Tuesday, November 30, 2010

That time of the year again

Hello everyone - sorry for the lack of updates, I had been tied down with exams and sickness and a spate of dryness which seemed to last a very long time...
Well it's that time of the year again - and I confess to loving it specially : Advent-Christmas-New Year, but not for the reasons people normally love these seasons.
It's not just about the food or the company, it's brilliant blue clear skies that stretch on forever, interspersed with cloudbursts in late evening and at night. It's time with family and dear friends. It's kicking back and reflecting on what was, and looking forward to what will come. It's experiencing again the Annunciation, the first stirrings of hope and a preparation and cleansing in anticipation of the birth of Christ deep within my heart, and all around me.
The older I get, the less likely I am to condemn things I don't understand, or to despise that which I am not a part of. The older I get, the more I feel the need to live an honest, simple life and that being true to myself and finding the strength to live out that conviction calls for more than just depending on my own strength, but on leaning on Him and trying my very best, despite repeated failures.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Christ in the Candlelight

Christ in the Candlelight

i am looking into candlelight,
while i hold it firmly, rosary clasped in the other hand,
and gazing longer, i am mesmerized
bedazzled, beguiled by its slim beauty,
a column of yellow light tipped faint blue,
and i am reminded of Christ, mesmerized,
bedazzled, beguiled by His beauty,
the simple Son of God who is love.
the flame flickers, dances, moves in tune
with the singing wind, but never dies out,
and such is my Lord, fully alive,
living each day with passionate intensity,
that He reminds me His coming is
to give us abundant life, and an abandonment of death.
oh warm indeed is His light from the candle,
warm His words that comfort and heal,
warm His spirit and touch.

*inspired by the Candlelight Rosary/Eucharistic Adoration at SIC, Singapore - 29.10.2010*
picture credits here

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Letting the heart catch up

The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of - Blaise Pascal

As Pascal quite rightly pointed out, the heart and reason run on separate lines - and often, the mind is way ahead of the heart. This is most true when it comes to forgiveness, or what we think is forgiveness. Yes, we know that not forgiving is bad for you. It's wrong to hold grudges, it's best to let go and let bygones be bygones. You can't change the past. It's over anyway. And so your mind has neatly worked it out and you congratulate yourself for being able to let go.

Oho. Come the heart, which never forgets. Which feels the sting of injustice and seethes with anger over wrongs done and endured. Time is not the great healer, it only numbs. So when you do look and feel deeper, to your horror, you find that you are still angry. Unforgiving. Resentful. How and why?

And so, we know truth, not only by reason, but also by the heart. Pascal comes to the rescue again. The truth is that we have rationalised the issue, but not forgiven. Forgiveness needs to come from the heart, to be true, and this can take a very long time, especially where the hurts are deep and long-running. We need to let our hearts catch up with our minds and its splendid reasons to forgive and let go. And we can start by acknowledging the extent of our efforts this far without going in deeper is akin to putting a band aid on a breaking heart. Someday we're going to bleed to death and we wouldn't even know why.

Walking around wounded we are, that's what.

(picture credits here)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Moving in the vague direction of OK

(image taken from here)

Imagine if you lived in a room that was enveloped in darkness, and after awhile you got used to the blackness and gloom. You wondered if there was even a need for light, although you did at times, think it would be nice if you stopped stumbling after awhile and could see what you or your room looked like.

Now imagine if one fine day, you drew open the curtains and sunlight came streaming in.
And imagine your gladness at something to brighten your living space, for you to be able to see your face.
And then imagine your horror and disgust at the amount of cobwebs, dust and dirt all about you, which had been invisible before and though you felt them, you pretended to ignore them because you could not see them. You were filled with revulsion, wondering how you had been able to live like that before - you managed through ignorance. But now, what excuse had you to stay in such filthy conditions?


This is the upshot of praying and asking God's light to illumine your heart, soul, strength and mind via the Examen. When He answers your prayer, you begin to see just how tormented and ugly and sinful you are inside, weak to the core. At this point of despair and sorrow, stay with what you feel - don't run away. Stay with it, knowing He is there and that He loves you all the same.

It is an opening of our consciousness to begin seeing our blind spots, things which didn't seem problematic before, but now are seen to be issues that need addressing. It is a realisation that we thought we were moving in the vague direction of 'O.K' but actually we are miles away from being as pure and holy as God's children are called to be.

Yes, it is extremely disheartening to know and realise this, and to be in such pain at the same time... and yet, pain tells me it is simply intolerable to carry on in this manner, and I am comforted by the fact that His grace takes me from day to day. Looks like there are no two ways about it, either come to terms with the pain or live in ignorance. And in spite of the wrenching, twisting feeling, I join Him in via dolorosa - the way of the Cross. After years swinging between fragility and pretended strength, I turn and look at Him and see finally, a pure unconditional love ready to take me through the rest of this life, forming me to be even more like Him.

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Kahlil Gibran
There is no coming to consciousness without pain.
Carl Jung

Monday, October 4, 2010

Someday I will

Someday I will thank you for unanswered prayers,
Those wishes and hopes that have faded with time,
Someday I will thank you for chastising and cleansing,
My sins and ill habits have formed a thick layer of grime.

