The yeast of discipline

Lent is here again. I will eat less, give up alcohol and go for daily mass. It is a good time for my body to detox. I can also do with losing 5 kilos in weight. Am I camouflaging my own desires by calling them my Lenten sacrifices, using the spirit of Lent to drive my own agenda? Over time these Lenten sacrifices of mine have become almost a ritual. I am able to switch in and out of Lenten mode without much of a thought.

“Thought”. Do ‘I’ spend time thinking about where these practices can lead me spiritually to? It is not wrong to take care of one’s physical self. Come the end of Lent I will be 5 kilos lighter but I need to ask where does that leave me spiritually? Pondering this, I brought to a more conscious level what I really need to succeed. I need discipline. Discipline will stop me eating more than I need, it will say, ”No, not this time” to alcohol and will drag me out of bed for morning mass.

Discipline empties my head of all the noise. It provokes me to think beyond the ritual act. It leaves me alone to ponder, to come face to face with my spiritual self. Discipline is like a yeast. It is catalytic to grow my spiritual self. I will spend time this Lent to reflect on the temptations in my life.

I am fortunate enough to indulge in the excesses of life. I would say that I can live a rather fat and buttered life enjoying my food and wine. It is easy without discipline to just carry on like that day after day. Some of us may indulge in handbags and shoes, and most would indulge in Facebook and Netflix. Resources and time, gifts to us to be put into better use. Without thought, without discipline, gifts becomes excesses. “Then the devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf.’ But Jesus replied, ‘Scripture says: Man does not live on bread alone.’” Maybe I have too many loaves.

When I was growing up, I was encouraged to get out of my shell of self-consciousness to be aware of the people around me. Today it is no longer a shell but a fortress. I hide behind it in ‘self-defense’ guarding my every right and possession, desiring the best for myself not trusting that the world can share. I live the same advice “to be aware of the people around me” except that it is now twisted negatively. “Then leading him to a height, the devil showed him in a moment of time all the kingdoms of the world and said to him, ‘I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms’”. Maybe I am here serving other gods.

When we have everything in life, we can indulge without a moment of thought. Excesses lead us into thinking that God is no longer relevant in our life. When we have everything we need, why do we need God? When we want to luxuriate in the kingdom of our own self, we don’t need a God to tell us that others matter. We lose our spiritual discipline and put on the arrogance that God will be there when we need him. “The devil said to him ‘throw yourself down from here, for scripture says: He will put his angels in charge of you to guard you, and again: They will hold you up on their hands in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’ But Jesus answered him, ‘It has been said: You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Maybe I am assuming that he will be there to forgive me by my death bed, so I keep doing what I like?

Lent is a good time to remind ourselves to be aware of the noise in our life. In this noise there are temptations but these can become opportunities. Discipline heighten our awareness of going astray. Discipline can be the yeast we need to grow and expand on our spiritual life.

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The yeast of discipline where we too become bread to others

 

1st Sunday of Lent

Down blind alleys

Today’s Gospel message is straight forward. We easily condemn others for all their short comings but are blind to our own faults. “Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the splinter that is in your eye,’ when you cannot see the plank in your own?”

I watch a lot of sports on TV. Football pundits are aggressively more damning in their opinions. They are paid for their strong opinions about the best way to play (from a studio). Sharp words are used consequently cutting up the reputation of players and managers. Perversely many of these pundits were once players or managers who would have fallen short of these opinions during their own time. But this sort of behaviour is now common place in the way we live.

People seem to enjoy this type of public destruction of another person’s reputation. We find pleasure in heckling and consolation in blaming someone else. We judge and condemn; in today’s world better, stronger, faster and wider on social media. The plank in our eye has become a log.

We jealously guard our personal rights, we demand for personal space. Our personal opinions must matter. This behaviour unchecked will lead us down many blind alleys. Ironically while guarding we become unguarded to allow our self-importance to rise above everyone else’s. Envy and jealousy creep in like a slow poison blinding us. It will take us down many blind alleys, one of which is the alley of self-entitlement.

When we feel self-entitled in life we are less resilient to the challenges that come our way, and by the nature of human life challenges will come. We begin to look at others seemingly better off than us, the log in our eyes becoming the deadwood of self-pity, blinding us to the always present, helping hand of God. Sometimes things happen to us as a direct consequence of our own action, or inaction, but in our self-entitlement we chose to blame God until we reach a point of total blindness in our spiritual life.

