Returning through our stories

Part of the future of our church may be out there, outside the traditional boundaries and definitions of who church is. For certain, they do not come regularly for Sunday mass, if they do come at all. Their numbers are large and growing. For some of them, church in its present form has lost its relevance to their lives. They are now scattered into every facet of society, found in all lifestyles, values and liberal opinions. Today, our mission to reach out to these Catholics away from church is urgent and critical.

Pentecost renews our definitions and boundaries. The Holy Spirit always renew our views of mission and our ways of being church. Our mission has never altered. Evangelization has always been about making known the one constant through time: the love of God present with humanity. What has changed is the stage on which we mission. Evolving worldly ways and values challenge the church into the new evangelization of finding new methods, expressions, and ardour to speak the language of today.

This mission to reach out to our Catholics outside must speak a language they understand. In an over-informed age, for some, doctrines and teachings are no longer catalytic for re-conversion. Intellectual arguments are easier settled when we have a living experience of this love. When the disciples emerged from the Upper Room, they spoke in different languages, each listener heard them in their own native language.

Today, personal life stories are our most native tongue, each story speaking to each different person about the mighty acts of God in their individual, unique life. Our life events are like a personal language God uses to speak one to one with each of us. The message is clear: God is active in each of our life.

Landings, the ministry welcoming returning Catholics, uses the language of personal life stories to good effect. Everyone has a life story and the events that happened in our personal life are more linked than we imagined. Often the hidden presence of God in our chapters lead to what we nonchalantly regard as ‘blessings in disguise’. Precisely. The methods of Landings remove this ‘disguise’ for us to see the intervening presence of God in episodes we thought He was never there. Encountering God this way ignites faith.  

Relevance can only be found in our own personal life. Many people can be quite disconnected in their faith life. Relevance will reconnect us. Relevance is when we see God’s hand guiding us through the harsher episodes of our past; we look back to realize how we got to the present. It is only when we see God real in our realities that we can claim ownership of our faith; it is no longer faith from our parents. Faith no longer remains a teaching or a doctrine or a Sunday ritual. Faith evolves to become a dynamic, powerful living experience.

In our experience with Landings, we can testify to this power. Returning Catholics encounter God in this very personal way. They may have abandoned God but realized through the story of their life that God never abandoned them. God’s love had accompanied them through the passage of their personal history, leading, affirming, encouraging, empowering, and healing through the course of time. It is no longer a theory but an experience of love. Life story becomes faith story. Conviction is power coming from the native tongue of our life story. Every one of us has this potential in our inner self: A faith life ready to move onto a new stage, ready to be set on fire.

‘Returning’ is not just about Catholics who have left the Church. It is for everyone including those who sit regularly in the pews on Sundays. ‘Returning’ is about being drawn infinitely closer to God. In this sense, we are all always ‘returning’. Coming closer ignites us, fires our faith life whichever stage it is at, in whichever facet we find ourselves in society. We are the Body of Christ with many parts scattered into our world, perhaps for a purpose yet to be revealed.

Pentecost renews our sense of purpose and the way of being church to one another. Our mission includes re-evangelizing our own, baptized Catholics struggling to connect. This could possibly be our own self. We have a new way for doing this as laity by participating in a synodal church, journeying together, and listening intently to the stories of each other. Everyone has a story. Allow the Holy Spirit to set it afire.

Pentecost 2022

You MUST rejoice

Part of my penance I received at confession last week was, “You MUST rejoice this Easter”. Rejoice is a feeling of great joy. But the emphasis was on “must”. Often because of our familiarity with Easter, her riches may remain uncultivated if we allow Easter to be a passing theme. “Must” emphasizes the need to dwell into Easter to especially unpack the reasons for this great rejoice in our life.