Someday I will sing a song of mourning that turns into praise,
Seeing you in all things makes me lift up my eyes,
Someday I will bless you in the midst of my tears,
For farewells to loved ones are never permanent goodbyes.

Someday I will, Lord, and grant me the grace always,
to revere, serve and love you all of my days,
Let then, this Someday, Lord, be realised today,
This Your servant asks and humbly prays.


(the picture above is by David Dillon and it's called 'To the Horizon' - more details available here)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Nourished by the Sacraments - Eucharist

(the Eucharist - taken from here)

It's been awhile since I last attended the talks at LSCO, with time away back home and other stuff- and today I managed to catch 'Nourished by the Sacraments' and today the featured Sacrament was the Holy Eucharist. The talk was given by Brother Lance, a Jesuit novitiate.

He began by asking us 2 questions:-
1. What gets you most in touch with God?
2. What does the Holy Eucharist mean to you?

We wrote our answers on slips of paper and he read them out - there was a range of answers, which Bro Lance said just went to show how different we all were. Nevertheless, what is important to know is that we all have a limited human conception of God for God cannot be boxed in, He is a mystery.

"The fact that you're surrounded by God and you don't see God, because you know ABOUT God" - Anthony de Mello SJ.
or put another way, we're like the little fish in the ocean who says, "Excuse me, i m looking for the ocean. Can you tell me where to find it?" (Anthony De Mello SJ)

The fact is that we're so caught up in our lives, we don't see/feel God, leaving us more and more dead. We bring our 'deadness' to the Sacrament, with no sense of God.

  • Mundane vs Mystical
"We have emptied the Lord's Supper of its mystical union with the divine presence in the bread and wine. We have lost the divine reality it represents"
There is a dual existence to all of us: spiritual/mystical and the physical reality, which is why the fact of the Incarnation, that Christ was fully divine and fully human is so important.
Briefly: the truth of the Incarnation was already laid down as early as 381 AD at the Council of Constantinople and the Council of Chalcedon, 461 AD.

Who am I? Why do I exist? What is my purpose here?

In gazing with love at the Eucharist, it awakens something in us as we get to truly know ourselves as a child of God.

  • Spirituality vs Religiosity
"God would be much happier, according to Jesus Christ, if you were transformed than if you worshipped. He would be much more pleased by your loving than by your adoration, or by saying Lord, Lord ... that's spirituality, that's everything. If you have that you have God"
-Anthony de Mello SJ -

Worship is empty without spirituality, and the sad thing is most of us are ignorant of the spirituality of the Eucharist.

So, how to worship/adore the H0ly Eucharist?
It begins with Awareness.
Are you awake? What is your reality? What is your prayer like?
or Are you asleep? Are you confused? or Are you in touch with God??
The question is do we understand what the deeper reality of life is and are awake spiritually.
To do that, we must learn to listen to God in the silence of our prayer -do we feel anything during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament?
One of the members of the audience shared that she felt nothing, heard nothing, but felt patience and peace come much later.

In fact, we sometimes pray without even realising it - what comes from the heart is honest prayer.
Getting to the heart prayer - starts with honesty!

1. Knowing God
2. Knowing ourselves
3. Coming to accept the juxtaposition
Even if the gulf between God and the self is large, it does not matter. Acceptance is the key.

Spirituality , there is not about piety, devotion, religion or worship but is about awareness: to love, to be free, to have joy and peace.
Religion minus Spirituality makes us in danger of becoming mechanical people.

The question put to all of us by Christ is : Who do you say I am?
Master? Teacher? Friend? Lover?
God = the friend to whom we can pour out all our feelings, deep within our heart.
Our lamentations and joys are all prayer.
The Eucharist invites us to a personal vertical relationship with God, calling for a complete surrender to Him in openness.
Are we allowing God to transform us through the Eucharist?

The speaker then moved to the doctrine of transubstantiation - the transformation of the bread and wine into the blood and body of Christ.
The 2 requirements are a priest and bread and wine. Through the process of Consecration during Mass, the bread and wine is changed.
Scriptural foundation for this can be found here:-
1. John 6: 51-56
2. John 6:63, 66
Cf 1 Cor 2:12-14 and 10:16

Take note of 1 Cor 11: 27-29:-

*Herefore anyone who eats the bread** or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation. *

Receiving the Eucharist in a state of sin deadens us even more - we are eating and drinking sin on ourselves, living in a state of unawareness, spiritually dead.

Moving on to the historical aspect, the basic features of Catholicism were fixed during the period from Constantine to Pope Leo the Great.
The belief in the Real Presence of Christ was highlighted by many saints, St Ignatius of Antioch, St Justin Martyr and St Cyril the Great.
even though the senses suggest it is just bread and wine, let faith make you firm!

The Eucharist is primarily a calling - reawakening us to the God within us.
What is the real reality of our lives?
Who is calling us? Christ? or our feelings/thoughts?
Thus the Holy Eucharist is the daily saving action of Christ - what was visible during His earthly life is now sacramentalised and rendered visible through the official actions of His body, the Church.
It engages all of who we are - saying Yes to God, and to be the salt and light of the Earth.

This said, although we are so often lost - the disconnect between head and heart i.e. we know but we truly do not know which is all the more reason for us to build a real friendship with the Holy Eucharist.

