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

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".

Friday, August 20, 2010

of Love and Vulnerability

what is it to love, but to allow ourselves to be seen, shorn of our masks and pretences, in a state of vulnerability and brokenness?

thus today's Gospel readings set the tone, they state in no uncertain terms the 2 Greatest Commandments -

You shall love the Lord, Your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.


You shall love your neighbour as yourself.

a lot has been said about love being kindness and other acts of charity, but today it struck me, during the NUS CSS Law CG meeting this afternoon that love is also about allowing ourselves to be vulnerable before the one we love best.

it's counter-intuitive, going against our finely built sense of self-preservation - we keep our distance and pretend because nothing hurts as badly as allowing someone to come close only to have them betray us and let us down.

now, i ask you, have you done the same to God? have you pretended to be whole and strong before Him? or kept a respectful distance, convincing yourself that this was reverent but that you were really uncomfortable with drawing closer because yes, your head knows He loves you, but your heart has seen and felt the effects of unanswered prayer, the many things wrong with this world which seem to go on unpunished, the sin and evil that still fester, within and without you - and this is something you struggle with, trying not to consider it a disappointment from God.

to love God in the light of His greatness - not for what He might give you or your fears of damnation but simply for who He is, this calls for an act of faith which is then the impetus for our poor little love for Him to grow. drawing closer means letting Him and you yourself see who you really are - and when push comes to shove, how many of us truly know ourselves in the light of His love? do we dare to?

or would you rather continue, hiding away behind your seeming respect, that you consider Him a King or Prime Minister ruling a distant land, and He has His affairs and you yours? And you continue sending in your petitions with all the fervour of a nameless citizen asking for basic amenities from the Power That Is, without ever entering into His domain with the confidence of a son or daughter?

if we are to love, if we are to be vulnerable, let us remember, He loved us first, and He made Himself weak for our sakes first.

The Sojourner Speaks

Hello everyone!

After 7 good years of blogging at - firstly known as Pet's World-My Microuniverse, changing later to the petrina7 microuniverse ... it's time for a change.

So presenting to all of you ... (Drumroll please)

knowns as The Sojourner Speaks. and i am that sojourner, wending my way through this temporal existence - speaking on a variety of matters close to my heart, sharing my insights and thoughts on life as we go from it day to day and all in, providing a space where the transient moments are cherished and valued, and reflections given room to grow.

love in Christ
the Sojourner.