosity
Towards me, but mostly towards others
disregarding your own needs
Your protectiveness
Your fidelity
I am wonderfully made
by your steadfast affections
Your smile
Your earnestness
The cheeky, fun-loving boy
who woos me with kampung charm
Your fortitude
Your passion
For His way in all things always
making you my perfect spouse
Your humility
Your faith
These are what matter most daily
on our journey to eternal happiness




Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Visiting the Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni

While in Medan, P and I visited the Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni, a Marian shrine set in the suburbs. I had read about it while prepping for our trip there and we were eager to go pay a visit. Upon arrival, we went inside and sat down to pray.

As I was finishing my rosary, I heard a voice in the background enumerating to an audience the significance of the various architectural details within the church's interior. Turning around I saw a priest talking to a couple and their daughter. I asked the priest if P and I could join with his little group, and he was most happy to oblige us.


It was only later that I found out the priest was none other than Father James Bharataputra, a Jesuit father who was instrumental in the building of this 'catechetical' church, as he calls it, in Medan.

Built in 2005 to serve the Tamil Catholic community in Medan, the idea of dedicating the church to Our Lady of Good Health from the town of Velankanni in Tamil Nadu was deemed not only appropriate, but strongly supported by the previous Archbishop who had visited the Shrine* there. Hearing the stories of how donations just poured in, and how this unusual church of eclectic architectural styles was constructed in just four years, in the hands of amateurs no less, was amazing.

Then there were the miracles**: the two Bibles, one hymnal and 10 million rupiahs worth of donations left untouched by a fire that razed Father James's room; the prompt arrival of the statue of Annai Velangkani that coincided with the laying of the foundation stone in 2002 despite the many obstacles; and the natural spring water that disgorges from a spot near the foot of a statue of Mother Mary in the Marian Chapel.

At the end of the tour, Father James gave us a blessing. It was a fitting way to end our short but lovely holiday, with a mini pilgrimage to yet another Marian shrine. I truly felt that everything that happened last Sunday morning was indeed by Divine appointment, and that Our Lady of Velangkanni herself blessed us and honoured our intercessory prayers for healing.

I thank God for the faith and passion of priests like Father James who are the shepherds who give up their lives for their flocks, believing as they do in the compassionate and loving heart of Jesus, our very own Good Shepherd.

*  Wikipedia says The Shrine of Our Lady of Vailankanni, also known as the "Lourdes of the East," is one of the most-frequented religious sites in India, drawing over two million visitors worldwide.

**  To read more about the miracles, see https://velangkanni.com/en/the-miracles/

Monday, June 19, 2017

Living and loving in the moment

What does it mean to be in love with God? According to Father Patrick Crowley love is not defined as twee sentimentality, nor is love of God the practice of a spirituality that does not connect with others with sensitivity and through easy availability. Addressing the various liturgical ministries of Blessed Sacrament Church last Saturday morning, Father Pat stressed the value of developing an interior life, centred on knowing the Father and His will, and allowing Him to direct all our thoughts, words and actions.

"Divine appointment," he called it, "a sense of something greater than yourself, ministering to you; something happening deep down within you." God our Creator knows every one of us intimately, but unless we choose to meet Him regularly in our daily lives, we will not know Him in return. Our faith will always flounder in the shallows, never growing in depth or richness.

Father Pat invited us to be sensible to life, in tune with life's rhythms, and to live mindfully, rather than get caught up with the act of doing, and our own way of doing things. We need to recognize and appreciate the moments in a day in order to live them well.

And when we cannot understand why things are the way they are, especially in times of crises, we should just let go, and let God. "God will always bring out something beyond your comprehension, so you need to pay attention," he reminded. It does not matter if we are in pain or broken-hearted, for God has always worked through broken individuals. Rather than give in to hopelessness, we should turn to Him, then get up, and move on. It is in the precise moment of turning to Him that we will experience the mercy of God. Perhaps not right away, but we will eventually experience an awakening, a new lease on life when we move in His Spirit.

There are three questions we should reflect on constantly:

1. How do people feel when they are with me, are they Intimidated or comfortable? If we are insecure and not comfortable in our own skins, we will tend to put people down. We cannot be life-giving individuals.

2. Am I fully aware of the presence of God in my life at this moment? Can we recognise the kairos* moments in our life, and submit ourselves wholeheartedly into the mystery of these God-gifted moments? This only comes from being more contemplative.

3. What does my daily behaviour say about the person I really am; are my actions a reflection of my intent? Is there integrity in our thoughts, words and actions? We are no saints, we will fall, but we must be honest with ourselves. Contrition and humility of heart is key.

Father Patrick called those of us in ministry to cultivate certain dispositions to aid us as we work in our Father's vineyard. There is a need:

For a universal mentality - The ability to stretch and give of self, more so when we feel challenged. Although we are shaped by our own culture, we should recognise that diversity enhances life and not be afraid of other cultures and peoples. Let's be more open and accepting.

For holiness - The call to holiness is for everyone. It is therefore important we have divine time every day, be it going for daily mass, and including any and all forms of prayer.  How else are we going to hear God speaking if we do not set aside time for Him?

