Saturday, April 18, 2009

Enlightening Moment

A funny thing just happened.
I'm in my office touching up my slides for tomorrow's RCIY session, when I get a knock on the door.
I see this guy wearing a headband and his singlet is drenched with sweat.
I'm wondering what he could possibly be looking for at this time of the night.
And the first thing he says is "I just came to tell you that the light for your cross on the church building is off, I've noticed it the last few days."
I thank him and assure him that I will have it looked into.
Out of courtesy, I ask him his name and if he is a parishioner.
Turns out he stays next to the parish, but he goes to New Creation Church.

It is impressive that even while he is jogging, his mind is on God, that he even notices that the light of the cross on the house of God is not turned on.
It reminds me of a time when a few of us took a cab to Holy Trinity Church. Most of the time when we tell a taxi driver a church name, we still have to direct the way. But this time as we tried to give directions, the driver assured us that he knew the way. So I asked if he was Catholic, he said he was protestant, but not to worry, as long as it is a House of God, he knows the way there.

Amazing how much respect that these two protestant gentlemen have for the House of God, one bothering to look at it while jogging and notice that Christ's light was not shining out, and another who knows the locations of the churches, not because his profession requires it, but that because it is a Houce of God.

The fact that the light of the cross is not shining out may be reflecting something deeper, but I think I'll keep that to another post, and get back to my powerpoint slides. Really takes a lot of time and effort to do.

Oh yah, I know that I stopped at the 4th last word of Christ on the Cross reflection. Really mis-calculated the timing. I still managed to complete my reflections on all seven words by Good Friday, but to put it down in a blog post really takes up so much time, that I was not able to do it once the busy schedule of Holy Thursday onwards began. Its a hectic two weeks after Easter with sessions and retreat to plan and conduct. Hope I make it out alive. ;Þ

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

4th Last Word of Jesus - ...why have you forsaken me?

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Mk 15:34
One way of looking at this was that Jesus was reciting the first line of Psalm 22 which contained prophecies that were fulfilled at his passion (the enemies jeering, dividing of clothes and gambling for the tunic). Or that Jesus was experiencing the consequences of our sin, that disconnectedness with God, that he took upon himself willingly, and so he was voicing out the anguish that he was feeling with the words from the psalm.

As I reflected on the word forsaken, and I looked at my life, I don't think that I have ever done what Jesus did. In times when I'm down, I seldom turn to God until I'm really desperate. I can't say that I've ask God why has he forsaken me because I know its always I who have forsaken him first. It shows the shallowness of my faith and relationship with God.

In my first year of seminary, I read a few books by the Jesuit priest, Fr Thomas Green, on prayer and the deepening of our relationship with God. I wrote a few reflections on my blog on what I had learnt. In one that I wrote in lent 4 yrs ago, I wrote about what spiritual consolation and desolation was. And my second last paragraph, I said that I had not experienced full desolation yet, concluding that I'm not holy enough. Maybe now still not holy.

Read the post if you are wondering why holiness leads to desolation (a sense of abandonment by God). St John of the Cross calls it the Dark Night of the Soul. While deepening of spiritual life one will encounter spiritual dryness, desolation. Mother Teresa went through years of desolation, as revealed in the recent book "Come Be My Light". When the book was published, it sparked off many comments from the secular world, that she didn't believe in God, that she was a hypocrite professing a faith in a God she didn't believe in. But this spiritual desolation is not something that the world will understand. Even most Catholics do not know or understand that there is such a thing or that it exists.

Luckily God only allows it to happen to those who he knows are strong enough to perservere through it, and those who are willing to lay down their lives for him. It is a means through which God purifies our soul, to love him as he loved us. A test of our faith, whether we will still be faithful to seek him even if we do not have the good feeling that spiritual consolation brings. It brings to mind the faith that Abraham had. He was probably in highest consolation when God granted him a son in his old age. But what must have gone through when God asked him to sacrifice that same son.

In my younger days, I remember borrowing a question and answer book from the church library that had this question - "What if I scold God?". I remember that the answer started by saying that its ok, because at least you still have a relationship with God, that you still believe in him enough to expect something from him, and that you can get angry with him.

On a final note, I realised that I haven't reached a familiarity with the scriptures to be able use it in my prayer with God. I am probably like the bystanders who didn't know their psalms enough to recognise what it was. And that the last part of the psalm praises and glorifies God for the deliverance that he has granted.

The 5th Word for tomorrow's reflection is
"I Thirst"
Jn 19:28

Monday, April 06, 2009

3rd Last Word of Jesus - Woman, here is your son...

"Woman, here is your son...
Here is your mother."

Jn 19:26-27
One reason why I like to read Archbishop Fulton Sheen's writings, is his ability to see scripture from a different perspective. When I look at this passage of Jesus giving his mother to the disciple he loved, I see it from two points of view. One that despite his own suffering, Jesus was worried about his mother, that he entrusts her, a widow, into the care of his disciple. The other viewpoint is that the disciple was not named, so that he represents all of us, to whom Jesus gives his mother.

