Tuesday, March 31, 2009

True Story

One day, a man went to visit a church..

He got there early, parked his car, and got out.

Another car pulled up and the driver got out and said,

'I always park there! You took my place!'

The visitor went inside for Sunday School,

found an empty seat and sat down.

A young lady from the church

approached him and stated,

'That's my seat! You took my place!'

The visitor was somewhat distressed

by this rude welcome, but said nothing.

After Sunday School, the visitor went

into the sanctuary and sat down.

Another member walked up to him and said,

'That's where I always sit! You took my place!'

The visitor was even more troubled by this

treatment, but still He said nothing.

Later as the congregation was praying

for Christ to dwell among them,

the visitor stood up, and his appearance began to change.

Horrible scars became visible on

his hands and on his sandaled feet.

Someone from the congregation

noticed him and called out, 'What happened to you?'

The visitor replied, as his hat

became a crown of thorns, and a tear fell from his eye,

'I took your place.'


Solving one problem with another

Some of the news that I've read today brought about a small enlightenment and a wonderful analogy to explain the controversy over the use of condoms to prevent AIDS. Today's Today Newspaper had an article entitled "Texas considers allowing guns on campuses". Apparently some politicians are trying to pass a bill in Texas to allow students to carry concealed guns on campus, to prevent another Virgina Tech incident from happening. In the article, the VP of the campus puts it so gently that "permitting guns would introduce a new set of potential challenges to campus safety" at the Waco university, "and therefore we don’t believe guns on our campus are a good idea generally." In another article, faculty staff members were considering the situation of "passin out Fs and Ds with somebody in the classroom having a gun".

"It’s basically just allowing the people who have concealed weapons to protect themselves wherever they go" - Joe Driver who is championing the bill.
The logic here astounds me. He is recommending that because there is a danger of someone bringing a concealed weapon into the school, others should be allowed to bring concealed weapons to protect themselves. The logical solution would be to ban guns (which kill people) so that I do not need to be afraid of someone bringing a gun to school. My self-protection would be my fist, because all the other person has is his fist. But of course that is the thinking of someone who comes from a society that has not allowed private ownership of guns. But in the USA where owning a gun is a constitutional right, gun control has been a big controversial issue with parties lobbying on both sides. So the best solution they can offer, would to be create an environment of danger where anyone can carry a gun on campus. Luckily the smarter people are on faculty and not in politics and realise that this bill would allow teenagers who get drunk and rowdy, and not fully in control of their passions to carry arms, which may result in more harm than good.

To me, this proposal was similar to the approach towards trying to control the spread of AIDS through the use of condoms. Instead of Safe Sex, lets promote a Safe School where everyone has "protection", just that the protection here is a gun instead of a condom.

But one thing that I realise from the gun control issue is the US, applies to the condom/AIDS issue, is that both sides have different views of what is a Right. For some carrying a gun is a Right. For some to have sex with anyone they want is a Right. So if I think that having sex is a Right, I can't propose to another person that the best solution to preventing AIDS is not to have casual sex, because I will be denying that person his/her Right. All I can do is make it as safe as possible. A Harvard Researcher which agreed with the Pope used the term Risk Compensation, where if through the use of technology the risks can be lowered, people are willing to take a higher risk, which erases the benefits.

Problem is the solution is to promote a value - abstinence. In this day, values are the hardest thing to try to teach or to get people to live out. So the easy way out would be to allow sin to corrupt people and say that there is nothing we can do about, so lets make it as harmless as possible, thus promoting immorality. So instead of helping people be in control of their animal passions, we deem them as animals unable to control themselves and give them "protection".

I probably am naive about the situation in Africa, and all that the health workers are trying to do. But I am actually referring to the state of the "western/liberalised" society that has given up its values and embraced a hedonistic life. Something which the Harvard Researcher article mentioned about showed that maybe the western aid they are giving is doing more harm. By promoting condoms, they were promoting their liberalised mindset towards sex. As Nike's famous tagline - "Just do it".

Just like the gun issue, if everybody was carrying "protection", doesn't it increase the likelihood that the protection will be used. If they can see that allowing students to carry guns would result in more harm, why can't they see that promoting condoms is going to encourage casual sex, the very thing that is causing the spread of AIDS. But then again, not everyone sees casual sex as wrong.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Crying in the Chapel

I always amaze myself that I can listen to songs and not notice what the lyrics are. So even for songs that I like, I'm quite clueless of the lyrics and meaning of the song.