To be just in the parish (and the world) - Are we fully aware of the needs of others around us and do we reach out to meet those needs? Not only that, do we exercise respect when we dispense help or "give alms", do we befriend the poor and get to know them by name? This is just behaviour, when we give in the true spirit of subsidiarity, knowing that all we have comes from God and thus, we are bound to share His bounty graciously, generously, and with full gratitude.

To be healer in the parish, and among the villagers - Rather than focusing on winning, and thereby selling our souls to be number one, we need to guard our humanity by giving of our time, effort and money. Here Father Pat spoke of the ministry of a smile as healing. He echoed Pope Francis's sharing last Wednesday: A human being’s life is an exchange of looks: someone who looking at us wrings from us the first smile, and we who freely smile at one who is closed in sadness, and thus we open to him a way out.

We also need to be inclusive, to continuously cultivate a sense of unity. This means to take time to listen, and speak words of affirmation to all who are around us, especially family members, whom we often take for granted. We can save lives when we speak loving and healing words of truth into people's lives.

To be rooted in God - When we are grounded in God we will have a solid foundation that gives us a sense of perspective and the ability to prioritize well. Father Pat quoted Mark, chapter one, verse 35, where we need to do what Jesus did, spend time in solitude frequently, so as to know and do the will of His Father perfectly.

It all boils down to the act of heartfelt ministering of the moment, bringing healing where it is needed. To do as Jesus did when He listened to the pleas of the possessed man and drove the demon within out, as told several times in Mark's Gospel. This is how we show how much we are in love with the Father, to do His bidding in a heartbeat, attuned as we are to His ways - to maximize the potential of life as it presents itself, moment by moment, in any given day. We are the Good Samaritan who does not hesitate to stop and help the fallen upon, before we go on our way.

Thank you, Father Patrick, for sharing your time and life, for living and loving us in the moment.

I would like to finish off with this inspiring prayer Father Patrick shared, written by General Douglas MacArthur for his only son, Arthur.

Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of deeds; a son who will know Thee—and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge.

Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.

Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the weakness of true strength.

Then I, his father will dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain. ”

* the appointed time in God's purpose

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Loving gratuitously

I read the Pope's recent general audience* with interest where he offers a remedy for unhappiness. He talked about the necessity for a gratuity of love to exist in the world, where we are loved simply for who we are. Love does not need to be earned and he cautions us from falling into a terrible slavery of thinking  we need to be strong, attractive and beautiful in order for others to care for us.

Imagine a world like this: a world without the gratuity of love! It might seem like a human world, but in reality it is a living hell. So many forms of narcissism in man come from a feeling of loneliness and being orphaned. Behind so many seemingly inexplicable behaviors lies a question: Is it possible that I don’t deserve to be called by name, that is, to be loved? For love always calls by name…

This experience of divine love, of being called by name, of being loved first for no reason at all, and that does not rely on whether we are good or bad is mostly found in the way a mother or father loves their child. Even if the child has strayed, a mother never stops suffering for her child. She loves him even when he is a sinner. God does the same thing with us: we are his beloved children!

The inclusive, unconditional quality of God's love is not easy for us to live out, especially when we sin or are sinned against. Plus, no one has perfect parents, and we learn to love based very much on how our parents loved us, and how they loved each other. Thus, the memory of this primordial beauty of being wanted, loved, desired is often distorted or obscured.

Even if we have not had such great experiences ourselves, it does not stop us from loving others with this brand of unconditional love. The more we try to love this way, the more we will become proficient at it, and we will also, in turn, experience this gratuity of love ourselves.

The Pope's "medicine" for unhappy people goes like this: First you need to embrace him. Make him feel that he is wanted, that he is important, and he will stop being sad. 

It may sound simplistic but it works. When I am down, what soothes my soul, gets me out of my despair, is to just have someone listen to me wholeheartedly, without judging me or offering me solutions - just be there for me. They don't have to say a word, simply embrace me in the soft silence of loving empathy (a real hug works wonders for me as well). For into that space, Jesus enters and brings His Spirit of healing, gratuitous love.

Love calls to love, more powerfully than hatred calls to death. Jesus did not die and rise for himself, but for us, so that our sins might be forgiven. It is therefore a time of resurrection for everyone: time to raise up the poor from discouragement, especially those who have been lying in the tomb for much longer than three days. 

One of the ways to raise people up is through what Father Patrick Crowley calls the ministry of a smile. When we smile first at others, meeting their eyes with warm sincerity as we do, we will, inadvertently, as Pope Francis says, open the doors of their heart. Sadly, busy beings such as we are, always rushing onto the next appointment, we hardly ever look at others eye to eye, or smile.

On this great feast of Corpus Christi, it is fitting to live out the power of Christ's Body and Blood, given to us at every Eucharistic celebration, by pledging to love as He did. To give of ourselves: to love with a freeness of not expecting anything in return but just to love someone for who they are; and to be fully present in the moments of the day when we interact with people, listening with openness.

May the wind of liberation blow here, on our faces. May the gift of hope bud forth. And hope is from God the Father who loves us as we are: he loves us always and everyone.

*   https://zenit.org/articles/popes-general-audience-on-beloved-children-certainty-of-hope/