We know Easter well in our belief for without occurring there would not be Christianity. We know it as a cornerstone of faith, of death being conquered, of suffering eventually giving way to eternal joy. We know Easter as a produce and consequence of the Love of God. We are familiar with the scripture passages of today. But what does Easter mean to ‘me’ in my personal life? What impact does Easter have over ‘my personal space’? You MUST rejoice – to uncover.

We are NOT mere units making up humanity. Each of us, individually, a created being, unique in identity, with a name and a distinctive personality, passing through different circumstances, never the same with any other person. They had been billions and will be billions more. Yet, Christ is focus only on ‘me alone’, his full attention on one, ‘me’. Not possible from us, only possible with Christ. You MUST rejoice – to encounter the Risen Christ.


To ‘encounter’ is to have this lived experience with the Risen Christ. We can only truly rejoice when we uncover Easter in our personal life. “That he must rise from the dead” (Today’s Gospel) cannot only be a teaching but a living experience. “You MUST rejoice” emphasizes the need to journey deep into our inner self and remove the stone covering our personal tomb.

It is in our tomb where we store our personal history, a library of past events, perhaps catalogued by emotions of happiness, anger, gratification, hurt, sweetness, and bitterness. It is here where our personal life rhythms the Paschal Mystery of life, death, and the resurrection. It is here too where we find the footprints of the Risen Christ accompanying us. For us to see, we first fill ourselves with gratitude (Rejoice!) then retrace the path of our history that brought us here. Look for the unexpected twists and turns, in the smaller details, to unhide the Risen Christ walking with us.

This is a good discipline for Easter, not just today but for the entire Easter season. Our personal history wants to reveal so much more. We can think of a past event each day in this season. Where did that lead me to? We will be quite surprised when we join the dots. It is entirely possible to encounter the Risen Christ in a past event in the here and now of today. Journeying deeper, we can also find healing for past hurts and pain – events left alone in the darkness of our tomb. Practice this discipline, rejoice, and the Risen Christ will become a living experience personal and unique to ‘me’.

Christ is focused only on ‘me’. How wonderful! This Easter season is the time to fan the new fire in us. Rejoice, be engulfed for new life awaits. Happy Easter!

Easter Sunday 2022

Hope

Today begins Holy Week. For me this week has always been heavy and intense, a lot of energy trying to do the right things, especially if I had been struggling somewhat in keeping up with the whole spirit of Lent. It is a demanding week if I want to be in it – the Passion today, the contemplative focus, the washing of the feet, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the quiet of Saturday, and finally the Resurrection.

I will admit that sneaking up below all these is for Easter to come quick. It is not about fulfilling the hope that Christ will rise because I already know it as an historic event. Perhaps it is the human weakness in me that I want to be release from the strict discipline of Lent, the fasting from alcohol for one that I had courageously or foolishly imposed on myself. It is to get out of this desert for my unquenchable desire to resume my normal routine of extravagance.

To help myself and potentially have the most meaningful week of my year, I will situate myself back into the challenging issues I had faced in my journey through life. They were many – relationship breakdowns, financial concerns, grief, hospitalisations, job losses, 2 maybe 3, and every setback that bred desperation. In the semi-darkness of uncertainty, I wondered when those sufferings would end, and life turn for the better. I remember the many times I had given up on faith, but I still clung to hope.

I compare myself to the people at the time of Jesus. What were they feeling? What went through their minds? I am sure for many, faith died with the crucifixion. But I cannot compare myself with them because I have the benefit of hindsight and my faith developed having known the Resurrection. Perhaps I can compare myself to Peter who denied Christ three times and despite that found himself still affirmed by and in favour of the Lord. The Risen Christ will never abandon us.

We must learn from the past not only from Scriptures but more tellingly from our own personal history. We recall the times when trapped in our challenging issues. We longed for that suffering to end. Perhaps our faith was even lost, and we got angry with God but still clung on to hope. Somehow, that hope led us out otherwise we won’t be in this moment today. I see those days as my personal ‘holy weeks’ for at the end of each period I was risen to a new life. We must learn to give thanks for in thanksgiving will we see Him in our personal life.