We could try contemplating Psalm 139 or try the Examen (both personal favourites) and remember that the primary thing to be honest in our prayer - tell God what we are grateful for and not grateful for. In short, to allow God to actually come into our lives.
And when we do that, we love God and all His people
to be special to no one, and love everyone because love shines on good and bad alike, it makes rain fall on saints and sinners alike. (Anthony de Mello SJ)

We all need to learn to focus on true spirituality and not get too caught up in piety.


I have much to share about the Eucharist, but since this has been a long post I'll end now with a lovely Eucharistic hymn, 'One Bread, One Body'

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My Temporary Home

It was Alex who introduced this song to me, and listening to it reminded me why i chose the name 'The Sojourner Speaks' for this blog - the recognition that i am but a person on a journey and that Earth is not my permanent home. Of course, at the time i started this blog, i was indeed away from my earthly home of Malaysia, across the Causeway,starting a new chapter in my life.

In so many of my walks here, i reflected on where i had come from and where i was heading to, and another bout of homesickness led me to reflect on what heaven was like. The lack of concrete details about what it was like gave me pause, emptiness? God? Harps? Angels? Choirs? And then the great brightness...?
Heaven is real only in the light of God's love, i realised - and coming to know that He loved me first, loves me best and will love me til the end of time gives me the conviction and faith that Heaven, though my imagination fails me, is the singular place where i will encounter God and be with Him for eternity.

the Kingdom of Heaven is the Kingdom of love - i find that drawing closer to home, it is not as if i totally relinquish all my duties and obligations on earth, but i find it easier to put things in perspective, to detach myself from too much fretting about the future (although i still worry) and to concentrate on becoming truer to what He created me to be.

but then again, only if we go away can we experience the true joy of coming home - the experience is incomplete without the journey and the departure.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Journeying together as a Christian community

(pic taken from here - COMMUNITY)

In so many ways, we belong to different communities throughout our lives - neighbourhood, school, work among others. But today let's turn our attention to the Christian community.

Ideally, the Christian community has at its foundation: the reverence and praise of God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is shown in many different ways, from acts of service to the poor via the St Vincent de Paul and Blessed Frederic Ozanam societies to meditation or charismatic prayer together to singing in the church choir. There are so many different ways we can join up to serve, praise and worship Him.

Having said that, we each all have our own faith journeys: there are battles we need to fight alone and the darkness in our souls we need to confront by ourselves. There is an inner dimension to every human soul, but there is also an outer dimension which calls for belonging to a group to feed our need for social contact.

Therefore, we journey together as a Christian community via BEC groups or CGs (Cell/Care Groups). Yes, we can love and serve God together. Yet what do we make of it when everything is kept to a surface level and we know nothing beyond name and face? To journey together is to show another facet of God's love besides service, which is compassionate love and acceptance.

It begins with breaking out of our comfort zones to speak to others in our community and to get to know them better. You ask, isn't this being nosy? Well, if done as an act of outreach, i think that has no basis at all!
(On a personal note, I find it hard to talk to people sometimes, especially when I'm feeling introverted and vulnerable - but when I remember that there were kind souls who reached out, to me I'm inspired by His touch in my life and find it in me. We don't all need to be super extroverted, but a smile works wonders for a start.)
Inclusiveness is difficult - sometimes the blunt edge of rejection shows itself up in subtle ways, still, draw others in - as how Jesus drew Peter and the apostles in through His love and example.

The creation of a safe environment where listening to each other in a state of respect is also important. I know, you don't have to agree with what's being said, but give the others space to be who they are and what they say - it takes patience and a good dollop of charity, most of the time!

And above all, prayer and perseverance. No community is perfect, and at times, I struggle to accept my own weaknesses and those of others, particularly where I have been hurt, or where I have hurt others. It's easy to feel isolated and left out, but press on in a spirit of prayerful trust. The growth of a community is not dependent on everyone being the same, but each of us bringing to the table our different gifts and quirks.
In times when no one seems to care, and you're left all alone, or with only one person by your side, take heart in the words of Scripture:-

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
Matt 18:20

Don't be daunted, for He is there - and with prayer, grace and effort on our parts, we can come to know and love our sisters and brothers more greatly and join them to pray with them and for them amidst the trials of daily life.

*Dedicated to Star of the Sea CG members especially and Lifeline SFX PJ- thank you all for showing me what it means to journey together as a Christian community, may we all continue to shine for Him!*

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is your life any different after believing in God?

Today was the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. Fortunately, the weather was kind, permitting me to attend mass at St Ignatius Church.

It was during the homily when i was struck by Fr Philip Heng's question:
Is your life any different after believing in God?
Belief in God, and especially in the triumph of the cross as overcoming death, darkness and sin is something which should change our lives radically.

But life is still humdrum, dry and filled with trivial issues and past pains and hurts - so what does this mean for all of us?
The outside world does not appear to change. Injustice, evil and the lingering stench of death are all about, you only need to open the papers to see so many examples.
But inside, the moment we choose to commit our lives fully to Him and believe in Him, something happens.
It is turning all our cherished grievances, resentments, jealousies and insecurities inside out and giving them over to Him. This is the starting point of a new life.

It will not be easy - and in coming closer to Him, you will be bound to see your own brokenness and it will hurt. There will be days when old wounds bleed afresh and you wonder why belief does not protect you from pain like this. And yet, those tears mark the beginning of a life founded in God - one where you pray to Him with the honesty of a child and not necessarily say your prayers by rote! The honesty is important if we are to create a relationship with God, sustained by belief which leads to faith.

