Examining a journey; the cock is crowing

Palms 2Today is Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week. We display palms not as charms to ward off evil spirits. Waving a palm simply symbolize that we welcome Christ into our life. Life is a long journey. Along the way we constantly battle our conscience; Good versus evil. Evil always seem to intrude on us while good needs constant working on. In today’s world the voice of conscience is gradually being drowned out. The cock is crowing but we can’t seem to hear it anymore.

This week is a good time to quieten down and listen to the cock crowing in our life. Who have we become? The Passion of Christ is a journey made once for all of us. It is the triumph of good over evil. In the journey to Calvary, good is hidden in the shadow of evil. All along the way till the very end, evil forces itself upon good. Such is also true for our own journey in life. We must wave our palms to welcome Christ on our own journey.

Evil penetrates all aspects of our daily life. Many things create for us a distracting din. Progress and material comfort are obviously good but evil use them to raise the level of cockiness in us, increase our self-importance and reduce our need for Christ. It uses our power to reason and even our fellowship with one another to effect itself. It attacks our pride to take away our humility, our humble need for Christ.

We can identify with the many characters along the route to Calvary. A collective voice is a very powerful tool of influence. We too have been in a baying crowd. We too have gotten together, formed opinions of others to crucify their reputation. Like the crowd it was easier for us not to believe. We take lustful pleasure in soaking in our own opinions. It happens to every one of us. The collective voice is many times greater than the sum of individual voices. “Crucify him, crucify him!” The cock crows.

Sometimes we can heckle like Herod. Perhaps we have become too powerful in status, or become too learned, too cocksure of everything. We delight to debate to display our power to reason. But our pride takes over to mock and belittle. We treat others with a lower capacity than us with contempt and make fun of them. We unite with others with similar behavior and become an even greater destructive force. The cock crows.

Our lone voice placed in a group is a fearful voice especially if it is isolated. Pilate was this lone voice. His conscience found no guilt in Jesus but preferring self-preservation he gave in; the voice of the howling crowd drowned the voice of conscience. How often have we placed ourselves in this position in our daily life? The cock crows.

Along comes Simon from Cyrene. We can identify with him. He helps to carry the cross but for a short distance. In that short distance Christ unites himself with all our challenges in life. He is saying to us he will carry our cross all the way. He is the hidden good, and many times he is present in the worse things that did not happen to us.

Let us enter Holy Week with a disposition of humility. Let us quieten ourselves to listen to the cock crowing in us. Maybe it will become too loud a jarring intolerable noise. Then let us raise our palms and wave.

Cock and me

Let us listen to the cock crowing in our life.

Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday)

Always perfecting

I grew up living the mantra “nobody is perfect”. I was schooled to work hard and try harder. Perfection is impossible to attain, but strive towards it. Nadia Comaneci came along and I was entranced by gymnastics. When in the 1976 Olympics she scored the first perfect 10, the whole world was mesmerized. But still perfection belonged only to sports until Bo Derek came along in 10 a few years later. Perfect 10 began playing in our minds in all aspects of life.

I grew up also believing in life after death. I believe in the resurrection. Only through the passage of death will I find perfection. Many argue this belief, but for me it has given me a strong handle to deal with the challenges of my earthly life. It gives me time to rebound from my wrong doings and learn from my mistakes. Ahead of me is the prize of perfection: eternal life of everlasting happiness and joy. There is no judgement until we reach the finish line and we are allowed to fail as many times as we fail.

Today’s second reading is perfect for this reflection. “I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts, but I want only the perfection that comes through faith in Christ. All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. Not that I have become perfect yet: I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me. I am far from thinking that I have already won. All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come; I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ Jesus.”

The elder son from last week’s parable continue to cast his shadow of our reflections. Like him we too have our image of the perfect 10, a line of what is acceptable and what is not. Cross our line and we uncontrollably judge. We condemn, stigmatize and throw stones. Our lifetime is the duration of this race and no prizes are given mid-race. There is time yet to stumble but as a friend wisely wrote, “But many times through these stumbles we reconnect with God”.