Bishop Sheen being from America, would have used the New American Bible translation, and the word used there is "Behold your son". In this day, we don't really use the word "behold" anymore, so the other translations use "this" or "here". But the word "behold" has a richer meaning than "this" or "here". More than just a statement, it is command to see and look. It is used in John's Gospel when referring to Jesus by John the Baptist "Behold the Lamb of God", by Pilate "Behold the Man", "Behold your king!". And here Jesus is telling Mary to see and look at her son. If the words were to come out from anyone else, Mary would have looked up at Jesus on the cross. But because it came from Jesus, he was telling her to look at the disciple and to see her son Jesus, in the disciple. As the unnamed disciple represents us, Mary sees her son Jesus in each and everyone of us. We are called to be one with him, and he with us, showing his face to the world.

Bishop Sheen also mentions that just prior to this scene, was the dividing of Jesus' clothes by the soldiers. He uses the seamless tunic, most probably woven by Mary, as the link to Jesus' speaking to his mother. But as I reflected on it, somehow I got de-linked from the cross to focusing on the soldiers gambling. Much like the reflection on the two thieves, I found myself wondering what must have been going on in the minds of those soldiers.
"Just another days work"
"Lets get it over and done with"
"Sky getting dark, looks like is going to rain"
"Look at these Jews, fighting among themselves"
"Come lets have some fun and gamble for this tunic"
For them, there was no mystery, no sacrifice, nothing special about that day. In contrast to what the good thief experienced, to what the disciple and women at the foot of the cross were going through. Similarly, this week, from Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, which one are we going to be? The women, especially Mary, pondering on Christ's passion and death? Or the soldiers, where it is just another day, in fact better still, a public holiday? Whats going to be my focus, and how am I going to spend these 3 days?

The 4th Word for tomorrow's reflection is
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Mk 15:34

Sunday, April 05, 2009

2nd Last Word of Jesus - Today you will be with me...

"Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise."

Lk 23:34
PhotobucketA reflection that I read from another book on Jesus' Seven Last Words gave a very interesting insight on the role of the thieves that were crucified on either side of Jesus. The first thieves in the world were Adam and Eve, when they stole the fruit from the tree of knowledge.
God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'...
the woman saw that the tree was good for food... she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. - Gen 3:3-6
And when the good thief said "we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.", it goes further than just the theft that the two thieves committed, to the theft of the First Adam, to our sin, for which we deserve the condemnation. The thieves represent all of us, who should be "justly condemned", and yet the sinless one, the Second Adam, tells us that today we will be with him in paradise.

It was quite consoling to dwell on the hope that we too are like the "good thief", being forgiven and told that we will be with Jesus in paradise. But as I reflected further, the realisation of both thieves as representing us set in, yet only one was given that hope. It brought to mind a discussion that we had at last weeks Alpha, where one participant shared that his friend told him that he can enjoy life right now, and wait till before he dies to repent, and he will still go to heaven. After all whether we enter the vineyard at the 1st hour or the last hour we will still be paid the same. Our God is a generous God.

We all know that that is not the right way to live out our faith, but I'm sure that we all have thought about this loophole in our lives, and definitely we still use it when we consciously decide to sin, with the intention of going for confession later. But the stark contrast between the good thief and the other thief is the reality that I may reach that final day and not be able to repent, not able to recognise Jesus, not able to ask Jesus to "remember me when you come into your kingdom". Sin has the effect of darkening our soul, of covering our eyes. As St John says those who do evil will run away from good.
this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. - Jn 3:19-20
The last point of reflection that I had was on the word "Today". Another time that Jesus used the word "today" was when he told Zacchaeus "Today salvation has come to this house". Both times salvation was declared on a person, because of their words and action, but most importantly because of a change in their heart. In the good thief, we have one example of a man who at his dying humbly embraced Christ. In the other thief we also have a man whose heart was hardened that he mocked Christ even as he was dying. And in Zacchaeus we have one who while living encountered Christ and changed his life, and received salvation.

In our current lifestyle, we always want things immediately. We want the good stuff and we want it now. But yet when it comes to Salvation, we don't mind waiting. Maybe it is because we think that Salvation and the Kingdom of God is something associated with life after death or the last days. But in fact Jesus tells us "the kingdom of God is among you. - Lk 17:21". Don't wait any is the day.

The 3rd Word for tomorrow's reflection is
"Woman, here is your son...
Here is your mother."

Jn 19:26-27

Saturday, April 04, 2009

1st Last Word of Jesus - Father forgive them...

"Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing"
Lk 23:34
The first Last Word that Jesus spoke was to ask for forgiveness on our behalf. Not only was he asking for our forgiveness, but he was giving us the reason/excuse that we should be forgiven - because we do not know what we are doing. Jesus could say that about the soldiers nailing him to the cross, because they did not know him as the Son of God. But how does this apply to us. Don't we know him as the Son of God, as our Saviour, the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thus when we sin, can we say we do not know what we are doing?