A deepening belief in Him will lead us to questioning our current lifestyles and decisions to see if they are of God, a fuller integration of our lives into faith and spirituality. It's a long running process, which also runs together with Him pulling together the scattered bits of our being, some in our past, some in our future and some wandering about pulled here and there by the world's distractions i.e. the present moment.

Say this then with me : - I'm a Work In Progress - Be Patient, God's Not Done With Me Yet. :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

World Suicide Prevention Day

(pic taken from here -another well-written article)

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

There are a ton of excellent websites on suicide and its prevention, you can start here. It's easy reading, very approachable and friendly and it also has other resources re handling suicidal calls as well as various other online resources.

But in the simplest terms, what can you and i do to prevent suicide?

We can watch out for warning signs in the people around us :-
  • Death or terminal illness of relative or friend.
  • Divorce, separation, broken relationship, stress on family.
  • Loss of health (real or imaginary).
  • Loss of job, home, money, status, self-esteem, personal security.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Depression
and more importantly, take them seriously. It's very important not to dismiss them as a sign of weakness or worse, gloss them over just to make ourselves better. (because we don't know what to do or to say)
Real life is messy,and sometimes are no simple solutions and what seems something small to us may often be difficult for someone else. Let's not compare, but be compassionate, always.

And if we recognise that we are in over our head, there are many volunteer counselling services we can refer to our suffering friends and family - the Befrienders and the Samaritans are 2 fine examples. Perhaps what we can do is to encourage them and to reassure them they are not weak/stupid/foolish for asking for help as well as to help them with the actual mechanics of getting in touch with the counsellors.

(do read here for an expanded write up on what you can do to help someone who may be suicidal)

In summary, suicide is not courageous. It is choosing to reject the gift of life. But before we label people with suicidal tendencies as cowards who run away or sinners who are doomed to hell, at least let us try to understand where they are at and help them to move a little closer to the light.
The best way they can do that is if someone first cares and can see the pain they are going through and extends a loving hand towards them to pull them back from the brink.

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure."

-Joseph Campbell-

For any of us out there suffering under the burdens life has placed on us to the point of crumbling, know that we can move ahead, we can find wonder and goodness and growth from that lowest point in our lives. Let us strive to choose life always!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Nourished by the Sacraments - Reconciliation

(as usual, pic credits here)

Living Stones Saturday Prayer Meet - Nourished by the Sacraments - Reconciliation

This Saturday's talk on Nourished by the Sacraments was delivered by Chris Aw and it was on Reconciliation.

Chris started off by asking us, What is the 'Stuff of Life'?
(ff John 9:6 - Having said this, he spat on the ground, made a paste with the spittle, put this over the eyes of the blind man)

He explained that the Sacraments relied on real stuff i.e. perceivable substance/real matter which is then made whole, holy and powerful by God in order to reach us (man).
Chris linked this to the incarnation of Christ (that He was God-made-man) and that Christ used real, everyday things in close contact to heal us.

The cry for healing has echoed throughout the Old and New Testament - Jeremiah Chapter 8 "looking for a physician and/or the balm of Gilead" and then in Luke 4:23 and Luke 5:31 "only the sick need healing"

Question: can you heal yourself when you are sick?
(Think about the story of the healed paralytic whose friends lowered him down to be healed by Jesus.)

Now, sin has a number of different dimensions:-
  • Self - it deforms the character - sowing the seeds of new evil habits
  • Neighbour - even sins committed in secret harms your neighbour as it changes the self's character and makes one more likely to interact with one's neighbour more sinfully
  • God - damages our relationship with God.
Sin = a refusal of God's love!

Coming now to the recognition of God as the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it is also a relationship of Lover, Beloved and Love and Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.
therefore : Holy Spirit = Sanctifier = the one who makes us Holy
and as Healing = to be made whole. And this is what true Holiness is, to be whole.

At the point of Creation, Man was originally whole. After giving way to temptation from the Evil One, Man fell and now had a Wounded Nature, prone to Personal Sin. This led to Fractured Communion with God.
The question is : What can restore our Communion with God and Original Wholeness?

Answer: the outpoured blood of Christ
ff Ephesians 1:7 in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins. Such is the richness of the grace)
Sin distorts our own image and likeness of God, alienating ourselves from our brothers and sisters and God.
In order to make us whole again, reconciliation with God and our sisters and brothers was made possible only through the supreme sacrifice of Christ - as all our sins are 'a cosmic injustice'

In summary:-
  1. it is easier to destroy than to build up
  2. it is also often pleasurable to watch other people tear each other apart -'a perverse pleasure'
  3. when trying to reconcile, we often need help from a 3rd party who will be a mirror to show what we've really done - else we'd still be trapped in our own way of seeing things.
  4. it is important to hear affirmation directly with a real human voice.
In this regard, the sacrament of Reconciliation addresses the Whole Person - spiritually, emotionally and sensually : body, mind, soul and spirit.
We all need to know we are totally forgiven from the depths of our being through Jesus' blood.
To know, hear and experience forgiveness is to overcome Fear, Shame and Guilt.
ref Jude 1:24-25


A Sacrament = Outward Expression of Inward Grace.
Reconciliation is easily one of the most misunderstood of all the Sacraments - it seems to be something we do only once in a while, over Easter or Advent and we often wonder what to say to the Priest in the Confessional.
Is he going to think any less of us after what we've done? Or is God going to love us any less?

