Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Consolation & Desolation

Last Friday's formation talk was supposed to be on Relationship with God. And so although Sister Elizabeth Sim didn't really focus on that topic, it got me thinking about my on relationship with God. And its lent anyway, so I should be thinking about it, talk or no talk.

So I was reflecting on my own relationship and how it has changed/grown over the last year. And i recalled how last year, i would enjoy going to the adoration room, how i had those experiences of God. And there was much joy. I even wake up for morning masses, and do my holy hour. Whereas nowadays not that there is no joy, but i guess lost that enthusiasm.

And in the book I'm reading, Weeds among the Wheat by Thomas Green, he or actually St Ignatius calls it spiritual desolation. Where we feel, restlessness, discouragement, confusion, or that God is not present or not answering our prayers.

Although desolation is not from God, but he allows it to happen to us. St Ignatius goes on to explains the 3 reasons why God allows us to experience desolation.

  1. because we have distanced ourselves from Him. And its a wake-up call.
  2. because we can be strenghtened thru these trials, and improve the relationship.
  3. because He wants us to realise that it is not through our own efforts that we experience Him. Not to get too proud.
I guess the last point is so relevant to me. Thinking back in my past, I can remember ever saying, how I used to keep ador for special occasions, so that I won't get bored of it and lose that "magical" feeling. And how I keep looking for new ways to experience Him. One moment it's daily holy hour, then centering prayer, taize, the Jesus prayer. All in the effort of making prayer life interesting. Even the PDL was a "craze". But all that soon died down. And the dryness and desolation starts again.

I don't think that I'm really experiencing what full desolation really is, Not holy enough ;-Þ Maybe God doesn't think I'm ready to survive on my own yet, thankfully.

Anyway, the best way to overcome desolation, would be to intensify our prayer and efforts. To continue to trust in that ever present yet invisible God, that He will be by our side all the time. Something that I really have to work on this Lent.

Monday, February 21, 2005

2 Different Leaderships

Doing my nightly reflections on the next days readings, I realised that the Gospel for the 2nd Tues of Lent (Mt 23:1-12) and the First Reading for the Feast of the Chair of Peter (1Pet 5:1-4) both have the same theme of leading God's people.

The Gospel was Jesus admonishing the scribes and pharisees, who have the role of leaders of the jewish community, but yet do not practice what they preach, lay heavy burdens, and looking for personal honour and recognition.

In contrast, the reading from St Peter, tells us what Christian leadership is about. "Be shepherds of the flock", "not as a duty, but gladly", "not for shameful profit, but eagerly", "Never be a dictator, but be an example that the whole flock can follow."

And I guess for me, there is always the fear of being pharisaical. Focusing on the letter of the law, not the spirit. To be able to lead with a simple, humble and contrite heart. To bring people to God, not build barriers.

This needs lots of self-reflection and prayer. God help me.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Ask & Listen

Today's two passages gave me stuff to think of about prayer.

First the Gospel of the day "Ask, Search, Knock" (Mt 7:7-12) assures us that our "heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him". And so we have only to ask and he will answer us.

Then at the Ex-Co meeting, the passage was on the Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-9) and the words from vs 5 struck me "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." Especially the "listen to him", which kind of complemented the gospel reading.

Prayer is a conversation with God, and so while the asking is one way, it is also very important to listen to God. Something that I constantly Not do when I pray. Its always about, "Lord, can you do this and can you do that." Even when I ask "What do you want me to do about this?" before He can answer, I'm off thinking about the solution, and saying "You want me to do this right?"

And I just realised that the topic for this week's formation is : Having a relationship with Christ - Prayer/Worship. How apt.

Knowledge Vs Life

As I was continuing the daily weekday readings of the ordinary time from Genesis, I made an interesting discovery. When God created the garden of eden, He put "the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden." (Gen 2:9) But He only said "of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat" (Gen 2:17).

And it is in the next chapter that I realised something. God says "He must not be allowed to stretch his hand out next and pick from the tree of life also, and eat some and live for ever." (Gen 3:22)

Which got me thinking, God only forbade Adam from eating from the tree of knowledge, but he could eat from the tree of life. Smart thing of the serpent to tempt Eve with the fruit of knowledge thus preventing them access to the tree of life.

So this got me reflecting, of how often I go in pursuit of knowledge. Especially in my faith too. I want to know the why and the hows. But Jesus said "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (Jn 14:6) And I must admit, sometimes I try to reach for the fruits of knowledge much more than I am reaching for the fruits of life. So caught up in the intellectual persuit, neglecting the living part.

If only Adam had eaten the fruit of life first... ;-Þ

Thursday, February 10, 2005

To Fast or Not To Fast

This year's big dilemma, Ash Wednesday or Chinese New Year. That has been the topic over the weekend. The decision seemed to be fixed and accepted, but I guess it was rocked when the bishop made some additions to the instructions.

Firstly at the sat evening mass at CTK, Fr Steven Yim started his sermon talking abt Ash Wed & CNY. How maybe we could have celebrated Ash Wed on Wed and the CNY mass on Thur. And the question of Religion vs Culture. Are we Catholics first or Chinese first? and his next sentence was that the bishop has made a choice. (go figure)

And then there was Jude's protestant uncle whose church was still going ahead with the ash wed service. Which brings up the previous question of which takes priority. Apparently the protestant's or at least those more traditional ones are willing to stand up for their faith. And ironically, or maybe divinely, the Gospel of the weekend was about being the Salt of the Earth and Light of the World. To be a witness of Christian living in the world.

