Discipleship – A lifestyle choice

When I look at the crucifix, it is hard to be beckoned by his call to “follow me”. When I look at the crucifix, it is hard not to be consumed by the suffering, and so I remain spiritually stuck at the foot of the cross. Somehow, I think a good Christian life must be filled with sacrifices that will lead to hardship and suffering. I cannot see beyond that, into the Easter joy of true happiness and peace. I shudder at the call to take up my own cross.

“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me”. (Today’s Gospel)

“To be a follower of mine” is to become a disciple. Discipleship in today’s context is a lifestyle choice. It is a choice “to take up our cross”. We can politely decline. When we “take up”, we make a conscious choice to ‘take’ the way of the cross. It is a lifestyle choice because we decide to live a certain way. The are many alternative lifestyles but we choose to adopt the ways of the gospel as our guiding principles.

When we take up the cross, we are not taking the cross of the crucifixion, but rather the cross of the Resurrection. Christ died on the cross, once, to redeem humanity. Good Friday is done. Discipleship is to continue the works of Christ, now Risen. Discipleship is not running headlong into hardship or suffering. Discipleship is the lifestyle choice of the wise who knows that it leads to true happiness and peace.  

This is that wisdom: “For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Our Christian life is this sacrifice, the “losing of his life for my sake”, to love the other first before self. This does not lead to a death on the cross but a resurrection off it. Somehow, the more we give away of our self, the more fulfilled we find ourselves. Fulfilment leaves us in a state of peace and true happiness. This is the promise of discipleship. No self-engrossing worldly lifestyle or values have delivered fulfilment. Just listen to what the pandemic is telling us.

“Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead”. (Second Reading)

Discipleship is more than just being baptised. Discipleship is not just coming regularly for Sunday mass nor to merely be a member of a ministry, although they will help. Discipleship begins with an internal reset. It is within us where we form who we truly can be. The reset focuses our priorities on works of the kingdom over other worldly desires. The path of discipleship only begins when we start to express in action our proclamation ‘to love the other’. Discipleship is faith with good works.

Why do we not want to be a disciple when we don’t need to be materially rich to attain fulfilment in life? Why compete in uneven playing fields in the world to find true happiness, joy, and peace? It is as a disciple that the poor become rich, and the weak, strong.

Discipleship is not our imagined cross of hardship. We must rise from the foot of the cross. It is not about being burdened by the weight of our cross but to allow the cross of the Resurrection to lift us and carry us through our worldly life. Let us, with conscious choice and intention, take up our cross. Christianity is a lifestyle and discipleship is our choice.

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Verbalise

I saw the funny side of this picture. A sign of the times we live in. Somewhat opposite to the message of last Sunday’s passage, Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean”. The threat from this virus is backing us into a corner, pushing us deeper inside ourselves to reflect upon life, particularly on what we can make clean. It is a time for renewal so that we can embrace this time ‘to live life differently’.

“‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’” (Today’s Gospel)

The key is deep inside us. Some of us do not want to open that door. Behind it are things of our past. They may be filled with disappointment, anger, hurt, bitterness and unforgiveness. They may be in the way for us ‘to live life differently’. The past can cripple us spiritually, like the man in today’s passage, we are blind to see, deaf to hear, and dumb to proclaim the Risen Christ in our personal life. “Ephphatha”.

One of the keys to spiritual rehabilitation is to verbalise. Events in our past may seem like random, isolated happenings. They disrupted our grand plan of life and led us down a different route. Mostly it took us to places we did not want to go. Experiences make or break us. Spiritually, they only make us. Events in our past are all interlinked. If today, we are in a better place and shape despite a difficult past, then verbalising it may help us see, hear and proclaim the Risen Christ with us.

One of the more practical ways to verbalise is to establish a small group of trusted friends. To this small group we can open that door and talk about it. Verbalising, and having people listen to us is helpful. They can lift a burden off us. Retracing our past, joining the dots together, help us uncover the many blessings in disguise that we received. Together, we point out for one another, the then hidden presence of Christ in the episodes of our life. Like the deaf man, we can then be touched.

