Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

Ash WednesdayIt's that time of the year again, the day when we mark our foreheads with ashes and make lenten resolutions. This year somehow it has a "New Yearish" feeling to it. I'm getting emails on lent and ash wednesday and fasting. I'm reading blogs with people writing of their thoughts on ash wednesday and their lenten resolutions.

This year as I think of my own resolutions, I am reminded once again of the spirit behind whatever I plan to do. Firstly, by my own post last year where I'm reminded that whatever I plan to do or give up, has to lead to a filling up with God. And secondly, reading Fr Chris' reflection for today invites me to be discerning about what I plan to do.

This is the aim that we will have to keep continually before us even as we journey through these forty days. This is the purpose that we have to consider in choosing the places we will visit, the kinds of prayer, fasting and almsgiving we will undertake. And in making our choices it is probably less important what we do, than why we do it. Our activities will be helpful only in so far as they help us to turn more wholeheartedly to the Lord.
At mass I found myself thinking of which meals I wanted to fast, what activities I wanted to give up, and how I wanted cut away all distractions. But still I find myself falling back into the old habit of just concentrating on what I want to give up (and maybe slim down after all that CNY feasting).

Praise God for these two timely and apt reminders, and also for the other people who have inspired me with their efforts to make this lent holy through their emails and blogs. May God bless all our efforts, give us strength to persevere and humility not to forget that it is not by our own efforts, but by His love and Holy Spirit that He has given us that we are able to continue..

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


A young, new preacher was walking with an older, more seasoned preacher in the garden one day. Feeling a bit insecure about what God had for him to do, he was asking the older preacher for some advice. The older preacher walked up to a rose bush and handed the young preacher a rosebud and told him to open it without tearing any of the petals.

The young preacher looked in disbelief at the older preacher and was trying to figure out what a rosebud could possibly have to do with his wanting to know the will of God for his life and ministry. But, because of his great respect for the older preacher, he proceeded to try and unfold the rosebud while keeping every petal intact .. . It wasn't long before he realized how impossible this was to do.

Noticing the young preacher's inability to unfold the rosebud without tearing it, the older preacher began to recite the following poem:

RosebudRosebudIt is only a tiny rosebud
A flower of God's design;
But I cannot unfold the petals
With these clumsy hands of mine.

The secret of unfolding flowers
Is not known to such as I.
GOD opens this flower so sweetly,
Then, in my hands, they die.

If I cannot unfold a rosebud,
The flower of God's design,
Then how can I have the wisdom
To unfold this life of mine?

So, I'll trust in Him for leading
Each moment of my day.
RosebudRosebudI will look to Him for His guidance
Each step of the Pilgrim's way.

The pathway that lies before me
Only my Heavenly Father knows.
I'll trust him to unfold the moments,
Just as He unfolds the rose.
Got this in an email today, and found it quite inspiring.
So often I like the young preacher am so impatient... stubborn... unsure... unworthy... on this journey, and we wish to know what is ahead and in store for us before we make a decision and take the next step on this journey. But God is inviting us to trust in Him, and walk each step at a time, because He is our destination, and yet He is walking by our side all the time.

Just as I was about to post this, I found this on someone's blog, who herself is struggling to feel God's presence by her side.
In the quiet, in the stillness
I know that You are God
In the secret of Your presence
I know there I am restored
When You call I won’t refuse
Each new day again I’ll choose
There is no one else for me
None but Jesus Crucified to set me free
Now I live to bring Him praise
In the chaos, in confusion
I know You’re Sovereign still
In the moment of my weakness
You give me grace to do Your will
When You call I won’t delay
This my song through all my days
All my delight is in You Lord
All of my hope, all of my strength
All my delight is in You Lord.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sandals for the Journey

sandalsAnother reflection I had from last thursday's Gospel from Mk 6:7-13 was inspired by the sharing of one of the brothers in the seminary. He highlighted the point that when Jesus sent out the twelve, He instructed them to take a staff and to wear sandals because it would be a long journey.

Then he summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs giving them authority over the unclean spirits. And he instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff - no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses. They were to wear sandals but, he added, 'Do not take a spare tunic'. - (Mk 6:7-9)
The words "long journey" struck me, and got me thinking. Now that I am on this journey that Christ has sent me on, am I wearing sandals? Why do I need to wear sandals for this journey? And what are these sandals that are going to be helping me on my journey.

It immediately brought to mind what happened to me on my way back to the seminary the day before. I decided to take a slow walk back to the seminary from Punggol MRT station, under the "white elephant" of a LRT line that is not in service, but at least it gives me shade. So as I was walking, reading my book, I realised that I had walked into a patch of mud. Seeing no way of walking around it, I just decided to go through it as quickly as possible. At the end of it, the bottom and sides of my sandals were caked in mud, with just a bit overflowing onto my feet. This image told me that is what sandals are for. They provide comfort from the hard rocks and hot roads and they provide protection for the feet from getting muddy and dirty.

