An Introduction to this page
[Archive of reflections from several years ago.]
Spes Sententia – ‘hopeful thoughts’ collect reflections of a slightly more religious (and hopefully spiritual) nature. The title’s inspired by Spe Salvi, the latest encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI, which was aimed at showing the relationship between hope and our redemption and how faith too comes from our hope in salvation.
Thus, it is with hope that I approach my reflections about God’s role in our lives – hope for graces, hope for a strengthening in faith and hope for further revelations of how I’m to contribute to the people around me.
Will end this short intro with the verses that began Spe Salvi:
“For we must be content to hope that we shall be saved – our salvation is not in sight, we should not have to be hoping for it if it were – but, as I say, we must hope to be saved since we are not saved yet – it is something we must wait for with patience.”
Romans 8:24-25 (Jerusalem Bible)
2 February 2008
On Tides and the Sea
In the ebbs and flows of the tides of feelings and emotions, some things do remain. During my reflection by the beach this morning, smelt the salt in the air and heard the crashes of the waves against the beach. Made me think about the difference between the waves upon the shore and the sea that lies beyond.
Our feelings change as the waves upon the shore do, some stronger, some higher, some weaker, some lower. Consolation that we receive from our feelings and emotions are like the waves and tides too – eminently variable and shifting like the winds and affected by a host of other factors.
God’s love on the other hand can be likened to the sea beyond the shore. Far reaching, boundless and deep. It’s unchanging and like the horizon we see when at the seashore, it’s endless and just looking out to the sea reminds one of the immense love that God has for us. As wide as the eye can see and as deep as one can imagine. It is God’s love that allows us to have the feelings that we have – it is the source of all that we have and all that we are and we need to be able to acknowledge that even as our feelings change, ebb and flow.
20 February 2008
One cannot go on without realising that the limitless love of God is everywhere around and manifests itself in all ways. Was feeling a little down after the first few days here and was questioning my role in the project and how I got myself into this in the first place. I didn’t quite choose to apply to the SIF SVO – my application was on the surface hasty and not well thought out but on reflection realised that I didn’t have to think too much about something that in some ways I was meant to do.
And as many remind me, God provides for his people and does so abundantly. The kindness and welcome that I got in Indus is a clear sign of this – I’m a little lonely, far from home, on the verge of homesickness and all of a sudden out jumps a whole host of great people who go out of their way to make me feel welcome. It’s great and one does have to give thanks for this. Even as one hopes, one remains faithful and remembers that God will always provide.
One feels blessed. One give thanks.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all virtuous men, praise comes well from upright hearts;
give thanks to the Lord on the lyre, play to him on the ten-string harp;
sing a new song in his honour, play with all your skill as you acclaim him!
The word of the Lord is integrity itself, all he does is done faithfully;
he loves virtue and justice, the Lord’s love fills the earth.
Psalm 33:1-5 (Jerusalem Bible)
25 February 2008
Water and Joy
Somehow, the whole Liturgy of the mass yesterday seemed to speak to me directly. From the Gospel on the Samaritan woman and the living water to the 2nd reading about faith to the homily by the celebrant who talked about God’s love being like the ocean. It seemed that I was meant to be at the Friary Church of Saint Anthony to be a part of the celebration that would help so much to deepen my relationship with God.
Not being able to attend Eucharistic Celebrations daily did grate on me for the past week and it was with great regret that I heard about the bus strikes over the weekend. Thought I’d have to miss mass or something till Manoj so kindly offered to drop me near the church as he also had some errands to run. My sitting in the church with the anticipation of the celebration that was to come was indeed joyous.
It was like I was going to receive the living waters during the mass and that the drought during the week was gone. One never realises how ‘thirsty’ one is until you see the living waters and have the chance to partake in it. Faith too played an important role – was reflecting about how faith needs to be strengthened by our emulation of Jesus and what he does – doing the work that he did that allowed the Samaritans to see who God really was to them. As for the bits about the ocean, well, reminded me about what was written several weeks ago – and helped to emphasise that to me too.
3 March 2008
In His presence
At St Mary’s, also stumbled upon an Adoration chapel. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament’s not something that we get to do all the time and one always relished the times when one can spend just a short moment in His presence. Was wondering when would be the next time I could get to do that and to my surprise and joy, found that there was a chance for me over there.
Being in His presence is indeed something special and a time that gives both peace and joy to one who is weary and seeking. Getting to the Basilica wasn’t as easy as I hoped it to be as it was in the heart of one of the busiest bits of town, next to a bus station and being one who hates crowds, had to steel myself to get through that. But the reward was being able to quieten down in the midst of the bustle of the city and spend some time in quiet reflection. That was nice.