My Holy Week will not have meaning and lasting impact if I do not spend time dwelling in the Resurrection during the Easter season that follows. Eagerly waiting for next Sunday to bolt out of the door and confining this Holy Week to another one done and dusted is like moving from one challenging issue to the next without fully embracing the triumph of love over death, of life over suffering, stuck at the foot of the Cross. The Easter season in our personal life is not just the immediate fifty days after Easter Sunday but every time we spend time in thanksgiving for the many blessings of life.

Like the people in Jesus’ time, we want a Messiah who will conquer suffering. Christ was humbler yet even to accepting death, death on a cross. Death is our biggest suffering in life. It is yet to come but we know that death has been conquered.

Hope never extinguishes. Even in the most desperate days when we deny God, hope is the faint light in the darkness. He was humbler yet. Hope is the Risen Christ disguised for us to cling to him. This is Holy Week. Do not let it end without the rising of our own personal life.

Passion Sunday 2022

Pushing confessions aside

This weekend we enter Holy Week. This could have been a long Lent for some of us, purposefully giving up what we enjoy, emptying ourselves to embrace the spirituality of the season. We cannot help ourselves casting half a glance at Easter and the days after. We are ready to jet off once again into the distractions, and temptations, of life. Lent is not a season-long ritual, but a reminder of who we are and who we can be, and a time to recalibrate our views and moral compass.

Easter, and mystagogy, is a purposeful season too. When we jump out of Lent without Easter, Lent can leave us stuck at the foot of the cross, half-thinking that suffering is part of the accord in being Christian. Suffering is simply part of life. A good Easter season help us to ‘see’ the Risen Christ in our midst, the living of our faith in the realities of life. A good Easter season draws us into the lived experience of the Resurrection.

But back of these final days of Lent. Last Sunday’s Gospel saw a group of men bringing a woman and standing her in public view condemning her for her sins. Jesus asked a question that should also probe our hearts, “If there is one of you who have not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”. Something stirred in their hearts, for “when they heard this, they went away one by one”.

We too participate in this herd mentality even if we do not propose views. We participate when we are influenced by them. This is not all negative because the power of an Easter community can do wonders to our faith life too. Social media has been a powerful influencer. Technology and the internet are here to stay; they can take us away from a life of faith. Here is why we must be like the group of men in the gospel entering into the silence of self to discern. And walk away.

One of the ‘modern day’ development is that we have push confessions aside. This Lent, with the pandemic, may be too early for many to physically return to this sacrament. Like the group of men, we can go into an internal confession, and have that conversation with our God. Have modern day influences cause us to lose the sense of sin in many areas of our life?

Today we are all better at social skills; a smile can disguise the bearing of teeth ready to bite. We need to sort out our internal imperfections as we enter Holy Week to exit Lent and embrace Easter. We must confront how we truly feel, especially towards the other person. We have allowed prejudices to grow that can develop maliciously into unwarranted anger and even hatred. Our inner hidden views make us quick to condemn and throw stones at others. We say hurtful words even if they are in the silence of our heart. There are loads more. These are roots that can be self-destroying.

There is a lot happening inside us. Where there need to be they must be confessed, only then can Easter come in its full glory inside us. In these final days of Lent, we should not push aside our personal confessions. We must enter deep and have that discernment to walk away. We are all sinners. No one is throwing any stones at us.

For the 5th Sunday of Lent

When they leave church

Our young are leaving the church. They are not the only ones. This has been a clear trend for many years. This week, Singapore took a firm step, hopefully, into the post pandemic era. The archdiocese calls for us to “Come back to Me”, to return physically to the Sacraments. Will everyone return? Unlikely. There may not be enough motivation to remain in or to come back to church.

