Harmony in divisions

My eyes are quick to condemn. Hence I need to restrain my opinions to give space to others for theirs. I remember as a young kid in math class learning about length x breadth. My little head spun when they introduced depth, the third dimension. Suddenly everything was cubic, no more linear, no longer vanilla. Along life’s learning curve, I grew to marvel at the beauty of each person’s uniqueness but appreciated that this depth in us can create divisions.

No artificial intelligience can predict our human responses. We may share the same single goal in life but no two persons will do, say or think the same in trying to reach it. We are immensely unique in our personality. Add to that immeasurable variable, culture, religion, education, wealth or lack of, time, upbringing, environment, and many other influences, so we will never ever be united into any common response. We must learn to accept and embrace this division to live in harmony.

Difference in beliefs have split families. Though united in belief faith communities have also split as a consequence of human response. Deep in everyone of us we are united in the one common goal of life: to journey and return to our Creator. For some this is a purposeful walk and for others an accidental wander. Along the way we are constantly divided because of ourselves.

Governments, structures and organisations exist to rein us in. Rules, regulations and laws are in place for our common good. Authority is placed over us like a common roof. Otherwise we will hurt one another through our divisions. Laws at least try to limit hurts.

The Church is such an organisation too. But its laws does not concern your property or wealth. It is concern only with that journey deep inside each of us: returning to our Creator. Breaking its laws has no immediate retribution. Only humans are quick to condemn. For the Church, breaking its laws is met with its higher law of love through mercy and forgiveness, always. Simply because God’s nature is that unconditional love and that is a fixed constant factor in life’s innumerable equations.

God is wise to the variables in each of us. Our progressive world as it is today has a multiplier effect on those variables in each person. We have pushed out on the extremes with our up to date opinions and life styles. We have developed our own personal portfolio of achievements so much so we need our personal rights to protect them. We keep going and going and have started to question the authority in our life.

One constant will never ever change which is that purpose now buried deep under the rubble of life: that journey home to our Creator. Only at that door will our Creator judge us.

We will seek new methods of evangelisation to address this divisive world. Our formula cannot deviate from the basic start point from which we must not judge and condemn others. God will be experienced if there is harmony in divisions.

Divide

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Grooming our self-image

Every day we put on an image like we put on clothes. We groom an image for our ‘self’ to be well accepted in society. We must be careful what we think; the need to be politically correct compromises our honesty. Deep in us we like to be well-liked, love to be well-loved. The onset of social media has driven this hunger for affirmation into a craving.

We used to send a worded resume for a job, an accompanying photo merely an option, but we send it hoping it will help, especially if we are good looking. These days it is not only about being “good looking” but more so, looking good. So we alter our behavior by allowing it to be influenced by friends and social media, because their opinions count. We change to create a better accepted self-image. For most of us we end up beautiful on the outside, but ugly in the inside.

Unlike clothes which we can easily change, when we yearn for a certain self-image we actually gradually , become that person. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Today’s Gospel). We allow our world to change us, so much so the person we become is in conflict with our created image.

“‘See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit. Be like men waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks.'”

We are all created in the image and likeness of our Master. We do not need to crave for love because love is in-built into us at our creation. It is natural for this love to flow out of our created image. Grooming a conflicting image of self can sometimes stifle this flow of love out of us to others. There can develop a chasm between who we have become from who we were created to be. When this chasm becomes too wide, we will be ill prepared when the Master comes knocking.

The Master will come knocking. It’s an inevitability, only that we don’t know the timing. We are all created good and loving, no person is born mean. We are born with a purpose; to contribute to the harmony of people living together. This is our responsibility, our God-given employment. We cannot afford to be slacking from this employment by being too preoccupied with worldly treasures. “Happy that servant if his master’s arrival finds him at this employment.”

The Master, when he comes for us, when death from this world calls, must find us “dressed for action”. We dress our self by the things we do. When we do things that stay true to our created image, we become beautiful on the outside and the inside. Our “lamps are lit” when all we do have a positive impact on the lives of others. The more we harmonize, the brighter our lamps.

Life is not a game of chancing and timing. We do not know the hour the Master will come knocking. To be ready we must always be clothe in the purpose of our created image.

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Not implying that Beckham is a bad image!