Yesterday we had the penitential service at CTK, and I found myself wondering whether the priest were hearing new terms for the sins being confessed. Such as:
Being economical with the truth
Deliberately misleading
Withholding information
These were the words being used to describe the actions of Lewis Hamilton and the McLaren Team in the Formula One race in Melbourne last weekend. When asked if they instructed Hamilton to slow down for the Toyota car to pass him, they said that they did not, despite having done so.

The many fanciful terms being thrown around to describe an act which is basically lying is in fact one of the ways that we try to bluff ourselves that our actions were really not that bad. In the past few weeks, the topic of confessions and sin has occurred a few times at the retreats and conversations with various people. Some have mentioned that they have no sin, no big sin or always the same sins.

I've been there and done that, and thus I can't fault them. We like to forget the bad that we have done, or more likely, we are not even aware of the many sins that we have and are committing. Like I shared earlier on the parable of the wicked servant I don't really know what my full debt/sin is.

Fulton Sheen calls it the ignorance of evil, and it is because of this ignorance that Jesus is asking the Father for our forgiveness. Often we are not aware of our sin, or we are deceived into thinking that we have not sinned, or we water it down by making it sound not as serious. There are other times that I'm not aware of the consequences of my sin, thus if I don't see the consequences, how can it be wrong? Jesus always criticised the Pharisees for exploiting the loopholes in the Law, and we too do that, by using our intellect and reason to worm our way out of our dirty deeds.

Talking about dirt, yesterday a priest shared a story of a wedding he attended, where the bride was eating Kueh Ko Swee, and as she bit into it, the brown sugar burst out onto her white gown. What a shock that might have been. Imagine if that had happen when you were wearing an old t-shirt that you use for painting the house. It wouldn't be much of a bother since the t-shirt would probably be dirty already. Fulton Sheen says that people living in dirt don't realise how dirty dirt is, similarly people living in sin don't recognise sin for what it is. It is only when we try to become clean, then the sin becomes more apparant. Like if I'm wearing a white shirt and eating laksa, I will definitely be more careful about not getting laksa sauce on my shirt. Just like after going for confession, there is the grace that makes me not want to sin and dirty myself. Thats why regular confession not only makes us reflect and aware of our sins, but helps us not to sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. - 1 John 1:8-10
The 2nd Word for tomorrow's reflection is
"Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise."

Lk 23:43

Friday, April 03, 2009

Seven Last Words of Jesus

Dying Jesus, let us ponder
Your last seven words, and wonder
At the love of God made Man.
This is the verse that we always sing at the Twelfth Station - Jesus Dies on the Cross. As a young boy, as far as I can remember, I wondered what these Last Seven Words of Jesus were that we were supposed to ponder. One day when I saw in the reflection passage for the twelfth station the line that says.
Jesus cried out in a loud voice, saying,
"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."
Lk 23:46
So the Jesus' last seven words must have been "into your hands I commit my spirit" I was quite proud of myself for "figuring out" those last seven words. (of course that was in the days before the internet, and before I ever bothered to do any research on church stuff)

But I could never ponder and understand why those last seven words were so important. Until I saw the book "The Seven Last Words" by Fulton Sheen. Only then did I realise that the "Words" were actually "Sentences" said by Jesus. A person's lasts words are normally what he feels really important to tell others. Such as "I love you" or "please forgive me". You can imagine Jesus in his agony on the cross, must have really used up his strength to leave us with these seven "words" to ponder on. So my Lenten project starting from tomorrow, will be to reflect, ponder and hopefully blog on one "Word" per day up to Good Friday. I invite you to join me, and send me a link to your blog if you decide to blog about it too.

The 1st Word for tomorrow's reflection is
"Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing"
Lk 23:34

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Florida Court Sets Atheist Holy Day

In Florida, an atheist created a case against the upcoming Easter and Passover holy days. He hired an attorney to bring a discrimination case against Christians, Jews and observances of their holy days. The argument was that it was unfair that atheists had no such recognized days.

The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation by the lawyer, the judge banged his gavel declaring, "Case dismissed!"

The lawyer immediately stood objecting to the ruling saying, "Your honor, how can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter and others. The Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah, yet my Client and all other atheists have no such holidays."

The judge leaned forward in his chair saying, "But you do. Your client, counsel, is woefully ignorant."

The lawyer said, "Your Honor, we are unaware of any special observance or holiday for atheists."

The judge said, "The calendar says April 1st is April Fools Day. Psalm 14:1 states, 'The fool says in his heart, there is no God.' Thus, it is the opinion of this court, that if your client says there is no God, then he is a fool. Therefore, April 1st is his day. Court is adjourned."

Happy April Fools!