“Say to all faint hearts, ‘Courage! Do not be afraid. Look, your God is coming, vengeance is coming, the retribution of God; he is coming to save you.’” (First reading)

Yes, indeed we need courage to re-visit our past. But the touch of Christ heals. “For water gushes in the desert, streams in the wasteland, the scorched earth becomes a lake, the parched land springs of water”. This can happen in the desert and wasteland of our past. The scorched earth will become fertile ground for us to grow into who God wants us to become and go forth ‘to live life differently’.

To live life differently, as our Pope says, is to spread this pandemic of love. When we are restored by his touch, it is for us to go out to touch others. In last Sunday’s second reading we are shown the way, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves”.

Today, we probably sanitize our hands more often in a day then we make the sign of the cross. It is OK as we are reminded not to be like the Pharisees. As we sanitise our hands, we are inclined to think only for our own safety. So, when we begin to sanitise our hands thinking first for the safety of the other before our self, then we are truly making the sign of the cross.

22nd and 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Spirit and Life

As I prepared for a conference this week, I re-looked at the thoughts of Sherry Weddell in her book ‘Forming Intentional Disciples’. This was thought provoking: “The majority of Catholics are sacramentalised not evangelised”. It was a platform for her to discuss that “that the majority of adult Catholics are not even certain that a personal relationship with God is possible”. As a born Catholic I fully understand her thoughts, but my understanding would not be possible without my faith life breaking into the realm of encountering God.

“It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” (Today’s Gospel)

We need to situate today’s Gospel. The preceding paragraphs were on Jesus proclaiming, “I am the bread of life”. That led to the Jews arguing among themselves as to “how can this man give us his flesh to eat?” To which Jesus replied, “In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

In the sacrament of the Eucharist, we receive the bread of life. We receive who we are to become who we receive, The Body of Christ. My padre shared is his homily that the Resurrection in the Gospel is not just Christ being raised to life from his death on the cross, but rather his coming amongst us, deep into our personal lives to be with us and accompany us through life’s many crossings, as the Risen Christ.

“But there are some of you who do not believe”.

I am certainly sacramentalised. And I understand now that I was not evangelised. It was not that I did not believe. As Sherry Weddell put it, I “have the capacity to believe placed within me by Baptism and the presence of the Holy Spirit”. But I struggled because I had no idea or concept of what an encounter with the Risen Christ is, or that it is possible to have this personal relationship with God. If you have never experienced that realm, how could you? My catechism classes left me the image that God is the God of the Universe and that He is Almighty.  

“Encounter” is seeing the Risen Christ in the realities of our personal life – God in the little details of our everyday life. Most times it is nothing sensational, but yes, a sensation. An “encounter” brings to life the catechism of God’s presence; one can sense, feel, and be touched. It is life and spirit.

We each have a unique story. No two of us are the same. So, when we continue to encounter God in our personal life, we discover that God is personal to us. And we can then be certain that a personal relationship with God is possible. Encounters evangelise us. And as a born Catholic, it led me to a personal ownership of my faith and belief. It was no longer that which my parents gave me. It was my own because I have encountered the Risen Christ in my own life.

With this connectedness to God, and having a personal relationship with him, his words indeed are spirit and life. Together with our inter-connectedness with each other as members of the Body of Christ, our Christian faith becomes this lived experience.

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time 2021

Finding faith

I realize this is the third Sunday that my opening paragraph is being provoked by the virus. It was then rising at 3,000 cases a day in Thailand, but yesterday it was almost 19,000. With it fear and anxiety levels are high. You hear of cases everywhere, and we continue to cling to hope that “it wouldn’t be me”. Last Sunday, we put a voice to hope. Today this voice tells us that this hope offers faith that come what may, we shall not hunger nor thirst.