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Want to be rich

Every other week I spend some change to buy a lottery ticket and pray that it will be my turn to strike it big. I am hoping for a shortcut to have everything I need so I can have it easy in life. Given a chance I will stop toiling and labouring. I crave for a big barn of possessions so I can say to my soul, “My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.” (Last Sunday’s Gospel)

I make a quiet promise to God that I won’t allow money to change me. I will even donate a portion of my winnings to charity. The balance I will use to build bigger barns for myself. For what end goal? Will I give it all away if having it all will change me to the extent that I will lose my way in life towards achieving the end goal of eternal life in heaven? Will you? The ideal solution is to meet God half way.

It is not a sin to be rich. It is quite natural to be wanting more and more. But it is also quite natural for money and riches to change us. Greed can throw us off guard. Last Sunday’s message is for this self-awareness that many things in life can take our focus away from our end goal. “Be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs”.

Meeting God “half-way” begins with gratitude; to count our blessings each day and to know that what our soul really need, which is peace, is available all the time. We just need to guard against avarice of any kind to find this peace in us. Then there is humility to acknowledge that God wills us toward the end goal. Humility too is living with this realisation that “this very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?” Gratitude and humility help us to build barns for others, not barns of possessions but barns of compassion.

Bigger barns do not make us bigger people. They can actually make us smaller. Greed consumes us, nibbles away at our compassion, leaving us the hollow core of self-centeredness. It loosen the shackles of our moral responsibilities, promote a carefree life style that flirts along the borders of morality. It will cause pain where we hurt most, in our relationships with our loved ones and each other.

“Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on things that are on earth.” (Second reading)

We are in relationship with one another. To achieve the end goal of salvation only for self with no thoughts for the other is in itself self-centeredness. We are put into this relationship with one another so that we can help the other along toward their heavenly salvation. The possessions we own are God-given for us to bless the other person with, to make their worldly life easier and to build a barn for them too.

Salvation is this simple but challenging because it goes against the grain of human desire. Human desire can be tamed by believing in the end goal. Sometimes an empty barn is better than a barn full to help us get there. Hence we wait for our turn with that lottery ticket.

lottery ticket

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Prayers unanswered

When I was a lot younger, often when I prayed, I received a stone when I asked for bread and a snake instead of fish. Last week I shared that we may only understand at the age of 50 something that happened to us when we were 25. Now pondering over the ‘snakes’ I was given early in life, I am truly thankful some of my prayers were not answered the way I had wanted them.

We can all look back and find many unanswered prayers. They were like doors that were bolted, despite our heavy banging and desperate pleas. Having those prayers answered then weren’t good for us in the long run. Some we already have the wisdom to understand why, some not yet, the wisdom to be found further along our journey through life.

There is one ultimate goal for this journey which is to go through that open door at the end of it into eternal life. Christ help us to manoeuvre every twist and turn in life, opening and closing doors to usher us there. The Good Shepherd has come to walk this journey with us to lead us into this promise. There isn’t another destination or purpose. For this purpose bolted doors are places not safe for the sheep. Prayers answered or still unanswered are both revelations of his presence in us.

This presence constantly reshape us as we are frequently deformed by worldly distractions and demands. With God there is a time element, with us we desire instant answers. Time is a necessity to gather life changing experiences from which wisdom sprouts. Prayers unanswered is this blessing of time through which we pass from who I was to who I am to who I am becoming.

For it is in prayers unanswered where we sometimes find answers. The more we pray the further the answer seem to get. In that distance prayer acts to transform us. Prayer is this relationship with God. When we pray we allow him the opportunity to act in our life. And when he does, prayerful desires not good for us are taken away. Somehow we will not feel the intense desire to have it. This is the transformative effect of prayer, unanswered as they were, that we become open to the grace to accept that it is better that this particular door remain bolted.

There is another element to unanswered prayers. Not all remain unanswered. Often the answer in our prayers are found in the people around us. We will never receive these answers when we remain bolted behind closed doors in our relationships with others. When we curl up in our privacy, even answers God is sending us through his messengers will not reach us, and we remain wondering. God intervenes actively in our personal life, more than we really know, and always, he uses our friends and often even strangers to deliver to us the answers to our prayers.

We all have a personal salvation history. When we trace back our life story we will find it littered with answered and unanswered prayers, all narrowing us onto a spiritual path that led us to be who we are today. Along this path God has placed many angels in the form of family, friends and strangers appearing in the nick of time (so we think) opening and closing doors to take care of us to ensure we reach the open door of eternal life..

When we are able to look back in this way we find that the snake we got is actually a fish.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be open to you”.

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Angels at the doors of our life, opening and closing them for our good.