So on this spiritual journey, that we are on, what are these sandals that Christ is asking us to put on? I think it is not so much a what, more of a who. Personally I felt, that these sandals are the close friends that walk with us on this journey. They give us comfort, protect us from getting dirty. But the most striking symbolism that I got out of this whole reflection was, they are the ones that we step on, and so easily take for granted. Only when you make the mistake of walking into mud (or deep shit), and they are the ones who get dirty for you, then you realise the importance of having them.

And that is the amazing about our Lord. He knows that when we start this journey, we would need these sandals. Maybe that is why those who try to go on it alone, either get discouraged, or will find some sandals on their way.Personally, I am glad for the sandals that God has given me. So often I have taken them for granted, and God is reminding me, to take good care of them, because they will take good care of me.

So who are your sandals on your journey? Maybe go up to them, send them a sms or an email, and say:
"Thanks for being my sandals for this journey. Thanks for the comfort and protection you have given me all this time. I know that I don't say this much, but I appreciate all that you have done for me."
And send them a link to this post, so that they know what you are talking about. Not many people like to be called sandals.

Last question...."Who am I a sandal for???" Something to think and reflect about.

Friday, February 09, 2007

First-hand or Second-hand Faith?

One of the first few things I learnt in the seminary was the difference between a second-hand faith and a first-hand faith. The second-hand faith was a faith that was passed down to a person either from their parents, spouse or even friends. Whereas a first-hand faith was one that was earned and gained by that person himself.

"When that whole generation had been gathered to its ancestors, another generation followed it which knew neither the Lord nor the deeds which he had done for the sake of Israel." (Jg 2:10)
When we reached the Book of Judges in our Salvation History class this year, we saw how the Israelites were unfaithful to God. When the generation that had experienced the miracles of the Lord from the Exodus to the Promised Land, had passed away, the subsequent generations gave up their own faith. Because they were relying on a faith based on an experience that was not their own, but that of their forefathers.

Looking at our lives through the lens of the lives of the Israelites, we too are in danger of having history repeat itself, where the next generation lacks depth in their faith, if we too do not help them to encounter the Lord in their lives. That next generation is the youth we have in our church today. Children who are brought up following their parents to church for mass and Catechism classes. The youth who are searching for their identity amidst a society marked by relativism, materialism.

There will come a point in a youth’s life where they start to realize that the faith they practice, all the do’s and don’ts, are their parent’s and not their own. Especially in this generation that is not afraid to ask the question, “Why must I…?”, unless they encounter the Lord personally, the faith becomes just rituals and laws that have little impact on their lives. Sin becomes a breaking of a rule more than a breaking of a relationship with God.

So how can we facilitate our youth to have that encounter of the Lord? How do we help them to take ownership of their faith, to move from a second-hand faith to a first-hand faith? I personally went through such a period in my life, where the faith was just a way of life, about how to be good. Not one based on a relationship with a living and loving God. And as I look back at my own conversion and transformation, I can summarize some of the things that have helped me into the letters A–E–I–O–U.

Affirmation & Encouragement
If we are dealing with a set of rules and laws then the negative motivation of correction and punishment would be the way to enforce them. But since we are trying to cultivate a relationship, we need to positively motivate our youth. This means affirming their past actions, and encouraging them to continue and to grow in their faith journey even if they falter. We need to affirm them of the gifts they have, and encourage them to use and develop these gifts in their ministry.

"It is unthinkable that a person should accept the word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it in his turn." (Evangelization in the Modern World – Pope Paul VI)
One of the areas we need to encourage our youths would be the mission aspect of their faith. In the deepening of my own faith, I discovered that my faith has to include a mission, just like the disciples, God wants us to “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the gospel to all creation” – Lk 16:15. If we have truly discovered a treasure in our encounter with the Lord, we should be like the disciples at Emmaus, who rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the others the Good News that the Lord is risen. That is evangelization. God has a purpose for each and every one of us, to continue that Mission, which is part of the vocation that He is calling us to.

Inspiration not just Instruction
On teachers’ day this year, the newspapers carried many stories of great teachers. And when we look at the testimony of the students, we see a common trend. Teachers are remembered not for what they taught, but for how they inspired their students with the love and conviction with which they taught. In trying to help our youth have a first-hand faith, not only do we need to instruct them on the faith, we also need to inspire them by our own lives. Priests, parents, teachers and especially among the peers, need to show by the examples of their lives, that they lead Christ-like lives, rather than on the values of the world. This is especially true in the way we handle the difficult situations in our lives, just like the early Christians, with courage, trust in the Lord and above all, Love.

We also need to create the opportunity for the youths to experience the Lord. We need to have activities that cater to the broad range of youths of different spiritualities and different levels of faith. What we need are fun activities like camps, games, social activities to attract the youths and allow them to meet and interact with other youths who are convicted in their faith. Included also are mission trips and retreats for youths to empower and to deepen their faith. Small youth communities where youths can come together to learn more about the faith, share, support and challenge one another on their faith journey should also be considered.