Let's move away from thinking along the lines of guilt and punishment in the Confessional and view it instead as tapping into a spring of grace where we can wash ourselves clean of our sins and start again, with hope in our hearts.
In the end, that is what Reconciliation is really all about , reconciling ourselves with God, the Church, our brothers and sisters - and an opportunity to learn too where we have messed up and to take small steps in the right direction.

Courage to those who have abandoned this for a long time - God loves you and longs Himself to make you whole again, so come to Him and pour out your broken heart that He may refresh you.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Prayer : ACTS and Beyond

(picture taken from here)

It's Friday again - and today I managed to attend the NUS CSS Law CG meeting again(!) after finally finishing off with Comparative and International Competition Law.

Today we shared on prayer and what it means. Jon explained that prayer was our means of communication with God. He introduced the A-C-T-S formula of prayer as follow:-

A - Adoration
C - Contrition
T - Thanksgiving
S - Supplication

Adoration is basically the act of adoring God as one who loves Him.
Contrition is the act of confessing and feeling sorry for our sins which have hurt and offended Him.
Thanksgiving would be giving thanks to the giver of all good blessings in our life, God.
Supplication is offering everything to God - our petitions, requests, work : anything and everything.

I could not help but be reminded of the Church's ancient definition of prayer as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:-
2559 "Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God."

St Therese of Lisieux beautifully describes prayer :-

For me, prayer is a surge of the heart;
it is a simple look turned toward heaven,
it is a cry of recognition and of love,
embracing both trial and joy.

The ACTS formula, to me, is one which is underscored by love of God and neighbour. Because we love Him, we seek to not only adore Him and lay our supplications before Him, we are also sorry for our sins and faults and seek to thank Him for all good blessings in our life and even those trials which form us into becoming ever more like Him.

Prayer is, in the end, an invitation to a deeper and more authentic relationship with God - and it starts with allowing ourselves to be honest with Him and letting Him into our lives, at every stage and place and time. It is the means by which we unite our hearts, minds and souls with the Lord.

The setting aside of a time and place for a specific form of devotion or prayer in general is wonderful and goes a long way towards making us more prayerful people. However, never underestimate the need to engage God in all of our daily activities - no matter how trivial they seem, and this can be done in ways as simple as speaking to Him in the silence of our hearts while we wait for the bus, ride the MRT, shower, get fed up of reading etc etc (you get the drift!). And when we listen, we might be surprised at what He is telling us.

He who has loved us beyond all understanding will always allow us to find Him through prayer.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Introducing Ignatian Spirituality - Finding God in All Things

From where we left off earlier, Ignatian Spirituality is based on the idea that God is active and can be found in all things around and within us. Therefore, the challenge is for us to discern His presence and find Him in all things - as this is not always the easiest thing to do.

This is a video on Finding God in All Things - as narrated by Jesuit priests, students and teachers on their experiences in seeking God. It was first posted here(a site chockfull of resources on Ignatian Spirituality - i am inspired and educated by everything there!)

As you watch the video, it may be helpful to reflect on the following:-
  1. When has it been easiest for you to find God? Why do you think it was easy for you to find Him then? What did you do then?
  2. When was it most difficult for you to find God? What did you do when you were in this situation?
  3. Do you think your life would be different if you actually managed to find God in all things?
  4. What changes do you think you would need to make in your present life if you wanted to seek God in all things?
Happy watching!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Introducing Ignatian Spirituality

Logo of the Society of Jesus (SJ) - picture credits here

Introducing : Ignatian Spirituality

Ignatian Spirituality is the spirituality practised by members of the religious order of the Society of Jesus (SJ) i.e. the Jesuits. Even then, it is primarily a lay spirituality, extremely practical in nature and practised by many Catholic men and women worldwide.

It's practical because it was developed by a layperson - St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, was still a layperson, a soldier recovering from war wounds when he first discovered these amazing insights into spiritual life. If you want to know more about the great saint, do click here.

We begin our look at Ignatian spirituality with the realisation that God is to be found in all things. God is present and working in ALL places:-
be it in our selves, in our work, our relationships, society, culture, discoveries, everything about the world, the entirety of Creation. God is present and ready there!

This is, in St Ignatius' own words “so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.” God is in everything, even the seemingly mundane, so that we can find Him and return that love to Him.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book review : - What's So Amazing about Grace?

(Picture credits here)

We often hear that hymn, 'Amazing Grace' being sung at church - but have we ever asked ourselves just what's so amazing about grace? Philip Yancey has, and the end result of his question is the book aptly titled 'What's so Amazing about Grace?' '

For those who may not know him, Philip Yancey is a prolific author of many Christian (although not Catholic) books, ranging from 'Disappointment with God' to 'The Jesus I never knew' and 'Where is God when it hurts'?

The book begins with a description of 'Grace' as the Last Best Word. Grace is described as amazing, encapsulating the essence of the Gospel -a thing which can only be found in Church, even as the world can do so many good things but cannot offer grace. He contrasts it with 'ungrace', a concept elaborated further on. Nevertheless, Yancey offers the caution that he would rather convey than explain grace - and the rest of the book is spent doing just that.