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst”. (Today’s Gospel)

Fear and anxiety gnaw away inside us. This struggle is more than just securing our practical needs to put bread on the table. What we once thought brought us happiness is perhaps no longer that important. The foundations on which we built our worldly life would have crumbled. Today you won’t wish for a million dollars, you would just wish for the virus to go away. There is an inner conversation taking place in most of us, “What now, life?”

“I want to urge you in the name of the Lord, not to go on living this aimless kind of life. You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution so that you can put on the new self that has been created in God’s way, in the goodness and holiness of the truth”. (Second Reading)

For many, this virus has taken that choice away from us. Pilate once asked, “What is truth?” And that began the fulfilment of this hope. In our sacraments, the Bread of Life is the Holy Eucharist. The truth of our faith is if there had been no Resurrection, there would not have been this Body to eat, and Blood to drink. Today’s Gospel leads into next Sunday as part of John’s discourse on the Bread of Life. In this the goodness and holiness of the truth is the promise that on our last day we will be raised back to life.

That should be our ultimate desire. And this virus is slowly taking our blinkers off. The prize of life is our own resurrection into eternal life. We must now build our foundation to live our worldly life on this. Yes, indeed this is a spiritual revolution, and it begins inside each one of us. From this platform, our situation in this pandemic in placed into perspective. Fear will not be removed entirely, but more of faith is less of anxiety. And meantime, our mental health is something we need to care for.

“Then they said to him, ‘What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?’ Jesus gave them this answer, ‘This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.’”

We must find faith.

Note: I like to share a favourite hymn of mine “I am the Bread of Life” composed by Sr Suzanne Toolan in 1966. Her lyrics sing the Gospel passage of today and next Sunday. This is a powerful and joyful rendition by the University of Notre Dame Folk Choir. Their faces and smiles are full of the hope and faith that we all must share. “And I will raise you up on the last day!” Thank you too for reading, and the messages of concern when I do not write. I will not be writing for the next 2 Sundays as I will be preparing for a conference. God bless.

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our lunchbox is almost empty

It has so far been a long ride. When we first started out, few of us would have imagined reaching here, more than a year on, with the end we had hoped for not very near in sight. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Lambda, Theta, Kappa, Eta, Hope. Our fuel tank is almost empty. Like the little boy in today’s passage whom Corrine May* sang of, peering into our lunch boxes today, we see very little left; just five loaves and two fishes.

On a better day when our tanks were full, we used these five loaves and two fishes to represent the little gifts and talents we have. We used them in our ministries offering them to Jesus knowing with a wonderful conviction that He will multiply and use them to evangelise. Today it is a struggle to keep that spirit and optimism to preach faith at a time when we feel our needs are more immediate.

We are gathered like the five thousand in today’s Gospel passage with a common hunger. We are gathered not physically, but in mind and emotions across the world. We are hungry to be comforted, hungry for our fears to be allayed, hungry for the uncertainty to go away. We keep going, with our vaccines racing with the variants. One humanity sharing one common energy: Hope.

We can only hope. We hope for the best. What is the basis of this ‘hope’? Hope, simply hoping is like the little boy’s lunchbox of five loaves and two fishes trying to feed five thousand. Hope must become the multiplication factor that feeds us.

We hold on to hope. Deep inside each of us, in the midst of our troubled emotions, hope has a voice. A faint voice which we are trying to listen to, like that crowd on the hillside seeking to understand. Corrine May sang, “Thousands were listening to the stories of one man. He spoke with such wisdom, even the kids could understand”.

“There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.” (Second Reading)

This is the wisdom. Our interconnectedness that makes us one people. The voice of hope is that of our Lord. We must identify this for ourselves and fully embrace him. Only then can we listen to this hope speak to us in a most personal way. Only then can hope transform into faith.