Today I saw the lyrics of an old Elvis song "Crying in the Chapel", and I finally realised what he was singing about. All this while I thought it was some love song or heartbreak song. Makes me wanna go to the chapel ;Þ

Crying In The Chapel

You saw me crying in the chapel
The tears I shed were tears of joy
I know the meaning of contentment
Now I'm happy with the Lord

Just a plain and simple chapel
Where humble people go to pray
I pray the Lord that I'll grow stronger
As I live from day to day

I searched and I searched
But I couldn't find
No way on earth to gain peace of mind

Now I'm happy in the chapel
Where people are of one accord
Yes we gather in the chapel
Just to sing and praise the Lord

You'll search and you'll search
But you'll never find
No way on earth to gain peace of mind

Take your troubles to the chapel
Get down on your knees and pray
Then your burdens will be lighter
And you'll surely find the way

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How much do I owe?

As I was reflecting on tuesday's Gospel passage on the parable of the unforgiving servant (Mt 18:21-35), the words "ten thousand talents" struck me. Looking at the footnote in the NRSV bible, it said that 1 talent was worth more than 15 years of wages. This sparked off the mathematician in me, to compare the amount the wicked servant owed the master with the amount his fellow servant owed him.

Checking the Bible Dictionary, I found that 1 talent = 6000 denarii.
This meant that the wicked servant owed the master
6,000 x 10,000 = 60,000,000 or 60 Million Denarii,
meaning he owed 600,000 times what was owed to him.

Now that the difference has been put into perspective, it basically means that it was a huge debt. This idea of debt brought to mind the conversation we had at the breakfast table, when we saw the front page of the Life section - Travel Now Pay Later. My first reaction was this was how people accumulate debts. We live in a culture of credit spending.
Buy Now Pay Later Fly Now Pay Later 0 percent credit

I was quite surprised when I typed in "travel now" into google, the autocomplete immediately brought up "travel now pay later" with 7 million websites. No wonder we are the financial state that we are in. Companies encouraging us to spend first and pay later with their 0% interest monthly instalments. Credit card companies tempting us with their freebies. And the one that bugs me the most, telemarketers calling me up to offer me ready cash up to 4 times my monthly salary. Mr Brown recently posted a video on his blog explaining how credit and greed brought about this whole recession.
Back to my reflection on the passage. The credit spending lifestlye we have accumulates big financial debts before we realise it. Similarly in my life I have also a credit sinning lifestyle. Since there is always confessions, I can sin now and confess later. Thus not realising the enourmous debt that I have accumulated. The NAB version says that the servant owed a "huge amount". I know that I owe God a huge amount, but I don't really know how huge that huge amount is. If I did, I think I would be like that servant begging for God's mercy.

This probably the wonder of Lent, through the readings, fasting and prayer, we realise our nothingness, our sinfulness, our indebtedness to God and realise that in our lifetime we will never be able to "pay back" his love for us and forgiveness. We can only pray that we may have the grace to be mindful of what we owe when we consider what others owe/hurt us and forgive.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why Wait?

Just saw an article on xt3.com about Lent and Confessions. In it the writer talks about what has been happening in various dioceses in the US, and the steps that they are taking to encourage the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially during ths time of Lent. Some examples are adverts on billboards and in the papers to encourage reconciliation with God, having 24-hour confession days, dedicating one evening per week for confessions and even the priest going out into the street to invite people in.

While reading it, it just brought to mind some things that I have realised about the Sacrament of Confession in the last few years since I started to take my faith more seriously.

Firstly that I was brought up with the "Tradition" that we have to go for confession twice a year - before Easter and before Christmas. Then I discovered that the Catechsim of the Catholic Church (CCC) states that we are required to go for confession at least once a year. But that's like the mininmum requirement.

As I continued to grow in my faith, I realised that my sins were the obstacles in my relationship with God. And I discovered the beauty of the sacrament and the graces that flowed from receiving it strengthened me on my journey and my struggle with sin. While it is definitely uncomfortable to have to confess our sins to another person (especially now that most of the priests know me), it makes me confront the sins in my life. No longer can I sweep them under the carpet as if they did not happen. By voicing out my sins, I'm bringing these sins into the light and not allowing them to have control over me - Confession sets me free.