Can the blind lead the blind? When we eventually reach the end of the blind alley we would have been stripped of everything, even our belief in God. In any form of desperation, one thing remain; not faith, not trust but hope. Small, flickering with life, hope is the only thing we cling to. Like a blind man, hope lead us to trust and faith. Trust and faith are two different things but they feed off one another, and eventually lead us out of blindness. Only then will we realise that the last vestige of hope we had was our God is disguise.

“The test of a man is in his conversation” (First reading). Be careful of the need to express our strong personal opinion. Everyone has faults, including ourselves. Giving each other space is the only way we find personal space for ourselves. God has entitled us that but we need to have both trust and faith. Live with this gratitude and not in that blindness. The only strong convincing opinion we should have is our belief in God.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? So let us thank God for giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”. (Second reading)

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The log is our eye.

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I am the enemy

“Love your enemies”. If I want to follow the Christian way of life, I need to “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly”. Now in reality, just how difficult is that? It is easier preaching and proclaiming but as a human soul it is practically impossible. After all Christianity is not to be witnessed by words alone but through action.

“To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too; to the man who takes your cloak from you, do not refuse your tunic”.

I pondered and found it easier to imagine myself as the victim, the long suffering Christian who always try to present the other cheek. My Christian image shines behind my gallant effort, but then very often I had failed to allow them to slap me again. It dawned on me that in the reality of my world, I am the one who slap others and persistently take their cloak.

In this reality of my world today, I guard myself from others. I want to preserve the way I want to look at the world, and subconsciously retain my prejudices against people I dislike. To help my gallant effort, I encamp myself with people who allow me my opinions and add colour to the vision of my world. I call them friends. Simply put, I want to have it my way.

From within this camp I allow dislike for the other to fester. I have strength in a group but this strength is double-edged, blinding myself to the good of the other. I judge, and I eventually condemn by my own measure of righteousness. I weakly use half-truths to scandalise. Effectively, I am taking the cloak of reputation off the other and yet he offers me his tunic as well.

I choose not to see the fruits of his or her goodness. I prefer the lustful satisfaction of fueling my opinions, of having it my way. When I choose to be blinded by my prejudices, I continue to repeatedly slap him or her on the cheek. I am the enemy.

There are many people around me that are doing a lot of good. It might be envy or simply a past hurt I cannot forgive. I refuse to acknowledge that they doing more right than wrong because I prefer to remain in my drunken state indulging myself in the pleasures of self-gratification. Simply because they didn’t do it my way.

In truth in this human life we are both hand and cheek. “Love your enemies” is not a prerequisite, not a demand. It is a way to get out of the madness of our self-opinionated world where we keep slapping one another. It is a call to journey in life as a human soul to become a life-giving spirit.

For all of us who have persevered in this way, having been repeatedly slapped, take it as a privilege. Presenting our other cheek is offering our face of conversion to the hand who slaps. As Jesus died on the cross he said, “Forgive them as they know not what they do”. Practically impossible, but it did happen in our world. It is happening to you.

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“Love your enemies”

7th Ordinary Sunday

Happy or Sad

Are you happy? Pause. I am not unhappy. Yeah, but maybe things can be a bit better. But are you sad? No, not really. Happy or sad, our life is constantly spent between these two stools falling between past and future but seldom sitting in the present.

Often in the pursuit of happiness we blind ourselves to the present moment. If we are not really sad at this moment, can we without pausing appreciate that we are happy?

We are fretting about the future fearing that we will not be happy. We regret the past; mistakes haunting us ghosting our present. Happy the man who lives in this present. Because only in the present moment can we actually count our blessings in life.

It is also only in the present that we can experience the touch and love of God. Only in the present that we will know that this God is real. When we begin to feel God with us every moment in life, then we will always be happy.

The presence of God leads us into gratitude. Are you happy? Look at all the blessings in life that have led us out of our past. Life could have been worse. If ‘I’ am not sad or unhappy, then ‘I’ must be happy. Life is full of ups and downs and ‘I’ have managed this far with God’s constant presence. Being grateful help ‘me’ see it.

Life for many too is a constant stream of issues, problems and challenges. Life is perpetually crawling on the downside. Are we happy or sad? We are sad about the events but in truth we do not live every present moment in sadness. These despairs hurt us deeply but the constant presence of God want to touch us with consolation and hope. And yes at times we can’t be reached as we are disappointed and angry with hope. But this hope will always remain for us; it can never die.