The gospel this week was on the giving sight to the blind man – he was in darkness and was given the light. We often bumble around in the dark, not knowing what to do and how to do things. In a movie sometime back, there was a guy who was blind but went through an operation that gave him sight and that completely disoriented him as he wasn’t used to light, shapes and colours. Are we like that too? Are we given the light only to be disorientated with this new light and are thus unable to make use of this gift well? The man in the gospel knew what to do – he recognised Jesus as who he was and believed immediately. I often ask if I’m sometimes given insights only to be even more confused with them. One prays that we are given the grace not just to see but to make use of this sight to do His work better.
22 March 2008
Holy Saturday may not be the climax of Holy Week and in many respects it’s a bit of a let-down from the sorrow and grief that one feels on Good Friday while waiting for the joyous celebration of the resurrection on Easter. But sometimes, the anticipation of the joy can make the joy sweeter. Three days we had to wait for Jesus to be resurrected and in the middle of the three days, doubts and uncertainties can set in. ‘Will he really rise?’ or ‘What happens if he doesn’t rise – where will we go then?’ I’m sure the disciples must have thought of these thoughts as they waited.
But wait we will and in that waiting and anticipation, we grow in hope. We know that Jesus was telling the truth and that the truth will indeed set us free. We just have to have the faith to wait. Just as the run up to a big event always seems much more exciting than the event itself, the anticipation to the glorious resurrection of Jesus on Easter too should be one of intense hope and preparation for joy. We shouldn’t wait nervously in the upper room as the apostles did but go and seek the Lord as Mary Magdalene did. Anticipation prompts us to take action – and action we should take both to spread the joy of the resurrection to all.
Now be patient, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. Think of a farmer: how patiently he waits for the precious fruit of the ground until it has had the autumn rains and the spring rains!
James 5:7 (Jerusalem Bible)
26 March 2008
“…they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.”
Today’s Gospel (Lk 24:13-35) is one of my favourites and it just happens to coincide with one of my favourite paintings as well. Both come together to get me to reflect about what recognising Jesus really means and how we often don’t do that sufficiently. We always talk about the constant presence of God and how we need to see Christ in all things – how difficult that is and I often find myself having trouble doing that.
Our belief is not conditional – not dependent on what one sees or hears. It should be constant and consistent – a belief that is not just awakened by signs and what’s said by others. In short, we should not have closed eyes and ears like the disciples did. Granted they were shattered by the events of Good Friday and were shaken in their belief and that could have led them not to recognise Jesus when he walked next to them. That’s so reminiscent of what happens to us so often too – we only ‘see God’ when we’re in church. But that’s as far from the truth as it can get as the Gospels always remind us that we see Christ in everyone we meet and should be aware of that always. That’s why they were chided by Jesus as being ‘slow’ to recognise the meaning of the prophets. We too need to recognise the Gospels now and not be ‘slow’ in recognising what we are and what we need to do.
Also read an interesting reflection about how this is the first Mass after the resurrection. It follows what we’re used to – Jesus shared and explained the scripture to the disciples just as we have the Liturgy of the Word and then they had dinner and Jesus broke the bread as he did at the Last supper, just like the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We’re called to recognise Jesus and share in the bread that he breaks. And even more importantly, to recognise him in all things without him having to tell us.
6 April 2008
Return to Emmaus: On Belief
The Gospel today brought us back to Emmaus and it’s nice to be able to reflect on the same reading in a different context. Jesus appeared to his disciples and they didn’t recognise him until he broke the bread – possibly because of their grief or maybe because they didn’t want to believe that he could actually rise from the dead. They later admitted that their hearts burned when they heard Jesus break the word but they still didn’t believe.
This makes me think that there’s a difference between plain-garden-variety belief and a deep seated yearning that drives a belief. We can believe quite easily – the head tells us that it makes sense and the heart agrees and Presto, we believe and start having faith in something. That makes us believe when things happen to us and when we are led to a situation for us to believe in. The other deeper version makes us seek out the situations in which we can believe and to seek and see the Lord in all things.
We were taught since young in Catechism (or Sunday School or Bible Class) that God is everywhere. We often forget that as we grow older and more cynical and the deep belief born out of the innocence of childhood gives way to the plain belief of busy adulthood. If we are to recognise Jesus when he’s speaking to us, we need to want for that to happen. We need to yearn for all that comes from God and to trust that that is the best for us. The famous song by Martin Nystrom based on Psalm 41 sums it up best:
As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you.