Today’s Gospel is on the parable of the prodigal son, leaving and then returning to his father. This is a passage rich in meaning, allowing us many points to reflect and act on, in relation to our loved ones, or even ourselves, leaving or having been away from church. It importantly tells us that leaving and returning is part of our faith life. We are never outside it. Because God is always with us. There are points in this passage that will enlighten us: the son leaving, when “he came to his senses”, the father in active wait then running towards his son, the embrace and the dismissal of the son’s prepared confession, and the attitude of the elder son.

The son chooses to leave, and the father did not exercise his authority to say no. He allowed his son the freedom to go. If he did not, he knows it will only serve to distance their relationship. Sure, they had a conversation. Did the son leave because he hated his father? No. He left to pursue his dreams looking for greater fulfilment outside his father’s house. If our children choose to leave church, we can remember this parable. Can we stop them? It is not because they lost belief in God, but there is a disconnect where practices of faith have lost its relevance in their daily life.

The parable tells us that the love of our heavenly Father is so generous that He gives us complete freedom to choose. Our Father does not interrupt or refuse our choice even if it meant leaving His church. Despite that our Father will not cut us off, His love is ever faithful. Instead, He sends Christ to silently accompany us in every consequence of that choice, looking for opportunities to amplify His call to “Come back to Me”. Like the father in the parable, God our Father is in active wait, constantly searching the horizon for us, always ready to welcome us back.

When we heed the archdiocese call to return physically into the pews, we will be looking up to see who is missing. But instead look out for the new faces and extend a Christ welcome to them. They are people who may have been away for years or even decades. Perhaps during the pandemic, they found themselves in a difficult situation like the son in the parable “He came to his senses” and realised that fulfilment cannot be found in worldly things. Life has come a full cycle for them. In the parable, the father embraced his returning son, allowing him the transforming experience of love and mercy. Who will embrace them for the church if we won’t?

For these “new faces” returning to Sunday Mass is not the end point of their journey but the arrival for an encounter. We are called to be Ambassadors for Christ (Second Reading) and our responsibility is to provide for this lived experience of heaven’s rejoice at the one who was once lost but is found. We are ambassadors because through us, in our actions, Christ is felt, and reconciliation becomes a life-changing encounter and the practice of faith become relevant again.

There will come a day when these “new faces” are the faces of our own children. If our family and home have always been rich in faith, then when our children leave, they will with their rich share of this inheritance. And by the grace of God, they will one day respond to the call to “Come back to Me”. Hence, we must embrace our responsibilities as ambassadors for Christ because it is through us, and not the institution, that doors of love and mercy remain open for our own in the future. This is a ministry built today for tomorrow.

We would want our children to always seek for what is best in life, but that search may take them outside the ‘church’ we know. Trying to keep them in may be keeping them out. To borrow a phrase from Fr Timothy Radcliffe whose books inspired a lot of my thoughts today, describing the two sons, he said “one is lost outside, and one is lost inside”.

Motivation in life is rooted in the fulfilment we will discover as ambassadors for Christ. It may take a journey outside to discover what is really inside.

“It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation. In other words, God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men’s faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled. So, we are ambassadors for Christ.”

Video podcast: If you have time to view and listen https://youtu.be/Mj5Y3hTvU7M

4th Sunday in Lent

Our ‘burning bush’ moments

Every one of us, at some point in life, would have heard the call to be more active in our faith life. It can come through a nudge on our conscience or a faint voice in our heart. It can be a call to join a parish ministry or the choir, or to participate in works of charity and mercy. Responding to one of these calls with “Here I am” will set our life onto a different path that eventually leads to peace and contentment. In time, we will realise that event to be our ‘burning bush’ moment.

We are all like Moses, not in the way he parted the Red Sea, but in the way he argued with God about his unsuitability. We often brush these calls away without giving it any serious consideration. In the many times I rejected my calls, I would always say, “I am not the churchy type”. Here I will borrow the common but true cliché, “God does not call the qualified but qualifies the called”. The called is qualified when our life bear fruit.