“Happy the man who has placed his trust in the Lord”. (Today’s Response)

We must become poor, not necessarily materially, but poor in spirit. We must live life as a series of moments trusting God whilst being acutely aware of his presence. Gratefulness help us to be more dependent on him. This is what it means to be poor in spirit.

“How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God” (Gospel).

The pursuit of worldly happiness is like a dog chasing its own tail. It will always be something in the future. Chasing it is futile and the first reading tells us:

“A curse on the man who puts his trust in man. If good comes, he has no eyes for it. A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord; it has no worries in a year of drought and never ceases to bear fruit”.

Live the present. Be happy. We already are.

bar stools

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gone Fishing

All of us have experienced God’s call. How loud the call was depended on how deep we allowed it to echo in our heart. Typically the call took the form of involvement in some church ministry. Often without giving it a second thought we brush it away. We say “it just isn’t me” because we never think ourselves qualified, deserving or worthy.

Today’s three readings all echoed God’s call. Reflecting deeper into them they tell us that God wants to heal and restore each of us. Isaiah did not feel qualified, “for I am a man of unclean lips”. St Paul having persecuted the Church of God felt underserving, “I am the least of the apostles”. Yet. Simon Peter expressed this common unworthiness, “Leave me Lord; I am a sinful man”. No one will ever be worthy. So he persistently call each of us. Are we not familiar with these replies?

God’s call is mistakenly interpreted as a call to give up our comfortable life to go into some form of sacrificial suffering. In our salvation history, the Red Sea was parted once to take us out of slavery. The journey has continued from that to lead us on the long road to freedom. God’s call is more of a beckoning to come his way through the maze of life’s many paths including the path of suffering, sign posting the journey that will eventually lead to our heavenly freedom. It is a beckoning call to guide us to stay on the right path.

He beckons us in the ordinariness of everyday life, present at every corner of our weariness. Often we are blindsided by our challenges, unable to see him when we look around us. Tired, exasperated we say, “We worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets”. His daily call is “to put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch”.

Indeed we must first go deep within ourselves. We must not be afraid to confront past mistakes and hurts. He is there present beneath the rubble of all our destroyed hopes and brokenness. Where there is a stone of bitterness, he will help roll it away. Where there is a door of forgiveness, he will help us through it. All these is restorative to qualify us, to make us deserving and worthy. He calls us not into more suffering but to lead us into peace and joy.

When we cast into the deep where he want us to cast, he is showing us where to find the true treasures of our earthly life. When we heed his beckoning call and cast deep we find our true vocation that brings lasting fulfilment. Many of us wander through life and wonder about the meaning of it all. Here is a call to become a fisher of men not to make a tough life tougher but to fulfil it with meaning and direction.

“And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear”.

Listening to the echoes from within, we have all gone fishing.

gone fishing

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

All you need is love

Today our pastor shared an interesting homily about being prophet and going on mission. The outward signs of mission is about going out into the countryside and provinces to do acts of charity. Through these we are prophet in manifesting the kingdom of God. What was thought provoking was when he invited us to reflect on a different perspective: prophet and mission is about us going out of our ‘self’.

‘I’ need to step out of my ‘self’. I need to go out, leaving ‘self’ behind. We are somewhat attached to our worldly expectations and needs. These have put on us an identity who we are truly not and shifted our purpose of life. ‘I’ have a worldly identity at odds with my spiritual person. So who have ‘I’ become?

To prevent our worldly self from detaching from our spiritual person we must live in Love; not only to know and understand but to live it. Today’s second reading is all about Love. True love, as it is. It also tells us when ‘love’ is not true love, suggesting how it can be contaminated by worldly needs and expectations leading to a sub-conscious pre-occupation of ‘self’. It is this ‘self’ we must depart from to be prophet on mission.

Not all of us have this desire to be a prophet on mission. Few have. Because who we have become have buried who we truly are. The root of this is true Love, or more poignantly the absence of it.

We have become better skilled at maneuvering life. Which life? We are trained to become more eloquent, a sharp witted talker able to impress. We have acquired knowledge and education sometimes simply to be better than the other person. We window dress our image by donating sums of money to charity. We do it partially to climb the ladder of success. All these are not wrong except that at the top of this ladder we won’t find what we expect to find: true and lasting happiness in life.

“In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of this is love.” (Today’s second reading)

Only love leads to lasting happiness. But love need to be true. True love is giving without expecting returns in any form. In the higher realms, to love and give “so that God will bless me” is stained purity. Love is giving without accounting. When a person use lifelong savings to help a brother in debt instead of going to the bankruptcy court, the person want to give faith, hope and life back to the brother. Love is such, it is life-giving.