So Fr Yim suggested that we might still want to fast and abstain, to be that witness to others. But as we discussed the issue, there were the practical points and being considerate to those of mixed marriages, or whose grandparents are non-christian. So headache... Are we Catholics slack? practical? comfortable? ecumenical? How can we stop a Catholic who goes to the grandparents place, and they have to eat the longevity noodles, the tang yuan, and other symbolic acts. But yet, there are the others who will just ignore the fact that lent has begun, and rejoice that this year there are less days to sacrifice.

Personally, not having any cultural obligations, I chose to fast on both wed together with the universal church and fri with the singapore church. But wah fasting on CNY first day is like the toughest thing. I woke up late, so didn't have a chance to take a light breakfast, went for mass, came back and realised that if I ate anything, then there won't be hunger to make it a fast. But just going for the lunch at my aunt's place, seeing the salmon yu sheng, bak kua, brownies, nuts....wah...torturous.

But I guess, on reflection, both CNY and Lent have something in common. As Fr Aloysius Leong preached in his CNY sermon, its a time for spring cleaning, of renewing relationships. As I've recently come to realise, Lent isn't just about repentance and sacrifice, but those two come as part of a bigger package, of taking this 40 days to reflect on and renew our baptismal promises. To spring clean our lives, to take stock of how we have grown in faith over the last year. Such that when on Easter Vigil, we can join in the newly baptised and renew our relationship with God.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Light, Shadows & Superman

The wierdest of connections happened today. Firstly I went for confession before mass at CTK. But even though the priest absolved me of my sins, I still didn't feel at peace. It just kept bugging me whether I was repentent, but yet I know I was going to sin again.

But then the first reading gave me some consolation. Even though I had read the passage before mass, I must admit, that I did not notice the last few lines. But yet when the lector read it, it struck me so much that I had to flip the missal to read it again.

If you do away with the yoke, the clenched fist, the wicked word,
if you give your bread to the hungry, and relief to the oppressed,
your light will rise in the darkness, and your shadows become like noon.
And since I knew that the focus for this week at SFX at least was "light of the world" and the lumen gentium documents, I guess it's the Holy Spirit that inspired me to focus instead on the darkness and shadows. And as I read the passage again, it struck me, that it doesn't say that the darkness disappears. It says that the "shadows become like noon". And at noon we still have shadows, just that because the sun is overhead, the shadows will be the smallest, but still there. And I'm not sure if I'm being theologically correct, but for me, especially in my unrest after confession, it told me that while I'm here on earth, I just have to strive to make my shadow the smallest. I can't be perfect and in full light, that only happens in heaven. And the way to make the it noon, would be to "do away with the yoke, the clenched fist, the wicked word, give your bread to the hungry, and relief to the oppressed" Which was kind of what the priest gave me for my penance, to do a good deed. Wow!

Then I came home, the tv was on, as I was going to start dinner, I realised that they were showing Superman 1. One of my classic movies from my childhood. Sure now the effects and all can't compare to present day movies, but at that time, it was the best. Anyway, I missed the first 45 mins, and superman had just discovered the crystals which his parents left him. And they were telling him why he was on earth. And then the last words Superman's father told him made me think that the creator of superman had to be catholic. Then again like at mass, I had to re-read the words again, just that this time luckily for the internet, I found the script online.

Firstly, Superman's name is Kal-El, his father's name is Jor-El. And the name "El" means God which is why the archangels Gabriel, Michael and Raphael's names end with El. And then the words from the movie, could almost seem like God talking to Jesus.
They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all - their capacity for good - I have sent them you. My only son.
It seems so fitting to this sunday's mass theme. We were living in darkness, and God sent His son, to be our light, to show us the way. And as I read more of the script, there were many other things which the father told superman, about virtues, humility, ethics. Gone are the days where movies promoted good values.

So do good, let the light of Christ shine in my life, so that my shadows shrink away. Be that light and spread to others. Hmm... maybe it is time to read Lumen Gentium.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Embracing Our Call To Consecration & Mission

That was the topic of the first session of the MSC Formation program.
Basically it was for us to remember our baptism, and what it means to us, in the light of what Jesus experienced in His own baptism.

As Fr Ho pointed out, I think it was really a matter of God's timing that we had the session on the 28th Jan. That our formation session should start on the day where the gospel was the parable of the mustard seed. Mk 4:26-34 the same passage that is on our t-shirts. And just amazing how when the formation was supposed to on the 14th Jan, it got pushed back because of the tsunami memorial mass and our chalet.

And I guess for myself, it brought a connection to baptism that I never saw before. As Fr Ho started talking about the mustard seed, I recalled what edmund told me when he first found out that we changed name to Mustard Seed Community. He discovered something about seeds which only gardeners (i don't mean those staying in serangoon gardens) will know. He said, unless a seed is dry when planted it will not grow. He said the moisture will make it rot. But if the seed is dry, then when it is planted, and watered, it will start to grow.

So at the session, it dawned on me, how baptism, and Jesus' saying

'unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.' (Jn 12:24)
was so connected. The seed is dry and dead, and it springs to life and starts growing when it receives water. So we alike, when we receive the waters of baptism, it jumpstarts our growth process in the Spirit. Perhaps John should have said "but if it dies and receives the water of life,". But I guess the people of that time were gardeners and that was understood. Unlike us "gardeners" who dun know that green beans grow into plants.

Even in the CCC, #1253 "Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop" and #1254 "faith must grow after Baptism". And that is the call of baptism. It is a beginning, it is the start of growth, which has to lead to bearing fruit, as Jesus uses so many parables to illustrate. The vine and the branches, the parable of the sower, Jn 12:24.

The challenge for me of embracing my call to baptism is one of growth and bearing fruit. One which is about constantly developing my faith, and the other about my mission to bring Christ into the lives of others.

And ending of with the word's of Fr Ho at the talk.
"There's no baptism without mission"