You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship you.
You alone are my strength my shield, to you alone may my spirit yield.
You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship you.
14 April 2008
A series of unrelated events occurred today that found me in St. Anthony’s Friary Church this morning for the 9.30am mass. It’s not the normal mass I attend on Sundays and was pleasantly surprised as I walked in that it was also Confirmation mass for the children and teens with the Archbishop celebrating today. So there I was, at a Confirmation mass celebrated by the Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore on Vocation Sunday. Interesting to say the least but made me think and reflect lots at the same time.
The fact that it is Vocation (or Good Shepherd) Sunday did not escape me and through the anointing of the confirmands, was reminded of my time as a catechist and how I miss that, in spite of all the complaints and grumblings over the past years, I do realise that I do miss teaching and sharing our faith with the youths. It seemed like a ‘natural’ thing to do when I joined up several years ago but little did I know that that in itself would form part of a calling that led me to education, teaching and finally here, to India.
Mass today was most interesting – the first reading was read in Kannada, second reading in Tamil with the psalm and gospel in English. Even the homily and prayer of the faithful had the same multi-lingual flavour that added to the significance of the ceremony. Liked the fact that it was an inclusive mass (though the Liturgy of the Eucharist was in English) that had all the various communities involved in one single celebration of them and the Holy Spirit.
The gospel was also significant – about Jesus telling us about him being the good shepherd who knows his flock and will lay down his life for his flock. Are we really like dumb sheep that needs a shepherd? Aren’t we fairly intelligent and able to fend for ourselves? Perhaps but perhaps not. Isaiah reminds us that we are all like sheep that have gone astray (53:6) that needs a shepherd who we trust to lead us out of the valley of darkness (Ps 23:4). Jesus our good shepherd knows his own and we know him (Jn 10:14) and this trust we need to place in him all the days of our life.
Vocation Sunday is a particularly important Sunday for me at this point in my life – trying to find this vocation that God has for me has been at the forefront of most things that I’ve done over the past year or so and will remain as such till I’ve discerned (more or less) how I’m to live my life in His service. I can’t say that I’m any closer to this realisation but at the very least, I’m cognisant of the need to seek this realisation and am happy to continue spending time with the Lord in an effort to clarify what that calling entails. We too are called to be shepherds to others – to lead them to the right path and to guide them into the way that leads to life everlasting.
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep. The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and the sheep do not belong to him, abandons the sheep and runs away as soon as he sees a wolf coming, and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep; this is because he is only a hired man and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep.”
John 10:11-15 (Jerusalem Bible)
24 April 2008
…in abundance. The gospel a few days ago reminds us that no matter what we are and who we are, as long as we trust and believe in God, we need not fear anything. I’ve been thinking about the lack of ‘hardship’ that I’ve been having on this volunteer assignment. I’m living a fairly cushy life here in Indus and apart from my inability to get to mass more often, there is absolutely nothing that one can complain about. At some points, I wondered if it is too cushy and I might lose the plot about the discernment itself.
While that could be a possibility, one remembers that God provides and while I was preparing for the worst, that did not come to pass and I should give thanks for what I have now and make use of this comfort to spend more time in contemplation and prayer. As the old adage reminds one about looking gift horses in their mouths, so should we continue to trust that whatever’s given is exactly what we should be getting at this point in time and seek to find out what else we need to do with what’s given. We are called to remain with Jesus and in so doing bear fruit in plenty. We as branches rely on the tree of life that is God to give us all that we need and as we do that, we cannot help but bear fruit.
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty.
John 15: 4-5a (Jerusalem Bible)
27 April 2008
Man vs. (secular) World
Perhaps the versus is a little strong but the gospels this weekend do point to a bifurcation between the demands of the secular world at large and a life dedicated to living the commandment of love that Jesus called us to. While it’s not impossible to be quite happy fulfilling the needs of a secular life while still being a good Christian – in fact, that’s what we’re all called to do but on a slightly deeper level, we’re all pulled in many directions when we do try to do this.
Jesus reminds us that there’s a chance that the world would hate us for following his commandments. While hate might be a pretty strong word, it does ring true. How many times were we reviled, ridiculed and otherwise put down for being meek, humble and forgiving? Does service to those in need engender a certain derision from some quarters because we’re ‘wasting our time and effort’? The world at large reveres the proud and haughty, those who excel at promoting themselves and a culture of narcissism and unbridled consumerism are seen to be ‘living life to the full’.