We are hoping for a miracle, that this pandemic is lifted from us. But the miracle that will happen will occur in our inner selves. Today’s passage calls us into this true hope and faith. We want to be lifted, not actually out of the pandemic but out of the gloom of poverty: the poverty of food, the poverty of peace and the poverty of love. This pandemic did not bring these upon us. It merely highlighted them.

We must allow this little boy to inspire us, by adopting his kidlike innocence. There are people around us who are hungry for both food and emotional comfort. People are beginning to suffer mental health issues. Like the little boy, we peek into our lunchbox to see what we can spare. Inside we see our perceived poverty. We hesitate to offer because what we can spare won’t make a meaningful contribution, or that we are not ready to offer emotional comfort. Most times we really don’t need to do the talking but to be there for someone just to offer company, and to listen.

People today are not asking for a basketful. Most will appreciate the reach out in time and love. We sing like the little boy, “I trust in you. So, take my five loaves and two fishes, do with it as you will. I surrender. Take my fears and my inhibitions, all my burdens, my ambitions; You can use it all. No gift is too small” (Corrine May). True hope is Christ, the multiplication factor.

Today may not be so much about spreading the Gospel, rather it is more about sharing it. If every little boy in us starts to do so, this pandemic will become for the world a baptism into new life, truly into one people, one humanity, one world.

*Corrine May Five Loaves and Two Fishes

Five Loaves and Two Fishes – Corrinne May (Illustrated) – YouTube

This is a copy of the mosaic tile at the Church of the Multiplication in Holy Land. It shows only four loaves, the fifth is the heavenly host, the Eucharist.

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Call to be pastoral

Sapped and deflated, more than a year on, we are still here. Curfews and lockdowns. In Bangkok this week, we have been registering new highs in cases almost every day. In Singapore, untimely and unfortunate, new clusters have emerged. Indonesia and Malaysia, South-East Asia. It feels like a noose tightening around us. This time around, it seems much worse than last year. A new variant, more contagious and deadly is causing more worries and anxiety.

A year on, the situation is a lot tougher. Aid, relief, resources, and savings have all been depleted. Lockdowns work better for the middle to upper class, those who can afford space at home, social distance in comfort, and are not at risk of financial hardship. It does not work so well for the lower income, who are daily waged, living in cramp conditions and literally from hand to mouth. For them it is not about longer-term safety but immediate survival.

Again, the message this virus brought us is repeating itself. We are all inter-connected and no one is to be left behind. The lifestyles of the ‘haves’, affect the lives of the ‘have-nots’. We suffer consequences of each other’s actions or inaction. Both Thailand and Singapore’s current situation came out of KTV lounges and night clubs. God has given us the freedom of choice, and so we cannot blame him for the consequences of our choices. Today, we know that somebody’s singing can sadly have a deadly effect.

“He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. (Today’s Gospel)

All of us, poor or rich have been impacted by this, highlighting our inter-connectedness. Some are torn by grief from the loss of loved ones. Some are in despair, desperate for having lost their incomes. The virus affects us all in different ways and situation leaving us confused, anxious and afraid. We wonder about the big IF, “What IF I get infected, and not survive?” Our Christian belief tells us that God is watching us from above. From that vantage, he must be moved with pity and see us his sheep scattered.

It is in this inter-connectedness where God acts. This inter-connectedness brings to life the practical message of the Gospel: love one another. Being pastoral is to look out for one another, and that no one should be left behind. We each have our days of worries but by God’s grace, we do also have our days of strength. In this inter-connectedness, we find that we are both sheep and shepherd.

But during such challenging times, faith is not necessarily strengthened. In fact, much is lost. For many it can be hard to find God in this pandemic. He remains unseen, but we know hidden in each of us, behind the call to be pastoral to one another. This is a time to be church, a new church perhaps to some of us, to embrace our responsibility to be shepherd to the other. When we do this, we make God real and seen in the realities of life.

In times of adversity, hope sprouts. Being pastoral makes fertile this soil of adversity. The birthplace of faith is in the harsh realities of life. There are today many new births out there in our world. It is time to be church, to be pastoral, to reach out to these.