In today’s Gospel, Christ knows we will stumble. He bents down to the ground and provide us with grace to race on in life. This is the love of God in action. Each mistake or wrong doing is polished with forgiveness and given time for restoration. Life is this run towards the perfection of eternal life. Along the way, especially through our stumbles, we are being perfected take our place in it.

Lent is a time of returning and perfecting. Lent is a time of prayer to get into that deeper reflection. We are not only in the woman on the ground but often too in the baying crowd, quick to condemn and refusing others a chance of restoration (Today’s Gospel). In this we hear that we are never condemned whoever we are even if I am a disbeliever. God will continue to perfect us. We are not left to our own efforts. The more we strain ahead the more we find God’s graces perfecting us.

God perfects us in the things that happened to us in life. We can look back at our past and find many events to be grateful for (first reading). Today we acknowledge we are not perfect but that He is always perfecting us. With this we can continue to run towards 10, with grace and gratitude.

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5th Sunday in Lent

The Returning Catholic

The spendthrift, wasteful son appeared as a speck on the horizon. The ever-waiting, faithful father immediately spots him and begin running across the divide towards his returning son. The elder son scoffs at the lavish bother accorded to his brother. The journey of a returning Catholic today is an inspiring modern day parable of the prodigal son.

People leave the Church when God is no longer an attractive option. People only return to Church when God becomes the only option.

Typically, a returning Catholic hears God’s call when wounded by some event in life, and everything else fails them. When they turn to look for God, they are unable to recognise his face. They are wearied, apprehensive and unsure. Some feel unworthy, others weighed down by guilt. They are confused and lost.

Secularism and a material lifestyle has caused many of us to drift away. If money is the hard currency used to purchase worldly happiness then faith is the soft currency exchanged. Once rich in faith, we are prodigal in our spending only to meet an emptiness in life. With a tank empty, we are too weak to come home on our own.

The father in the parable is God the Father and the Church. The Church must not stand behind its gate to wait for them. We are the legs that must run for the Church. We must constantly scan the horizon and be ever ready to run the moment the speck appears, to go meet them where they are emotionally and spiritually and bring them home. We provide “the best robe, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet” to restore him back into his proper place: he who is still a child of God.

There is a stigma to being a returning Catholic. Did God or the Church marked them with this stigma? We stand erect and proudly declare that we have never left the Church ever, and deafly turn away invitations to be the ambassador to reach out to returning Catholics. Be careful the elder son in us who think ourselves all deserving of God’s blessings and judge the returning Catholic because by feeling so we are the ones who put a stigma on them.

Returning to Church is reconciling with God. And it is God who initiates this reconciliation when he faithfully remain the only option despite the fact that we deserted him. God is faithful. He waits. He forgives. He restores. He welcomes. He rejoices.

“It is all God’s work. 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; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God.” (Second reading)

The greatest message a returning Catholic receives is, “I may have left God, but God never left me”. As a Church we rejoice in this unconditional love. The father continues to run after us. It is he who is prodigal.

speck man 2.2

The spendthrift, wasteful son appeared as a speck on the horizon.

 

4th Sunday of Lent

A tree in us

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“In each of us there is a tiny seed that can grow into a large tree giving shelter to everyone on our path.

There is a persistent call in all of us to make better the lives of every person we meet along the path of our own life. This is the only path towards a life of meaning and fulfilment. We should live a life that has a transforming impact of the life of others around us. We are perhaps not called like Moses to lead a nation out of slavery but we can when we accept this call to lead those whom God has placed in our life into the freedom of his transforming presence.

The inability to see and feel the Divine in everyday life is a form of modern time slavery. The pursuit of worldly happiness is the unquenchable thirst of the secular desert. The promises that material comfort will fulfil are mirages that confuse our spiritual eyes. We are left in the sweltering heat when we cannot find inner peace amidst external turmoil. This is the slavery that we are called to lead one another out of; this call a “burning bush” that is found everywhere dotting our spiritual path.