Pope John Paul II made his confession daily, Mother Teresa weekly. While I'm not saying that we all have to be at that frequency now, it would be good to increase our frequency of confessions from the once or twice a year to maybe once a month or once in two months. And grow from doing it out of obligation (easter & christmas), but because it helps our soul in our relationship with God.

The second "Tradition" that I had from young, was that I had to go for my confession during the penitential service held in church before Easter and Christmas. I would never miss it, and if I missed the one in my parish, I made sure I went to the one held in another parish. Of course for me, it was because confession was a tradition to be done before Easter and Christmas, so if the parish organises a penitential service, that would be the best time to go for it. Whats more there were priests from other parishes, so I didn't need to go to my own parish priests. Also because all my friends will be there, and we will go for supper after that.

But with my change of mindset of confessions, came the realisation of why should I wait for the penitential service to go for my confession. There is confession available before every weekend mass, or daily at Novena church (WARNING: Long queues). Why add to the number of people coming on that one night? I still go for the penitential services though. Not for my confession, but to celebrate the many people who are reconciling with God, and to pray for them. Also because it is "Tradition".

For those who still need the small push to take the first step to go for confessions, watch this video of the song by Phillips, Craig And Dean - When God Ran. We may be taking a step towards God, but He is running towards us. Why wait any longer?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Thank Him For Your Thorns

Saw this story on a friend's Facebook profile.

Sandra felt as low as the heels of her Birkenstocks as she pushed against a November gust and the florist shop door. Her life had been easy, like spring breeze. Then in the fourth month of her second pregnancy, a minor automobile accident stole her ease.

During this Thanksgiving week, she would have delivered a son. She grieved over her loss. As if that weren't enough, her husband's company threatened a transfer. Then her sister, whose holiday visit she coveted, called saying she could not come. What's worse, Sandra's friend infuriated her by suggesting her grief was a God-given path to maturity that would allow her to empathize with others who suffer.

"She has no idea what I'm feeling," thought Sandra with a shudder.
Thanksgiving? Thankful for what? She wondered. For a careless driver whose truck was hardly scratched when he rear-ended her? For an airbag that saved her life but took that of her child?

"Good afternoon, can I help you?" The shop clerk's approach startled her.

"I....I need an arrangement," stammered Sandra.

"For Thanksgiving? Do you want beautiful but ordinary," asked the shop clerk, "or would you like to challenge the day with a customer favorite I call the Thanksgiving 'Special?'. Are you looking for something that conveys 'gratitude' this Thanksgiving?"

"Not exactly!" Sandra blurted out. "In the last five months, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong." Sandra regretted her outburst, and was surprised when the shop clerk said, "I have the perfect arrangement for you."

Then the door's small bell rang, and the shop clerk said, "Hi, Barbara...let me get your order." She politely excused herself and walked toward a small workroom, then quickly reappeared, carrying an arrangement of greenery, bows, and long-stemmed thorny roses. Except the ends of the rose stems were neatly snipped; there were no flowers.

"Want this in a box?" asked the clerk.

Sandra watched for the customer's response. Was this a joke?

Who would want rose stems with no flowers! She waited for laughter, but neither woman laughed.

"Yes, please," Barbara replied with an appreciative smile.

"You'd think after three years of getting the special, I wouldn't be so moved by its significance, but I can feel it right here, all over again." She said as she gently tapped her chest.

"Uh," stammered Sandra, "that lady just left with, uh....she just left with no flowers!"

"Right", said the clerk, "I cut off the flowers. That's the Special. I call it the Thanksgiving Thorns Bouquet."

"Oh, come on, you can't tell me someone is willing to pay for that!", exclaimed Sandra.

"Barbara came into the shop three years ago feeling much like you feel today," explained the clerk. "She thought she had very little to be thankful for. She had lost her father to cancer, the family business was failing, her son was into drugs, and she was facing major surgery.

"That same year I had lost my husband," continued the clerk, "and for the first time in my life, had just spent the holidays alone. I had no children, no husband, no family nearby, and too great a debt to allow any travel."

"So what did you do?" asked Sandra.