We’re reminded that our love for Jesus should be shown by our keeping of his commandments. It’s pretty simple actually – all we need to do is to show love to our fellow men (and women) and we’re showing love to Jesus. That simplicity, however, translates into major difficulties when one is thrust into the world at large. The way is hard and for every one action that would keep the commandments, there are 5 or even 10 easier ones that would not. What we need is the courage to be able to choose the more difficult or counter-intuitive path for that is what Jesus did. All depictions of gods and deities that came before Jesus were of powerful king-like beings who ruled with power and might. Here we have our king who calls himself a shepherd and gave himself up to die like a lamb to the slaughter. We too are called to stand firm against the promptings of the world-at-large and live the life of that our shepherd-king calls us to.
God reminds us that while we’re sinful and struggling, we’re not alone – the Spirit will be sent to be with us as our guide and we’re always consoled by the fact that Jesus is always with us in all that we do. As we make our decisions and try to live out our lives on the line between the secular and religious, we allow our trust in God and faith to guide us along the way of truth and life.
If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you do not belong to the world, because my choice withdrew you from the world, therefore the world hates you.
Jn 15:19 (Jerusalem Bible)
10 May 2008
Discerning in earnest
Was reading a really interesting book by Fr Max Oliva called God of Many Loves and that started me thinking more about why I’m in India and how I started this whole vocation discernment process in the first place. In the book, Fr Max alluded to his discernment process and how he started to see God in all the things that he did and how he felt God’s love during the whole process. Made me want to look back at the past year or so when I really started seriously discerning and why that happened.
Remember a few key points – writing in my yearly journal entry about wanting to really discern that vocation in 2007, ostensibly to ensure that it wasn’t what I wanted to do but we all know how that went awry. The next key point was plucking up the courage to walk into a priest’s office and ask quite brazenly ‘I think I might have a little inkling of wanting to become a priest – how do I make sure that I don’t?’ From those auspicious words onwards, was swept in a flurry of vocation discernment recollections, camps and weekends away that led me finally to India. So the question remains – why this and when did I feel God’s love?
God’s love has to remain central to all I do and all I want to do and as I read more of the book, I realise how important that really is. We often pay lip service to the fact that God does love us unconditionally without actually realising what that means. The boundless love of God extends beyond our faults, our sinfulness, inattention to him. He loves us regardless of what we do and how we do it. My favourite verse from the 2nd letter to Timothy reminds us that we can do anything to disown him or be unfaithful but God will always be there because he cannot deny himself and this abiding love for us.
I’m reminded of that sometimes when I deal with people and when I receive the hospitality of all the people around me. I’m constantly amazed at the warmth that I feel here and one can often forget that all the comforts and joys that we get in our daily lives are God-given. God gives comfort when I need it, encouragement when the spirit flags and even gets people to nudge me along my own spiritual development even though they don’t seem to realise it. I’m starting to understand what it means to see God in all things – when one sees love in all actions that people do and when one starts to act in this love, we realise that we too can sometimes act on behalf of God. We’re called to do this no matter what we’ve done and how we’ve sinned before. We act in love and that means that we act on behalf of God.
15 May 2008
Man vs. (secular) World Part II
Brought back to the idea of man vs. world by the reading today and how Peter, who had the grace to know the Jesus was the Messiah and said so quite earnestly to Christ when asked, would also be the one to get rebuked so severely just a while later for thinking in man’s ways and not God’s. It’s quite easy to see Jesus as God and saviour. We see all that he’s done, the passion and resurrection, his teachings, his life and actions. We can recognise Jesus but it’s a whole different story when it comes to following his way, truth and life. Especially the life part.
Like Peter, the problems come when we start meeting others in the world and start having to live in a world that works very differently from how Jesus does. Peter certainly had problems with that when he remonstrated with Jesus about having to suffer and die. It seems ludicrous to have to offer one’s life in suffering to save the world. We often avoid suffering and try to go on the path of least resistance – that’s the calculus of the world. Get the most for the least effort or least suffering. Peter probably was thinking about that and we often get trapped in this as well. I know I do. It’s really easy to get sucked into the easy way out and live as the world expects us to live. I’m probably repeating bits of what I’ve written before but this point keeps on coming back to me. How will I follow the way when I’m pulled in all sorts of directions at every step? The temptation to do as Peter does is great – we are after all living in a world that frowns upon doing things differently.
It’s easy to get happy with the simple praises of what people give, to be satisfied with the raises in salaries and things that we get. But these are transient – the one who praises us could very well condemn us the next day and what we have will be broken or wear out in time. Trying to go beyond this to look towards a greater goal of a life that is truly Christlike may not entail getting all that the world desires but is infinitely more fulfilling for us as a person. After all, isn’t that why we’re here in the first place? To live a life that imitates Christ.