Typically this call comes from deep within us. It is always affirming and empowering, reassuring that we can do this. Typically we meet this call stammering and stuttering, suppressing a “yes” because we do not feel qualified to lead anyone out of slavery, whichever its form. Typically we ignore the reassurance, finding it difficult to get out of our comfort zone to do what we are not used to doing, away from our set routine methods of living. We are unable to comprehend who God want us to become.

Yet the bush will remain burning in front of us until we become spiritually tuned into it. They are first, markers on a path, if followed, gradually becoming milestones on a grand spiritual journey. We must take the first step away from secular distractions to put ourselves into a more spiritual environment where it is easier to hear this call. Today’s second reading speak of an unfulfilled life if we constantly do things ignoring the presence of Christ.

In each of us there is a tiny seed that can grow into a large tree giving shelter to everyone on our path. Yes, we can grow that big. This is a call to make that difference simply through actions of love and faith by doing things in Christ-like ways. But it can all only begin with a small, simple “yes” to accept God’s calling to use us as his instruments, first by trusting his reassurance and accepting his affirmation and empowerment. He can only qualify us when we mutter our little “yes”.

Our burning bush is seen in our daily life, nothing too dramatic at all. Very often it appears in a simple form, a call to love, to get more involved in works of mercy or in parish ministries. But these can already be quite challenging for those whose life is not in a spiritual environment. Yet it represents a first step to take that can lead us out of our spiritual desert. And it has the potential to grow us into a large tree giving shade and comfort to all those around us, sharing our path in life.

Christ waits patiently to fulfil each of us. He waits for each of our little “yes”, year after year. “Sir,” the man replied “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”’ (Today’s Gospel). Lent is a good time to acknowledge, that yes, we can impact the lives of others. Our little “yes” is the manure Christ the gardener need to grow us into trees.

3rd Sunday of Lent

When we run out of fuel

The world has never been at a better place. In terms of material comforts, and through technological innovations, tomorrow will get even better. In this aspect the world can never go backwards. We acknowledge and pray for the many peoples and parts of this world that have yet to experience this. Within ourselves we can question a parallel disparity; have our emotional and spiritual-self kept up?

Material comforts and technological innovations cannot progress us in our emotional and spiritual needs. The needs as a human person is a reality unchanged by external factors. It does not prevent us from being hurt by others. It does not stop relationships from breaking up. It has no medicine against illness, not an elixir against death. It definitely cannot be a substitute for the balm of love which every human person thrive on.

“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.” (Today’s second reading)

As our earthly world progress each day, faith and religion, any for that matter, seem to have been left behind. There is an ever-widening chasm between the secular world and our faith life. The “importance of earthly things” breeds a disbelief in God. God will be kept at a distance, even ridiculed, as long as our earth remains merry and comfortable. In this chasm, we “are destined to be lost”.

We will not realize that we are lost until a crisis comes along. It is no mystery in life that many things and many people can, and will, let us down. It can simply come about from a serious health issue when suddenly life falls into perspective and the value of earthly things quickly diminishes. It can come from relationship issues generating hurt and anguish which no amount of earthly things can soothe. It will feel like we are running on empty, unable to carry on. Without a belief in God, we are lost.

The love of God is the only constant in an ever changing world. This unconditional love mean that God will never abandon us, even if we choose to abandon him. For many of us who have left the Church but have somehow found a way back, this has been the greatest revelation.

Our God is a faithful God. When our fuel tank is completely empty and we cannot journey on anymore, we are forced to a stop. We will then realize that He has been there all along, faithfully waiting with mercy and compassion. Down and out we search no longer for earthly things but for this balm of love. Without belief to see Him, He first appear for us in the form of hope. Like a rope we cling to hope allowing it to pull us out of this chasm.

Through the clouds of doubt, we hear a voice saying, “This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him”. (Today’s Gospel). Who will we listen to if we stop believing in God?

empty tank

“It will feel like we are running on empty, unable to journey on”.

 

Second Sunday of Lent

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)

log

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.

enemy bike

“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.