All of us are created with this capacity of true love, simply because we were created from the Love of God. It is there beneath the identity and purpose the worldly world have given us. Our spiritual persons are meant to be prophets to bring the Kingdom of God to others. This is our true purpose in life, our mission to give life through Love.

When we give, we live. Not as a reward but a natural consequence of Love. All you need is Love.

All we need is love

4th Ordinary Sunday

Our captive self; a virus on social media

Life can now be an unending stream of selfies. We can document each moment and share it through social media. All is good as we invite others into our lives. After all, we are all parts of one body.

“Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ.” (Today’s second reading)

We are the world. We are different parts of one body, we are differently gifted to live in this world. Each has a role to contribute, together we must do so to make the world a better place. This passage is not only about Christians. It is about how all our lives are interlinked, with people we know as well as with strangers, prefer it or not.

“In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.”

The truth here is that what one part does affect all other parts. It will make the whole body sick if one part does something that is not correct. We are consequences of other people’s actions. Consequently, what we do affect others too.

“and that there may not be disagreements inside the body, but that each part may be equally concerned for all the others. If one part is hurt, all parts are hurt with it.”

In daily life we either enjoy or suffer the decisions of people around us. Sometimes they have life changing consequences for example like the loss of a job or a broken relationship. Often it is too complex to address the source of such decisions for often it has come about through a series of consequences. Is it your fault or is it mine?

Technology has gifted us this world of selfies. Spiritually we may be too slow to keep apace with these changes that are affecting all of us. We do not yet know the full consequences of how selfies and social media will impact the whole body, us as people. But there is one basic in this complex equation that has the greatest influence: our ‘self’.

There is a virus in social media. It thrives on self-promotion which leads to self-importance and self-gratification. If we are not careful, it goes into a maze of everything-for-self. With technology’s speed and slowness of spiritual awareness we may find ourselves held captive by the preoccupation of ‘self’.

There comes a time when we heed a certain call for the world to come together as one. Today’s Gospel urge us to live as one body and attend to its weaker parts.

“He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free”.

We cannot start doing so unless we start to free and liberate ourselves from this captivation of ‘self’.

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Our mobile phone has now become part of our one body. We must be aware what it can do to our ‘self’

3rd Ordinary Sunday

Wine becoming water

We enjoy many choices in life with full freedom to choose. Many things happen to us in ordinary life, some crafted some not, some good some bad. We have choice of vision, choice of thought. We can choose to see God in everything or to dismiss our thoughts into disbelief.

Today we recall the wedding at Cana where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine. It is so hard to believe that we jest about it. It is hard because our mind tells us so. But our minds were created to guide us only in our humanity. Belief in God is beyond mind. It comes from our being.

When we each look at our life, we can find that many things have come together in unexplained ways. For the many good things, we are fortunate and lucky. For the many bad things, our minds try to disprove the existence of God. We may not actually blame God (we can’t if we don’t believe in the first place) but our minds push the thought of God further down into our being.

Our created being will always search for its Creator, with or without the mind. We were each made like choice wine. Why not if he chooses to dwell in each of us? Our Creator made a one way covenant with each of us to love us unconditionally and promise to forgive us every time we make a poor choice. He is faithful, never abandoning us and is present in every moment of our personal life.

Our being need wisdom. Wisdom is to find, see and experience God in ordinary life. Wisdom is to know and feel that it is God who put the coincidence together. Wisdom is found in the things that happen to us in our ordinary life. Coincidences do not happen on their own. Wisdom is also to experience peace amidst troubling times. Not easy but possible simply because wisdom is lovingly real.

We start to look for wisdom by looking for the first miracle in our life. We need to go deep into our being to release ourselves from the boundaries of impossibility that our mind has drawn around our being.

To connect wisdom to the reality defined by our mind we must start looking not for the biggest miracle but for the smallest blessings in our life. Ordinary life is full of blessings simply because God is with us in everyday life. But it is our choice to want to see them as blessings. It is then, through blessings, where we experience God.

In our world today we are used to demanding instant results, yes or no. Wisdom is coupled with patience. Like choice wines, God uses time to develop our vintage. As beings we must choose to search for this wisdom in ordinary life, otherwise we the wine will just become water.

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Choice wines are a blessing too!