17th Ordinary Sunday

Give God Time

During the week I watched a Japanese film “Every Day a Good Day”. It was about two characters, Noriko and Mariko, learning the art of Japanese tea ceremony from their sensei. Little details matter; this intricate art is sensitive to the delicate position of the hands, the gentle pouring and even the angle of your sit towards the hearth. It is slow moving, boring for an impatiently busy Martha but rich for a meaningfully contemplative Mary.

Mariko is a go getter, confidently meeting the demands of a worldly life. Noriko is unsure, hesitant and seemingly out of rhythm with the expectations of this world. Mariko is Martha, Noriko is Mary. This film reminded me of the benefits of slowing down and pausing, and the value of contemplation. It reduced the Martha and increased the Mary in me.

For a large part the film is set in the tea room. The girls’ daily life was intentionally pushed into the background, the director cleverly highlighting the seasons of nature against the seasons of life, the journey of life through the journey of time. The film’s main focus was Noriko, her 25 years in the art of tea ceremony against a backdrop of apprehensions and personal unsureness, family life, career challenges, heartbreak, grief, new found love, and eventually to embrace life for what it simply is.

For most of us if we were a film the forefront of our story would be our busy-ness in life. We need to be constantly on the go. Early on in the film, the tone was set. The girls asked many “whys” about the little intricate actions that seem so important in this art. Sensei surprised by this need to know, did not have any answers, only inviting them into the flow of the movements. There is no need to “know”. Just like in life the answers and understandings are often further along its movement.

Life is sometimes this mystery. Amidst all the happenings we always ask “Why God?” and often we never get the answer we want. We can get annoyed with God and walk away or we can surrender in faith into the flow of this movement of life, trusting that Christ indeed will lead us through all the unexplainable twists and turns. In our busy-ness we will never see the presence of Christ in the moments of our life.

When we sit and contemplate we will often find many examples in our personal life when the pain of an un-granted desire became the relief of a blessing in disguise. Through the movement of life and the passage of time we understood the silent, unseen intervening hand of God that guided us to a better place. Simply put we only understand something that happened to us at the age of 25 when we are 50.

When we surrender we give ourselves to faith knowing that Christ is present in every moment of our life, shepherding and guiding us through the twists and turns. His only concern being to lead us home through the trials and tribulations of our worldly life. Along the way Christ reveals himself in our personal life. We can only see better and clearer in times of crisis or when we are older with accumulated life experiences. As with Noriko, she only understood the art of tea ceremony without the need to ask “Why?” after 25 years.

Faith tells us that life is full of good moments because God is present in each of those. Quoting Hayley Scanlon, a reviewer of this film, “Every day really is a good day when you learn to slow down and truly appreciate it, living in the moment while the moment lasts in acknowledgment that it will never come again”.

When we sit and contemplate, we appreciate Christ in our moments. Because of these moments, many good answers lie further along the movement of life. Give God time.

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16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cross to the other side

The Good Samaritan: a story we all grew up with, someone we were taught to aspire to be. How far up is this on my ladder of priorities today? We grew up with a different concept of “who is my neighbour?” Then our front doors were always open, food was generously shared and children freely ran into and played in the neighbours’ homes. Today our doors are more often shut. We mind our own business.

We must be mindful what happens behind closed doors. We close the door today in the name of security. Behind the closed door there lies a danger. We can become pre-occupied only with affairs concerning self and family. In so becoming, we will be like the lawyer in today’s Gospel wondering “and who is my neighbour?” Self-preservation can be trying to isolate all good for ourselves but it runs the danger of self-destruction when we stop crossing to the other side because our spiritual self feeds on doing good to others.

We must be mindful that deep in our heart we are enabled with the capacity to be good to others. All of us has the “Good Samaritan” in us. We are capable of being “moved with compassion”, enough to make us cross to the other side to help people in need and fulfil the Law of our existence to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Be mindful this is in you.

“For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out”. (Today’s first reading)

Carry it out by crossing to the other side. We are surely aware of people in our life who are in some need, “injured”. They may be struggling materially or are in poorer health. They could be in trauma emotionally or are lost spiritually. People in our life are people placed in our sight. They are not narrowed only to those behind the same closed door of our immediate family and friends. God place them in our sight so that God can help them through us.

We have many opportunities to bring out the “Good Samaritan” in us. Today’s message tells us we cannot be idle when we see some person in some need. When we stop what we are doing for ourselves and do what is needed for the person in need, we are like the Good Samaritan who paused his own journey to help the man in need. When we give up our time, share our resources or use our little talent for a person in need, we consciously cross to the other side.