Sometimes it feels like one really has to push against the current as the salmon does on its way to spawn – going against the tide of so-called humanity and its modern values. As difficult this may be, we find consolation in Jesus who reminds us to ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.’ (Mt 11:29) I found St Thomas a Kempis helps too as he writes:
“If you look for rest in this life, how will you attain to everlasting rest? Dispose yourself, then, not for much rest but for great patience. Seek true peace, not on earth but in heaven; not in men or in other creatures but in God alone.” (Imitation of Christ, Bk 3, Ch 35)
We’re given a challenge to reject the consolations of the world and to seek rest in God because in that we will be given true peace. I often feel like Peter when I succumb to the temptations and lure of the secular world but I’m also reminded of the need to look beyond it. Guess this is the constant struggle that one will continue to live but the peace that one gets when one does do what St Thomas suggests in Imitation of Christ is immeasurable. Now to get that to happen more often…
21 May 2008
We often say many prayers quite unconsciously, and can sometimes come close to babbling when we recite them unthinkingly. Common prayers like the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary and the Glory be are said so often that we sometimes fail to notice the significance of the words and what they actually mean. This being the Tuesday after Trinity Sunday, I’d like to take a moment to consider the Glory be – a short prayer to the Trinity that is often recited 10 times (or more) a day but can be sometimes so short that we miss what it actually means.
“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit…”
We give glory to the Trinity, the central mystery of Christian life even as we remember that we ourselves were baptised in the name of the most Holy Trinity. We remember that God is (and should be) at the centre of our lives and we give the glory where it’s due. The intonation of the words of glory to the trinity also remind us of the importance that all three beings play in our lives. All things are created through the Trinity and even Dante reminds us thus
Justice incited my sublime Creator;
Created me divine Omnipotence,
The highest Wisdom and the primal Love.
(Dante Aligieri, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Canto 3, Trans. Henry w. Longfellow)
God the father created us his divine omnipotence and we remember that always; Jesus came on earth and taught us, imparting the highest wisdom available and then sent the Holy Spirit, the primal spirit of love to guide us in living out the gospel life.
“…As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.”
The second part of this doxology reminds us of the eternalness of God and how the things of God are permanent as we ourselves are temporary and quite transient. God was there at the beginning in creation, is here now and will always be here – again, three times that remind us of the treble nature of our God. We’re also reminded that the world, under God’s power, has no end and so we can live, trusting that whatever we do, we can know that God is with us always. Was reminded during mass on Sunday that things often happen in threes – we often think of the past, the present and the future for example and in the same way, we see our God as the three perfect beings in one perfect God. The Catechism explains it better than I do.
I’ve always liked the sound of Latin so will end with the Glory be in Latin:
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum, amen.
28 May 2008
Be like children
The Gospel last Saturday made me reflect about what it actually means to ‘welcome the Kingdom of God like a child’ and why this childlike quality is so crucial in entering the Kingdom that Jesus speaks of. It made me think about the experiences I’ve had with children and how they always seem to have that childlike wonder and innocence that we treasure yet find so hard to emulate. Learning from children can help us greatly with our dealings with people and it’s no wonder that we’re called to do the same in our preparation for the Kingdom.
The four aspects I discussed in the main blog – having a sense of wonder, being non-judgemental, humility and trust are all key aspects in our relationship with Jesus as well. We are constantly called to trust in God and to leave things up to the will of the Father; we are called to be humble in our relationship with people and with God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. We need to have a sense of wonder to recognise that God is in all things and that though we are but little specks in the universe, we’re still blessed with the immense love that can only come from God.
Being able to appreciate this and not to see ourselves as masters of our own universes as we sometimes are wont to is the first step in attaining the wonders of the Kingdom. Recognising this makes it even easier for us to take on the childlike qualities in our daily lives and to give glory to God in the process. We should also take the cue of Jesus who told his disciples not to stop the children from coming – we should recognise the childlike qualities in others and appreciate them and not heap disdain or derision on them for being childish in any way. After all, how are we to enter the kingdom otherwise?
“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.'”
Mark 10:14-15 (Jerusalem Bible)
9 June 2008
Making Him real
The Gospel for the weekend was pretty straightforward – or so I thought. It was about the call of Matthew and though not as dramatic as the call of Simon Peter at the Sea of Galilee (as told in the Gospel of Luke), it’s still indicative of what we are to do. That Jesus keeps the company of the sinners and then went on to say that he came to call the sinners (Mt 9:13) not the virtuous gives us hope in our own weakness and again shows the unconditional nature of God’s love. We’re here and we’re called despite what we are or have been.