Today’s Gospel passage speaks of the parable of the fig tree. This parable tells us that we are accountable for the fruits we produce in life. And that God gives us time to produce. The Second Reading says, “The man who thinks he is safe must be careful that he does not fall”. Scripture never threatens, it only guides us towards making good decisions. The Gospel goes on to say, “No: unless you repent you will all perish as they did”. Repent is not about feeling guilty but to change our lifestyle.

Lifestyle changes come from what we do with our time, and the use our talents however insignificant we may argue them to be. The calls we hear ask that we bring the Gospel to others, less in words, more in action. We must make the Gospel a lived experience for others and for our self, to be conduits of love, bringing the presence of “I AM” into the here and now of life. Lifestyle changes is to dig around and manure ourselves, we the fig trees, not to be barren but to produce fruit.

We no longer live in the time of Moses. Salvation history has brought us through the Old into the New Testament. We live in the times after the Resurrection, the path to our salvation a lot more evident. Our faith, belief and church now have the benefits of being institutionalized. There is now organization and structure that allows for discipline in practice. Our burning bushes appear in this current context.

One of the more obvious lifestyle-change is to respond to the call to be more active in parish ministries. There is a lot to choose and do, spanning liturgical to pastoral needs. In parish ministry there is the benefit of organisation and discipline to initiate a more active faith life. We place ourselves among like-minded people and into communities where faith is a lived experience. Doing parish ministry help us to focus and prioritise our use of time and talent. In this soil, the fig tree will produce fruit.

Lent is a silent time to listen to our inner promptings. It is a time to realise the blessings of a faithful God who has refused to cut us down. Will we respond with “Here I am” to a call to join a ministry? It will change our barren life or make a fruitful life even more abundant. We are “always returning”. One day when we look back, we will realise this to be our Moses-moment, our own burning bush.

“Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand”

3rd Sunday of Lent

Our little ‘transfiguration’ moments

Our thoughts cannot wander far away from Ukraine. The people, Ukrainians as well as Russians, did not choose to be in this tragic situation. The war happened on them. We pray that in the moments that they seek shelter deep in their hearts they will encounter the consoling love of God.

Today’s gospel passage is on The Transfiguration, the dramatic revelation of Jesus as the Son of God. It is unlikely that we will personally witness this truth in such a fashion. Yet, because God is always wanting to reveal himself to us in the details of our personal life, we too can have our own little ‘transfiguration’ moments. To have them, we must go deep into the silence of our hearts.

Lent reminds us of this need. We need to pause once in a while to check where our life is headed and if need be, to reset its course. Today’s second reading says, “There are many who are behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ. They are destined to be lost. They make foods into their god and they are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things”. This ‘they’ is us. In our worldly life, we oscillate between friend and enemy of the cross of Christ.

Things of the earth can, and do, take us far away from God. Some of us are taken so far that we lose our faith, our belief in God. But God made a covenant with us that he will never abandon us. He is faithfully there for us even if we have lost our belief. We can stop ourselves from being distanced and getting lost if we practice going deep into our hearts on a regular basis to witness Jesus active in our life, especially in events that happened where we did not see him, and to then hear in the silence of our hearts, “This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him”.

These are our own personal experiences of the Transfiguration. They take place in both sad and happy times, in desperate and joyful situations. These are our moments with God when we catch a glimpse of him revealing himself in our personal life. “Who me?” Yes. Our little transfiguration experiences are when our clouds of doubt open, even fleetingly, to allow this realization that ‘Jesus is with me.

These are our God moments, those fleeting moments when we feel touched, convinced that God is real. God moments are a living experience of God’s covenant of love for humankind, through each of us. It is a connection with our spiritual reality through the Holy Spirit. These moments are always there waiting for us in the depths of our hearts. Lent reminds us to make time to reach them.

For the many people caught in that war, may they have their own transfiguration moments. If there can be no peace on earth, let there be peace in their hearts.