2nd Ordinary Sunday

Baptizing infants

There is much debate about the Catholic practice of baptizing infants. One of the main deliberation point is that the child must be allowed to grow up to decide. Today the Catholic Church celebrates The Baptism of our Lord. I am no scholar of the Church, ill-equipped to present our case on an intellectual platform. I will struggle to explain sacramental grace but perhaps it is this grace that allows me to share my belief in the ordinariness of life.

My parents baptized me when I was only 6 days old. I am now on the downslope of my life passed the mid-point of mortality and hoping to head gracefully into retirement. On this side of the hill, I have started to minimize my belongings and begin to stare at the question of eternal life. I reminisce the path of life I travelled and am thankful to my parents for the gift of baptism.

My Catholic faith with all its accompanying commandments has turned out to be the silent unseen background operating system that had been driving my life. Every instance I am confronted with a juicy temptation, a pop-up thought would immediately be activated, “I am a Catholic. I cannot do this”.

As a young boy growing up I only knew “can or cannot, good or bad, right or wrong”. The lines were clear. Being baptized as an infant and growing up in a practicing Catholic family set my moral compass. It also became an anchor when “can or cannot” became “do you want to? It is your personal right to choose”.

I have failed many times when I was running up the hill of life. Young, energetic, adventurous and in good health, my focus was to accumulate belongings and enjoy experiences. Each time I failed, a warning flashed in my being. Infant baptism also open the doors to two other sacraments: Reconciliation and Confirmation. All three conferred before we become adults to equip us to navigate through our ordinary life.

I am thankful to be given my faith through my baptism as a 6-day old infant. As a child I had no maturity to choose and decide, and no ability to provide for myself. Like I am thankful for my parents when they chose my food, my clothes and my school. They chose and did all this simply out of love. What is good for my child? What makes faith different from the necessities of ordinary life? If we truly totally believe then faith is not a luxury. It cannot afford choice.

If I were growing up today I would be confronted by even more choices. Technology has infinitely swollen the field of information. If I do not have a moral compass and an anchor, this field becomes a chancy mine field to decide in. I am thankful that we have similarly given our two children the gift of infant baptism.

Infant baptism did not guarantee for me that I did not stray in life. I did so many times and for prolonged periods I abandoned God. But perhaps it is this difficult-to-explain sacramental grace that keeps pulling me back. Now picking up speed on the downslope of life, this grace tells me “that I your God will not abandon you despite your many trials when you abandoned me in life”.

“But when the kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind were revealed, it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our saviour. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace, to become heirs looking forward to inheriting eternal life.” (Today’s second reading)

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The baptismal font in the Cathedral of the Assumption in Bangkok. John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. 

The Baptism of our Lord

Finding God

Christmas is an occasion celebrated by many people including non-Christians. It is the religious event that is most celebrated, and celebrated by the most number of non-believers. It is a fact that many merrily celebrate the day without observing the true reason.

“That the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Today’s second reading)

Today is the Ephiphany of our Lord. Three wise men journeyed from the East to pay homage to the Christ Child. It signified that Christ is born not only for the chosen people but for the Gentiles as well. It signifies that Christ is good not only for believers but non-believers too.

Christ was born to dwell amongst all Man. He is very much in the lives of non-believers too. When we want to look for him we journey like the three wise men except that we journey internally into our being where he already dwells.

We journey along our life paths, taking a closer look at things that had happened to us. Some were painful, some were joyful. We look again at the people we have met, and who are part of our lives. Together they have shaped us and led us like a journey to where we are in life today. But where is the God who dwells in us?

The journey of life is full of ups and down. The bumps cause us to hurt. We do not remain always happy. Retribution or revenge are the wrong balms. To bounce back into happiness we must look deeper into forgiveness and reconciliation and apply them. It is in them where we find God.

Every time we forgive and reconcile we take a step in life’s journey to find healing and peace. As we close this Christmas season, let us journey into our past and unlock those hidden hurts and start on the journey of forgiveness. It is the promised path to true happiness. Cross it and see the Christ Child.

Love is sourced from God. Love is humble, freely and unconditionally given. She does not demand homage, even when we celebrate Christmas without wanting to recognise the Christ Child. He generously dwells in us all the same.

He indulges everyone, non-believers too, in the merriment of the season and patiently wait for us to have our personal epiphany. Yes love, she is patient too.

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Celebrating with the team from Church of the Assumption in Petaling Jaya. They are launching the Landings programme ready to enter the lives of others to point to them the Star of Bethlehem.

Epiphany of the Lord