“I will gather together the remnant of my flock and raise up shepherds for them”. (First Reading)

 
This is another picture that hangs over my writing desk. I got this from a shop in Hanoi. I like this because it shows a boy way back in the background shepherding the sheep. It reminds me of our call to be shepherds. In this picture it is a massive task for the little boy. Our role as shepherds can be intimidating too but ahead, leading the sheep, is the Good Shepherd, unseen.

16h Sunday in Ordinary Time

We are priests with a small ‘p’

We were discussing ministry when my friend wittingly quipped, “We are priests with a small ‘p’. Let the commissioned officer handle it. We didn’t sign on for this”. In today’s passage, the Twelve were commissioned. Long after them, through the course of salvation history, you and I came along. Are we also expected to set off to preach repentance, cast out devils and anoint sick people and cure them?

From that apostolic beginning, our understanding and expression of faith life have evolved through each generation. They have evolved simply because the purpose of God’s free love, a constant since the beginning of time, must be made relevant to the present. Because God is “I AM”. You and I are still being sent, maybe not commissioned to pick up serpents and cast our demons along the way, but to address, especially, the pastoral needs of each other in this time and day.

The prophet Amos said, “I was a shepherd, and looked after sycamores: but it the Lord who took me from herding the flock, and the Lord who said, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’”. (First Reading)

Every week we are invited to gather as a community to celebrate the Mass. The Mass is our faith practice that has evolved from the apostolic days. We come together to celebrate God: “his free gift to us in the Beloved, in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins”. (Second Reading). At the end of each Mass, we are sent, again and again, to preach this love to one another through the life we live. We are sent to be priests and prophets in everyday life.

We are part of the unbroken link from the apostolic days. We each have our part to play to pass on the faith, from one to the other, from one age to the next. Not all of us can teach with intellectual conviction, but all of us, in humility, can be preachers with a small ‘p’. “Your words are spirit Lord, and they have life” (Acclamation), it is through addressing our pastoral needs of each other where this Word come alive. Today, this pastoral expression is the most relevant and urgent part of our Christian faith. Into this, we are sent.

We are to take nothing for the journey going two by two signifying a shared agenda with God. We empty ourselves of self, going only with the richness of grace, trusting the Holy Spirit to fill us up and be used as instruments for God. We go as Amos was, a shepherd. For to become a prophet in somebody else’s life is to make tangible the compassion and mercy of God for them. For most of us, we have been commissioned for this, to be a priest with a small ‘p’.

When we involve ourselves in the life of others, we try to help them see this presence of God in life. We are sent as a small but important part of God’s process of reconciliation and healing for them. We are not the miracle worker, God is. The timetable is not ours, but His. We are part of their life journey, not the whole. But we have our part to play according to the gifts we have.

“And if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.” (Gospel)

This is not a shake of condemnation, nor a deposit of resentment. As we are to carry nothing of our own for the mission, we are to let go of our feelings, maybe such of disappointment when we experience rejection. We must leave every Christian encounter with faith and hope that our small part is perhaps just to plant a seed. In time, it will germinate through their life experiences, and another two from us will be sent to harvest.

We all have our little parts. God does not commission us for the big and dangerous bits. He loves us too much for that. We are priests, prophets and preachers with small ‘p’s.

“And he instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses. They were to wear sandals but, he added, ‘Do not take a spare tunic.’”

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Morphing

Encounter, from last week, leads into transformation. Transformation obviously changes us, internally at first, and as we morph it begins to show externally in our behavior. People around us, family and friends have a pre-set identity of us. They like us to be the person that fits into their space, their expectations. When our behavior change, we disrupt this acceptance.

We are a group of guys that talk football over beers. Our finest hour is happy hour. The banter is usually loud and crude. This is group behavior and wanting to belong often mean that we alter our behaviour for acceptance. Then out of the blue, one of us had an encounter, and experiences transformation. In between football and beer, he starts to talk church. Happy hour is threatened. Not everyone in the group is ready to share football with church. Eventually the group avoids that person.