Matthew was lucky – he was called by the person of Jesus and it seems so much easier to respond to a call if someone actually does call you. Though we can sense God’s love around us, it’s not always as easy to respond as Matthew did. We’re constantly second-guessing what we think is a call and thinking about how the call might be for others but not quite for us. We often forget that God is with us always and that this call that we have might actually be closer and more personal than we realise.
I’ll recount a story that the celebrant told during the homily to illustrate this – I really liked it and it made huge amounts of sense for me. ‘There was once a man who visited his friend who as an artist. This man saw a painting of a beautiful lady in the studio of the artist and was quite taken by it. He asked his friend if he could have the painting and the friend agreed and even offered to introduce the lady to him too. The man happily took the painting to his home and hung it on the wall of his flat. Some weeks later, the artist made good on his promise and introduced the man to the lady who was the subject of the painting. The two hit it off, fell in love and were soon married. When she moved in with the man, the painting in the flat ceased to be just another painting but a celebration of the lady’s beauty and presence in the life of the man. The painting became real for the man.’
We often have crosses and pictures of Jesus at home and around us but more often than not, these become but symbols of Jesus. What needs to happen for us is to find the actual person of Jesus and make that come alive for us so that the crosses aren’t just crosses but become real for us, just as the man found that the reality of the painting offered so much more. Sensing how and when Christ was with us and how practically everything that we do has at least a little to do with the work of Jesus would help us to make things real. We recognise the yearning to know Christ that’s always within us and turn that yearning into something that is real and tangible for us.
We are reminded of the certainty of God’s coming and of the necessity to know the Lord. The prophet Hosea writes:
Let us set ourselves to know the Lord;
that he will come is as certain as the dawn
is judgement will rise like the light,
he will come to us as showers come,
like spring rains watering the earth.
Hosea 6:3 (Jerusalem Bible)
So let us wait not and start now. Instead of just sitting around waiting, let us seek the Lord in all that we are and all that we do, knowing that the Lord will come to us and will be with us in all that we do.
30 June 2008
Poor in Spirit
The thought of coming here on my own, not knowing anyone and starting work in a community that may not even understand what I’m saying was a little daunting at the start but I wasn’t half as apprehensive before coming here as I was about six years ago when I left to spend a year abroad studying. What’s changed, one might ask? Granted I’m older and the experience in that year abroad did teach me much about how to live on my own and to be happy with that lot but I feel that this whole endeavour had a very different feel right from the start.
My coming here was not wholly a decision that I took on my own but it was done after much discernment and prayer that helped me to realise that leaving Singapore for a while was one thing that I had to do to be away from the hustle and bustle of life back home and to spend a bit of quality time by myself, in prayer. Having a meaningful thing to do with the community here is an added plus point and that does keep me going.
The other thing that keeps me going is the continual presence of God that I can sense in the people I interact with, in the things that I see and feel during the day and in the work that I do. Even with that, one often runs into difficulties – administrative hurdles to cross, language barriers, occasional loneliness and not getting to do what I think is best. Whatever the problem, one realises that huge doses of trust in God’s providence always seems to help. I was worried about fitting in but that seemed to happen quite naturally with all the hugely friendly and welcoming people that I’ve met around here. I was worried about how the curriculum we were working on would be received by the students – most of it was fairly well received and we’ve learnt much from their reactions and have learnt how to couch things better in the process.
In all our insecurities and weakness, we know that there’s a constant behind all that we do. I’ve been able to better sense God’s hand in all that I do here because much of the noise and distractions of ‘normal’ life back home has been stripped away and I’m concentrating on two things – living and working out here. While that does expose our weaknesses to us in a fairly stark manner, I’m reminded of the first Beatitude that Jesus tells in his sermon on the mount, ‘How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ (Mt 5:3). The idea of being ‘poor in spirit’ never quite struck me until now – that we are called to trust completely in God’s will and providence and be sure that he will provide us with the skill and fortitude to do what we need to. Being humble in acknowledging this and realising how much we can achieve with this trust helps one to push on in our work, no matter the difficulty or weakness that we feel.
1 August 2008
Knowing Him, knowing you
‘Lose yourself in him and you will find yourself’ goes the refrain of a song that I remember singing sometime last year that we sang during one of the masses while I was making the retreat last week. Never really noticed how true those words were until I was able to take some time off to make the 8 day retreat last week. Knowing better than to make grand plans before the retreat, I checked in with an open mind and heart, hoping and praying that I’ll receive some insights on things that are happening in my life and how I should continue to lead it. What was revealed to me was not surprising but fairly striking nonetheless.