"I learned to be thankful for thorns," answered the clerk quietly. "I've always thanked God for good things in life and never to ask Him why those good things happened to me, but when bad stuff hit, did I ever ask! It took time for me to learn that dark times are important.
I have always enjoyed the 'flowers' of life, but it took thorns to show me the beauty of God's comfort.

"You know, the Bible says that God comforts us when we're afflicted, and from His consolation we learn to comfort others."

Sandra sucked in her breath as she thought about the very thing her friend had tried to tell her. "I guess the truth is I don't want comfort. I've lost a baby and I'm angry with God."

Just then someone else walked in the shop. "Hey, Phil!"
shouted the clerk to the balding, rotund man.

"My wife sent me in to get our usual Thanksgiving arrangement...twelve thorny, long-stemmed stems!" laughed Phil as the clerk handed him a tissue-wrapped arrangement from the refrigerator.

"Those are for your wife?" asked Sandra incredulously. "Do you mind me asking why she wants something that looks like that?"

"No...I'm glad you asked," Phil replied. "Four years ago, my wife and I nearly divorced. After forty years, we were in a real mess, but with the Lord's grace and guidance, we slogged through problem after problem. He rescued our marriage. Jenny here (the clerk) told me she kept a vase of rose stems to remind her of what she learned from "thorny" times, and that was good enough for me. I took home some of those stems. My wife and I decided to label each one for a specific "problem" and give thanks for what that problem taught us."

As Phil paid the clerk, he said to Sandra, "I highly recommend the Special!"

"I don't know if I can be thankful for the thorns in my life." Sandra said to the clerk. "It's all too...fresh."

"Well," the clerk replied carefully, "my experience has shown me that thorns make roses more precious. We treasure God's providential care more during trouble than at any other time. Remember, it was a crown of thorns that Jesus wore so we might know His love. Don't resent the thorns."

Tears rolled down Sandra's cheeks. For the first time since the accident, she loosened her grip on resentment. "I'll take those twelve long-stemmed thorns, please," she managed to choke out.

"I hoped you would," said the clerk gently. "I'll have them ready in a minute."

"Thank you. What do I owe you?"

"Nothing. Nothing but a promise to allow God to heal your heart. The first year's arrangement is always on me." The clerk smiled and handed a card to Sandra. "I'll attach this card to your arrangement, but maybe you would like to read it first."

It read: My God, I have never thanked You for my thorns. I have thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear; teach me the value of my thorns. Show me that I have climbed closer to You along the path of pain. Show me that, through my tears, the colors of Your rainbow look much more brilliant."

Praise Him for your roses, thank Him for your thorns.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Perfect Number Seven

Having to prepare a session which includes the Seven Deadly Sins has been quite a good reflection exercise for me this Lent. Going deeper into the meanings of Pride, Greed, Gluttony, Lust, Sloth, Envy and Anger has given me much fruit for thought with regard to my own relationship with God and with others.

I won't share my own discoveries and reflections here as that is not the intention of this post, but to encourage others to go and research on these Seven Deadly sins and reflect on them in your lives. Together with the corresponding Seven Virtues of Humility, Charity, Temperance, Chastity, Diligence, Kindness and Patience, it makes for a good spiritual exercise to go through this Lent. Maybe you can take one Sin & Virtue to reflect on each day of a week. Just Google "Seven Deadly Sins", and you will find a lot of information.

To add on to that spiritual exercise, there are Seven Penitential Psalms you might want to pray, one for each day. Although they are not directly related to any particular Deadly Sin, still they are good scriptural readings to reflect on our sinfulness and need for God. The Psalms are 6, 31(32), 37(38), 50(51), 101(102), 129(130) and 142(143) [Numbers in brackets depending on your bible]

Have a good week of reflection, not just on the Sins, but also on the Virtues, and pray for the grace to break out of the Sin and to cultivate the Virtues in your life. God Bless

Friday, March 06, 2009

Did You Pray For Grace?

Reflection from Word Among Us Lent 2009 Issue
As we are praying for healing, we also face a crucial question: If I am meant to embrace this cross, will I do it out of a “noble” position of faith or through an “empowered” position of faith? There is an important distinction here: A “noble” person who accepts a cross does so with good intentions, trying his or her best not to complain or give in to self-pity. While this is the right way to embrace the cross, if it is done solely out of our own noble intentions and human strength, there will likely be some degree of discouragement, anger, or self-blame attached. After all, some crosses are downright heavy, and their burdens are just too painful to bear on our own.