‘A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house’ (Today’s Gospel).

We have probably experienced both sides of this; rejecting a prophet amongst us or being rejected because all we want to talk about is church. God calls us to be his prophets. And there is a time and a season for you and me, but rarely do our times coincide. We have different timetables, departing at various life stages from one another. Our transformation begins with an encounter with the Spirit.

“The spirit came into me and made me stand up, and I heard the Lord speaking to me ….. I am sending you to them, to say, “The Lord says this.” Whether they listen or not, this set of rebels shall know there is a prophet among them.’” (First Reading).

I may be taking a big passage from the Book of Ezekiel, and in my simplistic way try to turn it into bite size evangelization. When God calls, he normally also sends. When we transform, we embrace a new identity, shed away old ones. And in this process, we must move on to new environments to fulfil our new identity. Often it means a departure from old routines and spending less time on old topics with family and friends. ‘Church replace football’.

We move on because transformation pulls us along. It is the work of the Spirit who puts us into new environment amongst new people, where our new identity has a niche. We may be part of a ministry preparing adults for baptism, where we assume the role of teacher, sponsor, and sharer. Or in any other ministry where our talents fit. Here our identity is sought after, has a place, and fits. Our new identity finds acceptance. It is the place for the prophet in us.

We would find that our family and friends had also moved on. They would not be stuck in the same environment we left them because the Spirit has also been looking out for them. They too would have become prophets in their own time. Or accepted a prophet in their midst, someone else who did not have the same endearing pre-set identity they saw in us that they had wanted to cling on to.

We are all called into this transformation, to try to be prophet to each other. It takes us away from our comfort zones just so that we can be a blessing to a stranger who accepts our identity. Then, one day we will again gather for happy hour and talk about our faith adventures over beers. We will surprise at how loud and rich it is to be. Happy new beer, happy new life.

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Encounter

Above my desk hangs a replica of this painting. Titled “Encounter”, by Daniel Cariola, it depicts today’s Gospel passage. I was part of a pilgrim group to the Holy Land. We were in the Encounter Chapel* where the original dominates the wall behind the altar. We sat on the stone bench and soon enough this painting lured us into a contemplative presence. Something stirred in that chapel. What? It is hard to describe. But many of us pilgrims came away sensing we had a powerful spiritual experience.

“Now there was a woman who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years; after long and painful treatment under various doctors, she spent all she had without being any the better for it, in fact, she was getting worse. She had heard about Jesus, and she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his cloak. ‘If I can touch even his clothes,’ she had told herself ‘I shall be well again.’ And the source of the bleeding dried up instantly, and she felt in herself that she was cured of her complaint.” (Today’s Gospel)

‘*The Encounter Chapel, is dedicated to Jesus’ encounter with all of us, as illustrated by the large painting, titled “Encounter”, in the back of the chapel. The floor is that of the original first century marketplace of the Magdala port’. (Magdala, Holy Land)

As Christians, encounters are necessary for our faith life. Encounters add flesh to the words of knowledge, for ours is a living faith, a faith that is a lived experience. Yet, I find it a struggle to describe ‘encounter’, and to make another understand. But once we experience an ‘encounter’, our faith is lived in an added dimension. Central in this painting is a spark, lighted up by touch. And being ‘touched’ is central to ‘encounter’.

An encounter can only be felt. It is an experience that most times happen inside us. There is a gentle stirring within, that eventually get a grip on our emotions. It reaches the backs of our mind, the depths of our heart, the issues running in the background that affects us. It can be an intellectual question about life, or an emotional argument about our challenges. An encounter leads us into a conviction of our faith or an affirmation of being loved in our challenges. It is the Spirit moving us, touching us with reassurance that one day leads to healing.