One thing I realised during the course of the retreat, especially with the good direction that I received, was that my knowledge of Christ was woefully inadequate and that led to me having an academic sort of faith (for want of a better description). I know about Christ through reading the Gospels and I participate faithfully and reverently in the liturgy but that seemed to be it. There needs to be something more. Christianity is unique for our humanised God who not only took human form but experienced the worst of human suffering for the sake of his people. We have a God who is like us in all ways but sin and this not only humanises our religion but also gives us an opportunity to know and try to emulate how he lives his life.
Wherein lies the problem – we’re often exhorted to ‘Be Christlike’ but just emulating him is not enough. It’s one thing to copy the actions of a person who we look up to but quite another to seek to live the same kind of life that he did. It’s the latter that we should seek to do and it’s only through an intimate knowledge of Christ that we can really do that. I learned this through the silence of the retreat – that the only way that I’m going to be like Jesus is to know him so well that my actions will begin to reflect his. That’s where the lyrics of that song comes in – if we do lose ourselves in him, we will indeed find our true selves – the selves that were meant to follow in his footsteps and actions.
Then we’re faced with other problems – like others not agreeing with what we do and the constant struggle to live up to the example that Christ set for us. No easy task with modernity crashing down on all sides, urging us to abandon our ideals and live life in a more ‘modern’ manner. It’s tempting to go either way – withdraw from the world and live the kind of life that Christ preaches or abandon him altogether and get with the times in our modern world. Walking the thin line that allows one to be like him while still retaining our links with the modern world is perhaps one of the more difficult things that one can do.
Even as St. Paul reminds us that ‘In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus’ (Phil 2:5), we need to be able to bend those minds to work in our day and age. Coming back from the retreat where I was able to pray, meditate and reflect on the gospels for most of the day, one realised that it can be difficult to actually practice what we’ve decided to do. Then we realise that Jesus did have human emotions just like us – he wept with us, was angry at others, had a wry sense of humour and ultimately gave it all up because of love. He did all things that we do though with a higher sense of purpose and a sense of morality that we can only aspire to. Keeping ourselves trained on that sense of purpose and morality and recognising that we are human like him can help us to walk that thin line – we can indeed be Christlike in the city. As I realised, all we need to do is to know him.
1 October 2008
The idea of God can sometimes be a little daunting and understanding it can be a little beyond our limited intellect. We’re often told of about the boundless love of God and how this love is extended to all and allows us to grow. We’re reminded that all we are a result of this love and that all we can be is also guided by the love that’s given to us. One of my favourite Psalms puts this very aptly:
It was you who created my inmost self, and put me together in my mother’s womb; f
or all these mysteries I thank you:
for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works.
You know me through and through,
from having watched my bones take shape when I was being formed in secret,
knitted together in the limbo of the womb.
Ps 139:13-15 (Jerusalem Bible)
The problem that I faced with this is the fact that while one can almost understand that God loves us, this love seems a little abstract and can feel somewhat distant at times. Though we’re told about this love and believe it, we may yearn for something a little more – something that can bring the abstract idea of God into what we experience on a regular basis.
It was apt that I was praying with Jn 11 some weeks back and one verse in particular struck me. It’s one of the shortest verses in the bible and consists of just two words, ‘Jesus wept.’ (Jn 11:35). The humanity of Jesus was brought out in that action – the pent up sadness that stemmed from the love he had for Lazarus was brought out so clearly in those two words. It remains, to me, one of the most poignant moments of Jesus’ ministry and acts as a reminder of our God made man who loves us so much that he weeps when we go through pain and suffering. Jesus is just like us but his sadness and rife seem magnified but what he is to do later. We long to weep with him but somehow cannot for some reason.
O Jesus, O why do you so weep, is not your friend but just asleep?
Waiting for his Lord to say, ‘Arise, awake, be on your way.’
O Jesus, still I see you tear. Why, Lord, why I want to hear,
Your laugh and smile so often seen, obscured of late, it has been.
The world’s weight upon your shoulders bare, which did also a cross’ weight share.
What that with our sins did place, that by the cross these sins erase.
I long to week just as you do – I see my sins and hate them too.
But then I find my eyes are dry; why can’t I be like you and cry?