Church of The Transfiguration, Mount Tabor

2nd Sunday in Lent

Always Returning

For quite a few of us, perhaps somewhat surprising, Lent is our favourite liturgical season. Considering the choice over Advent and Christmas, I asked myself if this was a hypocrite’s choice because Lent seem ‘holier’. I don’t know if this is a common experience, but every time Lent comes along, I feel a tug in my inner self towards some self-examination. It is somewhat like a spiritual check-in, a stock-take of where my spiritual life is after a year. With some pondering, most of us resolve to do better.

Resolving to “do better” is a desire to be good rather than bad in how we live our life. Despite being armed with God’s graces every day, we will continue to face temptations and have the occasional stumble, the falling out of grace, into sin. We pick ourselves up, dust down, and try again. Sin distances us, so we make the effort to come back closer to God. Every time our spiritual footing slips, we hear the inviting call to return to our God.

Lent began 5 days ago on Ash Wednesday. The first line out of the readings was, “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God”. Lent is about this call: Return to the Lord your God. ‘Returning’ applies to everyone.

The name of this blog, “Always Returning” was inspired by this realization that everyone is in this returning process. When we started working on the ministry to welcome returning Catholics, in our simple minds, we too assumed “returning” was coming back for Sunday mass. That, on hindsight, is only an early marker. When we tried to reach out to Catholics away from church, and because they are not there, we needed the help of the community to reach the someone only they know who are away. We were met with responses such as, “I don’t need it”, “I come to church every Sunday”, and “I am not lapsed”.

We must all realize that attendance at mass is not the end point of our returning journey. We are always returning even if we have never left the church. Always returning is about our response to come closer to God in how we live our life. Coming one step closer invites us to take the next step; God draws us closer and closer. He desires for us to be ever closer to Him. We will realize that there is no end point to this closeness. No end point where God says, “stop”. It is infinity, as life is eternity.

People who are away from church, whose attendance is a zero on Sunday mass are also always returning. They are simply at a different stage of their faith life from those sitting in the pews. Our God is always willing them to return. Can they who are outside Sunday mass live a life holier than some who are ever-present every Sunday? Judge not, know that we are all “always returning”.

Realizing this is POWERFUL. It gives us that impetus to get closer without fear of judgement, and only with affirmation and fulfilment. Realizing this will propel us from passive into active faith; we go from lukewarm into discipleship. Many returning Catholics are now fronting the ministry who helped them along their returning process. From where they came from in their spiritual life, they have a lived experience of “always returning”. What about us, in the pews?

This Lent, as we go into our desert, our fast and self-examinations, we can think of reaching out to those we know who are away from the sacraments. In Isaiah last Friday, “This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!

After all, all of us are “always returning”.

1st Sunday of Lent

2022. Have we learnt nothing?

Ukraine. Heart breaking bravery versus ruthless cowardice. The odds are stacked against the just. Innocent lives suffer the consequence of one man’s action. This is an extreme example but a truthful one of what we can do to the other when we have power and authority. Missiles hitting targets, tanks rolling across borders, war in Europe. An exasperated friend cried, “2022. Have we learnt nothing?”

Two years on with this pandemic, there were many lessons taught. We are on the earth together. We share this world together. The virus does not make any distinctions, it is not prejudiced. Rich or poor, powerful or less, it cannot differentiate the colour of skin or tell our nationalities. It only recognises the equality of the human person. WE are all in this together. No one must be left behind. Maybe, we have learnt nothing.

We cannot ignore that life is a consequence of decisions and action, both our own and other people’s, many of whom we do not even know. These few days, many lives have been and will be unnecessarily lost in Ukraine. We are not in full control, we can never be, whoever we are. A virus has been telling us that. Today it is the same lesson but from a more forceful, violent perspective. Have we learnt nothing?