Our faith tells us that Jesus is readily available, so encounters cannot be elusive. The encounter between the haemorrhaging woman and Jesus was likely to have taken place in a busy place like the market of a fishing port. There was a large crowd following and they were pressing on him. Jesus was on the move. So was the woman. It made that one touch difficult, elusive. And so, it is such with our daily life, our busy-ness, crowded focus and distractions. Our life is dynamic, full of moving parts, always on the move. In that Chapel, the pilgrims came to a silent stillness, the parts stopped moving and they experienced an encounter.

Silence and stillness reside deep in the depths of our heart. Here we store our disbeliefs, doubts and hurts. It is here where we are most vulnerable, here where the Spirit touches that will trigger our emotions. It is here where ‘encounters’ take place.

We do not need to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But we need to go on a journey from our head to our heart. And the door to this journey is opened by humility and vulnerability. Central in our heart, a spark will light up with a touch, an encounter.

Photo credit: Veronica Soon, a fellow pilgrim to the Holy Land.

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Faith, a flimsy shelter

It was starting to drizzle as I passed this scene. Ingenuity mixed with hospitality; it is an honest effort by the simple hawker. I wondered what it would shelter. It was too small and flimsy to shelter man from the scorching lunch time sun or a heavy drizzle, or from strong winds or the thick dust from the Bangkok traffic. Perhaps it is just to shelter the bowl of noodles from something that may drop in from above.

Life has been good to many of us. Easier to state this if we live in an affluent society. The price of comforts in life is faith, or rather, the weakening of our faith life. Affluence comforts us, but it can also complacent us. Beginning with innocent hope, we are fattened by expectations and grown obese in our demands. Self-entitlement is like a triglyceride coursing through the veins of our spiritual life. It is a modern-day ailment that affects our value system.

We build our life on hopes, and most of these are on worldly things. There is nothing wrong with those except that we don’t usually get everything we hope for. Life will toss us around. We will all in time be hit by waves of crushing disappointments and sufferings. Our desires can spin into a gale force wind or swell into a 10-foot wave that will come crashing down on us. We cannot escape storms in our personal life. We are offered the shelter of faith, flimsy as it may seem to us at those moments.

“Then it began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep. ‘Master, do you not care? We are going down!’ He woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet now! Be calm!’ And the wind dropped, and all was calm again. Then he said to them, ‘Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?’” (Today’s Gospel)

True hope is God centred. Believing in God does not prevent storms from happening in our life. If there is a God, why is there suffering, why is there a pandemic? Faith gives us an inner calm and patience to wait for the storm to pass. Faith tells us of the promise of eternal life without suffering. This is the one true hope that we must centre all our other, worldly hopes on. As our boats journey towards eternal life, through all unavoidable storms, we know we will always be buoyed by this promise provided it is in this faith and hope that we seek shelter.

Jesus is asleep on our boat. He is asleep because he has already set the course for our journey. He knows the personal storms ahead of us. He has prepared us, sometimes in special, unique ways. Some of us are called into baptism as adults or have returned to church after decades away. On being baptised or returned, we embrace new life in him. “And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here”. (Second Reading) In other words, our belief system and values are now anchored in this faith and hope.

And then the storms come. We look to the heavens with our flimsy faith and accuse Jesus, “Master, do you not care? We are going down!”. Only when the storms settle that we can look back and understand that Jesus called us through baptism or to return to Church so as to come under the shelter of faith and hope to weather the storms that were ahead.

Today we are in a pandemic. Some people are experiencing the worst storms in their life. Faith tells us that Jesus is on their boats. For others, we were at the gates of our lockdown waiting for it to open to bolt out only to be hit by another wave. Such is the nature of this storm. Today we are perhaps in the eye of the storm. It is a good time for us to find this faith and hope to shelter under for our personal storms ahead.

“From the heart of the tempest the Lord gave Job his answer.” (First Reading)

Life is best enjoyed with humility, like a simple bowl of noodles with a drop of faith from above.

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time