(Written 27 July 2008)
Those two words changed much for me. The re-emphasis of the humanity of Jesus, something that I often forget or overlook, allowed me a very different and much more personal relationship with Him. God becomes less of a mysterious power that is beyond what we can understand but a friend who shares our joys and disappointments all the same. It was the recognition of this humanness that allowed me to really realise that it’s possible to get to know Him as a person. The words from the song ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ are no longer hypothetical but become real to me.
I’d say that my work over here reflects God’s love in many ways. I feel blessed at being able to be here to contribute the tiny bit that I have and even more so seeing how our students have developed over the past months. Their improvement in English and marked increase in confidence is indeed heartening and I cannot help but feel that God’s hand is behind all this. Our programme is being expanded to reach out to more students, in more schools and at more levels. This development is not something that can be attributed merely to our work on the project – all through what I’ve done here, I’ve felt the that I’m not alone in the work that I do and that helps to put things into perspective.
3 November 2008
Being a Saint
(A belated reflection on All Saints’ and what it means to be a Saint.)
I blame it on the artists. The images of saints in prayerful, reflective poses, being martyred, doing the impossible all while holding the most serene of visages continue to play on our minds whenever someone mentions anything about saints. The mention of saints commonly makes us think about men and women in white robes carrying harps flitting around with halos on their heads. Perhaps I should extend the blame to popular culture as well. While we do have the many Saints that we venerate through the year who are recognised by the Church as men and women who have led exemplary holy lives and are thus worthy of emulation, saints don’t just exist in heaven. We’re all called to be saints on earth – isn’t that what living the Gospel life is all about?
The gospel for the day put it so well – the beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew remind us about the actions and attitudes that are required of us as Christians and the possible rewards that await us beyond this world. Jesus simplifies things for us – follow those instructions and keep the two simple commandments and we too will become saints on earth for all to see. The only problem lies within us – the simplest instructions are often the hardest to keep. Us living in the world that we’re in now with all the distractions and temptations around mean that we have to be extra vigilant to ensure that we do follow his words. They aren’t easy but we strive towards them and the example of our Lord anyway because we want to.
A look at the lives of the saints consoles us in our quest for everyday sainthood. They were like us in all ways – some were simple people who revelled in their simplicity in their reverence, others were great thinkers who sought new and better ways of apprehending the Glory of God. They were all ordinary men and women who were tempted, weak, distrustful and went through dark patches in their faith as we all do. They were marked by their steadfastness in their faith and had hearts filled with love for God. We’re called to be the same. We just need to listen and respond.
3 April 2010
Much is said about Easter Sunday, the most important day of the Christian calendar. Much is also said about Good Friday where Jesus was made to suffer grievously to complete his work on earth. Even Maundy Thursday where we commemorate the Last Supper is in the consciousness of many. But what of today – the oft-ignored Saturday sandwiched between Good Friday and Easter Sunday? The day that is quite ‘empty’ liturgically in that no masses or sacraments are celebrated till after dusk. It’s also a day where we rest and reflect on all that’s happened during the past week and allow some time for recollection and preparation for the great celebration of Easter. In the meantime, we wait.
Waiting and the associated virtue of patience are often ignored in the rush of our ordinary lives. We want things done quickly, buses to come in 5 minutes and to be served as soon as our order is taken. Any ‘empty’ time represents minutes wasted and has to be filled with activities or things that can stimulate our senses. Holy Saturday takes this need to ‘do’ and forces us to wait instead.
When we look at the need to wait from a different perspective, Holy Saturday makes even more sense. When we think of children waiting for Christmas morning to open presents from their loved ones and think of a bride and groom anxiously waiting in quiet anticipation to take their vows we realise that when we wait for something that we’re looking forward to, there’s a good amount of eagerness and expectancy that comes along too. It is this for this reason that I like Holy Saturday for what it is – a time spent waiting in anticipation for the coming of Easter.
The waiting for Easter should be one filled with hope – hope for the newness of life that is promised by the resurrection. I remember asking my Catechist many years ago while still in primary school why eggs were distributed during Easter and the reply was that eggs represented new life. Eggs are not just potential omelettes – they’re a visible (and quite portable) sign of the potential for life and this reminds us of why Christ hung on the cross on Good Friday. The sorrow is past and the tomb is sealed – we now look to Easter morning.
Psalm 130: 5-6 puts it so nicely:
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
The key word here is hope – and that hope translates into anticipation and eagerness. Just as we watch for the morning and the dawn of the new day, we too wait in eagerness for the coming of our saviour on Easter.
And so we wait and hopefully are able to spend at least part of the day in quiet reflection to focus the anticipation on the whole point of Easter – getting our act together in this new life that we’re given. After all, one should not waste the greatest gift that we’re ever going to get shouldn’t we?