In this regard, Yancey adopts a reverent and yet exuberant tone in his writing. - He is awe-inspired and yet brimming with excitement in sharing with the rest of the world what grace is.

The main text is divided into 4 parts:
  1. How Sweet the Sound
  2. Breaking the Cycle of Ungrace
  3. The Scent of Scandal
  4. Grace Notes for a Deaf World
In Part 1,Yancey uses Karen Blixen's tale of Babette's Feast to illustrate what grace is. Essentially, it is a gift that costs everything for the giver and nothing for the recipient. It is entirely free. Grace is in Yancey's words, 'Christianity's best gift to the world', far stronger than vengeance, racism or hate. However, it is in Church that grace is so rarely found, instead 'ungrace' abounds whether by way of strict legalism or a lack of unity. He then goes on to show how guilt exposes a hunger for grace and by extension, love. Yancey builds on this theme by sharing a modernised version of the Prodigal Son parable and ends with the proposition that grace defeats mathematical understanding - God already loves us as much as an infinite God can love.

Part 2 opens with a heart-rending family tale of hatred and anger with no happy ending in sight - caught in the cycle of ungrace. Yancey ends the tale with the observation that grace is unfair, and unreasonable following from the previous chapter. He then makes the point that forgiveness is the only remedy for ungrace. It is an unnatural act, but grace lies in the act of taking the initiative to forgive, defying the entirely natural law of retribution and fairness. He proceeds to argue a strong case why we should forgive - for Christ through His becoming human now understands and makes it possible for us to live free of guilt and be able to forgive in turn. Yancey takes this personal theme and extends it to nations across the canvas of history where forgiveness features - World War II, the fight for equal rights for blacks in the 60s and the late Pope John Paul II's attempted assassination.

The next Part talks about a place for people who don't fit in - what does Grace say about the deviants from the norm and sinners? It makes room for them, and helps us heal our vision to see and love them for who they are. Yancey cautions, however, that grace is not a 'get-out-of-jail' card which allows us to continue living in sin as a life built on love of God soon makes that impossible. Conversely, overly strict legalism pushes grace away - pride and competition renders God but a faraway concept.

Finally, the last few chapters cover how we can make grace a part of this world - Yancey begins with a story of a childhood hero who has now fallen, and takes refuge in a flawed morality instead of grace. Among others, he talks about how living a truly Christian life is akin to 'patches of green' in an inhospitable climate and how grace is in itself a turning to God for grace, who loves us despite our defects and sees our neighbours as sinners, equally loved by God. in short, a grace-full Christian is one who looks at the world through "grace-tinted lenses".

All in, reading this book was an emotional experience, with many of Yancey's stories striking a chord in me - in particular the tale of the family trapped in a cycle of ungrace. Although his attempts to make this a global issue is uneven at times, he has mostly succeeded in making the point that grace is the calling for every Christian, every man and woman in this world.
This is not a book about lists and things to do, it engages the heart and mind in considering the world, the people around us and ourselves, even God in a new and clearer light.

A highly recommended read - have your initial ideas challenged and move closer to Him, discarding that mathematics and logic of fairness per se!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Heaven and Earth

(picture taken from here)

Today at Living Stones prayer meet, Bryan continued with Part 2 of his talk which was entitled "Heaven and Earth".

He began with a wonderful slideshow of the wonders of Nature while the Creation story was being read out slowly - for those who are interested, it's from Genesis Chapter 1 which is available online here.

Bryan impressed upon us the necessity of understanding the reading in its historical context. in Biblical times, the conception of the world is that of a flat plane with a vault/dome/firmament above - which would be the Heavens where the sun, moon, stars were located.

The reading and images gave us a sense of awe and wonder, that only an Almighty Creator could have made this world, and to cap it off, on the 6th day, God looked back at all He had made and saw that it was very good. Note that this was after God had created man - a point which Bryan would elaborate later on.

Bryan explained that Heaven = All Spiritual realities
while Earth = All Physical Realities

It is known that God created Heaven first, and with it billions upon billions of spiritual beings, as many as there are stars in the sky. these were intelligent beings with free choice. through their beauty and the good they do, they praise God.
Indeed, the most brilliant of the spiritual beings had 12 wings, and his name was Lucifer, the bearer of Light
(now, doesn't this name sound familiar?)

Then God created Earth, an act which confounded Lucifer - where was the element of free choice in the creations so far? they seemed nothing more than a vainglorious act of making things just to praise God. But the folly of God is greater than the wisdom of these spiritual beings, and was seen in the ultimate of God's creations on the 6th day: Man. Now, at this point, Lucifer had enough and together with other spiritual beings who agreed with him, decided to abandon God.

Man is both a Spiritual and Physical Being who can bring all realities into praising God.

Praising God is manifested through the following ways:-
  • man's inner beauty and goodness;
  • the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit:- wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord; and
  • bringing all physical realities into praising God - by his dominion over the land and creatures of Earth.
Most importantly, it is voluntary, an act out of free will. To worship in the best way possible is to praise God, and we have an entrusted duty to bring all of Creation to praise Him. Here, worship means to cultivate and keep in a good state the physical and spiritual 'gardens' which have been entrusted to us - as was first used in Gen 2:15.