Uniqueness & Unity
"For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another." (Rom 12:4–5)
St Paul beautifully expresses what it means to be Church in his analogy of the many parts of the body. The youths in the parishes cannot be alienated from the rest, neither should they minister nor be ministered to just like the rest of the members of the parish. Even among the youths, there will appear differences in age, charisms and ministries. The challenge would be to nurture them in the uniqueness and yet bond and unite them to identify themselves as Christian youths, and as part of the Church.

Journey Magazine Front Cover Design 2006This is the article that I mentioned two posts ago. I wrote it for last years edition of the seminary magazine "The Journey". Actually only the first part about First-hand or Second-hand faith is related to the post on God having no grandchildren. The second part is just some ways in my own life that has helped me move from second to first-hand faith, or a discovery of my true image as a child of God. There were some photos in the article, which I will try to add on later. Also if anyone wants a copy of the seminary magazine which has other articles by the seminarians, you can email me at and I will try to get it to you.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Fishermen and Fish, Shepherds and Sheep

Just after uploading my last post on the minister and the ministered not being on the same level, I open my email and see Fr Cantalamessa's sermon on this Sunday's readings. Here's a short extract. Go here for the full text.

But the difficulty which I noted reappears in another form. Let's say that we do need shepherds and fishermen. Why is it that some should have the role of fishermen and others of fish, and some that of shepherds and others that of sheep and flock. The relationship between fisherman and fish, as that between shepherd and sheep, suggests the idea of inequality, of superiority. No one likes being just a number in the flock and recognizing a shepherd over him.

Here we need to rid ourselves of a certain prejudice. In the Church no one is only a fisherman or only a shepherd, and no one is only a fish or a sheep. We are all, in different ways, all at the same time. Christ is the only one who is simply a fisherman and simply a shepherd.

Before becoming a fisher of men Peter himself was fished for and fished for again, many times. He was, literally, fished for when, walking on the waves, he was overcome with fear and was on the point of sinking; he was fished for again, above all, after his betrayal of Jesus. He had to experience what it meant to be a "lost sheep" so that he could learn what it meant to be a good shepherd; he had to be fished out of the depths of the abyss into which he had fallen in order to learn what it meant to be a fisher of men.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

God Has No Grandchildren

Reflecting on today's first reading(Heb 12:18-19,21-24), the phrase that struck me was

everyone is a 'first-born son'
The first thing this brought to mind me of was an email that a friend had just sent to me yesterday.
Judges 2:10 (JB) says: "When that generation too had been gathered to its fathers, another generation followed it which knew neither the Lord nor the deeds that he had done for the sake of Israel."
They had forgotten. We must become children of God. Every generation has to be Converted anew. Each generation has to be called into God's life to know the fidelity of God, to step out, and to base their life on the word of God. It's not enough to say that my mother was Catholic, my father was Christian. Until you come to that moment in your life when you choose the God you will serve, you have not begun to experience conversion. The reason that the word of the Lord does not speak to our people is because, most simply, they have never been converted. Many church-goers are in fact baptized pagans. Our parent's faith is not ours until we walk the journey ourselves. God has no grandchildren.
This reminds me of the article that I wrote for the Seminary Magazine last year on First-hand or Second-hand faith. Which then reminded me that I still haven't posted that article on this blog. The great procrastinator I am.

But as I reflected further, what really struck me was the word "EVERYONE". That everyone...all are first-born children of God. No first class/second class, no senior/junior, no smart/stupid (you get the point). This is the struggle that I faced last week, when we went to St Joseph's Home for our pastoral. The supervisor told us to just treat all of the residents as another human person and we will be fine. But that's like the easiest thing to say but most difficult thing to do. I was very nice to the people there, smiling, making small talk to those who I could understand and communicate with. But at the end of the day, the realisation was still that I was not able to see them as an equal, as another first-born child of God. I saw them as ministry, as people in need of assistance, who I could give something to but who are unable to give back to me.

Yes, I could say, they gave me the opportunity to love, to be humble, to be in touch with human frailty. But those still do not mask the fact that I fail to see them as a fellow brother or sister. I see their bodily weaknesses but am unable to see that equal God image that makes us one and the same. To put it simply, there is a sense of superiority, a sense of having to go down to their level and not that we are all on the same level.

And as I reflect on the Gospel(Mk 6:7-13) where Jesus sends out the disciple, I realise that this goes further in actually all my ministry. Am I able to see the God image in another person? Or do I feel that I have something to offer to this person that he or she lacks. We always talk about conversion, but maybe we have been looking at the conversion of the person, from bad to good, from sinner to saint. But what the actual conversion should be is a conversion of heart, to help a person discover his true image, who he really is, a child of God, not about changing his image.

I think that this has been my challenge, what it really means to love the person for who they are. In the case of the people in St Joseph's home, to love not out of sympathy or pity or charity(as we have cheapen the word today), but to love them because they are God's children, my brothers and sisters. Equal in the most basic and important way. And in the case of ministry, to be able to be of service, because of what I have that they don't, but because of what they are and to appreciate that in them.