The homilist today shared another view, from the man lying injured. Perhaps it is from this lowly prone, helpless perspective that we better understand this call to cross to the other side. In the twists of life, we too have found ourselves “injured” and relied on others to help us. There were good Samaritans coming into our life when we most needed them. It is through them that we experience God; how He intervened in our personal life to do all He has done for us.

Sometimes God seem a bit too slow. Maybe it is because no one would cross the road for us? Life has to be lived with open doors, and minding the business of one another out of love is the answer to the lawyer’s question, “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

cross-over

15th Ordinary Sunday

A lamb in this digital world

This digital revolution is having a huge impact on the way we live, work and communicate. It is rapidly transforming us, maybe in many unanticipated ways. Exciting it certainly is, but at what price to who we will become? Change will always happen. Man’s history is one of progress. It is never a debate of good or bad, better or worse. Change is inevitable; but how can our spiritual life keep pace with it?

We are now in an over-informed age. Facts, opinions, biased or prejudiced views are available at a click. Paradoxically being over-informed has narrowed our views and knowledge because we can easily select with that same click what we choose to believe or want to know. Our spiritual life cannot and will not stand still in this momentum. Our spiritual way of life and beliefs will be swayed.

If I may quirkily say that it presents a slant to today’s quote from the Gospel in this digitalised time. “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves”. It is like being a candle in the wind. So we must continue to change and adapt to be this light to the world.

Throughout the history of time, since the Lord appointed and sent out the seventy-two, we are to go into our world carrying the message “the Kingdom of God is very near to you”. This is the one constant that has withstood all changes throughout time. As disciples we know that this candle flame will never be extinguished even in howling winds. But we appreciate that spiritual life can be disconnected. We are sent out to heal this relationship.

“The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.”

The harvest is rich, here and now. There are many people who have lost connection with the Church and God, for whatever their reasons. This is the harvest but the labourers are few. The labourers are us who continue to be this candle in the wind. But we must appreciate that more than ever before the tool to harvest must be to bring about encounters with God in personal lives. We are the ones sent to make this kingdom real in peoples’ lives.

We used to grow and progress in an age where we craved knowledge. That age has now been over-taken. Religious education is no longer enough on its own. In everything we do these days, the ‘self’ is galvanised by experiences. We look to pleasure our senses. And so it is with our spiritual life. It must keep pace with who we are becoming.

Our spiritual sense can only be excited when we have encounters with God in our daily life. We are these lambs sent into the world to make God real and tangible to people around us with the life we live through love, mercy and compassion. Only through these can the Kingdom of God be brought near. This is the one constant that will always withstand changes.

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14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

This way out

Every person is a unique individual. Each of us created, and will make a way through the journey of life to return home to our Creator. Each will take a uniquely personal path. Each is guided by a need for peace, and peace is the compass that will lead the way. But the journey through life is all but peaceful. For most of us it is tough.

Our journey is fraught with challenges. We try to find the best way for ourselves. Not knowingly we become self-indulgent. Along the way we encounter wealth, status and power, among other worldly things, that we think are steps toward peace. They will lead us a long way but eventually we will discover that it is the wrong way. We are lost and reset our compass to seek and search for peace.

“Follow me” says Christ in today’s Gospel; the Son of our Creator sent to guide us home. He did not come with a transaction in hand. He did not say “be a Christian” or “do this mission for me” and in exchange he will give us happiness and peace. He is not enslaving us. He came because of his unconditional love for each of us, believers and people of other faith, to generously guide us through this journey of life. He says to follow him because we are lost and he knows the way to freedom.

“When Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. My brothers, you were called, as you know to liberty; but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love, since the whole of the Law is summarized in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Today’s second reading)

The way out of our challenges in this worldly life is to love one another. It is opposite to self-indulgence. Love is unconditionally and unceasingly poured into us. If we keep it only for ourselves it will die. Love must flow out of us; after all love is “to will the good of the other”. When love flows, it becomes a visible tangible experience, and so, illuminate the way for us to follow him to peace.

Along his way some of us are called to be his disciples. Disciples are just like route marshals, people steeped in navigating using love as a fuel. It is not true that only disciples will find the way home; that idea is self-indulgent in itself. Disciples are called to go into the life of others so that others can taste this love that will illuminate their way out of worldly challenges. Disciples allow love to flow through them by loving the other.

Letting love flow is a dynamic action. It does not cease. Disciples are constantly on the move to be where love is needed. There is no rest. “Foxes have holes and the birds in the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”.

The way home is narrow, hemmed in by endless distractions that will lead us astray. We need to remain focus like a kick-scooterist who cannot afford to take his hands of the handle or to look back. Stay focus to remain on this path to love one another as yourself. This way out is the way in into the home of eternal life.

“Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God”

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13th Ordinary Sunday

We are One

Today I write from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, from the Killing Fields. It was not so long ago that this happened. “Why did they do this to them?” Since then there had been many other killing fields, acts of terror incited by ideology or religion. And sadly, these atrocities seem to be the trend. Perhaps we should ask, “Why are we doing this to one another?” Will we never realise and acknowledge that all humanity are one?

After Sri Lanka, a panelist on a news station suggested that religion should be moderated to curb this growth of religious extremism. Some would no doubt advocate banning religion altogether. I am more familiar with Christianity but I believe that all religions preach a set of good moral values. None advocate killing.

How can we argue with Christianity when the main message it preaches is to love one another? What is so off-putting about a God who has done nothing to demand that we believe in him but yet love us all unconditionally? Why not advocate religion and promote loving one another to the extreme? Why are we shunning the God-Love option? Perhaps it is because we have started believing in the gospel for self instead of the gospel for the other. In so, we have refused to be humble.

To counter religious extremism, maybe every ‘moderate person’ should return to their faith instead of abandoning it. Too many of us ‘moderate people’ have walked away from the practice of our religion. For the glory of the world or for the glory of self? We can negate religious extremism only when every person embrace a religion and begin to practice all its good values.

“Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so completely one. I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.” (Today’s Gospel)

Humility is the seed for extreme love. There is a choice within us to concede space in both our opinions and acts to the other person. It is a choice to climb down from our claim of “my personal rights”. Humility is a concession of self. Only then can true love flow out of us. Humility allow for this nature of our created self to surface which is to do only good, to love. Only then we can effectually acknowledge that all humanity are one.

Humility is also the nature of God. His supreme desire is for the good of each of us. His humility dictates it is more important first to follow this love. This comes above a need to proclaim a belief in him. He created us with this nature to love. Love dwells in us “so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.”

We cannot continue to go into trade wars; this is mine and nothing is yours. We must trade taking with giving, mine is yours, pride with humility. The only way for our self-preservation is to journey through life as one. When we are one, the world will not have any more space for any killing fields.

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7th Sunday of Easter

 

Finding Peace

How high do we value having peace within ourselves? Come to think of it, not high at all. When we start out in adult life, few would pursue inner peace as their ultimate goal. When we are young, full of adrenalin and passionate, we chase our individual dreams. We can afford battle bruises; heartbreaks are part of the price in pursuit of a materially comfortable lifestyle. The irony for many of us is we begin only to look for peace in the cycle of achievements when each victory was met with an increasing hollowness within self.

This is a wisdom of life, the wisdom from life.

We are created beings given a human nature. It is natural to compete in our worldly environment. In truth, Love accompanies us into each pursuit, cheering us on in victory and offering consolation in every crushed dream. We are never left alone on our journey through life. Because we are beings created out of love, by Love, it is also in our nature to wander through life in search of the path that will lead us home to our Creator. On this path of life inseparable spiritual nature supports human nature.

St. Augustine in Confessions offered this wisdom, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Peace is not the ultimate prize we fight for when we are young. Our human nature deviates far from its spiritual nature. Like a pigeon the Creator allows us to fly as far as our dreams will carry us. Until restlessness sets into our worldly life. Like a homing pigeon we begin to search for our way back to our Creator. Peace is what we first try to find.

“Follow me”, the Risen Christ says this to us all the time. The material world will never fulfil us. Wisdom through battle bruises and aging tell us that. Yet each one of us is gifted the freedom to pursue. He generously accompanies us on our pursuits even if he is most times ignored. When we are ready to fly home, we find him faithfully waiting. This is the nature of our God of Love.

Finding peace. “Follow me” does not fly us onto a path of earthly riches. It leads us onto a path of love where we will experience life in a way to tell us worldly riches are less significant than they actually are. The path begins with loving our self a little less and the other person a little more. “Follow me” is not sacrifice, it is a way, the only way to find peace.

If peace is inner calm despite external turmoil, then it must follow that to find peace we cannot battle conflict with conflict. In every life situation we are never in total control. We must surrender to this humility and trust in the Risen Christ. We must be in earnest gratitude and appreciate what we already have. If we want to win the next argument, it is better to lose it. Only then can we find rest, and find peace.

“Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you,
a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you” (Today’s Gospel)

padifield

Padi fields are peaceful but peace is not found in them. Peace is found in our inner self when we follow his ways. 

 

6th Sunday of Easter