‘There is no sound tree that produces rotten fruit, nor again a rotten tree that produces sound fruit. A good man draws what is good from the store of goodness in his heart; a bad man draws what is bad from the store of badness. For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart.’ (Today’s Gospel)

Every Sunday we reflect on a Gospel passage. Sometimes the language is difficult. But every week they always lead to the same lesson: Love. We don’t need to attend any scripture class to know this. The whole bible is summarized in one word: Love. Love one another. Why are we reluctant to commit and invest in the lesson of love? There is an endless list of excuses.

Love is a childish plea. High up in government or in authority, in politics or business, love as a policy has always been a non-starter, dismissed without a thought, embarrassing even to mention, an idealistic fantasy, a ridiculous notion, or at its kindest, simply impractical. Governments have the power and authority to call for war but not love.

A good man draws what is good from the store of goodness in his heart. Love is not a policy coming from the top of human organisations. Love instead comes from the depths of the human person. Only the human person, me and you, us, not governments, have the power and authority to love. It begins with us as a human person. Only when we love as one will be able to dream of a government who will govern with love. An idealistic fantasy?

Love is not easy. There is a fear to love especially if we are fewer with this ideology. In Moscow, there have been protests about the war. Who knows the minds and hearts of the Russian troops on Ukrainian soil? Are they for this war? For many, probably not. But fear to love is real and for them comes at a cost – their life or the Ukrainian’s. In a consoling way, these maybe good signs of love sprouting, sound fruits from sound trees. 2022. Maybe we have learnt something. We need to start to grow our trees.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? Now the sting of death is sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. So let us thank God for giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Second Reading)

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

It can begin with a cup of coffee

In the coming weeks, the Landings process to welcome returning Catholics will begin in Singapore, Malaysia, and the USA. ‘Returning’ Catholics are those who are contemplating a return after being away from church and their faith community. The key principles of this process are “welcoming”, “non-judgmental” and “compassion”. These are brought to light in last Sunday’s Gospel.

“‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned.”

Often, maybe more so in the past, the advice given to someone who wants to return is, “Go for your confession”. And it was just left at that, somewhat expectant for God to take over. The would be returning Catholic today who hears this advice, may feel somewhat judged and condemned. The human person has evolved and with that, her views, expressions, reactions, and responses. Because of this evolvement, returning in today’s context is no longer as simple as “go for confession”. Returning is now a contemplative process.

This process can begin in a simple way, perhaps over a cup of coffee. It is helpful to have a conversation between the returning Catholic and someone from a ministry such as Landings. Returning Catholics need to be compassionately listened to. Here, for we to be church, we must open the door to welcome without judgment or condemnation. This conversation is the first meeting of two calls; one called to return, one called to minister. This fusion is the work of the Holy Spirit.

If the Church was a business entity, all resources would be channelled into this mission. This is a ‘growing market’, there are more and more people who have drifted away from Church. At some point in their life, they would want to return. Today we need to build more of such ministries, opening more doors of mercy and compassion for tomorrow, if not for ourselves, then for our own young who are wandering away. So, we need more of the laity to step into this ministry to welcome returning Catholics.

Sometimes it is not for the lack of will or desire but the lack of spiritual self-esteem. Often, we the laity do not feel qualified to do this. “I do not know enough”. The initial phase of a returning process is never about teachings. It is more often about meeting the returning Catholic in their emotional needs. Most are apprehensive and unsure, some bordering on unworthiness and crippling guilt. They too lack self-esteem. In this situation it is the church (who we are) who need to reach out to them to accompany them on their journey back.

The journey begins not with judgement and condemnation but instead with affirmation and encouragement. We cannot say “we don’t know enough” because all of us know how to love. In this love, the Holy Spirit moves.

Participating in this ministry will help us grow in this love, and we experience the elusive fulfilment of our earthly life.  This is affirming and encouraging for our own spiritual self-esteem, and it can begin with a simple act of love by sharing time for coffee with someone who need to be listened to.

“Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.”

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time