This is where the “empowered” position of faith comes in. God wants to give us his own divine grace to help us embrace the crosses of life. Jesus once told St. Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” These words so moved Paul that he was able to write: “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong” ?(2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Embracing a cross with the help of God’s grace is quite different from nobly trying our best to accept a cross without grace. Those who embrace a cross through grace find themselves depending on God more and more each day. They find reserves of strength, trust, and surrender that they know are not their own but that come from a loving, merciful God. Rather than dwell on their own sufferings, they find themselves moved with compassion for other people, even as they themselves endure pain and difficulty. In short, they become more and more like Jesus.

This is the paradox of the cross: We accept suffering not because it is good and not because we like it but as part of our vocation as followers of Jesus Christ. These crosses can become opportunities for us to grow closer to Jesus and give him glory.
Saw this on my friend's blog and realised that it put across very nicely a point that I forgot to write down in the previous post due to the exciting discovery of the auntie walking through "walls".

The last two lines of the first paragraph sum up the feeling that I had when I attempted to keep my resolutions by my own strength and effort. Other than the realisation that these resolutions were to bring me closer to God. I also realised not to see my resolutions as means to reach an end, but as processes that I need God's graces to help me carry out to deepen my relationship with Him.

It brought to mind the question that my SD for my 8-day silent retreat kept asking me everyday. "Did you pray for Grace?"

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Excuse me, are you an angel?

Lent this year has been a surprisingly new experience for me. Normally I would approach Lent like one going for chinese tuition class, dreading and dragging my feet. But I'm not sure why this year, Lent looks to me like a 40-day retreat. A time to really spend time with my Lord and renewing my relationship with Him.

Another different thing about lent for me this year were my resolutions, or more like how I was approaching the carrying out of my resolutions. Year after year, I would begin with hope of keeping all my resolutions for the whole 40 days, but along the way, a minor hiccup would throw it all into disarray. Disappointment sets in, doubts start to seep in, and I'll be convincing myself that I've set the standard too high, or that I just don't have the discipline to see it through. But this year my focus for my Lenten resolutions has been on the end which is Easter. My resolutions should be preparing me spiritually for Easter and beyond. Much like a retreat builds up and culminates on a high, these 40 days and what I do in this time was to help me reach that high in my relationship with God. And that is a gradual process, not one that I can expect right from the beginning.

CTK Adoration RoomThe above realisation came to me one morning when I was in the adoration room (one of my resolutions to begin the day). The room was crowded, so there was no space for me to lean against the bench and face the Blessed Sacrament. So with my back to the side wall, I sat facing the door of the adoration room. While I was thinking through this issue with resolutions (obviously because I encountered a minor hiccup), one of the morning mass aunties got up and walked out, and what she did surprised and amazed me.

CTK Adoration Room

From the photo you can see that there is a curtain that shields the inside of the room from the eyes of people walking outside, forming something like a false wall. And almost everyone coming into the adoration room or going out would walk around it going through that small opening on the left, as if it was a real wall. But this auntie took the direct route to the door, walking to the right side where the curtain meets the wall, gently pulled it aside and walked "through" the "wall". This reminded me of the common phenomenon I observed in the church canteen. If there are two doors at the entrance, and one of it is open, everyone would walk out the open one, and nobody would open the closed one, even if it was crowded.

And it just occurred to me, that so often we see an obstacle in our spiritual journey, and we assume it to be a wall, or we fail to see that it is just a curtain and choose to go around it and avoid it. In actual fact the obstacle is not as difficult as it seems, but because there is the option of going around it, we choose it because it is easier.

I walked out of the adoration room, heart lightened, and encouraged to perservere on this Lenten journey. That night I was going for a meeting, and the girl who was to bring me to place of the meeting told me she went to the adoration room while waiting for me. So I decided to share with her this revelation that I had gotten in the morning. Her first reaction was "Oh my, are you an angel or something", because she had just been praying of some obstacles in her own life. That's the first time in my life that I've ever been called an Angel. Praise the Lord for sending me an Angel in the morning, and allowing me to be an Angel at night too.