Thus Lucifer has made it his mission to launch an all-out spiritual battle against Man, tempting him to be more animalistic and abandon his role in praising God. the animalistic side of Man is shown when he sins - relating back to last week's topic on the 7 Deadly Sins.

Lucifer's methods are simple, but with terrifying results:-
  • influencing Man into taking advantage of physical realities and each other
  • selfishly enjoying to the limits without transcending Man's own limitations; and
  • destroying resources, others and finally themselves.
All this is done to show proof of the folly of Man. Hence the word 'Devil' is derived from the Greek word "Diabolos', which means 'the accuser' - and Lucifer will stand and accuse us of failing to live up to our God-given role when we die.

Now, take this is a fact - a spiritual man is higher than angels as one of the Sufi mystics put it - although angels are higher than men. This point is made in 1 Cor 6:2-3 as well.

Therefore, it is important that Man fulfils his divine role via free choice and the supremacy of spirit, with the help of the Holy Spirit (The Advocate). We too have a Guardian Angel each whom we ought to get to know!

Reassuringly, God is more powerful than all temptations, and none of these occur without His permission or knowledge. We take comfort in this and seek to praise Him through discipline, freedom of choice and sincere action without any ulterior motives. to this end, we need to get to know our spiritual side, and we can start by attending a silent retreat.


The Earth is awesome. We know that. But even more awesome are the tremendous blessings and role we have to play in praising, reverencing and honouring God.
Long ago, St Iranaeus made this observation "God is glorified when man is fully alive"
In conclusion, we are most fully alive when we have sought to live sinless lives (we can never really be free of sin because of the stain of original sin) and also cultivate all our many charisms in the act of reflecting God's glory and bringing others closer to Him.
Finally, AMDG - Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam = all for the greater glory of God (the Ignatian motto) - it's something handy to remember when we are doing anything at all, that it all goes to the Creator Lord.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Celebrating Blessed Mother Teresa's Birth Anniversary

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta,
Founder of the Missionaries of Charity

(picture taken from catholicfire.blogspot.com)

26th August 2010 marks the 100th birth anniversary of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity. She was one of my heroes as i was growing up, a very inspiring woman who still remains close to my heart - and this blog post is dedicated to her in memoriam.

Of course, i was moved greatly by her selfless service to the poorest of the poor, and how she recognised the inherent dignity of those who live on the very edge of society's margins, but the very first thing which struck me about her were her words:-

"Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile."

Those are words i have tried to live by. i especially like the way in which she explained that small things were the basis of her loving service i.e. "
In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love." in this regard, she emulated the great saint, St Therese of Lisieux (another one of my heroes, although in more recent times) who emphasised the need to do the smallest deeds with the greatest of love as a true offering to Christ.

Mother Teresa possessed the wonderful quality of persistence based on faith (something i talked about in my previous post below) and this is reflected in her following quotes:-

"God doesn't require us to succeed; he only requires that you try." and
"I do not pray for success, I ask for faithfulness."

Nevertheless, i really only saw her good works for a very long time, and never asked myself what the source of Mother Teresa's generosity and love- i failed to appreciate the depths of her prayer and longing for God:-

"Each time we look upon Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, He raises us up into deeper union with Himself, opens up the floodgates of His merciful love to the whole world, and brings us closer to the day of His final victory "where every knee will bend and proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord". "The reign of God is already in your midst." The coming of Jesus to us in the Eucharist is assurance of His promise of final victory: "BEHOLD, I COME TO MAKE ALL THINGS NEW."

"When the Sisters are exhausted, up to their eyes in work; when all seems to go awry, they spend an hour in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This practice has never failed to bear fruit: they experience peace and strength."

At this point in my journey, Mother Teresa's words speak to me still, about the hunger for love which is so apparent in almost all people i meet and which i have felt for so long and the dedication to God my entire self to His service.

"There is a terrible hunger for love. We all experience that in our lives - the pain, the loneliness. We must have the courage to recognize it. The poor you may have right in your own family. Find them. Love them.

"Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness."

"Like Jesus we belong to the world living not for ourselves but for others. The joy of the Lord is our strength."

inspired by a modern example of faith in action (all through her dark night of the soul - a topic i will talk about in a later post), we can all learn a thing or two, and strive to bring God's light into the world around us. We can't all go to Calcutta, nor should we, but there may be slums around us which need a helping hand, and there is a burning, aching for love in our midst which we can recognise and reach out towards.

for the transcript of one of Mother Teresa's last few interviews before her death, please click here.
this is where she mentions that she is "a pencil in God's hand" - a metaphor to remember, certainly!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

of Love leading on to Faith and Hope

1 Peter 4:8
Above all preserve an intense love for each other, since love covers over many a sin.

it's hard to love, and harder still to love intensely those who cause us the most pain. and intense love is often the doorway to intense pain, as is the case with our loved ones (think of our other half, our family members, our closest friends).
we seem to give the power and permission to those closest to us cut deep into the very fabric of our souls through their words and deeds, whether thoughtless or with malicious intent. and how the wounds bleed ... ! they love marks which no stranger could have ever left.

this is the kind of love which comes with a price - and persistence in such love is built on the foundation of persistent faith and hope that there will come a breakthrough - forgiveness, reconciliation, healing for those who are in such pain they cannot but help wounding others in the process.

this is the kind of love which covers over a multitude of sins. the kind of love our Saviour had for all of us, which we are called to imitate and bring into this world.

what's worth starting is worth ending well. while relationships rupture through sin, we can continue to pray and love as best as we can, trusting in God's promise of healing and wholeness in His own time.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The 7 Deadly Sins

I attended a talk yesterday during the Living Stones Campus Outreach (LSCO) prayer meeting on 'the 7 Deadly Sins' given by Bryan Shen, a lay missionary.

Surprisingly (or not), there was no brimstone and hellfire - instead, Bryan prefaced his talk with the link between psychology, psychiatry and counselling.
Psychiatry = physical abnormalities that affect the mind
Psychology = whatever that affects the psyche (everything subconcious)
Counselling = coping with all the issues in life.

all these 3 elements overlap, and Bryan remarked that often those who have been wounded deeply seek to be in the helping/healing ministry as they have the greatest potential to be healers.
BUT the Devil prevents them from doing so by being The Bearer of False Light (as Lucifer's name meant Bearer of Light).

indeed the work of Evil is to convince us that WRONG is not WRONG, while RIGHT is boring, old-fashioned, unusuble or just plain old wrong.

Evil = Fun and Humour (?!)

now wait a minute, it's actually the OBSESSION with fun that's problematic - as Satan wants us to feel light hearted so that we will not feel the weight of our sin/wrongdoing. while this was a good concept to start off with, somewhere along the line the Church descended into strict penances and bans on laughter and gaiety.
finally St Philip Neri stood up and said 'Laughter has its own good but use it carefully'.

so what ARE the negative effects of excessive fun/humour/laughter?
  • the inability to know the difference between funny and wrong
  • removes the weight of wrongs done
  • increases insensitivity
  • increases irresponsibility
  • more crucially, it hurts the growth of maturity - unable to understand, reflect and contemplate - clarity of thought remains infantile/undeveloped ...
Ref Luke 6:25 ' Alas for you who are laughing now; you shall mourn and weep'

Sin = anything (action, thought, belief, practice, habit, influence etc) that prevents you/another person from reaching your/their highest/divine Potential.

therefore, evil pulls us in the opposite direction of fulfilling our highest/divine Potential.

Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Lord wishes to share His wisdom and understanding with us in order to counter the attacks of evil.
"A Christology that ignores Satan is crippled and will never understand the magnitude of redemption" - Fr. Gabriele Amorth, Chief Exorcist in Rome.
we are either being sabotaged or aware of being in a state of spiritual warfare and battling actively.

Now on to the 7 Capital/Deadly Sins
  1. Gluttony
  2. Lust
  3. Avarice
  4. Sloth/Despondency
  5. Anger
  6. Pride
  7. Envy
and the 7 Contrary Virtues

  1. Chastity
  2. Temperance
  3. Charity
  4. Diligence
  5. Patience
  6. Contentment
  7. Humility
Lust - Luxuria/Scheming - the opposite would be Chastity, Honesty, Congruence, Purity;
Gluttony - letting loose - the opposite virtue would be Temperance, Self control, Moderation;
Greed - the hoarding of wealth and resources - go for Charity instead;
Sloth - Acedia - not doing what should be done, either physically or spiritually out of laziness or disinterest or doing something else - Spiritual Diligence is the counterpart of sloth;

* in this respect, Boredom can be dangerous as it pushes us to do things which are fun but dangerous without knowing the difference!
it is even worse when a person's deep internal self worth is damaged.
contrast with if after doing a tedious task, you feel satisfied, that's Spiritual Diligence, the sense of accomplishment, of being able to complete a task and overcome drudgery. *

Wrath = internalized low self worth - it's addictive
Repeated abuse leads to putting the blame on someone else, keeping you from facing feelings of sadness and enabling them to avoid crying/showing vulnerability.
Internalized low self worth is balanced by finding external manifestations of worth by cultural/social standards i.e. you look fine, but inside you're not!


  • stubborn urge for service and increased busyness to the point of being unable to say No even when overstretched;
  • the increased irritability at the moral imperfections of others - resulting in condemnation and so-called 'justifiable anger';
  • inconsistent drive and energy - praise drives the momentum of service - no praise, no service!
  • increased confusion and suspicion when counsel is given
  • naturally - increased politicking ... AND
  • any good works done are not blessed by GOD!
Envy/Prejudice/Contempt - try this on for size instead : - Contentment/Kindness/Compassion

In the final analysis - we are to root sin out of our own hearts, and to become a witness to God to teach others not to sin.


My first thought after hearing all this was the immediate sensation of being caught in so many acts of wrongdoing - as if this list of 7 sins were booby traps and minefields placed by a God who demanded nothing less than survival by avoiding them.

but then i thought again - if we were to see these instead as the many varied ways in the which the Evil One can attack us and draw us away from the love of God, then it might be easier to be conscious of them and to ask for His grace in facing up to daily temptations. It is not that God created these, but that the absence of God in the presence of Evil has made them come about.

when we ponder more deeply on the depth of love our Creator has for us, it begins to make sense that sin is a rupture in the relationship we have with Him.
St Augustine put it so beautifully : "If you but love God you may do as you incline".